From ‘The Sopranos’ To ‘The X Factor’ – How ‘Don’t Stop Believin” Became A Modern Standard

Much as it might seem like an endless punishment visited upon mankind, like Prometheus having his liver gnawed by an eagle for all eternity, the current series of The X Factor is, at long last, coming to an end.

Which means it’s time to start belly-aching about the winner’s song, which will inevitably go on to be Christmas Number 1. Last year it was ‘Hallelujah”s turn to get the glitter cannon-n’-gospel choir treatment.

This time, it’s rumoured to be Journey’s deathless 1981 power ballad ‘Don’t Stop Believin” (another song on the Sony label – funny that).

I say ‘deathless’, but actually the song did sort of die, before experiencing a miraculous rebirth. Who listened to Journey in the 90s? They were the cheesiest of arena-rock throwbacks, responsible for the kind of billowing ballads that Mariah Carey likes to yodel into submission.

Yet ‘Don’t Stop Believin”, Journey’s fist-clenching tale of all-American desperadoes livin’ just to find emotion, has enjoyed an astonishing second life in the digital age.

27 years after its release, download sales of the song exploded in 2008. Earlier this month the track entered the UK Top 20. It has now sold over 3 million digital copies, legally.

Now there’s a Facebook campaign to get the song – the original version – to the top of the singles chart, ahead of the X Factor cover version. Just imagine: Journey as the UK’s Christmas Number 1!

So how on earth did this near-forgotten ballad – until recently the kind of thing you might find at the arse end of a TV-advertised compilation called Ultimate Driving Anthems Vol III – become something like a modern standard?


Well, first of all, it’s a flat-out incredible song. Snooty rock critics will drone on about how it’s typical X Factor fare, full of bland affirmation. And sure, it’s more cliched and formulaic than an episode of CSI.

But there’s also something Springsteen-esque about singer Steve Perry’s lyrical empathy for his characters – these luckless, itinerant losers, “Payin’ anything to roll the dice just one more time”, clinging on to an American dream gone sour.

Why, then, are we only discovering it now? I’d argue it’s related to the social gaming revolution – the success of Guitar Hero and Rock Band have rejuvenated a certain kind of noodly ’80s classic rock, making it appeal to a new generation.

But mostly it’s down to TV. The resurgence of ‘Don’t Stop Believin” can be traced back to 2007, when it lent emotional heft to the otherwise puzzlingly open-ended climactic scene of The Sopranos.

Probably just as well: it’s hard to imagine the scene would have had the same bitter poignancy had it been accompanied by, say, Hale And Pace’s ‘The Stonk’.

Inevitably, some will also attribute Journey’s rebirth to the guilty pleasure factor – although if you need a veil of irony to hide behind before you can enjoy a song as mighty as ‘Don’t Stop Believin”, you’re an idiot, with a glinting flake of obsidian where your heart should be.

So. Cherish the track while you can, in its current, uncorrupted state. Because come Christmas, most likely we’ll all be listening to a version sung by this smarmy twat: