‘Don’t Stop Believin’ Goes On And On, Because We Need It To: NPR



Almost 40 years ago, the band Journey released what has become their signature song – “Don’t Stop Believin'”. It was a top 10 and became even more popular. A few years ago, Roben Farzad from member station VPM first told us the story of a song that has become a source of inspiration across generations.


ROBEN FARZAD, BYLINE: Jonathan Cain was a struggling and unlucky rocker in the 1970s. He was ready to quit the LA music scene.

JONATHAN CAIN: Everything was going wrong. The girlfriend is gone. Dog was hit by a car. I called my father for money. I said, Dad, I have no more money here.

FARZAD: Cain asked his father if he should go back to Chicago.

CAIN: And he said to me, you know, we’ve always had a vision, son, and we keep believing it. And so I had a lyric book next to me, and I wrote it in my lyric book.

FARZAD: He finally got his chance when Journey recruited him as their new keyboard player. Singer Steve Perry has asked Jonathan Cain to write a song for the upcoming ‘Escape’ album. Advice from Cain’s father inspired his insistent and now famous piano overture.


FARZAD: Steve Perry brought haunting vocals.


JOURNEY: (singing) Oh, the movie never ends. It goes on and on and on and on and on.

FARZAD: And Neal Schon, his guitar sounds like a midnight train passing right in front of you.


FARZAD: The song builds and exits, culminating with the chorus, eventually coming more than three-quarters of the way into the track.


JOURNEY: (Singing) Don’t stop believing. Hold on to that feeling. Public lighting, people…

FARZAD: Reviewer Deborah Frost didn’t even mention “Don’t Stop Believin'” by name in her record review for Rolling Stone, which gave the album Journey 2 out of 5 stars.

DEBORAH FROST: I would have given it a minus 100. Incredibly cheesy, cheesy track.

FARZAD: Maybe, but it’s incredibly popular. According to Nielsen Music, “Don’t Stop Believin'” now holds the record for the most downloaded 20th century song. A song born in the age of mixtapes and rock radio has found its glory in the age of TV binge and streaming.

Her revival began with Adam Sandler’s 1998 comedy “The Wedding Singer.” In 2003, Charlize Theron used “Don’t Stop Believin'” in her Oscar-winning role in “Monster.” In 2007, The Sopranos ended with this tense dinner scene on the “Don’t Stop Believin'” soundtrack. Downloads of the song skyrocketed. Then in 2009, the hit TV show “Glee” covered the song.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing).

FARZAD: Again, downloads of both the original track and the cover of “Glee” have increased. It landed in a Broadway musical as the rally song for the Chicago White Sox 2005 World Series race.

“Don’t Stop Believin'” is an anthem for persevering and keeping the faith. The singer in a smoky room and the smell of cheap wine and perfume evokes Jonathan Cain’s difficult days on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

CAIN: And I said, I really believe this song is about wanting to do it, you know, and you’re not stuck where you think you’re stuck in life, you know you can get out of it. same way I walked out of Chicago, so I wouldn’t stop believing.

FARZAD: And this is where the story takes an unlikely turn. Steve Perry left the band in 1998. And for a decade Journey couldn’t find a lead singer who could perform Perry’s legendary altino (ph) tenor.


JOURNEY: (Singing) Hiding somewhere in the night.

FARZAD: Guitarist Neal Schon was desperate. Late one night on YouTube, he discovered a lounge singer in the Philippines who was covering the band’s ballads. He reached out to the young man – Arnel Pineda, a former homeless child. He thought he was being tricked. In 2007, the band took him to the United States and hired him – a fairy tale story that was the subject of the documentary “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey”. Here is Pineda singing with Journey.


ARNEL PINEDA: (Vocals) Just a small town girl, living in a lonely world. She took the midnight train anywhere.

FARZAD: Arnel Pineda says the story of “Don’t Stop Believin'” felt like his own story after living on the streets of Manila and sleeping in a park. He spoke with Oprah Winfrey in 2009.


PINEDA: I have never dreamed so big. All I wanted was, you know, to be able to get out of pain and poverty and, you know, live decently.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Brett (ph), come up.

FARZAD: A World Apart In Richmond, Va., the spirit of song drives karaoke night. It’s midnight Tuesday at Sticky Rice, a sushi bar that plays host to the loudest carols in college town. The restaurant is packed and the queue is at the door.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So ladies and gentlemen, don’t be shy. Here we are.

FARZAD: Shilpa Gangisetty and Matt Malone, in their twenties, are tonight’s lucky believers, beating out at least five other karaokeers who have requested the Journey anthem.

SHILPA ANGISETTY: I’m an American Indian, actually, and this song is something my parents know. And it came out just before my parents came to this country. So it’s really interesting because there aren’t too many cultural things to identify with. But I know it’s a song my dad knows.

MATT MALONE: It’s like “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Miss Mary Mack”. But, like, once you get into college, it’s like “Don’t stop believing” and like that – you have to know that.

Gangisetty: Yeah.

MALONE: Everybody hates loving him.

FARZAD: Even people stuck outside – they’re under a lamp post – are pressing against the windows and mouthing the lyrics.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing) Just a small town girl living in a lonely world. She took the midnight train anywhere. Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit.

FARZAD: Whether you sing sarcastically or directly, whether he’s won you over on rock radio, mixtape, iTunes, binge TV or acapella classes, he’s a mainstay at bar mitzvahs and weddings. For some reason, “Don’t Stop Believin'” is an anthem to hold on to, and it just goes on and on.


FARZAD: For NPR News, I’m Roben Farzad.


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