In 2009, when I was a Freshman in college, I bet a friend of mine $20 that Journey would make it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame before Phish did. I had spent countless hours watching videos of Journey performing live when I was in high school; I marveled at Steve Perry’s vocal range, Neal Schon’s effortless guitar playing, Jonathan Cain’s songwriting, Ross Valory’s intricate basslines, Steve Smith making Journey’s drum tracks look like child’s play. I was convinced I would win the bet, and then the years passed. Fast forward to 2017, me and that same friend sat at a bar in Downtown Brooklyn hours before the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony: Journey would be inducted that night (Phish induction still pending). We waited, both checking our phones for ticket prices to drop from the upper $400’s but to no avail, the show started and me and my pal ended up heading to his apartment to drink beer and listen to studio recordings of the inducted bands on his TV and reminisce about college days. Electric Light Orchestra finished playing for the Barclay’s Center crowd, and I was following the progress of the show on Twitter as Joan Baez began performing. I checked again and again until I saw it. The tickets had dropped to somewhere near $150. It did not take much convincing for either us, as we bought the tickets even though the show had already started, ran to print them out at a Kinko’s or something and then took a cab to the Barclay’s center to watch the rest of the show. The debt was paid with a beer purchased for me at the Barclay’s center (shockingly close enough to $20) with seats practically on the floor, as we watched Journey and countless others play, even though Steve Perry didn’t join them in the performance (apologies to the man in the row in front of me who said he had spent his savings to get a ticket to see Steve sing with the band again).
Journey started as a progressive rock band with some of the former members of the band Santana, and their first three albums left much to be desired. Largely instrumental progressive rock, the albums failed to have much success, and so did Journey. Knowing they needed a change circa 1977/1978, the band wanted to shift their focus toward the emphasis on vocals: enter Steve Perry. Once Perry was thrown into the mix, the bands whole career path changed, and they became one of the best hard/pop-rock bands to ever grace the stage. Steve Perry is one of the best rock vocalists in history, and the rest of the band members which I listed above (plus Gregg Rolie, Aynsley Dunbar, and for a brief moment Randy Jackson) all brought something intricate and unique to the table in terms of musicality.
As I work on some side projects having to do with my poetry, I had to pick a band that I was comfortable with, so that I could write effortlessly about their top 25 songs and focus my energy on my other projects. In this countdown, expect a lot of familiar radio friendly hits, with some obscure picks, and even two songs not sung by Steve Perry. Also expect a lot of strange space/spaceship themed album art. What you shouldn’t expect on this countdown is “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”, because even though it’s popular, it is easily one of my least favorite Journey songs, an overplayed movie soundtrack song at best, and I will say no more on the matter. Let’s start with a bonus though, because its terribly hard to limit one of my favorite bands ever to just 25 songs.
B: Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
Steve Perry gets to highlight his vocals since the rock elements of Journey take a back seat on this soulful number. Evolution was the second Journey album with Steve Perry as their vocalist. After their shift from a progressive rock band with pretty forgettable vocals, Journey had to decide when and where Steve Perry would shine without completely changing the identity and dynamic in the band. This resulted in a lot of early songs having shared vocals with Steve Perry and Gregg Rolie, their original keyboardist/vocalist, but more on that later. This song also has a pretty good “Na Na Na” section, which always run the risk of sounding corny and forced. The only reason this song doesn’t grab a spot right on the actual countdown, is that there are parts of it that are practically a carbon copy of Sam Cooke’s “Nothing Can Change This Love” right about at 0:35. Check it out below!
25. Mother, Father
Here is the first song from what I consider to be the essential Journey album. It’s the album where Jonathan Cain fully joined the band and contributed to the songwriting, which ended up complimenting Steve Perry’s pop-vocal style better than Gregg Rolie’s. Neal Schon still hits heavy with guitar licks and solo’s, but altogether this lineup of the band created an absolutely incredible rock album. This song tries to hit on some heavy aspects of a broken family, but can sometimes fall flat. I didn’t fall in love with Journey for their take on family trauma, and it’s evident why. That being said, the harmonies on the chorus are fun to listen to and Neal Schon shreds his guitar solos like always. This song almost didn’t make the countdown but I think in order to understand the magic of Journey, you have to hear how Steve Perry’s vocals evolve into the song, hitting on some high notes, and even delving into an incredible falsetto at around 4:58 (we don’t often hear Steve’s falsetto because his voice could get so high up there in range without it!) If it wasn’t for this falsetto at the end, this song would be replaced on the countdown by “Still They Ride.” Feel free to listen to both.
24. After All These Years
As I was delving into Journey in high school, watching video after video on YouTube, there was often a frequent debate in the comments section on whether or not Journey was still Journey without Steve Perry, and I often had to confront the reality that I’d never see Journey in their prime, and may not ever see Steve Perry sing in person at all. Right around this time, YouTube was blowing up, and I’d have to imagine it played a part in Journey finding their at that time new, and still current singer. Neal Schon had seen videos of Arnel Pineda, a Filipino rock singer and invited him to audition for Journey. The rest is, as they say, history. It would be unfair to do a countdown for Journey and not include at least one song with vocals provided by the man who has allowed Journey to keep touring, and allowed the fans to continue to get something as close to the peak Journey experience as possible. This song was made in 2008, the first single to feature Pineda on vocals. It’s about a long lasting and still-going love, which lends itself very well to an older group of rocker’s who’ve probably all had their fair share of marriages. In that sense, it makes the subject matter believable and accessible. It also has a completely fuckin’ awesome guitar solo at 2:50. Damn Neal, I thought those kinds of solos were left back in the days of 80’s arena ballads.
23. Wheel in the Sky
Coming in 23rd on this countdown is a pretty popular radio-play receiving number. This song is off of Journey’s first album with Steve Perry as their vocalist, so understandably it took them another year or two to really perfect their sound. This album still had Gregg Rolie on keyboards, so you’re listening to some of the start of their more pop sound, but with heavy grounding in hard rock and progressive elements. The reason it comes in so low on the countdown is because its just not as fun to listen to as some of their other songs! Maybe it’s a little too complex and dark to have the charm of some of their other hits. That first line is great though.
23. Higher Place
As you can see by the year, here’s another (and the last) non-Steve Perry sung song. Singing this one is Steve Augeri, who had a short but pretty cool stint with the band. Steve Augeri’s voice is great as well, but Journey could never get passed looking like they were just trying to find a Steve Perry replacement. Also, sometimes Augeri had to strain his voice to get it as high as Perry did naturally. As musicians age, vocals seem to be the hardest instrument to keep pristine, and as Journey aged, it seemed as though they just kept looking for younger and newer versions of Steve Perry. It’s like if someone gets divorced and they just keep bringing around a younger but similar looking version of their ex-spouse. It’s just kind of sad. Thank goodness for Arnel. Steve Augeri had to leave the band after some vocal issues as well, but what he left behind is this gem of a song, a hard rocker that’s both soft and driving in the verses only to erupt into a full blast of awesome at the chorus. The pre-chorus provides just enough build-up for the chorus itself to do what it was designed to do: rock your socks off.
21. Be Good to Yourself
Raised on Radio
This next number is off of Raised on Radio, the last album released before Journey would disappear from the music scene for nearly 10 years. Steve Perry would experiment with recording solo albums, and internal band conflicts changed the lineup almost entirely, except for Steve Perry, Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain. Disputes over which direction to take the band, who would fill in for the band members who had left, etc., would end up breaking the band up. This is also the only album on here that doesn’t have some sort of space contraption on the artwork! All that aside, the sounds of these later recordings take on more 80’s, a little more synth a little more energy. You can hear Perry’s voice becoming a little more gritty here (this starts becoming evident around 1982-ish, probably due to constant touring and the inability to maintain and care for such an incredible vocal range during the demand of these tours). The song itself, pretty simple, pretty corny, but a decent sound and message. We are often our own worst critics, and figuring out how to be kind to ourselves, especially when circumstances don’t find us receiving much compassion from external sources, can really go a long way.
20. Only Solutions
Tron: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
So, for all the crap I talked about “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” being a crummy 80’s movie soundtrack song in the intro to this article, I have to include one in it’s place. “Only Solutions” was featured in Tron, and brings a fun futuristic pop-rock sound to the countdown. Often in the 80’s popular rock bands would create songs that would go on to be used in feature films, boosting both the band’s and the movie’s popularity simultaneously. You can also start hearing the grittiness I was talking about in Steve Perry’s voice in comparison to his early years. This album was later released as a bonus track on the Frontiers album.
19. Just the Same Way
After Perry joined the band, Journey was tasked with figuring out how to incorporate Steve Perry into the sound they had already cultivated. This song is a prime example of the difference of their earlier years and their 80’s years. While Gregg Rolie was still in the band, he sometimes took primary vocals over on songs, while Steve Perry was just there to provide some background vocals or repetition on Rolie’s parts. Perry also sings a breakdown in this song. This song is great because it doesn’t strictly rely on Perry’s vocals to make it sound good, the instrumentation does it well enough (clean keyboards balanced out by experienced hard rock musicians trying to contain themselves throughout the song). Also, Gregg Rolie isn’t a bad vocalist by any means at all! He’s just no Steve Perry.
This song normally comes right after a song you will hear later in the countdown. On the album itself there is no pause between when “Feeling That Way” finishes and “Anytime” begins. It’s another one where Gregg Rolie takes primarily vocal duties and Steve Perry gets very small moments to shine while he provides background vocals. Sometimes this give and take between Rolie and Perry works, though, as you’re reminded of how stellar Perry’s vocals are ANYTIME (get it?) that the focus shifts from Rolie to him. All in all, this just a decent track with a really raw and evident classic rock sound and feel.
17. I’ll Be Alright without You
Raised on Radio
Another tune from the Raised on Radio days (it should be mentioned that Randy Jackson of American Idol fame played the bass for Journey on this album, as the bass takes a more prominent role in driving the songs during this era). This song has a lot of Steve Perry written all over it. More oriented in pop ballad, primarily focused on love/romance or its struggles. I tend to like the Raised on Radio stuff although it’s much softer and toned down from Journey’s best material, and this song is a good example. Great song structure, great vocals, and a simply incredible guitar solo from Neal Schon at 3:05 . Often when talking about Journey it’s easy to get lost in what Steve Perry meant to the band. Hopefully you are seeing Neal Schon’s relevance so far in this countdown, because I believe he is one of the most underrated guitarists ever. This song does a good job of showing how Neal Schon can use his instrument to completely fit the mood of any song that Journey was composing, despite some of his reservations about the direction that the band was going in. The little lick at 3:59 can just as easily get stuck in your head as a vocal melody can, and it takes one hell of a guitarist to pull that off.
16. Only the Young
Vision Quest Soundtrack
Similar to “Only Solutions”, this song was made and featured on a soundtrack to an 80’s movie, later released as a bonus track on Journey’s Frontiers album. This song has a lot of the components of all of the popular mid-80’s Journey songs, some synth, driving and consistent drum and bass beats, a cool Schon guitar-solo, and Steve Perry. Perry’s voice is stronger and more forceful on this one than some of Journey’s other stuff. It’s also nice to marvel at the way Neal Schon’s guitar can fit into these synth-y 80’s songs without needing to be a focal point or crying for help, and you can hear that as soon as the song starts, with little notes filling the space in the song rather than being the center of attention. If you’re wondering why you’re hearing so much of the 80’s stuff, it’s because all of Journey’s best stuff from the late 70’s is coming up later. While the 80’s stuff is good, it’s not nearly as good as what’s to come.
15. Somethin’ to Hide
“Somethin’ to Hide” is another song off of Journey’s first album with Steve Perry. A lot of the songs on this album have kind of an echoey and void-y feel, as if they’re playing the songs on some far away desolate planet, with amps loud enough to ring out over the universe (you can really hear that on this track and “Anytime” from before). It seems for this track they were comfortable to let Steve do all the singing, and that falsetto I talked about before makes another appearance. It’s great to hear when Steve sings along side Schon’s guitar at about 2:45. This is just an awesome vocal performance.
14. Sweet and Simple
I really like the sound on their Evolution album. This is one of two songs (other one coming later) on that album that allow Steve to just sing out, and be complimented perfectly by the piano, which is then complimented perfectly by Schon’s guitar. The guitar in this song has the ability to fill the background during the verses, chiming in here and there with a nice, SWEET AND SIMPLE tone (get it?). Schon’s guitar is also allowed to burst into some powerful chords during the chorus, and allowed to go into one of those tasty guitar solos as well. All the while, you can tell Steve and the band are beginning to gel, with Perry’s vocals getting more powerful when the rest of the band does so, otherwise floating effortlessly around the guitar and piano. Sweet and Simple seems to be the perfect title for such a song.
“Patiently” is the first song that Steve Perry and Neal Schon ever wrote together. Steve Perry wrote the lyrics about being the road and away from home for long periods, while Neal Schon wrote most of the music. The result is awesome. The song starts with one of those alone in the universe sounds I talked about on “Somethin’ to Hide. Similar to “Sweet and Simple” Perry sings softly over piano and a softer guitar for the verse, all complimenting each other nicely. Then when we hear the guitar start gearing up and getting heavy at 1:36 (on the studio recording) we know we’re in for a treat. Bursting guitar along with Steve Perry using a higher and more forceful part of his vocal register which both culminate into one of those famous Schon solo’s, only to quiet back down and come full circle. This was one of those songs that really got people on board with Steve Perry’s arrival in Journey, and set the tone for a band that would, in a few years, become larger than they thought possible. For this one, I found this grainy video of Journey performing it live before Perry found his full confidence and before Neal Schon found out that he looked cooler without the mustache. You can find the studio version on YouTube, but part of the magic for me is watching Journey play live and how that developed by the early 80’s.
12. Open Arms
This song is pretty popular, so I can bet that most of you reading have heard it before. It is our second selection off of the Escape album, where you see a group of incredible talented musicians who seem to know exactly when to pick their moments to play to their full potential, and when to fall in line behind Steve Perry’s voice. A widely popular ballad, this song is mostly the band falling in line. I’ve selected a live video, just to show you how much three years made a difference for Journey. The previous video was in 1978, and you saw a shy, mostly stagnant Steve Perry, in a small crowd on the Midnight Special. Now, fast forward to about 1981, and you see a sold out arena, a way more comfortable Perry, and a band that seems as it had been playing together for years, even though that particular line-up of musicians had only been together for maybe a year or two at that point (Gregg Rolie had left the band and so Jonathan Cain is playing keys in this video). The contrasts in the videos are pretty stark, but the music always remains incredible.
11. Feeling That Way
This is the song I referred to before, which normally precedes “Anytime”. Another track off of Infinity, you will see the band using Rolie and Perry’s vocals together, trying to see how they fit. Another video that shows the complete difference a few years would make for this band. This song has a lot of the elements that make Journey great at play, Rolie’s piano is always awesome, Perry gets to shine in bits and pieces, Schon’s guitar is going wild at times here, and the harmonies are on point. Also have to give a nod to all the cans of Budweiser around the studio in this video; the video itself is a video made in the 70’s that looks like it’s a video made recently trying way too hard to seem like it was made 70’s.
10. Stay Awhile
Our first out of two songs on the countdown that come from the Departure album. Departure as a whole is an alright album, but seemed to take a step back from Evolution in terms of Journey figuring out what worked for them and what didn’t. It was also the last album to feature Gregg Rolie on keyboards. By this time, Journey was blowing up in Japan, and a lot of the footage you’ll see from this era of the band has them playing concerts to droves of seated fans in Japan. “Stay Awhile” is a simple and short song, that often would play after “Lights” during live shows, after Neal Schon would connect both of them with a solo. You can hear the similarities in the guitar if you compare it to “Lights”. When “Lights” appears on the countdown later, I’ll throw in a video of them performing the “Stay Awhile” with it.
9. The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)
This next number is the only studio recording released on their 1981 live album Captured. Honestly, Neal Schon just sort of shreds guitar the whole entire song while Perry’s vocals are clean and powerful, his phrasing making the song a digestible power-pop/rock song despite the intensity, power and speed of the other instruments. Not much else to be said about this gem.
8. Any Way You Want It
I go back and forth with this one. Did being in those Ford commercials or whatever turn this song into nothing more than a catchy commercial jingle? I would say after much careful thought and consideration, that no, it didn’t, and that this song is still awesome. It’s got a bit of a different composition than most other Journey songs, and that’s because while Journey was on tour with Thin Lizzy, they picked up on some of what the legendary Phil Lynott did best. Perry said, “It’s guitar-voice, guitar-voice, more guitar-guitar-guitar-voice. It be voice-voice and back and forth and that’s something that Neal and I think just instinctually picked up by hanging out with him.” You can hear the voice and guitar going back and forth, which highlights what I’ve been raving about this whole article, Steve’s immaculate pitch, and Neal’s incredible guitar work. No song shows that much more than this one. It’s an essential Journey track, and an essential song for classic rock as a whole as well.
7. Too Late
Very similar to “Sweet and Simple”, this tune comes in so high on the countdown because it’s just delightful. It’s soft when it needs to be, but can also ramp up the decibels when it needs to as well. It’s a serene but powerful ballad in the earlier part of Steve Perry’s tenure with Journey.
6. Girl Can’t Help It
Raised on Radio
Although this later end of the countdown is largely reserved for Journey’s earlier tracks, “Girl Can’t Help It” is a later song that deserves its slot this high up on the countdown. It’s a soulful 80’s rocker that sees Journey’s revamped lineup harmonizing during the chorus just about as good as the band did with the original Steve Perry lineup of 1978. With a couple of solid solos from Neal Schon at the end of the song and a super-cool Randy Jackson bassline, this song is a great balance between rock and pop and soul. It highlights how even though Journey was a band full of extra talented musicians, they also knew how to use their instruments to construct catchy pop-rock tunes while still being able to make the music feel not boring; most bands who tried to simplify their sound to make their talent more marketable for pop/rock radio failed to do this. You can always count on a Schon solo to remind you just who you’re dealing with though, even in the midst of one of Journey’s catchiest pop tunes.
The reason Escape is the number one Journey album around is that even songs you’ve never heard on this one are incredible. “Escape” is a hard rocker that allows you to marvel at the musicality of Journey while also keeping the music enjoyable to listen to. The song evolves, or goes through phases, so that you can pick and choose which melody/riff are your favorite (fyi: they’re all good). This song is proof that even though Journey was largely known as an 80’s ballad band, they could still hard rock with the best of ’em. The background harmonies, Steve Perry’s wailing vocals (in their prime) and the hard rocking instrumentation by Journey’s most cohesive lineup; this song is an essential track to listen to if you want to understand what’s so special about Journey. By the time 3:30 comes around, you’ve basically forgotten how the song began and how it transformed as it played, so yes, I think it’s best to listen again after you’ve finished up the first time.
4. Stone in Love
This song could also be high up on a countdown called “The Best Classic Rock Songs You May Have Never Heard.” Okay, so maybe not the best name for a countdown, but this song has a real authentic classic rock feel. The choruses are mostly followed by rockin’ guitar solos, the harmonies are pristine, and Steve Perry’s lyrics about the good ol’ nights falling in love are reminiscent of that other super awesome Journey song… what’s it called again? That’s why this album is so good as well, all the songs have a similar hard/classic rock feel, Perry’s lyrics are relate-able and nostalgic. It’s everything that classic rock should be about.
There are no real surprises in store for these last three songs on the countdown. They’re all ever popular on classic rock radio stations, and rightfully so. This one was written by Perry in his first year with the band, it seems by the subject matter of most of the Perry-penned tracks on Infinity that he was having a hard time being away from home while touring and being in a band. But if that sadness resulted in “Lights” then I’m sure glad he was sad. Perry’s homesick and longing lyrics mix so well with Schon’s driving guitar riff throughout the song and his absolutely fitting guitar solo later in the song (I can’t rave enough about Schon’s ability to provide a fitting solo to every song Journey’s ever made, they never seem forced or out of place in the slightest). The song is about their hometown of San Francisco, and I had the pleasure of watching Pat Monahan of Train speak about how much the song meant to him and his band while inducting Journey into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame a few years ago. If you haven’t heard this song before, then YouTube the studio version. If you have though, the video I’ve attached is the live version that goes into “Stay Awhile” which you heard earlier in the countdown. Schon plays a solo that he specifically designed to be able to play Lights into Stay Awhile, as they were songs from two different albums, and you can only hear this solo when they do these two songs together live. Also, Perry’s vocals in this live recording are insane.
This is the only song from Frontiers on the countdown. After the success of Escape, Journey didn’t release another album for two years, and the result was, unfortunately, one of my least favorite Steve Perry fronted Journey albums. Delving heavily into synth-driven rock and space themed songs in a way that never fully resonated with me, most of the songs on Frontiers are forgettable. Among them though, is this absolutely essential ballad. Another song about being on the road too long and missing home or a person in particular, this song has the same elements that work for Journey’s all time best song (comin’ up next), it has a recognizable piano intro, nostalgic and relate-able lyrics, driving guitar solos and Steve Perry. The way the song erupts at the end will never cease to impress me, with Schon’s guitar wailing and Perry’s forceful singing of “I’m still yours” over the solo. 80’s arena ballads are considered by many to be a dark spot in rock music, every 80’s bands were trying to fill arenas by singing emotional slow ballads, and unfortunately Journey is to blame. Because of the success of “Faithfully” and the formula that Journey had mastered (soulful vocals, driving guitar, intense drumming) other bands spent most of the 80’s trying to replicate the formula. After hearing “Faithfully” though, there’s no need to look any further to find the quintessential ballad. I mean 3:00 and onward is just, absolutely masterful.
1. Don’t Stop Believin’
Normally, when you delve deep into a band’s catalog, you’ll find that their most popular song is not actually their best song, but marketed and timed well. This is not the case with Journey. Journey’s essential track, their most popular well known song, is absolutely and unequivocally their best. It is one of the best and most well known rock songs of all time. It can be heard at sporting events, bars and other events all over the world ’til this very day. When I was in high school, I was in Maryland and it was right before social media had connected everybody to the point of zero separation. I was riding around in the back seat of the car, listening to an iPod that wasn’t mine, and “Don’t Stop Believin'” came on the shuffle. I had known (and been crushing on) a girl who (like most high school girls at the time) loved “Don’t Stop Believin'” and to have heard it for the first time with her mind, I discovered what it felt like to miss someone far away from you so deeply that I’ll always refer to it as the first time I fell and felt in love. To have that emotion magnified by a song from almost 25 years prior was something magical. Another time I was in the Dominican Republic on a resort and it was my first time out of the country. I remember walking around the resort at night, feeling alive and young and old and responsible all at once, when I heard “Don’t Stop Believin'” and a chorus of voices ringing out from the sports themed bar located at the center of the resort. A song that can unite people despite age or location is what Journey created with their masterpiece. The intro is, in my humble opinion, the best and most recognizable piano intro for any rock song to date, the guitar solo is just as memorable as the verses and chorus themselves. The song is so unequivocally Journey in all the best ways, and no matter how many times it’s played, or how many drunken strangers I hear singing along, I, along with so many others, will never grow tired of “Don’t Stop Believin'” or Journey: one of my favorite rock bands of all time.
I, as always, hope you enjoyed reading the article and listening to the music. Since I’ve been an avid Journey fan for a long time, the list of honorable mentions for this countdown is long, but worth listening to. If you liked any songs, I again encourage you to look up some live versions just to give a better glimpse of how the songs come together, of how good Perry & Schon and the rest of the band are and just how damn good Journey is. Also, I will not be addressing any comments that believe “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)” is one of Journey’s best songs: it is not good. Here are the honorable mentions:
“Spaceman” (the only track I like from before Perry joined the band), “Majestic” (an awesome 1 minute instrumental intro song), “Do You Recall”, “Daydream”, “Someday Soon”, “People and Places”, “Departure” (Another super dope short instrumental song), “Good Morning Girl”, “Who’s Crying Now” (a pretty popular one), “Still They Ride” (Not going to lie, this song should be on the countdown in retrospect but I am too tired to replace one of the songs I already put on here), ” Send Her My Love” (Another popular one), “After the Fall”, “Suzanne”, “It Could Have Been You”, “Why Can’t This Night Go On Forever”, “Ask the Lonely”, “When You Love a Woman”, “When I Think of You”, “Baby I’m a Leavin’ You”(a Journey reggae song?!)