Journey, by Journey
In the period from the late 1970’s to the mid-1980’s, Journey was among the most successful bands on the planet, with a pleasing arena rock sound that led to massive album sales and numerous hit singles that have remained staples of radio rock in the decades since their peak. The band continues to perform live to adoring crowds and their songs remain vitally important as a touchstone of the rock music of the band’s peak era. But not all bands, even world famous bands, start out being well known, and in the case of Journey, their beginnings remain wrapped in all kinds of obscurity. In beginning a career retrospective of a band which has long remained among my favorites, I am aware that I am listening to songs that I have never heard before and have never even heard of, since the songs lack any kind of deliberate attempts to remember this forgotten era of the band. When Journey began, were they any good, and are there songs that are worth appreciating even if this particular period of the band’s music has been largely forgotten if it was ever even known in the first place?
“Of A Lifetime” begins the self-titled debut album with a nearly seven-minute song that begins with a gorgeous long instrumental section before some reflective lyrics that remind one of the Pink Floyd music of the era, by no means a bad reminder. “In The Morning Day” combines some confident swaggering lyrics about love with a complex instrumental suite of music and a moderate runtime at under four and a half minutes. “Kohoutek” then offers a lengthy instrumental jam of more than six and a half minutes that demonstrates the band’s prog rock ambitions and instrumental chops. “To Play Some Music” offers the enjoyment of music to the listener in a form that is very reminiscent of its time. “Topaz” provides a meditative melodic guitar solo that would not have been out of place on a Santana album before transitioning into another complex and lengthy instrumental at more than six minutes. “In My Lonely Feeling / Conversations” continues the album’s exploration of jazzy art rock with more reflective lyrics about the narrator’s desire to be the master of his soul. “Mystery Mountain” closes the album with more gorgeous instrumentals and somewhat sparse lyrics that reflect a sense of mystery and fantasy that help out with the album’s prog rock focus.
I’m not sure what I expected from the debut album by Journey, but this definitely was not it. Compared to Journey’s peak period of popularity, the most obvious difference is that peak Journey released songs full of hooks and the emotive singing of Steve Perry, who would not join the group until they were working on their fourth album. If the singing on this album is undistinguished compared to Steve Perry–one of the greatest rock vocalists of all time–the music is certainly stellar, and I cannot help but feel as if there is a missing market for this sort of music. Millions of lonely and isolated teenage boys of the mid 1970’s could have listened to this album had they only known about it, and played air guitar to their heart’s content to the extended jams on this accomplished debut. There is nothing on this album that would make an obvious single on AM radio, but surely there was room on FM radio for at least some of this album given the sort of longform progressive rock that managed to find an appreciative audience. How did this album fall through the cracks?