Don't Stop Believin' by Journey: Song meaning, lyrics, covers and more facts revealed

12 June 2024, 12:28

Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin''
Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin''. Picture: Alamy/Getty

By Tom Eames

“Just a small-town girl, living in a lonely world…”

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Released in 1981 as part of their album Escape, 'Don’t Stop Believin'' quickly soared up the charts and became an anthem in the US. However, in the UK it would take several decades before it was finally the well-known anthem it deserved to be.

Its infectious melody, heartfelt lyrics, and Steve Perry’s soulful vocals struck a chord with listeners worldwide.

Whether you’re belting it out at a karaoke bar or hearing it during a pivotal movie scene, 'Don’t Stop Believin'' remains a timeless reminder that, no matter the odds, hope persists.

  1. Who wrote 'Don't Stop Believin''?

    Jonathan Cain, Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Ross Valory, and Steve Smith
    Jonathan Cain, Steve Perry, Neal Schon, Ross Valory, and Steve Smith. Picture: Getty

    By the dawn of the 1980s, Journey had begun its ascent to become one of the defining rock bands of the time.

    Shifting away from their progressive rock origins, the band welcomed Steve Perry as their lead vocalist, heralding a smoother sound. With hits like 'Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'' and 'Any Way You Want It', they climbed the American charts.

    In 1980, Gregg Rolie, the original keyboardist and a veteran since the band's early days, parted ways on good terms, leaving the group without one of its foundational sounds.

    He suggested Jonathan Cain from the British band The Babys as his successor. Cain accepted the offer and came on board as the band geared up to produce their album Escape in 1981.

    In anticipation of their upcoming project, Journey set up shop in an Oakland warehouse, dedicating their days to refining arrangements and brainstorming fresh concepts.

    It was Cain who proposed the title and chorus for the song, inspired by his father's encouraging words during his tough times as a struggling artist on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.

    Whenever Cain considered quitting, his father would remind him, 'Don't stop believing or you're done, dude'.

    Neil Schon, the guitarist, crafted the song's memorable bass line, while Perry prompted Cain to create a compelling synthesizer sequence to match it.

    Drummer Steve Smith laid down a solid rock rhythm, and directed Schon to layer 16th note arpeggios over the mix, propelling the song forward like a "train" on its course.

  2. What is the song about?

    Journey - Don't Stop Believin' (Official Audio)

    The theme also inspired the song's lyrics. Cain and Perry envisioned a narrative of two people leaving their pasts behind in their hometowns and catching a midnight train to anywhere else.

    Perry liked the idea of the characters being a girl from a small town and a boy raised in the city.

    "We felt that every young person has a dream and sometimes where you grow up isn't where you're destined to be," Cain said.

    Though the lyrics mention being "born and raised in south Detroit," there is no area in Detroit, Michigan commonly called "South Detroit." The city primarily lies on the north bank of the Detroit River, with the Canadian city of Windsor, Ontario, directly south of downtown.

    Steve Perry later said: "I tried north Detroit, I tried east and west and it didn't sing, but south Detroit sounded so beautiful. I loved the way it sounded, only to find out later it's actually Canada."

    The line "streetlight people living just to find emotion" was inspired by Perry watching people walking in the streets of Detroit at night after a show.

  3. What films and TV shows has it been used in?

    The Sopranos - Final Scene [Complete] [HD]

    The song has been used in many TV shows and movies over the years, as well as being adopted by sports teams.

    The song gained significant press coverage and a surge in popularity due to its association with the Chicago White Sox's 2005 World Series championship.

    It was also used in the famous final scene of HBO's The Sopranos series finale 'Made in America' in 2007.

    For years, the song has been commonly played at Detroit Red Wings home games. During the last minutes of playoff victories, the volume is lowered during the "born and raised in south Detroit" line, allowing home fans to sing it.

    GLEE - Don't Stop Believin' (S01 E01 "Pilot")

    During every San Francisco Giants home game, the song is played in the 8th inning. Steve Perry, a Giants season ticket holder, famously led the crowd in singing it during a 2014 World Series game.

    It was also used in the musical Rock of Ages, including the movie version starring Tom Cruise.

    The song saw a resurgence in popularity in 2009 after being prominently featured in the pilot episode of Glee. It was performed a total of seven times on the show, as well as live on tour. The Glee version was a hit in the US and UK at the same time as Journey's original, reaching number two in the latter.

  4. How did it perform in the charts?

    Journey - Don't Stop Believin' (Live 1981: Escape Tour - 2022 HD Remaster)

    The song reached number eight on Billboard's Mainstream Rock chart and number nine on the Billboard Hot 100.

    It sold over a million vinyl copies and is the number one paid digital download song originally released in the 20th century.

    Remarkably, it was the 72nd most downloaded song of 2008 and the 84th in 2009, over 27 years after its release.

    In August 2009, the song surpassed 3 million paid downloads, making it the best-selling digital song from the pre-digital era. It held the title of the best-selling rock song in digital history until Imagine Dragons' 'Radioactive' overtook it in January 2014.

    By 2017, it had sold over 7 million digital units in the US and was certified eighteen-times Platinum by the RIAA.

    Released in the UK in December 1981, the song initially only peaked at number 62. Despite not being re-released as a physical single, it maintained a cult following, re-entering the UK Singles Chart in February 2009 at number 94 due to digital downloads.

    Following a performance on The X Factor on November 1, 2009, it re-entered at number 52 and climbed to number 19 a week later, staying in the top 40 for three weeks.

    On December 20, 2009, after another X Factor performance, it re-entered at number nine and remained in the top 10 for seven more weeks, peaking at number six. It was the 65th best-selling single of 2009, nearly three decades after its release.

    'Don't Stop Believin'' spent 21 non-consecutive weeks in the top 40 from November 2009 to April 2010 and was the 25th best-selling track of 2010, with over 435,000 copies sold. It re-entered the charts in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and has spent 95 weeks in the top 100 to date.

    In September 2014, the Official Charts Company reported that the song had sold a million copies in the UK.

  5. Who has covered it?

    Teddy Swims performs 'Don't Stop Believing' and 'Lose Control' live on Australian TV

    There have been various cover versions of 'Don't Stop Believin'' over the years.

    The most promiment one in the UK was LadBaby's parody 'Don't Stop Me Eatin'', which became the UK Christmas number one single in 2020.

    Other versions include:

    • Joe McElderry
    • Steel Panther
    • Scouting for Girls
    • Martina McBride
    • T-Pain
    • Badly Drawn Boy
    • Teddy Swims