Somewhere, Robert Christgau’s Head Just Exploded

The Los Angeles Times explores why Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” has become the go-to inspirational song of the 21st Century, and indeed will probably outlast us all as a cultural touchstone for the ages.

I know the answer: Because it is awesome, in that “I am a human being equipped with the ability to recognize and be touched by existential yearning and yet my cognitive vocabulary for such impulses is limited by America’s shitty educational system and profoundly insipid popular culture to Top 40 songs” sort of way. I thought that was pretty obvious, actually. Also, you know. Nifty piano line and Steve Perry’s got him some pipes. We’re done here.

Hey, better this than “Sister Christian.” And you know that for sure.

57 Comments on “Somewhere, Robert Christgau’s Head Just Exploded”

  1. Preach it.
    My wife has gently mocked my Journey fandom for years, but I recently achieved sweet, sweet revenge when I caught our 4 year old trying to sing along to this song.

  2. I think “The Macarena” will outlast us all, but not for the same reason “Don’t Stop Believin'” will.

    “Macarena” will last in a way discarded plastic and styrofoam containers will last.

  3. Haha, finally a place where we won’t be mocked for our Journey Love :P. I have to admit, though… my favorite just in front of “Don’t Stop Believin” is “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin’.”

    Good stuff!

  4. Also helps that it’s a downloadable song for Rock Band which I play often :P
    (although I probably shouldn’t mention that, given your recent announcement of distaste for the GH:WT fake plastic drum kit)

  5. Jen – wife. mother. knitter. unschooler. band geek. fatass. card-carrying socialist. militant breastfeeder. profane. agnostic. ENFP

    I watched this episode of Glee last night for the first time and was pleasantly surprised at what a great job they did–they actually gave me goosepimples. Because they were AWESOME.

    Thanks for the great link. :-)

  6. Good song. I’m not a Journey fan, never was, but this is a fine track. My favorite Journey track is “Only The Young”.

  7. Yeah, that new series (Glee) shows promise, if not cheesetastic promise…provided they pick songs just as great as DSB. I recently asked one of my teenaged customers why they know DSB (thinking they were a bit Young For That), but she said she thought it was on Guitar Hero and that’s where she started liking it. Hmn, video games as musical education…somehow not as scary as I thought that statement would be.

  8. I watched Glee Club unfold and got goosebumps. But it was really spooky when they watch “Carmel” high school’s glee club perform. You see, there really is a Carmel Glee Club In Carmel Indiana (where I live) and they really are a major player. But when I heard them call it CAR’-mel High School I knew it had to be the same one. Hollywood types would have called it Car-MEL’ as in Car-mel by the sea.

    So a bit of research and sure ’nuff writer producer Ryan Murphy was born an raised in Indianapolis, went to Warren Central High school and would’ve viewed Carmel as a royal pain in the ass when it came to any kind of competition.

    Looking forward to the upcoming season.

  9. What I find interesting is the part in the article where Jonathan Cain mentions that the lyrics are a reference to lonely couples hooking up on the Sunset Strip. Although I know that most people think of the Sopranos or sports teams, when I hear this song I always think of last call at a bar. And that’s honestly where I think the revival started, “Wedding Singer” or no “Wedding Singer.” There’s a certain type of bar, at least in my city, where this song gets played at last call every single night. It lets everyone know that they better find someone now, or they’re going home alone.

  10. Good. Robert Christgau annoys me, and what counterbalances the inability to get a decent bagel out here is that I need not fall across his excuses for “criticism” even by accident.

    The article you cite mentions the structural anomalies in the song and how they make it work. One of the reasons I’ve never memorized the whole song is that my brain tunes out after the arpeggiation and only comes back for the finale.

    I had thought that The Sopranos wore it out, since I haven’t heard it on the radio in a while, but obviously it’s had a life elsewhere.


  11. I love Sister Christian. I don’t know why everyone hates it!

    (Sure, I would never admit that with my full name) :)

  12. Just to link this in to yesterday’s Guitar Hero post, I will note that “Don’t Stop Believin” is available for download in Rock Band 2, but not (so far as I am aware) in Guitar Hero World Tour.

    Advantage: Rock Band.

    (And really, that song is stupidly fun to sing.)

  13. paranoyd – I am a father, an aspiring writer, and avid gamer. I am also into horror and scifi. I'm currently the Adventure league Local Coordinator for my area, and I'm really into the new FFG Star Wars RPG system. And I love a good curry.
    Corby Kennard

    Glee was – not bad. It was actually pretty good, my initial assessment to the contrary. I was prepared to make fun of it, and didn’t even get a chance to.

    I love this song, and yes, it is strange to see high schoolers do it when it’s about cheap sex on the search for true love.

    And laurie, Sister Christian is a great song, Night Ranger was a great band, and I use my full name to admit it. I’m not scared. Bring it on!

  14. Josh@17

    Good point.

    On Glee: missed it before, have to check it out now.

    On the Journey/Night Ranger bit: Both groups have some good songs; Night Ranger gets the edge because they are, well, edgier.

    I’ve got to admit that the question is not that important to me. (Heresy, I know) As an instrumentalist, Yes gets my vote. Also, for the drummers out there:Genesis – Home by the sea, part 2. [Ducks for a prepared position to film the carnage.]

  15. paranoyd – I am a father, an aspiring writer, and avid gamer. I am also into horror and scifi. I'm currently the Adventure league Local Coordinator for my area, and I'm really into the new FFG Star Wars RPG system. And I love a good curry.
    Corby Kennard

    John @23

    I see your Secret of my Success, and raise you THIS

  16. So how–sorry, curiosity intrudes–did “Sister Christian” manage to sell? Both Kennard’s and Scalzi’s examples of Night Ranger have a more basic rock vibe. Not that I could listen to either of them for more than a minute, but I can’t do that for “Sister Christian” either.

  17. “the go-to inspirational song of the 21st Century?”


    what is this, a slow news day? It’s a passing internet fancy. hold still, it’ll be something different soon.

  18. csdaley – C.S. Daley was born in California but has spent most of his life in his imagination. His first short story written in third grade, the now classic "Close Encounters of the Turd Kind," was sold to his next door neighbor for a quarter. The neighbor promptly demanded a refund. An unhealthy obsession with the writings of Neil Gaiman, Christopher Moore, and Terry Pratchett have left his mind warped and broken. He spends most of his evening swilling down coffee while tapping at a keyboard under the watchful eyes of his kittens. They are there to make sure he doesn't snap. He likes to write fantasy for adults and teens.

    Ugh, my head hurts just thinking about those songs.

  19. “the go-to inspirational song of the 21st Century”

    Ugh. Your country is broken in so many ways…

    “a cultural touchstone for the ages”

    In one slightly self-absorbed country comprising something less than 5% of the world’s population, at least.

    And, having just heard it for the first time (felt like the very first time) I was ripped back to the 80s in a heartbeat. Can America really come up with nothing new at all?

    I liked the bit where they sang “don’t stop” and then did.

  20. Oh, bitch bitch bitch, Mike. Every country is self-absorbed and has its questionable yet persistent pop iconography. This is ours, apparently.

  21. 5 of the kids from my daughter’s grade 8 class played “Don’t Stop Believin” at their graduation last week, and with the exception of the vocalist, did a remarkable job. And we’re in Ontario…it’s not just the U.S.

  22. At the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, during Red Wings hockey games, they play the first verse of “Don’t Stop Believin'” near the end of the game. The PA guy cuts the song off at the right moment, and 18,000 hockey fans bellow “born and raised in SOUTH DETROIT!!!”

    It sends chills down one’s spine.

  23. I like it now I think I am going to have to check out Glee!
    The only thing that detracted from it for me is I think the Male lead doesn’t quite have the range to carry it off, the girl knocks it out of the park so she overshadows him on the whole.

  24. The Journey moment that will live with me forever is the shot from the Faithfully video of the guy applying the Journey sticker to the tour bus with a bilateral-sideways-goat technique.

    Unsurprisingly, since I have memories of MTV playing actual music videos, I’m of the correct age to have owned both Dawn Patrol and Midnight Madness on vinyl. So please do not dis Night Ranger within earshot.

    Besides, methinks our host doth protest too much on that score…


  25. Hey! …I kinda like Sister Christian. I will admit that “Don’t Stop Believin'” is a better song, however.

  26. In related news, Stephanie Nicks and Christine McVie have announced that “yesterday’s gone.” Bill Clinton seen moping in the corner as his theme song is replaced.

  27. Shoulda been “Born to Run”.

    Whatevah. I guess Springsteen wasn’t so promiscuous with his licensing of that as Journey was with Don’t Stop…

  28. So now I have to ask your feelings on hot new lead singer from the Philippines…

    You may choose to comment only on the music aspect but everyone really wants to know what you think of his hotness.

  29. 40. Bozo the Clone.

    The problem with Springsteen is he doesn’t enunciate his words. Not dissing the man, he just doesn’t. Steve Perry, otoh, can not only sing, but he pronounces the words so they can be understood. Don’t discount the value of singing along and *knowing* you’re singing the right words.

    Plus Journey had better videos back-in-the-day than Springsteen. Courtney Cox aside, he just didn’t have the cool videos, while Journey’s videos were very cool!

  30. writeemup – Vermont – I love words; reading, writing, and experiencing them with my eyes and ears. This is my bookblog, where I share my adventures with the world.

    Arnel is almost too hot to be lead singer for a band like Journey, where the members usually look like that guy at the bar you might think about going home with but only if it was really late and you were already half-drunk.

    I do like this song. “Separate Ways” is my favorite, even though it seems a bit stalkery if you think about it.

  31. Whoa, monkey boy. Lay off the Night Ranger, like now. I’ve got a Director of Production with a whip, and she could so be convinced to make another trip down your way. This time, the trip would be the pointed kind, capice?

  32. Bevibe @42: It’s a trade-off. You either get a better singer (Perry) or you get better lyrics (Springsteen). Thematically both songs are a similar mix of longing, angst and hope.

  33. I was at a Jonas Brothers concert last night and one of the songs they played before the show was “Don’t Stop Believin'”. (They also played the Who. That song came out before I was born, and the show’s audience were my kids’ age…it’s like if you were at a Led Zeppelin concert in the 70s and the pre-show music was Glen Miller.)

  34. Love this cover from the new TV show Glee. I have fond memories of dancing to Journey at prom, and using the song Faithfully to help out a friend in need.

  35. shineanthology – Jetse de Vries is a technical specialist for a propulsion company, and used to travel the world for this. Of late, due to the increased time both his story writing and several future editing projects are taking up, he's trying to settle into a desk job by giving both the company’s own specialists and customers training courses. He was part of the Interzone editorial team from March 2004 until September 2008. His non-fiction articles, reviews, essays and interviews have appeared in Interzone, The Fix, New York Review of Science Fiction, Focus, and others. He writes SF since 1999, and had his first story published in November 2003. His stories have appeared in about two dozen publications on both sides of the Atlantic, and include Amityville House of Pancakes, vol. 1, JPPN 2, Nemonymous 4, Northwest Passages: A Cascadian Anthology, DeathGrip: Exit Laughing, HUB Magazine #2, Clarkesworld Magazine, SF Waxes Philosophical, Postscripts 14 and Flurb, amongst others. They're upcoming in the A Mosque Among the Stars anthology (slated for September 2008) and another, yet-to-be-named anthology in 2009. Jetse has a blog at:

    I’ll have to agree that Journey’s videos weren’t the coolest of the bunch.

    Nevertheless, my brother and his wife — who are, like me, huge fans of the Steve Perry era Journey — play those videos, and their sons — 6 and 4 year old — refer to the
    Separate Ways
    Video as the “funny girl” video (fashion’s changed quite a bit over the years), but sing along to the song almost perfectly.

    And here’s the point: anybody wearing about
    the most stupid shirt of the moment,
    and still singing like this, can indeed get away with murder.

  36. Hijacking the thread:

    According to, Robert Christgau is Dean of American Rock Critics.

    Does the School Of American Rock Criticism have summer sessions? Is “Don’t Stop Believin'” on the syllabus?

  37. You can’t really compare “Don’t Stop Believin'” and “Sister Christian”. They are very different songs. What about Night Ranger’s “(You Can Still) Rock in America?” Now there is an anthem we can all get behind these days. Am I right?

    And, no, I don’t hate Journey. I completely wore out my cassette of Frontiers back in the 80’s.

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