Friday, June 10, 2011
Journey Makes Believers Out Of All Of Us
"Don't Stop Believin" has had an interesting life, in the 80s it was an dominating rock anthem that many a Class Of '81 graduated to. But in the grungy alt rock 90s the song disappeared from view. The rock critic elite that had trashed Journey throughout their career was all too happy to see them go, until a sign of life flickered in 1998 thanks to an incredible string version used for the film The Wedding Singer. Since the turn of the century "Believin" has returned to its former glory, referenced by sports teams, movies and television series alike. It's become the theme song to a nostalgic view of modern optimism, maybe made more complex by chance than design but still there it is. And everyone wants a piece of it, in the last decade or so "Don't Stop Believin" has become a standard like "Strangers In The Night" or "If I Had A Hammer". So I spent tonight subjecting myself to a variety of cover versions so I can take a look at the song past Journey or Steve Perry.
There are a couple of basic ways to cover this song, I'll start with the best known one.
The Musical Take
What if all those streetlight people that were holding on to that feeling were to sing in unison while performing complex choreography? That question seems to weigh heavily on people's minds because two of the most popular cover versions of "Don't Stop Believin" is exactly that. The tv show Glee has the best known cover, going all High School Musical with zippy production and emphasis on a capella to accent the groove. It's not bad for what it is, I'm indifferent to it myself other than it brings recognition of the song to the young generation which is nice. The Broadway play Rock Of Ages uses the song as well for the big finish to their show. In both Glee and Rock Of Ages the tune is used as a sweeping gesture to bring a bunch of characters together to allow their moment to shine. While the musical take draws a lot of the rock muscle out of "Don't Stop Believin" I guess it isn't too different than hearing 25,000 fans in an arena screaming along with three or four beers in them. The Glee cover has caught on like wildfire with similar versions coming out from as unlikely places as Big Brother. Though when you get to the point where one or two people are making covers of the Glee cover, that goes a little too far. By the time you get to Alvin and the Chipmunks (who are autotuned to death, who thought of autotuning what is already understood to be a studio manipulated vocal?) it's game over.
The Full On Cover
Who dares to challenge the greatness of Steve Perry? Other than everybody with two turntables and a microphone? Can anyone sing this song better than the originator, he who gives life to magic, Steve Perry?? Don't give me no back talk, no. But a lot of people try and some do really well, even those that aren't officially sanctioned by Neal Schon and Jon Cain to do so under the Journey name. He who was nearly Steve Perry's replacement in Journey Kevin Chalfant does a good job of getting some Perry Power into his version. Tribute band singer Hugo has made a lifetime career out of being Steve Perry so ditto him as well. Plus the tribute band Evolution has this guy who even mimics the dress and mannerisms of Sir Perry. Where it gets interesting is Starship's Mickey Thomas covered it too, I always enjoy Thomas' vocals and got a kick out of his version. Wish I could say the same about American Idol's James Durbin tackling the arena rock classic, I enjoyed his performances generally but on tv he was to distracted by playing to the crowd to nail his vocal. Fans of Durbin must have felt the same as he was voted off the next night. Eric Dover (of Slash's Snakepit) had an OK take with his voice but the backing track seemed thin. His You Tube posting said he would go after anyone who makes a bad comment about his cover, it will be interesting to see if that's true. Fall Out Boy took a shot at it live, too bad the singer's voice failed him on the really high end. When it comes to the full on cover, the version with the most impact is Steel Panther's. A great balance of energy and knowing cheese, a mix they often do well.
String A Long
The Wedding Singer made the string arrangement of "Don't Stop Believin" a dream for people's nuptuals, except that version can't seem to be found anywhere. But there are string versions out there. Vitamin String Quartet had my favorite of the versions out there because it came closest to Wedding Singer with the slowed down tempo. Low Strung does a nice rendition too with a pace that's closer to the original. Still, it's that Wedding Singer version that everyone remembers fondly including me.
If Dance Dance Revolution taught me one thing, it's that I really can't dance. Other than that, DDR taught me that any song can be remade into a bleepin' and bloopin' electronica jam. The best of the dance covers was by some guy named Newton. It at least had a eurodisco feel to it. There were a few other versions I listened to but I'm not a big electronica fan so it all starts to sound the same after a bit.
We're getting into more painful territory as we get to Alternative Rock covers. Journey's slick arrangements and Perry-ized vocal style doesn't translate too well to the angsty mild punk pop of today. The best of what I could dig up was by somebody named Five Hour Flight Music, it was at least clean and entertaining. Another group called Flight 409 (what is it with alternative rock and flights?) has a singer that works in that current style what is it called - emo? I think he sounds emo. Doesn't work well for this song. I give them credit though for retaining the lurching drums. The biggest laugh I got out of this You Tube cruise is what's labeled a screamo cover. Funny stuff.
Odds & Ends
You'd think that would be all the covers right there...but wait! There's more! A group or person named Boyce Avenue has a pleasant piano ballad version that's pretty decent. There are also bluegrass and lullaby renditions that have a novelty to them. But my favorite of all the "Don't Stop Believin" covers is the a capella one done by Petra Haden. I guess her version influenced Glee's which takes some of the edge off, I remember when I first heard it how impressed I was with it's inventiveness. It's fantastic.
Which brings us full circle. There are tons more covers out there, I just don't have time to go through them all. The movie never ends, it goes on and on and on and on.