Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" has sold, as of this writing (2013), more digital copies than any other song ever written by anyone on earth. To which I say, "What the what?!"
Okay, the Beatles catalog came to iTunes only in 2010 and iTunes is the biggest online retailer for music, so they have a lot of time to make up for.
But still. Journey?
First, here's the band in concert in Houston in 2005.
Although credited to singer Steve Perry and guitarist Neil Schon, the song was written with the other members of Journey through jams in the the band's rehearsal space. The structure of the song is odd with the actual "Don't Stop" section coming only at the very end of the song.
Perry told New York Magazine that the lyrics were written while looking out a hotel room window during a stay in Detroit. And of course, there is some Michiganer controversy over where "South Detroit" is (hint, the people there end their sentences with the interjection "eh?").
The song hit #9 on the Billboard Top 100 in 1981.
The band immediately realized the potential for marketing the song through other means. For instance, in the Journey Escape video game for the Atari home system (1982):
That was weird. (There was also a cabinet style arcade game.)
The big surge came once more people had MP3 players and the song was licensed for various movies and television shows.
For instance, it rode the 1980s nostalgia wagon in "The Wedding Singer" (1998) (bad quality on the link). But it's just an instrumental and frankly, I had no memory of the song in that movie.
It made more of a splash in 2003. At that point the song was two decades old and served as fantasy fodder in the dream sequence infused television comedy "Scrubs" in an episode called "My Journey" (Oct 2003). And yes, that's "Becky 2" (the second actress to play the character on Roseanne) on a train anticipating a meeting with Felicity's boyfriend swimming with a dolphin. It makes sense in context.
And then later that same year, in the movie where Charlize Theron looks ugly, "Monster" (released Dec 24, 2003):
The significance of "Monster" was that a) Steve Perry was asked for a song license by the director who had a small budget and he agreed, and even became a music consultant for the film and b) lots of people in Hollywood saw that film.
The funny thing is, the song is so earnest and emotional that whereas "Monster" used it unironically, "Don't Stop Believin'" was also ripe for the kind of winking irony that Family Guy wallows in. Here's Season 4, episode 4 "Don't Make Me Over" (June 2005)
(For the record, I love "Scrubs" and I think one reason the show worked so well for me is that it tread that line between irony and earnestness carefully. Was their use of the song a goof? Yeah. Was it also emotionally resonant and celebratory? Yeah.)
The Chicago White Sox started using the song the way the Red Sox use "Sweet Caroline" -- as a crowd pleaser in late innings. When the Chisox won the 2005 World Series, Steve Perry helped them celebrate.
The song was gaining momentum, and maybe hits its cultural peak with one of the most famous and talked about 5 minutes of television: "The Sopranos," final scene of the series finale (2007)
Mmm... onion rings. I never watched The Sopranos and I heard about that scene ad nauseum.
But wait! There's more! "Don't Stop Believin'" is the song that gave a big kick start to the television show "Glee." In the pilot (2009), when it seems like the Glee Club is not going to happen, the students get together and do this:
I have a distinct memory of walking down Beacon Street soon after that airing and hearing a pair of fourteen year old girls singing the song -- a song that was more than a decade old when they were born.
Each time the song is used, it just gets more popular and people feel a need to pay that $.99 to get it on their phone to listen to when they want it. I've only scratched the surface of the various television shows and movies that have used the song.
Okay, a couple of covers. Here's a performance from Sting's annual Rainforest Benefit from 2010 with Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Elton John, Deborah Harry, Shirley Bassey, Lady Gaga (her shoes!):
For this last bit, I want to point out that Journey has always been a conglomeration of musicians, beginning with fusion jazz artists, including a drummer trained a Berklee. Steve Perry was not their first lead singer and is no longer the lead singer. Randy Jackson of American Idol fame played bass on some Journey tracks. Yo, Dawg!
Check out this chart for a band member timeline.
Okay, so this is a "cover" but it's Journey with new frontman Arnel Pineda, a Filipino whose Journey covers on YouTube were found by guitarist Neil Schon when looking for a new lead singer. A documentary about the new singer and first tour was called "Don't Stop Believin': An Everyman's Journey" and played film festivals in 2012, and on PBS this fall. The trailer:
There's a real backlash against Pineda; some of it is loyalty to Steve Perry (remember, Journey's 3rd lead singer, although the voice of their biggest successes) but there's also quite a bit of racism, which is a bit disturbing (Rolling Stone interview). So here's the Arnel fronted Journey playing a stadium in Manila: