Don’t Stop Enthusin’

Before we begin today’s discussion, I have to get something off my chest. Long-time readers of this blog will recall my personal fascination with New Orleans, pursued through various visits and acquisitions. They may also recall my fondness for the David Simon show “Treme”. I’m not sure there is much, if anything, to improve about that show, but there’s one scene that really grinds my proverbial gears. It comes from Season One, Episode Five:

Producer: “Do you want to cut bass and drums first?”
Davis: “What is this band, Journey? Everyone in the big room, all at once, classic New Orleans R&B”
Producer: “Gonna have to call me Cosmo”

Why does that piss me off? Because Journey’s best-selling (and, frankly, just plain best) album, Escape, was recorded live in the studio. They didn’t split the musicians up and record them individually, the way Page did with Zeppelin or… well, pretty much every other arena-filling rock band did. Journey albums have a diamond-hard polish to them, but it’s mostly because the musicians involved are Just. That. Good. Even if their musical instruments are worthless.

Now you can argue that Steve Zahn’s character in “Treme” is meant to be an idiot, so perhaps that line in the script is meant to point out how stupid he is. ‘Twould be nice, but I doubt it. I think that David Simon just assumed that Journey did everything the way Steely Dan or the Doobie Brothers did, crafting pop confections one subtle ingredient at a time. He probably has no idea that Escape was recorded in six weeks, while Aja took ten times as long and cost about twenty times as much.

Which isn’t to say that Escape was not carefully produced, or that you can’t find a tremendous amount of tradecraft in it. Which brings us to the above video.

My friend Chuck did me the disservice of introducing me to Rick Beato’s videos. I think I could probably spend a year of my life watching him carefully dissect the production of, and explain the music theory behind, great songs of the past. His “Don’t Stop Believin'” video is probably the first time I have watched anything on YouTube longer than five minutes from start to finish. Beato’s critics, particularly on Reddit, complain that he expects his viewers to know too much, but let’s be honest with each other for a moment: Does the world need another video clown who babbles along at an elementary-school level while flapping his arms like a bird and expressing unfeigned astonishment at rain-activated windshield wipers and the like? If you don’t understand something Beato says, that’s a good opportunity for you to learn about that particular something. Furthermore, Beato isn’t exactly frog-marching people through five-part fugues most of the time. I have very little formal musical training and I can follow him just fine.

Rick’s enthusiasm is just as strong as his erudition. I defy you to watch the video with an open mind and not come away impressed by “Don’t Stop Believin'”, even if you’re so sick of hearing it on the radio you could simply burst from it. Are Beato’s hundreds of other videos just as useful and entertaining? I have no idea, but I intend to take at least a representative sample.

Twenty minutes well spent. And it provides an outstanding demonstration of something my favorite professor, Edward Tomarken, never tires of repeating: Criticism competes with the text in addition to commenting on it. You could enjoy Beato’s video even if you cannot stand Journey, the same way that the Clive James review of a dreadful Judith Krantz eroto-novel is so much more pleasurable to read than the work on which it comments. Do we have time for a little music? Well then — let’s permit Journey to send us out with their criminally underrated title track. If you can can make it through without at least tapping your toe, then at least you’ll be in good company with Steve Zahn.

21 Replies to “Don’t Stop Enthusin’”

    • AvatarRonnie Schreiber

      Reached in San Diego, the former Journey front man explained that some of the enduring song’s unique imagery came to him in the witching hour one morning in May of 1980 while the band was in Detroit for a five-night stand as part of the Departure tour. Perry, unable to sleep, stood staring out of his hotel room window at 2 a.m. “I was digging the idea of how the lights were facing down, so that you couldn’t see anything,” he says, recalling the night. “All of a sudden I’d see people walking out of the dark, and into the light. And the term ‘streelight people’ came to me. So Detroit was very much in my consciousness when we started writing.”

      Yes, but what about South Detroit? For the love of Tim Allen, what about South Detroit? To that, Perry pleads poetic license, and ignorance, despite the fact that a quick glance at a map would have alerted him to the issue. “I ran the phonetics of east, west, and north, but nothing sounded as good or emotionally true to me as South Detroit,” he says. “The syntax just sounded right. I fell in love with the line. It’s only been in the last few years that I’ve learned that there is no South Detroit. But it doesn’t matter.”

      https://www.vulture.com/2012/01/journey-dont-stop-believin-south-detroit.html

      Reply
  1. AvatarNot Tommy Erskine

    As soon as I saw Beato covered “Stuck On You” by Failure, I knew he was legit. Great videos. Thanks for the heads up.

    Reply
  2. AvatarRobert

    I vividly remember pestering my mother to take me to the store so I could buy the album when it came out. I was 9.

    The only bad thing I can say about “Don’t Stop Believin” is that it sucks all the oxygen out of the room, impeding the discovery and enjoyment of the rest of a thoroughly stellar album.

    Reply
  3. Avatarpaul pellico

    Quickly growing into one of my fav music personalities is Beato.
    My son and I watch most of his videos. He allows me to show my son how even us old guys can still act life music drunk enthusiast.
    Rick does it here with Journey.
    He LOVES that they recorded live, just like Boston.
    This was before the cut n paste music recordings of today’s artist
    Jack, I know you will enjoy…
    journey

    Reply
  4. AvatarDirty Dingus McGee

    ‘ “Don’t Stop Believin’”, even if you’re so sick of hearing it on the radio you could simply burst from it.

    That would be me. I think I reached peak Journey in about 1992-94. However due to changes in my taste in music, I like this cover;

    Reply
  5. Avatarhank chinaski

    Random ‘DSB’ non sequitur: our public school had the 10 or 12 year olds sing it for the GenX parents at a yearly band/chorus night. It was oddly followed by Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ (when it clearly should have been ‘The Future’, dammit).

    ‘Stone in Love’ FTW.

    Reply
    • AvatarDisinterested-Observer

      Segue from the 19 month old link about the non-sale of Schon’s Les Paul: From my personal little view of the world young Xers and Millenials are having more and better kids than boomers and older Xers. This could be a function of the area where I live but they seem to be much better behaved than my peers were. Maybe Idiocracy won’t come true.

      Reply
  6. AvatarCJinSD

    When I was in high school, an aspiring musician friend of mine bought guitars at music shops in places including New York City. Today we’d call him a collector. At the time, he was just a teenage wanna-be hard rocker who could hold forth at length about old Gibsons, Fenders, and Ovations. Those are ones I remember anyway. I recall he made a trip to pick up a 1957 Les Paul Black Beauty. The number $800 sounds about right. The funny thing was he came back with a Sunburst Flying V instead, which I thought was positively absurd considering he’d been talking about the Black Beauty for months.

    Anyway, I don’t see the point in celebrating quarter million dollar guitars. What is the advantage to anyone here that the best guitars should now be trinkets for avaricious hoarder billionaires? My friend loved his guitars and told anyone who stayed still too long about their history and significance. That Sunburst Flying V was apparently one of no more than fifty made. Is there anything wrong with it being in the hands of an enthusiast who enjoys it and plays instead of it being in a case in a collection of hundreds of instruments and art works suitable only for money laundering by the plutocrats? There is something seriously wrong with being conditioned to think the things you like should be ‘elevated’ to hash-marks on some soulless misanthrope’s score card.

    Reply
    • AvatarBaconator

      This is the way of all collectibles these days: Porsche 993 GT2s, 1980s synthesizers, authentic Thrasher-magazine-era skateboard decks, beachfront property anywhere politically stable. If it’s good, and desirable, and they’re not making any more of it, then it’s being bid into the stratosphere, by people with unlimited access to cheap debt capital and limited sensitivity to price.

      Our government’s reaction to this is to browbeat the Fed into *lowering* interest rates, so don’t expect it to stop anytime soon.

      Doubtful if any of these collectible items will be used, ever again, in the way that made them famous and desirable back in the day. With the possible exception of beachfront properties – those will still be the sites of bacchanalian parties held by the wayward and dissolute children of nouveau-riche parents, just as they have been for generations.

      Reply
      • AvatarCJinSD

        I’m not trying to say that anything will change while it is a viable idea to assert that you’re going to give free healthcare to illegals shortly after you’ve said you believe in fining American citizens who can’t afford their own healthcare. I’m just trying to hold up a mirror for someone who thinks that parents who are trying to pay $25K a year per child on $90k pre-tax income to give their child an education instead of a Marxist indoctrination should spend five grand on a bike for their kid to keep someone employed who almost certainly continues to vote for their own destruction. Kids bikes get stolen. Empathize with a parent whose kid’s bike gets stolen representing 10% of their after tax income.

        I don’t want to offshore manufacturing, but who elected Bill Clinton in the first place? I didn’t vote for him. Stupid people did. Now they are paying the price. It’s like Ford Powershift customers and Obama. Idiot taxes are just and fair. The problem is when they’re extended to people who had no choice.

        Reply
  7. AvatarSobro

    I’m no musician, but I can play the stereo. Beato’s videos often devolve into the minutia of chords and sub-chords (well, at least I think that’s what all of that “sus” talk is all about). But even though I FF past those parts his videos are very enjoyable. And it’s funny you mentioned Steely Dan, since his episode on Kid Charlemagne was the first one I saw amd got me hooked. That was Ep 3 of What Makes This Song So Great. I am fascinated with his use of Pro Tools to really isolate the music to make his points.

    And speaking of which, on Ep 62, Van Halen’s Runnin’ with The Devil, he isolates David Lee Roth’s vocal track and points out you can hear DLT tapping his foot. That’s at about 10:00.

    Reply
    • Avatarnightfly

      It’s serendipitous that our author mentioned Aja since there are YouTube vids of Donald Fagen and Walter Becker discussing how they put it together. The snippet of the video dedicated to “Peg” was quite interesting to me, as they cover the various attempts at guitar solos, how the bassist snuck in some string-slaps when they specifically told him no, and how they made Michael McDonald sing harmony with himself for hours for the backup vocals in the chorus. The clip ends with them actually performing the song as an ensemble, too.

      Reply
  8. AvatarJohn C.

    I think Jack is onto something about the benefit of recording as a band instead of individually, the result of which can come across as overproduced. Remember the SNL skit making fun of “Don’t fear the reaper” for not having enough cow bell. One of the reasons it was so funny is that the song was better with the cowbell as it added a sense of energy to the overproduced original.

    One thing about “Don’t stop Believing” that raised it up was that the song told a story that people could relate too and adolescents could image relating to when they grew up. Storytelling was such a great part of so many 70s songs that dropped away as the 80s went along. You can see that from the later Journey song “Separate Ways”. Still well played but by then worlds apart as Perry is only left spewing a few generic platitudes.

    Reply
  9. AvatarTracktardicus

    Journey was one of the first concerts I saw as a young teenager, on the Frontiers tour in 1984. They still had Steve Smith, and obviously Steve Perry. Out of the hundreds of concerts I have seen since then, it is to this day one of the best concerts I have ever seen. Listen to their live album, “Captured,” and you will have a taste of how talented individually and as a whole that band was.

    Reply
  10. Avatarjc

    I’m sorry, but a highly polished finely crafted turd is stil a turd.

    I’d take Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s sloppiest drunken mess over anything ever produced by Journey/Kansas/Boston/Infinity/whatever else the California machine excreted during the 70s (from the left hand nozzle came disco, from the right came that stuff).

    Reply
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