Come with us, dear reader, on a trip to a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Journey were the biggest band on the planet. Okay, so it only seems like the two events occurred simultaneously, but to dismiss those Journey records as stale music from a bygone era would be foolish. To celebrate the reissue of five of Journey’s biggest albums (but, curiously, not their biggest album, 1983’s Frontiers), the Bullz-Eye staff held their lighters high, sang “Naaaa naa na naaa na na, na naaa na naa na naa” at the tops of their lungs, and gave in to the stadium-shaking goodness of the much, and wrongly, maligned Journey. Long-tailed tuxedo jackets optional.
Infinity Released: 1978
Long before there were power struggles, dramatic lineup changes, and VH-1 “Behind The Music” episodes accusing each other of lying, leaving, and faking illness, there was Journey’s breakout album in 1978, Infinity, a debut for all intents and purposes since it featured the incomparable Steve Perry as lead singer for the first time. Things would never be the same for the former jazz/fusion jam band from San Francisco who had been searching for an identity the previous three to four years as Gregg Rolie grappled with vocal duties. On Infinity, however, we saw a band transformed to an entirely new level with ten perfectly crafted, slickly produced, practically orchestral masterpieces. It was no mistake that their eventual signature ballad “Lights” kicked off this album, ideally ushering in the Perry era. Unlike the future wimp ballads that would become their calling card, the ’78 Journey were far too capable musicians to just woo you to sleep. They wanted to rock! Neal Schon’s classically-trained guitar was gonna wail on even the slower songs. But amidst the tender, magical melodies of “Patiently” and “Open the Door” were the grittier classic rock riffs of “La Do Da” and “Wheel in the Sky” that held up to anything their late-‘70s hard rock counterparts were delivering, especially since Kiss had gone disco by this time.
Evolution Released: 1979
If Steve Perry’s introduction into the lineup Journey on Infinity got Neal Schon’s creative juices flowing, then it’s clear that, by the time the band got around to recording the follow-up – Evolution – they were in overdrive. Producer Roy Thomas Baker was back behind the console again, shining things up, and the studio gloss paid off in a big way, courtesy of the top 20 hit, “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’”…but, then, we’ve all heard that song a thousand times. How does the rest of the album stand up? Rather well, frankly. The opening instrumental, “Majestic,” is appropriately titled, setting the stage for the guitar attack of the ten songs that follow (Schon really shreds on “Do You Recall” and “Daydream”), but the music is occasionally secondary to the phenomenal harmonies provided by Perry, Schon, bassist Ross Valory, and keyboardist Gregg Rolie. Actually, although he’s rarely remembered by the general public for fronting the band, Rolie steps up to the mike and shares lead vocals with Perry on “Just the Same Way.” The transformation from prog-rock/fusion noodlers into arena-rock masters was complete. Next stop: ruling the pop charts
Departure Released: 1980
Departure was the final chapter in what experts call Journey’s “cocoon phase,” and there’s really no better way to describe it than that. This was the final album with keyboardist Gregg Rolie before the band replaced him with Jonathan Cain and went on to become superstars, and showed that, with their tightness and songwriting chops, this was a band on the verge of something huge. “Any Way You Want It” kicks off Departure (the title itself meaning a departure from the ‘70s into the ‘80s), and the song was not only a huge single, but is still a hit song to this day and a fan favorite. The trademark harmonies on that song set the tone for an album’s worth of lesser-known Journey songs that are easily some of their best. The shuffling “Walks Like a Lady” and rocking “Where Were You” were also solid singles, but “Someday Soon” is a glimpse into Escape or Frontiers, and “I’m Cryin’” is a kickass bluesy rocker that show off the chops of singer Steve Perry and guitarist Neal Schon. And the band really lets loose on the Aerosmith-ish “Homemade Love.” There are also two bonus tracks that didn’t make the original Departure, “Little Girl” and “Natural Thing.” All in all this is a classic album that, while the tones and production sound dated, the songs are as classic sounding today as they were upon being released.
Escape Released: 1982
That sonic boom you heard around August 1981 was the sound of Journey soaring into the stratosphere. Co-founder Gregg Rolie was bounced in favor of ex-Baby Jonathan Cain, and the results produce Journey’s most accessible, if softest, album to date. The big hits – and there were three huge hits from this album – are all lighter-worthy, from the life-affirming “Don’t Stop Believin’” to the melancholy “Who’s Crying Now,” ending with the mother of all power ballads, “Open Arms” (live versions of all three songs are also included). The album wasn’t a complete pushover, though; “Stone in Love” is one of the band’s all-time best rockers, but the album’s finest moments were undoubtedly its, um, more thoughtful ones. “Still They Ride” and “Mother Father,” for example, wipe the floor with “rockers” like “Keep on Runnin’” and “Lay It Down.” Perhaps the most interesting inclusion is the bonus track “La Raza del Sol,” which is a throwback to the band’s Santana-spawned roots. Consider Escape Ground Zero for the uninitiated.
Greatest Hits Released: 1988
This album is true to its title. This compilation contains only the ferociously commercially successful side of Journey. All of these songs still live in the world of radio, with “Lights” and “Wheel in the Sky” represented on Classic Rock formats while any of the ballads (I am weeping right now thinking about Jonathan Cain penning “Faithfully” for his wife while he was weary on the road) are in heavy rotation on any Lite or Love Songs formats. Legacy did this one right, and even though it is a re-release of the compilation put out in 1988, it has been re-mastered (super-important for converting to MP3 devices), has new liner notes and pages of never-released photos and memorabilia and features a bonus track, “When You Love a Woman” (I’m weeping again, the Perry vocal in combination with Cain’s dramatic keyboard work is overpowering my Prozac) from the 1996 comeback record, Trial by Fire.
No material is included from the period prior to Steve Perry entering the group, so the three prog/jazz records they put out are not represented here. Perry’s vocals are signature Journey, but don’t underestimate the importance of the pen of ex-Babys’ keyboardist Cain, who wrote or co-wrote 12 of the 16 tracks collected here. By the way, you still get to hear some pretty cool solos, even on the soft stuff from Neal Schon, a guy who cut his teeth with Santana when he was barely past puberty. Go feather your hair, fire up the lighter, and enjoy Journey’s most commercially satiating material. Between 1978 and 1986, Journey was the big arena monster, second to none. Greatest Hits is the testimony as to why they put all those butts in the stadiums.