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Sunday, March 27, 2011

"Don't Stop Believin'" - Journey Song Analysis

There are few songs from the 80's that have had the impact or longevity of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin,'" which was requested for song analysis by long-time reader HF. Surprisingly, the song may be more popular today than it ever was when it was first released in 1981, thanks to being featured on several television shows like The Soprano's, Glee and Made In America. The song comes from Journey's Escape album, which was a huge seller for the band and a #1 Billboard Top 200 hit. It's also a unique song in many ways, as you'll find out.

As in all of our song analysis, we'll look at the song itself, the arrangement, the sound and the performance.

The Song
"Don't Stop Believin'" is a highly unusual song in that the chorus never occurs until the very end of the song. There is no bridge either, but the song is constructed so well that it build and develops in tension. Here's what the form looks like:

Intro, Verse, Verse, B-section, Verse, B-section, solo/verse, Chorus, Chorus/fade

The verse and the chorus use the same chord changes. It's only the lyrics and a slight melody change along with backing vocals that makes them different from each other.

The Arrangement
Again, this is a very well constructed song, especially the arrangement. The song starts off sparse with a piano and fretless bass, then adds vocals, then guitar and finally drums in the B-section.

There aren't many overdubs (which I like), but the ones that are there are very effective. There's a guitar and synth double introduced on the B-section, and several subtle guitars and backing vocals in the chorus, which brings the song to a peak.

The Sound
For the most part, this song really sounds good. Steve Smith's drums sound big and natural, and Neal Schon's guitar sounds are great. Ross Valory's fretless bass is a little thin, yet fits the song well. The piano is chorused, which was very much in vogue during this period of the 80's. The sound of the vocal is the only thing I didn't personally like as it's noticeably compressed. Lots of compression can be a good thing as long as you don't hear it working, but you sure do here.

There are not many effects that are noticeable in the song, aside from the obvious piano chorus. The vocal has a medium reverb with a timed delay, as does the synth, but it's back in the mix.

The Performance
Journey was/is a great band. All the players are exceptional, and vocalist Steve Perry has a unique voice (although not that unique since there are 2 guys in the current band that sound just like him). I really liked Jonathan Cain's piano performance. It's a straight ahead part, but he puts a lot of very subtle inflections in it that make it go from potentially sterile to sterling.

Let me know if you have any request for song analysis and I'll do my best to get to them.


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Siggid├│ri said...

Being a bass player myself (I play fretless and fretted basses), then I'm a bit skeptical to believe that Ross is using the fretless bass on this one.

There is though a "huge" amount of chorus/flanger effect which give thins out the sound as you point out.

Also there's a quite a bit of treble added. Just listen to the attack of the bass notes. He's probably using a pick as well?

Bobby Owsinski said...

I think you're right about the pick. Still sounds like a fretless to me.

Steve said...

Doing some research on the 'net points to a Peavey T-40, but some say he was playing an Ovation Magnum. I owned a new '80 shoulder busting T-40 and am on my second Steinberger (wore the first one out) XL-2 which he started using an album or two after this. Seems he changed basses on almost every album. Anyway, put me down as another who doesn't think this was done with a fretless.

Anonymous said...

He used the Ovation for the "Escape" album.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but none of the post-Perry singers sound "just like him."


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