Behind the Meaning of “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
“Don’t Stop Believin'” is one of the most iconic songs of the 1980s, and it remains a beloved classic.
The track was initially released by the American rock band Journey in 1981, and it has since become a cultural phenomenon, featured in countless movies, TV shows, and commercials.
But what is the meaning behind the lyrics of this timeless anthem?
What inspired the band to write this timeless hit?
On the surface, “Don’t Stop Believin'” is a simple song about chasing your dreams and never giving up, but a closer examination reveals a more profound, more complex message.
This article will explore the story behind the song, its cultural significance, and the different interpretations of its meaning.
The Making of a Classic
The pianist Jonathan Cain, singer Steve Perry, and guitarist Neal Schon all helped write the song.
The beginning keyboard riff and “Don’t Stop Believin'” chorus are memorable.
It’s seen as a deep look at how people and society communicate.
It focuses on how boring, dull, and suffocating the everyday world is.
Still, the song makes people feel hopeful, optimistic, and willing to keep going.
In the early 1980s, Journey quickly became one of the world’s best-known rock bands.
Before Cain joined the band and started playing the piano, they had already done very well.
He joined them before they went to the studio to make their seventh album.
It wasn’t easy to write the song “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
Cain, Perry, and Schon might not have written it if they hadn’t had a few lucky accidents along the way.
They had just moved on from their progressive rock phase and were looking for a softer sound when Perry joined the band.
The Meaning of “Don’t Stop Believin'” Lyrics
The most popular words and chords in the song come from Cain.
These words were his motto from the start, and they still are.
He first heard the words that would become the song in a phone call with his father.
In the 1970s, when Cain was younger and just starting as a singer, his dog was hit by a car.
This was a hard time for him.
He called his dad because he needed to figure out his future as a musician in Hollywood.
He needed $900 for a loan and to pay the vet fee for his dog.
He asked his father if his music career was just a “dream” and if he should return to Chicago.
“Son, don’t stop believing,” his dad told him; he would lend him the money as long as he stayed in Hollywood.
The beautiful words moved him, so he wrote them down in his lyrics book.
He brought this book with him to San Francisco when he joined Journey.
He joined the band as they started working on their seventh album, Escape.
Perry told Cain that their new album’s producer wanted one more song.
Since he had only played a little with the band before starting the album, he said they’d already made 17.
But the producer was set, and Perry wouldn’t back down.
Cain went home to work on the song on his Wurlitzer piano, the one he used to write “Open Arms.”
As he turned the pages of his song lyrics book, he saw the words “Don’t stop believing” again.
He knew Perry would like it, so he wrote a catchy chorus: “Hold on to that feelin’.”
Cain returned to the band with just these two lines and the song’s chords.
Perry liked the sounds, and the rest of the band worked together to write a chorus.
Choosing the Right Notes
Perry was a singer, but he also played the bass and drums.
He understood each part of the song like a machine.
Cain listened to Perry’s freestyle and picked out what he heard: “Lonely world” or “anywhere.”
Cain suggested that “Jack and Diane” would be good names for regular people.
The first character introduced is the “small-town girl,” and her world is immediately described as “lonely.”
He started to think of the song as a movie that “goes on and on.”
He also said the track sounded like it was in the 1970s on Sunset Boulevard.
People driving up and down the street on Friday nights flooded back into his mind.
He remembered people looking for something, like hustlers and dreamers, actors and actresses, directors and wannabes.
After the lyrics were done, the band recorded the instruments.
At first, they had a few difficulties with the song’s speed.
But it’s impressive that after only 20 minutes of practice, they could play the whole song in one take.
Schon recorded the song’s unique bass line, and Cain wrote a synth piece that complemented it.
Steve Smith played a typical rock backbeat on the drums on top of this.
He added rhythmic, syncopated tom-toms and a ride cymbal bell, which becomes more complicated as the song progresses.
Schon also played 16-note arpeggios on top of the other instruments to make the song sound like a “train” moving forward.
Soon after, Perry added his voice, and the rest of the band sang in the background through a single microphone.
After he was done mixing the song, it became a hit.
The Real Meaning of the Song “Don’t Stop Believin'”
People from all walks of life are shown in the song’s lyrics.
One thing that all of these people have in common is that they all had to fight to get what they wanted.
These challenges have a lot to do with the things Perry went through in his own life.
Two people get on a “midnight train going anywhere,” hoping to go somewhere they don’t know.
The idea of leaving home to find your fate is a big part of the song’s positive message.
The second verse starts with “a singer in a smoky room,” which could be a touring performer or a hustler.
This artist likes his job but has yet to determine what tomorrow will bring.
The characters in the third verse are the same way.
Some people will win, and some will lose, but nobody knows what will happen to them.
What ties them all together is that they are all looking for something more.
They are all “livin’ just to find emotion”, like the “streetlight people” of the city.
Two pre-choruses in between build up the track’s energy until it feels like it’s about to explode.
The famous chorus comes next.
“Don’t Stop Believin'” is not like most rock songs in that the hook comes at the end.
This makes sense since this part was the most complete at the start of composing.
But it’s rare for someone to be able to pull off such a bold power move.
The chorus ends the song and tells you how to interpret it.
Even though life is unclear and has a winding path, the song tells people to “hold on to that feelin’.”
That feeling is an optimistic future that’s worth working toward.
It’s the “something more” we all want.
People might get what they want if they “don’t stop believing.”
Even though life is full of difficulties, we can work together to overcome them.
This is true even for the challenges we all face on the inside.
This never-ending message of hope in people is what makes “Don’t Stop Believin'” so powerful and able to reach people from all eras.
No matter what comes next, people still seem to hold on to what is most important.
This song’s message seems to have been about the track itself.
It was a top 10 hit worldwide and became the band’s signature song when it came out.
It went to a new level when it was put on iTunes in 2008 and sold over seven million copies there.
Globally, the 2009 cover by the cast of Glee did better than the original song.
Cool Facts About “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey
“Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey played a significant role in Journey’s 1996 reunion.
Steve Perry, the band’s lead singer, had departed in 1987, but his return for the band’s Trial by Fire album marked a new chapter for Journey.
The song gained widespread recognition among younger audiences after being featured in the closing scene of the final episode of the acclaimed TV series “The Sopranos” in 2007.
The ambiguous ending and the song’s uplifting nature left a lasting impression on viewers.
The song became more popular when it was used as the closing song in Rock of Ages, a jukebox musical show made up of hits from the 1980s.
From 2009 to 2015, the show was on Broadway, and in 2012, it was turned into a movie starring Tom Cruise.
It’s a good choice since Rock of Ages is set on Sunset Boulevard, where the song is mostly about.
In May 2010, Lady Gaga, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Blondie, and Shirley Bassey performed “Don’t Stop Believin'” at the end of a concert to raise money for the Rainforest Fund at Carnegie Hall.
During the 2020 pandemic, some hospitals played this song to get COVID-19 patients and those treating them to work together.
For example, when a coronavirus patient is discharged from the New York-Presbyterian Queens Hospital, “Don’t Stop Believin'” is played throughout the building as a source of motivation.
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