Journey's 'Don't Stop Believin" Goes On And On, Because We Need It To Whatever your relationship with Journey's 1981 hit, a perseverance anthem that has itself persevered, there is no escaping the longing it evokes for youth, love and a chance at greatness.

'Don't Stop Believin" Goes On And On, Because We Need It To

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JOURNEY: (Singing) Don't stop believin'.


You don't stop hearin' it. Journey debuted this song in 1981. It was a Top 40 hit back then, and "Don't Stop Believin'" has become even more popular over the last 38 years. As part of our American Anthem series, Roben Farzad of member station VPM has the story of a song that's become an inspiration for people across generations.

ROBEN FARZAD, BYLINE: Jonathan Cain was a struggling, down-on-his-luck rocker in the 1970s. He was ready to quit the LA music scene.

JONATHAN CAIN: Everything had been going wrong - girlfriend left; dog got hit by a car. I called my father for some money. I said, Dad, I'm out of cash here.

FARZAD: Cain asked his dad if he should move back to Chicago.

CAIN: And he told me - you know, we've always had a vision, son, and don't stop believing. And so I had a lyric book next to me, and I wrote it down in my lyric book.

FARZAD: He finally got his big break when Journey recruited him as its new keyboardist. Frontman Steve Perry asked Jonathan Cain to write a song for the upcoming album, "Escape." Cain's dad's advice inspired his insistent and now-famous piano opening.


FARZAD: Steve Perry brought soaring vocals.


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

FARZAD: And Neal Schon, his guitar sounding like a midnight train whizzing right past you.


FARZAD: The song builds and releases, culminating in the chorus, finally arriving more than three-quarters of the way into the track.


JOURNEY: (Singing) Don't stop believin'. Hold on to that feeling. Streetlights, people, oh.

FARZAD: Critic Deborah Frost didn't even mention "Don't Stop Believin'" by name in her record review for Rolling Stone, which gave the Journey album two out of five stars.

DEBORAH FROST: I would have given it a minus a hundred - just incredibly cheesy, cheesy track.

FARZAD: Maybe so, but it's incredibly popular.

According to Nielsen Music, "Don't Stop Believin'" now holds the record as the most downloaded 20th-century song. A song birthed in the era of mixed tapes and rock radio found its glory in the era of binge TV and streaming.

Its revival started with Adam Sandler's 1998 comedy "The Wedding Singer." In 2003, Charlize Theron used "Don't Stop Believin'" in her Oscar-winning turn in "Monster." In 2007, "The Sopranos" ended with that tense diner scene soundtracked to "Don't Stop Believin'." Downloads of the songs soared. Then, in 2009, the hit TV show "Glee" covered the song.


GLEE CAST: (Vocalizing).

FARZAD: Again, downloads - both the original track and the "Glee" cover - spiked. It landed in a Broadway musical, as the rally song for the Chicago White Sox's 2005 World Series run. "Don't Stop Believin'" is an anthem for persevering and keeping the faith. The singer in a smoky room and smell of wine and cheap perfume evokes Jonathan Cain's struggling days on LA's Sunset Strip.

CAIN: And I said, I really believe this song is about wanting to make it. You know? And you're not stuck where you think you're stuck in life - you know? - that you're able to get out the same way I got out of Chicago - to not stop believin'.

FARZAD: And here's where the story takes an unlikely turn. Steve Perry left the band in 1998. And for a decade, Journey could not find the lead singer who could pull off Perry's legendary tenor altino.


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 covering the band's ballads. He reached out to the young man, Arnel Pineda, a formerly homeless kid. He thought he was being pranked. In 2007, the band flew him to the U.S. and hired him - a fairy tale story that was the subject of the documentary "Don't Stop Believin': Everyman's Journey." Here's Pineda singing with Journey.


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

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


PINEDA: I never dreamed that big. All I wanted was, you know, to be able to get out of it - the pain and the poverty - you know? - live decently.

UNIDENTIFIED DJ: Brett (ph), come on up.

FARZAD: A world away in Richmond, Va., the spirit of the song animates karaoke night. It's midnight Tuesday at Sticky Rice, a sushi joint that hosts the college town's most raucous singalong. The restaurant is fully packed, and the line is out the door.

UNIDENTIFIED DJ: So ladies and gentlemen, don't be shy. Here we go.

FARZAD: Twenty-somethings Shilpa Gangisetty and Matt Malone are tonight's lucky believers, prevailing over at least five other karaoke-ers who requested the Journey anthem.

SHILPA GANGISETTY: I'm an Indian American, actually, and this song is something that my parents know. And this came out right before my parents came to this country. So it's really interesting because there aren't too many cultural things that we can relate on, but I know this is a song that my dad knows.

MATT MALONE: It's like Itsy Bitsy Spider or Miss Mary Mack. But like...


MALONE: ...Once you get into middle school, it's like "Don't Stop Believin'." And like, that - you have to know it.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: No, it was good for me.

MALONE: Everybody hates to love it.

FARZAD: Even the folks stuck outside - they're under a streetlight - press against the windows and mouth lyrics.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Singing) Just a small town girl living in a lonely world, she took the midnight train going anywhere. Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit...

FARZAD: Whether you sing along ironically or straight - whether it won you over on rock radio, mixtape, iTunes, binge TV or at acapella lessons - it's a mainstay at bar mitzvahs and weddings. For whatever reason, "Don't Stop Believin'" is an anthem for sticking it out. And it goes on and on.


JOURNEY: (Singing) ...In the night.

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


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