Line of Fire

(Pictured: the late 70s edition of Journey harmonizes during an appearance on The Midnight Special.)

Here’s part of a 2007 post, slightly edited, that I wrote about Journey in the wake of the last episode of The Sopranos, which famously used “Don’t Stop Believin'” in its climactic scene.

One of Tony Soprano’s little tics—chalk it up to David Chase’s gift for character development—is his taste for thoroughly mainstream classic rock. Play the show’s theme song, Alabama 3′s “Woke Up This Morning,” for Tony and he’d be likely to say, “Wut da hell is dis shit?” “Don’t Stop Believin’” was a brilliant dramatic choice by Chase for a lot of reasons, chief among them its complete averageness. It’s one of those records that’s just there (and for over 30 years now) without any particular reason to make it memorable or significant. Now, of course, fans of The Sopranos will be attaching significance to it, and speculating about what it meant to Tony at the second the screen went to black, until the end of time.

The fact that Journey is one of the more critically reviled bands of the classic-rock era makes its pivotal role in one of TV’s most talked-about episodes seem almost subversive. Journey’s Greatest Hits (originally released in 1988) was at Number 56 on Amazon.com this afternoon, right between Norah Jones and Brandi Carlile. Indeed, the disc does a pretty good job of summarizing the Journey that critics hated. (Some disc jockeys, too: If I had a vinyl copy, it would have trackwide scratches across “Open Arms” and “Faithfully.”) It largely ignores the five albums Journey made before 1980′s Departure in favor of several soundalike hits from the 1980s.

It could have redeemed itself a bit had it included “Just the Same Way” (from 1979′s Evolution) and “Line of Fire” (from Departure), two of the best tracks the group ever cut. Both can be found both on the double disc compilation from 2001, The Essential Journey. If you want to add some Journey to your collection, you’d be better off with that. Not that The Essential Journey is perfect—it includes the early track “Anytime” without its companion, “Feelin’ That Way,” even though most rock stations play them as a single song. And it’s got “Open Arms” and “Faithfully,” too. Neither compilation includes “Walks Like a Lady” or “Where Were You,” both from Departure, and both of which stomp probably 20 of the 32 cuts on The Essential Journey.

If you want to buy a Journey album with “Don’t Stop Believin’” on it and and you don’t want to pop for The Essential Journey, buy Escape. At the historical moment when the power ballad was becoming a necessary part of the teen-rock repertoire, Journey resisted going over the top like REO Speedwagon had done with “Keep on Lovin’ You”—at first. It’s easy to imagine how “Who’s Crying Now” might have gone desperately wrong—Steve Perry dialing the whine up to 11, guitarist Neal Schon playing the closing solo with his fist instead of his fingers—but none of that happens. It’s tasteful and intelligent and a highly non-annoying entry into the power-ballad sweepstakes. It didn’t last, of course—the song’s aesthetic opposite, “Open Arms,” was Escape’s closing track.

Yeah, I got issues with “Open Arms.”

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