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.