Arite…let’s get it out of the way, shall we? Journey is friggin’ AWESOME! That’s where we are going to start with this session of Hand Picked. If you think differently, then it says more about you than it does about Journey. They became one of the biggest Hit Machines in all of music. Their Greatest Hits has spent over 500 weeks on the album charts. They continue to sell out arenas and fill them with the sugary, poptastic, hookiness that the crowd sings at the TOP of their lungs, night after night, years after having appeared on the charts. With a bloke who isn’t even the lead singer everyone knows. A massive accomplishment. Hit after hit. Night after night.
However, it wasn’t always that way.
The original lineup of the band came out of the San Francisco scene in the early ‘70s. It was made up of members of a few other bands: Prairie Prince of The Tubes was the skinsman, Neal Schon, who had been poached by Carlos Santana to play in his band at the RIDICULOUS age of FIFTEEN, on guitar, Greg Rolie on keys, and Ross Valory and George Tickner from the ATROCIOUSLY named Frumious Bandersnatch, what a shock that THAT didn’t take off, rounding out the team. They had first been in the business of providing the backup band for other artists in the scene, but abandoned that idea and decided, instead, to make their own choons. So, they did. Nobody really cared.
Over the next few years there were a couple of other iterations, Schon on vocals, etc., and a deal with Columbia records that failed to impress anyone with its sales. Members left and came back. The usual soap opera stylings of a band trying to work out what the hell it’s doing. No easy feat. It can, and has, broken the spirit of many before. In late ’77, a young Steve Perry was contacted by Journey’s management after hearing some demos he had recorded with his band Alien Project. That project had broken up after the death of one of its members in a car accident, and Perry had returned home to pursue other paths in life. It was his Grandmother who convinced him to take the call. Sliding doors, I tell you. Robert Fleischman had been singing for Journey at this point, but it wasn’t jelling. Perry was snuck into a gig with the band under the auspices of being a fill in roadie, and while Fleischman was away from the mic at a soundcheck Steve stepped to it and sang a few notes. Bobby was OUT!
However, we still don’t have all of the characters needed.
In 1980 Greg Rolie left the band and recommended Jonathan Cain, of The Babys, as his replacement in the Keyboard Department. This is when shit goes BALLISTIC! The song-writing team of Cain/Perry proceeded to take the band to heights even they couldn’t have imagined.
2 Diamond Albums
8 Multi-Platinum Albums
2 Gold Albums
18 Top 40 singles
6 Top 10 singles
48 million records sold in the U.S.
75 million records sold Worldwide
Ain’t that some shit?
“Any Way You Want It” is from Journey’s 6th album, 1980’s Departure. This song precursors the arrival of Jonathan Cain and was written by Schon and Perry. It was a medium-level hit and definitely hints at the future, WAY MORE poptastic version of the band as it burns off any of the San Fran Jam Band history it may have had. The two of them wrote it while Journey shared the road with Thin Lizzy. They modeled it on the Thin Lizzy “guitar-voice, guitar-voice, more guitar-guitar-guitar-voice” approach to song-writing and, once you know that, it DEFINITELY wears that influence on its sleeve. Hard to unhear the connection when you find that out. By the way…Journey and Thin Lizzy on TOUR together?!? What were THOSE stories like?!
- Steve Perry – lead vocals
- Neal Schon – lead & rhythm guitars, backing vocals
- Ross Valory – bass guitar, backing vocals
- Gregg Rolie – mellotron, organ, backing vocals
- Steve Smith – drums
TO THE TAPE!!
The Drums: Steve Smith entered the frame in late 1978. Aynsley Dunbar was fired from Journey and proceeded to go across town and take-over the Drum Dept in fellow San Fran Hit Machine Jefferson Starship. Smith is a Berklee grad with an extensive knowledge, and ability, in Jazz Percussion. He still goes out with his Jazz band and plies the boards. He’s a badass. I love his playing so much. He is such a MUSICAL player, as one would imagine, having come from Jazz where nobody is simply sitting back. All instruments are playing PARTS! And it shows in his choices. The playing in “Any Way…” seems simple at first and it definitely provides the back-bone to the jam. However, Smith rests a majority of the groove on the cool trick of the bass drum and snare hitting TOGETHER inside the groove and helping to push the lyrical pattern through the dense instrumentation and locking the “chug-chug” of the guitars to the steel beam of The Pocket. It’s a simple trick, but SO effective. Each part of the song has a different feel to it. A different vibe. Hi-hats give way to ride cymbals in the choruses and jam sections. China crashes punctuate the pushes in the choruses and mark “The One” as the song builds to a climax and Steve wails over the top of it all. It’s interesting that these guys and Def Leppard have been touring together, as they both helped create the Blueprint for Arena Rock and one of the pillars of that genre is an uncluttered and showy attitude for the drums. It was Mutt Lange who pointed out that all of the intricate fills and bollocks of Prog as Rock as it was coming out of the ‘70s would get entirely lost in the massiveness of the sheds that bands were now playing. The idea was to keep the drums simple and powerful. It became important to make sure that the drums kept everyone moving more than keeping them impressed with the fireworks. Leave that for the…well…the actual fireworks. I love it when people find out what a badass Smith is behind the kit because it shows them what self-control and discipline will do for a song. Check out the below video to see what the dude is capable of when he’s running with the weights off.
The Bass Dept: Ross Valory was the bassist for the band from its inception until the Raised On Radio record. His role in the live band, from that album on, was taken over by Randy Jackson of American Idol fame. Useless facts abound. Russ has a little secret though; he strings his four-string bass with the bottom strings of a FIVE string bass pack. This means that he can get the low reach of a five string with the usability and ease-of-operation of a four string! Music nerds REJOICE! What it means to the rest of us is that Ol’ Russ is a badass and this track is an exquisite example. The “bom-bom-boms” of the verses just riding away with Smith, the climb into the chorus, and THEN…the DOPENESS of the choruses!?! Come on. He’s all-over the place. SO GOOD! In a lesser-bassists hands, this entire song could’ve been pretty bloody mundane, but Ross gives it a pulse, counter-melody jam, meets up with the drums for the hits and punches, weaves around the vocal melody. Ridiculous. I mean, just go back and listen to his entry with the big hits under the vocal. If he phoned it in from that point on you might forgive it! He goes hard in the paint for the whole song and brings it all to life. I have such an affection for the bass and for bassists; Ross does an epic job on this jam. And on all of the parts he constructed for the band. Such personality and personal choices. Awesomesauce.
The Ivories: The original keyboard part had been written and recorded on a Mellotron. This instrument is renowned for being finicky and a total primadonna in the studio. Greg’s was no different. In the final recording stages, it was decided to double the Mellotron part with Rollie’s more traditional sounding B3. The resulting texture is so unique. Another perfect accident. Upon the arrival of Cain, the keys become more important and more of a lead texture than the traditional role they played when Greg was playing with them. Organ was replaced by synths, and the rest is history. This song is one of the last to still hold on to the vestigial Classic Rock feel of the old Journey. The ‘80s, and the arenas, awaited. I do greatly enjoy the “weeeeeeaaaaaahm” wind-ups on the organ as it rolls into the choruses. YOU can’t pull that off NEARLY as successfully on a Yamaha DX-7, I’ll tell you THAT for free!
GEETARZ! Neal Schon has said that he joined Santana at 15 only after turning down Derek And The Dominoes offer to join them instead. Did I mention that he was 15-YEARS-OLD when he joined Santana! 15! Wtf. That is absolutely absurd. There is definitely a simplification of his playing as the band transforms from its ‘70s iteration into the behemoth of the ‘80s Rock Machine it became. Of this there is no doubt. However, Neal still finds interesting voicings for the chords that he chooses and, lest we forget, one of the GREATEST achievements of the Arena Rock Era was to make wankingly amazing guitar solos a mandatory thing. And Neal can wank with the best of them. The buzz-saw sound of the verse guitars gives way to the soaring, delayed, flying-like-an-eagle-through-the-burned-umber-skies-of-some-perfect-‘80s-TV-show-chase-scene, texture of the lead. Man, it must be fucking AWESOME to get to play these things loud as a bastard through a HUGE PA night after night. Kudos, Schon, you did good. A cool little trick is the variation of the chords that he plays in the stops at the 1:50 mark, more than a little Alex Lifeson/Eddie Van Halen on display. And then, a full minute of lead and smashy chords to take us through to the end. A perfect construction. WANK AWAY GUITAR GOD!
That Voice: What can one say about Stephen Ray Perry? Not much need be said, actually, if you just listen to him sing. When he briefly took over as singer for the band, Schon put them all into vocal lessons to learn how to harmonize with each other as perfectly as they could. Brilliant idea. And it shows on this one. That intro!?! Yup. Nothing to say. And then we’re in. Using his lower register to invite us into the story of this chick who is up for ANYTHING, Steve lays the verse out beautifully and then, in a moment, turns on a dime and climbs up through the pre-chorus into the stacks of the chorus again. The “Hold tight” bit?!?! Supreme. And then, how could you NOT sing along to the “Any way you want it”?! Once again, perfection. Stephen does a LITTLE showing off during the Middle 8 but saves the BIG guns for the last 20 seconds of the song as he holds those massive notes over the top of Neal’s solo and the band bringing it all to a conclusion. One of the greatest voices in popular music. Hands down. When you’re done listening to this one, just crack up “Separate Ways” and don’t think…JUST LISTEN! This song is such a jam! It moves from section to section with intention and the manipulation is so seamless that you don’t notice ANY of what’s happening. Everyone is aiming for the same goal and that is to get you and the other 50,000 bums out of their seats, lighters held high, swaying, turning to the person next to you and singing along with them…shit-eating grin on face. Victory over the troubles of the day and a celebration of THAT MOMENT. This is what music was intended for. Put away the fucking slide-rules and scientific calculators, stop trying to work out what music is all about, and just enjoy it. You and your mates. From your local Enormodome to the tiniest of karaoke bars, doesn’t matter, these melodies carry the day every time. And voices like Steve’s carry us along with them. I’m so bummed I didn’t get to see them live at the peak of their powers. Must’ve been fucking magnificent.
And “Any Way You Want It” is the first hint we get of the future that Journey will have.
Right now, wherever you are, put on Journey’s Greatest Hits, stash your musical snobbery somewhere, and just enjoy what a band can accomplish when they put their minds to it. You won’t believe how matchless their execution of the Journey Prime Directive was. I unabashedly love this band. I am bummed for you if you can’t find a way to give in to them and their hooks. Driving the PCH, up the coast, on a sunny afternoon, with that album blasting is sublime. I recommend it to anyone.
Just do it.
Until the next one.