Gregg Rolie

REVIEW: Journey – Greatest Hits (1988, 2008)

JOURNEY – Greatest Hits (Originally 1988, 2008 expanded reissue)

It’s OK if your first album by anybody was a “greatest hits” of some sort.  Over 15 million people bought Journey’s Greatest Hits in the US alone, and you can be guaranteed that several of those millions were buying Journey for the first time.  Hundreds of thousands more copies still sell annually.  This has to be considered one of the most successful hits compilations by a rock band.

Even if you were a Journey diehard back in 1988, you still wanted Greatest Hits.  It had two huge Journey hits from movie soundtracks:  “Only the Young” (Vision Quest) and “Ask the Lonely” (Two of a Kind).  These songs were not meant to be obscurities; both were slated for the Frontiers album.  These are two awesome songs with insanely catchy choruses, one a rocker and one a soft burner.  Two gigantic peaks of the Jonathan Cain era of Journey, who co-wrote both songs.

“Don’t Stop Believin'” doesn’t need any additional commentary, except this:  listen to the drums.  That’s Steve Smith, the wizard of tempo.  There is a reason that Smith can often be found filed in the Jazz section.  Listen to his creative hits, cymbal work, and timing.  Yet not a lot of snare.  Same with “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)”.  This is not typical rock drumming, and this is something that his replacements have had to recreate as faithfully as they could.

Greatest Hits ignores the first three Journey albums (pre-Steve Perry), and justifiably so.  Those first three progressive rock albums, as fascinating as they are, bore no hits.  “To Play Some Music” peaked at #138.  The earliest tracks are the radio staples “Lights” and “Wheel in the Sky” from 1978’s Infinity.  Incidentally these are the only tracks without Steve Smith, featuring his predecessor Aynsley Dunbar.

In 2008, Sony a series of budget-priced reissues including Journey’s Greatest Hits.  This version has one additional bonus track from Journey’s reunion album Trial By Fire from 1996.  This is a fantastic album, but the ballad chosen (“When You Love a Woman”) tips the album too far on the scales to ballads.

Through all the hits you know, and maybe a couple you don’t (“Girl Can’t Help It”? “Send Her My Love”?) you will get a clear picture of some of Journey’s facets.  But only some.  Little of their instrumental wizardry, which continued into the Steve Perry era with songs like “Dixie Highway”.  You also will not hear many hard edged moments, like “Stone in Love”.  You will however get a taste of Steve Perry’s soul, and the excellent hooks that he concocted with Neal Schon and Jon Cain.  You will absorb some awesome Schon tone.  On the later tracks, like “I’ll Be Alright Without You” and “Be Good To Yourself”, you will hear the slickness and groove of Raised on Radio.  But there are so many more key Journey tracks, as good if not better than these.

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Journey – Time3 (1992 box set)

scan_20161015-2JOURNEY – Time3 (1992 Sony 3 CD box set)

Very few box sets satisfy the way that Journey’s Time3 satisfies.  When it was released in 1992, Journey wasn’t even a functioning entity anymore.  Sony’s box set still represents the kind of care and attention to detail that makes for an extraordinary listen.  It is arranged (mostly) chronologically with ample rare and unreleased material.  What is most remarkable is how great this rare and unreleased material is.  Aerosmith did a similar looking box set in 1992 as well (Pandora’s Box), but their set isn’t as steady a listen as Time3 is.  Time3‘s ample wealth of worthwhile rarities rank it easily as the superior set.

From start to bitter 80’s breakup, every Journey member from 1975 to 1986 is included.  George Tickner, Aynsley Dunbar, Robert Fleischman, Randy Jackson, Mike Baird and anybody else you may not have known were in Journey are represented in this box.  There are ample liner notes and photos explaining the roots and branches.  (Humorously the notes claim the early Journey instrumental “Nickel & Dime” may have been the prototype that Rush ripped off for “Tom Sawyer”.)  Valuable early rarities include the unreleased jazz rock number “Cookie Duster” and an excellent vocal track called “For You” recorded  with Robert Fleischman singing.  Fleischman might be best known as the original singer for Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion a decade later, but in Journey he turned in a pretty powerful pop rock song.  This was just before Steve Perry joined the band as its first full-time lead singer.  Keyboardist Gregg Rolie took care of the vocals before Perry joined, in addition to performing several smoking organ solos included herein.

There is a distinct change between the early progressive jam rock tracks and “For You”.  When they hired on a lead singer, it was with the intention to get a big break, and Steve Perry was the final ingredient.  With Perry they recorded brilliant classics such as “Patiently”, “Anytime” and the unforgettable “Wheel in the Sky”, which unfortunately is only included here as a live version.  Indeed, the Journey box set’s only weakness is a substitution of (non-rare) live versions for studio originals.  “Lights” is another such substitution.

Just as the band were making this prog-to-pop transition, drummer Aynsley Dunbar left.  His style was more progressive and frankly too highbrow for the direction Journey were going.  He was replaced by another total pro, the feel-oriented Steve Smith, a jazzbo at heart who can play R&B like nobody’s business.  “Too Late” from 1979’s Evolution is a perfect example of what he did to the Journey sound, as things simplified.

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With Smith behind the kit, the hits kept pouring in.  “Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin'” (also included live), “Any Way You Want It”, “Line of Fire” and many more burned up speakers across America.  The band very quickly went from “point A” to “point B”, but also with several exceptional looks backward.  Some of these lesser known gems include “Little Girl” from a rare Journey soundtrack album called Dream, After Dream done for the Japanese market.  There is also the live “Dixie Highway” from Captured that shows off some serious instrumental chops.  A rare highlight is the soulful and unreleased cover of “Good Times”, with full-on horn section, from 1978.  It’s one of the songs that make it worth buying a box set like this.

Rolie left after Dream, After Dream and did not appear on the one new Journey song on Captured:  “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love)”.  This brilliant pop rocker pointed the way towards the next era of Journey.  From The Babys came new keyboardist (and sometimes guitarist and singer) Jonathan Cain.  Cain forever brought Journey into the 1980’s, with modern keyboard accompaniment and serious writing abilities.  He has since become an indisposable member of the band, as important as founding guitarist Neal Schon himself.  Jon Cain’s first was the Escape album, which has sold nine million copies to date.  Not a bad little debut.  With “Don’t Stop Believin'” , “Stone in Love” and the smash ballad “Open Arms”, Journey ascended to the top of the mountain.  These tracks are all included as their studio originals.

There are a number of notable and great rarities from this period included in Time3.  “Natural Thing” was the soul-laden B-side to “Don’t Stop Believin'”, but feast your ears upon “La Raza Del Sol”, which snuck out as the progressive flipside of “Still They Ride”.  This blazingly recalls the arrangements of the early years with an unusually contemoplative lyric.  Check out Schon’s flamenco guitar solo.  There is the understated and brilliant rocker “Only Solutions”, from the 1982 Tron soundtrack.  These are valuable songs, that any Journey fan should enjoy completely.  Moving forward, “All That Really Matters” is a synthy demo with Jon Cain on lead vocals.  It doesn’t sound like Journey, but Cain fans will find it interesting.  Two more soundtrack songs are indispensable:  “Only the Young” from Vision Quest, and “Ask the Lonely” from Two of a Kind (both 1983).  Each song was significant enough to include on 1988’s Greatest Hits, so fans are well acquainted with both.  It’s incredible to think that Journey had songs of this quality to give to soundtracks.

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Towards the end, as bands often do, Journey began falling apart.  Steve Perry had a hit solo debut Street Talk (1984) and he returned to Journey more confident, imposing a soul/R&B direction upon the band.  Steve Smith and founding bassist Ross Valory were out.  Randy Jackson and Mike Baird were in.  Raised on Radio took forever to record and underwhelmed fans upon reception.  A live version of “I’ll Be Alright Without You” with the new members indicates that Journey had sanded off the rough edges.

Even at the end, there were still interesting happenings.  The liner notes reveal that even as the band was ending, they were winning awards.  Journey performed at the 1987 Bay Area Music Awards with a different singer — Michael Bolton.  One has to wonder where that could have gone.  The last music on this set chronologically comes in the shape of two unreleased instrumentals called “With a Tear” and “Into Your Arms”.  They were recorded in 1986 but not used for Raised on Radio, and so they were finished in 1992 by Schon and Cain for this box set.  Sadly these instrumentals are better than most of the tracks on Raised on Radio.  One is a ballad, and one is a rocker, but both are exceptional.  Journey started life with instrumentals, and so it’s fitting that Schon and Cain polished off the box set with a couple as well.

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This box set was reissued a number of times, but for the money you can’t beat the original 1992 printing with the long box and large booklet.  The liner notes are ample but the rare photos may even top them.  From the earliest days there are pictures of the band with original guitarist George Tickner and drummer Prairie Prince.  Prince was invited to join permanently, but chose to join the Tubes instead, a band he found more creative.  He was replaced by Aynsley Dunbar who recorded the first LP.  Also pictured within are some truly impressive hair styles, clothes, and moustaches.

With tracks this strong from start to finish, great packaging, and such a wealth of rare material, it seems Time3 should be an easy 5/5 stars.  However, that niggling issue of live tracks (particularly “Wheel in the Sky”) replacing studio cuts is really devious.  It’s unnecessary.  It all but forces casual buyers to also own Greatest Hits for the studio versions.  It seems very calculated.

Otherwise, proceed.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Journey – Look Into the Future (1976) #200wordchallenge

200 word


Scan_20160825 (2)JOURNEY – Look Into the Future (1976 CBS)

Journey began life as a progressive rock band that plied instrumentals and vocals.  Keyboardist Gregg Rolie (ex-Santana) was in charge of vocalizin’, and Look Into the Future is the second album from this era.  Guitarist George Tickner left the band after their debut, leaving Journey a quartet with Neal Schon (also ex-Santana) handling all guitars himself.  Tickner still has writing credits on two songs.

There are hints towards the rock and roll machine that Journey would one day become, most notably the Beatles cover “It’s All Too Much” which they adapted to their style.  By and large you can look forward to a decent, soulful album with a focus on musicianship.   All songs on this album are vocal, ranging from slower blues ballads (“Anyway”) to long blow-outs (“I’m Gonna Leave You”).  Songwriting is a tricky craft to master, and at this point Journey’s songs were more prototypes than full-fledged compositions.  There are even fledgling metal riffs, such as “She Makes Me (Feel Alright)”, probably the best track on the album besides the Beatles cover.

While this album will never be as highly esteemed as Escape or Frontiers, check it out if you’ve wondered what Journey were like before Steve Perry.

3/5 stars

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REVIEW: Journey – Captured (1981)

Scan_20160722JOURNEY – Captured (1981 Columbia, 1996 Sony SBM remaster)

Captured was a turning point for Journey.  After this, they went from mega to uber-mega.  It was their first live album, and their last with founding keyboardist and singer Gregg Rolie (who actually sang lead in Journey on their first three albums, before they discovered Steve Perry).  When Rolie left and Journey hired on Jonathan Cain, they went in an even more radio-friendly direction.  The live album captured (pun intended) the end of the Rolie era with basically every hit they had.  They were more of a rock and roll band back then, and this album shows it.

The scorching heat of “Where Were You” is the perfect track to prime the rock n’ roll BBQ.  Journey’s brand of rock is driving, but polished to a shimmery gleen.  This is partly due to the impeccable pipes of Steve Perry.  I’m not sure if Steve has even heard of a bum note, let along sung one.  But Perry was only one of two singers in Journey, and Rolie has his first lead on the mid-tempo pleaser “Just the Same Way”.  Although he is not comparable to Perry, he’s no slouch and the different singers gave Journey more dimension.

Blazingly fast, the gleeful “Line of Fire” is the hardest rocker on the album. “So don’t go sayin’ Stevie’s a liar!” he sings, and the crowd goes nuts. But Journey are probably better associated in the public eye with tender ballads. “Lights” live is a definitive version. It merges into another beautiful ballad, “Stay Awhile”. Perry’s singing here is so splendid, so perfect, so soulful and powerful that it’s hard not to just be amazed. Not to be outdone is Neal Schon with one of his most memorable guitar solos on “Lights”. A pretty version of “Too Late” makes it a trilogy.

Scan_20160722 (3)One of the coolest treats on Captured is a new song, “Dixie Highway”, that was never recorded on a studio album. Boogie with Journey down the Dixie Highway and listen to that blazing musicianship, more progressive rock at times than radio friendly AOR. Then it’s the Rolie/Perry duet “Feeling That Way”, an out-and-out classic. The combined sheer lung power on that stage that night could not be measured by science. It is said by some that all the canines within the city of Detroit suddenly perked their ears simultaneously at that moment, with a spill-off effect happening in areas of close proximity across the border in Canada. The University of Marysville is currently investigating these reports, hoping to calculate numerically just how much Steve and Rolie sang their fucking balls off that night.

Rolling right into “Anytime” and “Do You Recall”, the listener is treated to some lesser-recognized Journey classics that are as good or better than their biggest hits. “Do You Recall” in particular boasts the kind of melodies and smooth rock grooves that radio hits are made of. With that out of the way for now, they go into a blues jam with “Walk Like a Lady”. According to Steve Perry, “We got two of the best blues players in the whole world here tonight. Two of the best! We got Mr. Gregg Rolie on the Hammond B-3 and Mr. Neal Schon on the Stratocaster!” After a blazing Schon solo, Journey blast into “La Do Da”, another one of their lesser-known rock blitzes.  Bass solos!  (By Ross Valory!)  Drum solos! (by Steve “Machine Gun” Smith!)  And then the listener is rewarded for their patience with a string of their biggest hits:  “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”, “Wheel in the Sky”, and “Any Way You Want It”.

That’s a hell of a double live album right there.  No, Journey’s Captured is not remembered on the same level as Live and Dangerous, Frampton Comes Alive, or Kiss Alive (I or II).  Captured is certainly great, but somehow falls ever so shy from achieving the same lofty heights as the aforementioned.  It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why it’s not quite up there.  Perhaps it’s the perfectionist style of the band, because it’s certainly not Steve Perry.

It’s not over though:  Journey included a new song, and their first ever without Gregg Rolie on keys.  Studio cat Stevie “Keys” Roseman filled in, on the ironically piano-based “Hopelessly in Love”.   This unsung classic is one of the strongest Journey songs in the canon.  It’s too bad that it rarely gets pulled out for compilations, instead residing at the end of a near-forgotten live album.

4/5 stars