Thursday, July 18, 2013

Song Meaning & Analysis: Don't Stop Believin' by Journey

ARTIST: journey | ALBUM: escape | RELEASED: 1981
Song Meaning & Analysis: Don't Stop Believin' by Journey. "Don't Stop Believin'" is the second single from Escape
"Don't Stop Believin'" is the second single from Escape
The American rock band Journey, formed in 1973, decided to embark on a different musical style towards the end of the decade - one in which they put more emphasis on commercial, radio friendly rock songs. Now, as a rock n' roll fan, I don't mind this approach, and definitely wouldn't label them as "sellouts." In fact, exploring different musical paths is, in fact, beneficial to both fans and music, in my humble opinion.

Though they didn't immediately find success with their new found musical style, Journey stayed on track for several years, and eventually released Escape, which was commercially successful in large part due the track, "Don't Stop Believin'." The album also contained two other hit singles: "Who's Crying Now" and "Open Arms."

With respect to the lyrics, the song is about a boy and a girl leaving their hometown in pursuit of their future career in music. At some point in their lives they cross paths and become close friends. The first verse introduces the main characters and their socio-economic status, which is presumably not very good. The boy and girl are from "south Detroit."3 It's safe to assume, because they are from Detroit, they both have been exposed to Motown sound. Second verse is pretty much about the duo living a rock n' roll life consists of drugs, sex and rock n' roll. This is confirmed by keywords like "smokey room"6, "smell of wine"7, and "share the night."8

Second and third verses, though lack in detail, further give us clues about the progress of the couples' life. I believe two verses talk about their middle age, after having achieved their lifelong dreams. There's a reference to drugs, as stated by the line "Working hard to get my fill /Everybody wants a thrill."17 Here "fill" means drugs/joints, and "thrill" is the subsequent pleasure upon consumption of such. Drugs are an integral part of a rock n' rollers life, and they were heavily used in the 1970s. Next line, "Payin' anything to roll the dice"19 is a gambling reference, but I think it's much more deeper than that; it's referring to Las Vegas, a city that symbolizes rock n' roll in a nutshell. The following line, "Some will win, some will lose,"22 I don't think refers back to gambling, though it may very much seem like it. Rather, it saying something like "some get lucky, others don't," and only those who are lucky make to the top in the world of rock n' roll. This in fact is a very accurate statement because some bands that started out with good prospects crashed and burned after releasing only couple of albums. "Some were born to sing the blues"23 describe the couples musical talents. Though they may be rock stars, all genres of rock n' roll extends from blues.

The chorus of the song winds time back in time. It gives a snapshot of the couple's life when they were still at the beginning of their careers, being on the road, doing concerts across the country. So chorus pretty much talks about the street:
  • Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard12 - when you go to different parts of the country, especially a diverse country like the US, you may be viewed as an outcast, and for you, they may seem like strangers.
  • Their shadows searching in the night13 - "shadows"symbolizes fearsomeness of having to approach those strangers, or perform a show at a nightclub, where you'd usually get scrutinized if you f*&ed up.
  • Streetlights people, living just to find emotion14- this means people who living off of streetlight. In other words, those who go clubbing at night and sleep in the day. "Find emotion" simply means looking for sex.
One interesting line that occurs multiple times in the song is, "it goes on and on and on and on."9,25 This line refers to life, and that life never slows down no matter how hard you try. It'll keep on going and eventually stops.

So in short, the song traces the lives of two young kids who'll going on to live a rock n' roll life. At least that's how I view it. Let' me know what you think of it.

Besides the significance of the lyrics, the song is also popular due its artistry, namely the voice of the frontman, Steve Perry. According to American Idol judge Randy Jackson, who also happened to play the bass with Steve, has said, "Other than Robert Plant, there's no singer in rock that even came close to Steve Perry. The power, the range, the tone — he created his own style. He mixed a little Motown, a little Everly Brothers, a little Zeppelin." As a matter of fact, Steve Perry's voice was an integral part in propelling, not just the single or the album, but the whole group into commercial success.

  1. Just a small town girl, livin' in a lonely world
  2. She took the midnight train goin' anywhere
  3. Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit
  4. He took the midnight train goin' anywhere

  5. A singer in a smokey room
  6. A smell of wine and cheap perfume
  7. For a smile they can share the night
  8. It goes on and on and on and on

  9. (Chorus)
  10. Strangers waiting, up and down the boulevard
  11. Their shadows searching in the night
  12. Streetlights people, living just to find emotion
  13. Hiding, somewhere in the night.

  14. Working hard to get my fill,
  15. Everybody wants a thrill
  16. Payin' anything to roll the dice,
  17. Just one more time 
  18. Some will win, some will lose
  19. Some were born to sing the blues
  20. Oh, the movie never ends
  21. It goes on and on and on and on

  22. (Chorus)

  23. Don't stop believin'
  24. Hold on to the feelin'
  25. Streetlights people

  26. Don't stop believin'
  27. Hold on
  28. Streetlight people

  29. Don't stop believin'
  30. Hold on to the feelin'
  31. Streetlights people

Lyrics from:


  1. I think your analysis is really spot on. Kudos. Only thing I can think that might be slightly amiss is "Strangers Waiting, up and down the boulevard"

    Living in LA, that sentence can be taken very literally...down on the sunset strip (sunset blvd) where bands play, if a famous band plays, there can be lines waiting up and down the boulevard....strangers....So it could be a more literal meaning.

    Thanks for taking the time to do this.....very well thought out and presented.

  2. I always wonder about the meaning of this song. Good Interpretation, Thanks.

  3. I disagree with your write up ( respectfully )
    First off both were not from south Detroit , she was a small town girl , the city boy was from Detroit , second this isn't about the music industry , it's about the sex industry more so about the lost boys and girls from California's van Nuys Blvd , it's about the 2 who co,e to California seeking their dreams and end up selling their bodies to get their fill , strangers waiting up and down the boulevard shadows searching in the night
    For a dollar they can share the night it goes on and on and on

  4. I think that the 'strangers waiting' could be about picking up hookers

  5. I'm not sure where you're getting the idea that the two characters are trying to make a living in the music field? Or that they're on some kind of cross-country journey to L.A. or Las Vegas.

    I think the lyrics are a somewhat melancholy snapshot about the sadness of mankind's eternal longing for companionship, love, and/or sex.

    I can envision the train being a commuter or regional type of train that takes the two main characters from their respective homes to an area of the city where there are nightclubs.

    The only reference to music I see is "A singer in a smokey room"... but I'm seeing that as meaning that the guy and girl end of going into a bar where they watched a singer in a smokey room, not that one of them was the singer in the smokey room.

    I think the "rolling the dice" comment is about taking another change on another night to find a partner out in the world of streetlights, people, and smokey bars that reek of cheap perfume.

    Again, I think the song is about lonely people in the world, trying to find companionship, love, and/or sex in the bar scene, holding up hope to find a partner among the streetlights and people in the bar district. I don't think it's a big "hope in the future of mankind" kind of thing.

  6. I would say rolling the dice is more the chance you take every time you get high on a drug.. lots of people died through the 60s and 70s taking drugs and it may have appeared more like chance or bad luck

  7. I heard on the radio just yesterday that this song was based on the writer who was about to give up his dream of making it big in the music business. At least that is what he said yesterday in a radio. That he was going to pack up and go home. He called his dad and his dad said not to give up his dream. Don't stop believing. And they asked if he had one more song for the album and he said he had this song title and some notes at home and that is where the song started.


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