How Journey Tweaked Their Lineup and Went Supernova With ‘Escape’
Journey thought they were on the verge of something big in 1980. And they were – but only after a period of sudden adversity.
Their first three studio albums with Steve Perry had each sold millions, followed by another multi-platinum live project, Captured. “The band had already exploded on tour, and the Captured record was exploding and the energy on that record was something you couldn’t deny,” co-founder Neal Schon told Goldmine in 2013. “And so, I felt that at any point that whatever we came with, as long as there were good songs, it was going to be big.”
But Gregg Rolie, who'd started Journey with Schon after both left Santana, wanted out. When it came time to add a new studio cut to Captured, they had to turn to a sessions player, Steve Roseman. "The Party's Over (Hopelessly in Love)" went Top 40, but Journey was abruptly in disarray.
Certainly nothing pointed to the successes of Escape, which arrived on July 31, 1981 after the addition of Rolie's replacement, Jonathan Cain. Yet, it became Journey's first-ever No. 1 album amid an amazing run of four Top 20 hit singles, including "Don't Stop Believin',' "Who's Crying Now," "Open Arms" and "Still They Ride" – along with the rock-radio favorite "Stone In Love."
"I have to attribute that to Jonathan coming in and joining the writing team," Perry told the New Haven Register in 2012. "Jon had so many creative ideas, and he and I did a lot of lyrics back then, too. It just turned another corner ... though at the time it felt like we were just doing more music the same way we always had. But time has shown it to be more of a quintessential album than some of the others."
Cain, who favored a modern synthesizer sound versus Rolie's sturdy Hammond B-3, had been featured on a pair of Babys albums released in 1980 before joining Journey. They met when the Babys served as opening act on a tour in support of Journey's 1980 studio effort Departure.
Something immediately clicked between Cain, Perry and Schon. Escape was made with remarkable efficiency, and cost just $80,000 in total. Perry, whose mantra was reportedly "time is money," rarely did more than two takes. Despite the dramatic shift in sound, the album seemed to glide onto store shelves.
“When Jon came in, he brought in a whole different thing,” Schon told Goldmine. “It was like, he’s an accomplished songwriter ... and an accomplished keyboardist, a classical keyboardist like on piano. Gregg was more of a bluesy guy, someone from a B3/Jimmy Smith school of organ playing, which was a completely different thing. So we went more with Jon ... and there was always more of a classical vein to what we were doing, as opposed to what we were doing with Gregg.”
They emerged with a new signature song. No, not "Don't Stop Believin'." In fact, back then, "Open Arms" – a song that set a template for '80s power ballads – was considered the album's stand-out single. The track soared to No. 2, and remained there for six weeks in early 1982. It had followed the opening single success of "Who's Crying Now," which topped out at No. 4.
In between was "Don't Stop Believin'," a single that barely crept into the Top 10. Today, it's undoubtedly the best-known thing about Escape, a song that became the adopted anthem of not one but two World Series teams (2005's White Sox and 2010's Giants), a fixture on TV (including memorable appearances on The Sopranos and Glee), and one of the best-selling catalog items ever on iTunes. "Don't Stop Believin'" actually roared back into the Top 10 twice in the U.K., almost 30 years after its initial release.
It had much humbler beginnings. Cain brought the chorus melody and lyric into a rehearsal for the album being held at an Oakland warehouse. “The phrase came from my father,” Cain told the New York Post in 2010. “I had a tough time trying to get down the road in the music business, and he used to tell me that stuff, 'Don’t stop believing.'" Perry asked for some "rolling piano" to get things started, and he and Schon started tracking the music. That arpeggiated guitar riff, for instance, followed Perry's suggestion that Schon approximate the sound of a train.
Perry and Cain finished the lyrics later, including a line about a non-existent place called "South Detroit." "I ran the phonetics of east, west, and north, but nothing sounded as good or emotionally true to me as South Detroit," Perry told Vulture in 2012. "The syntax just sounded right. I fell in love with the line. It's only been in the last few years that I've learned that there is no South Detroit. But it doesn't matter."
Indeed, Schon says "Don't Stop Believin'" earns Journey as much as three times the amount of any other catalog song. That belated success underscores Schon's consistent, though at-first largely unheard, assertion that there was more to Journey's tour-de-force Escape than the soaring romanticism of its blockbuster ballad.
“I listen to it now and it’s a great record, but it’s all over the map,” Schon told Goldmine. “You’ve got a song like ‘Dead or Alive’ on it, which is like really musical punk. I don’t know what you’d call it. It had tight time changes and drum lines that Steve Smith had to sort out. And then you have ‘Open Arms’ on the other side of the spectrum, and so it was like everything between A and Z and everything in the middle.”
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