Don’t Stop Believin’. The backstory.

When I am not blogging about social media, journalism and PR I am obsessing about music.

Never more so than this week when the same song hit the UK top ten not once but twice.  ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ is at number 5 and 6 on the chart sung by the cast of teen show Glee and the MOR band Journey who released the original in 1981. Think blokes with a big song and big hair.

The question is why ?

I have been around long enough to know that the Zeitgeist is rarely as mystical as we think. Co-incidences usually have an explanation, the Freakonmics guys have taught me that. So rather than let it eat away at me I have been doing some digging and this I what I found.

Don’t Stop Believin’ is not an obscure song. We may not know it well in the UK but in the States it has been a karaoke staple for years. In fact it has become something of a show-closer with many a dance or prom ending with  Journey as the big home-time finale. Here, we are more likely to revive quirky oldies like ‘Show me the way to Amarillo’ but in the States this Journey song is nostalgia on a plate.

So with this in mind we move to the next step on our ‘Journey’ (sorry.) The song was used in the final scene of the Sopranos (2007), a show that takes  irony  seriously.* Tony Soprano was always an ordinary Joe with family worries as well as a mafia boss. As we see him for the last time, eating in a restaurant with his family, we are reminded again of the clash  between the dark nihilistic world of mafia hits and the hopeful positive world of Journey where we must never stop believing (that it’s going to be ok). A suspicious guy glances at Tony and goes in back to the bathroom. The slam to black at the end says it all.

Now our road splits in two as Glee and American Idol come on the scene. One is a high school spoof, the song is at the centre of its pilot episode. The other is a TV singing contest. The cast sing Don’t Stop Believin’ as the finale of their live show.

Enter Simon Cowell, American  Idol judge and man behind the UK’s massive X Factor. He took the song with him to X Factor and gave it (via Cheryl Cole) to Joe McElderry, who incidentally, went on to win the show. Simon Cowell said at the time that the song was little known. What he meant was little known in this country.

Kids here with unprecedented access to music via computer then began downloading  the original having enjoyed Geordie Joe’s version and it was a hit before Christmas. I heard that  Joe’s people wanted to release his version but weren’t allowed. something to do with Glee ?

This January Glee premiered in the UK amid a huge amount of hype and the High School version of Don’t Stop joined the original in the top ten. (Presumably bought by kids for whom big hair on a man is still a step too far.)

And there you have it. The anatomy of a phenomenon.  If you have any more insights I don’t claim this as the definitive version and would love to hear from you .

* Journey’s keyboard player, Jonathan Cain, doesn’t credit “Sopranos” creator David Chase with the revival. He credits Adam Sandler who has a brush with the song in 1998’s “The Wedding Singer.”

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2 responses to “Don’t Stop Believin’. The backstory.

  1. Thanks so much for the potted history – when I first heard the Glee version I was SURE I knew the song of old… (big songs and big hair were my era).

    What an excellent bit of research – you’ve put an end to my pondering, thanks!

  2. Thank you Jane. I love doing the research as much as writing the blog.

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