Journey vs Glee

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“Don’t Stop Beleivin’ has been violated and murdered by Glee”, “Glee ruined don’t stop believing” – each of these phrases present only a small insight into the internet-based hatred that elevates Journey’s 1981 hit into apparently untouchable genius. Unfortunately for this league of impassioned fans, the musical-comedy Glee has dared to cover Journey’s signature song; lathering the original with blatant auto-tune and lead star Lea Michele wailing on those high-notes like a peppy Banshee. But disregarding the constant complaints, I have one important question: is this song not in fact meaningless, musically simplistic, lyrically challenged, and to be quite frank, free for exposure as just so?

I’m already preparing myself for an imminent backlash: the outrage that a Spice Girls fan would dare to criticise a record that has endured for nearly thirty years. Yet the more complaints I hear, the more I am roused to anger. I guess my obvious summation is: when did Journey become credible musicians?

I will admit, I had never heard of Journey until Glee thrust its show-stopper version of “Don’t Stop Believin’” onto the ears of the entire Western World.

In turn, I researched the original version and what I found still frustrates me: why are people consistently hailing this record as some kind of classic?

Maybe I am confusing the meaning of a classic: perhaps it does now refer to American stadium rock that you can scream along with or hold a lighter to? (A response clearly more powerful and emotionally resonant than any other) Perhaps I am being romantic and nostalgic in believing that a record should only become a classic because it taps into something unforgettable: because it moves you, because it remains with you, because you feel a personal connection to it. When I listen to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” all I think of are drunk, American, shaggy-haired rockers doing bad air-guitar, whilst at the same time trying to decode any clear lyrical meaning..

I questioned a few friends on the subject, all of which have informed me that the song is a ‘love story’, ‘a tale of free-spirited escape’ and gave various other replies that establish some kind of obvious emotional link between the tenuous ‘small-town girl’ and equally as non-descript ‘streetlight….people’.

If someone could explain to me what goes ‘On and On and On’ in the situation described by this song, or even how Journey felt on writing this deeply emotional expose of 1980s American life (‘Some were born to sing the blues’), I may have more respect for its formation. I’m unsure if people actually find this song to be inspirational? – It is so shockingly vague that the only thing I understand is a killer opening key-board riff.

When Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Hails heard that Johnny Cash was to cover his 1994 record ,‘Hurt,’ he feared the concept was ‘gimmicky’ and ‘invasive’. How could an ageing, country-singer transform Reznor’s personal regret, as a man lost in a spiral of addiction and confusion, into anything that would fail to threaten his integrity? Yet, what Cash and his producer Rick Rubin created gave him ‘goosebumps’. Reznor even declared the song as almost no longer his. Cash’s haunting voice, the gravity of oncoming death, a chilling musical goodbye. Had Johnny Cash have destroyed the effect of a song as important as ‘Hurt’, I would share in some form of collective outrage. Yet, when the producers of Glee add a few auto-tuned ‘Da’s’ to a meaningless record – the complaining is relentless.

I joined in the condemnation of Simon Cowell when he handed the over the overwhelming sadness and beauty of Jeff Buckley’s ‘Hallelujah’ to our musically-lobotomised league of X Factor Viewers. I cringed with embarrassment when Paul Young transformed Joy Division’s tragic ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’ into an over- synthesised, car anthem with the emotional capacity of an amoeba. What I fail to understand is why anyone cares about Journey? Their back-catalogue is vapid air-guitar dross with hilarious titles including “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” or the laughable ‘Faithfully,’ with its All-American macho reflections of life on the road. The lyrics of that song are basically akin to a bad greetings card.

I admire “Don’t Stop Believin’” – it’s buoyant, fun and undeniably catchy, but nothing more. Glee has never stepped on Journey’s musical toes – even going so far as to pay tribute to the band in their season finale. “Don’t Stop Believin’” is also now the most downloaded song of all-time on ITunes. I admire this record for engaging with our modern consciousness and providing lyrics that are easily scream-able (even with copious amounts of alcohol affecting expression on a packed dance-floor of fellow screamers). But I must beg of these over-zealous Journey fans – what exactly are you defending in your Glee-based outrage? But hey, our emotion is, after all, ‘hiding in the night’…how we will every find the correct manner to express it?

As of May 2010, the Glee Cast cover of ‘Don’t Stop Believin’’ has sold 730,000 records on downloads alone. Even Steve Perry, Journey’s front-man, admits “It’s brought people’s attention to go check out the original”. Perry claims in his hit record that ‘the movie never ends’, it’s pretty clear that the popularity of this cover will fail to either. Is it time to channel our musical qualms into something else I wonder? One can only hope.

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3 Comments

  1. avatar
    Hadley Middleton on

    I thought the entire concept of ‘Glee’ was that of a Show Choir? (original material isn’t really an aspect, although ‘Glee’ is showcasing an original song episode later this season). I struggle to understand your argument…sorry!

    And unfortunately, the Backstreet Boys have three of the biggest selling albums of all time…(a band who have never written their own material)…displaying the consistent propensity of our music industry to possess very little integrity in that respect.

    And if Journey could write lyrics that weren’t laughable, and that didn’t become multi-platinum because of their blatant simplicity…maybe there’s an argument too.

    Thank you for your comment.

  2. avatar

    I don’t like Glee…..BUT I agree that they have hardly ruined ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ because I don’t think it was a great song in the first place, average at best. It is fairly catchy, and has lyrics that sound pretty good when you’re having a drunken sing-a-long but nothing more!

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