DUST IT OFF: Journey’s “Frontiers”… 30 years later

Journey photo Journey_F-cover_zps2ce9d72f.jpg

  • By February 1983, I had been an avid viewer of MTV: Music Television for almost 15 months, after making its Honolulu debut on December 25, 1981 with video, no audio. It made its true presence known on December 31, 1981, when audio and video were finally synched. Back then, MTV was delayed by a week but outside of concert dates, it didn’t matter too much. But I became addicted to the ways of MTV, for now I was able to see artists move, 24 hours a day, all day in stereo. One band that received a lot of airplay was Journey. To their credit, most of their videos were live performances of songs I had regularly heard on the radio. I got to see videos for “Wheels In The Sky” and “Lights”/”Stay Awhile”, plus lip synched performances of “Just The Same Way” and “Anyway You Want It”, the latter with its luscious recording studio count-in. What changed Journey’s career forever was the release of their 1981 album Escape. Journey already had radio hits, Top 20 hits as a matter of fact, and that was very different to the band’s progressive rock roots on their first three albums. In fact, I clearly remember going to record stores as a kid and seeing the first Journey album where the band appear to be jumping in the air, with mountains in the distance and thought “wow, this looks cool. Is this really Journey?” It was, but it would be a long time before I heard it and the other albums they had started out with in their career. When I started the 6th grade, “Who’s Crying Now” was slowly rising up the charts, and then “Don’t Stop Believin'”. “Open Arms” was getting a small bit of airplay as well, but by late 1981/early 1982, it was possible to hear Journey songs on pop radio. Back then, that meant hearing their songs on an AM radio station, opposed to the rock stations on FM. This was a big deal, because it meant Journey songs were being heard by more people.
  • What made a bigger impact was this new network called MTV, for they were showing live performances of a show Journey had done in Houston, Texas. Specifically shot for MTV, one was able to see energetic performances of “Who’s Crying Now”, “Don’t Stop Believin'” (“born and raised right here in Houston!”), “Stone In Love” (complete with vocalist Steve Perry bombarding a cameraman), the new single “Open Arms” (perfect timing) and other songs they had done that night. It wasn’t new for MTV to show live performances, but they had started to have shows shot specifically for them. As Journey’s singles kept on getting radio airplay, more people bought the album, and they were one of the first staples of the music video cable network. If there was such a thing as Journeymania, it existed in 1982 and would last throughout the year until Michael Jackson released Thriller.
  • With the kind of success Journey received with Escape, where the band received a great promotional push through MTV, one wondered how they could top it. The hit success the band now had with the inclusion of Perry as the front man could not be ignored, so now it was time for the group to show people what was next. While waiting, MTV would show projects by Schon and keyboardist Jan Hammer like “Talkin’ To You” (from their 1981 album Untold Passion and “No More Lies” from their 1982 album Here To Stay.

  • Frontiers was released on February 22, 1983 with “Separate Ways (World’s Apart)” as the album’s first single, complete with a video that has since been mocked and parodied. It might seem foolish for the group to be hopping around near a harbor and drummer Steve Smith jamming on barrels, but keep in mind that this was Journey’s first “big budget” video. They now had stylists, and this was the way they wanted to present themselves, with a theme involving a woman walking around ignoring the five men in the band, but still having them close to her heart when the end of the video reveals she is listening to their music with… a Sony Walkman. Product placement? Very much, and it would be when Sony would eventually purchase the band’s label, Columbia Records, in the future but I’m jumping ahead of myself here. As basic and silly as the video was, it seemed brighter and a fresh approach to Journey’s music, and it let people know that the band had released a new album.
  • I loved “Separate Ways (World’s Apart)” for a number of reasons, but I thought Jonathan Cain’s keyboard intro was cool, Neal Schon’s guitar riff was awesome, and the Smith/Ross Valory rhythm section was awesome. There’s also a moment before the last chorus where Cain’s keyboard solo sounded like, to me at least, Alcatrazz’s “Kree Nakoorie”, but maybe that was due to the listening habits of my Uncle David. I also believe Alcatrazz’s debut album was released a few months after Frontiers, but I was making those kind of musical links back then.

  • My dad, who worked as an electrician in Pearl Harbor’s shipyard, would have access in buying music from the military base. This was new to me, because we were not a military family but the idea that someone could buy music with a one to two-dollar discount was appealing to me. My dad had taken pride in the cassette deck he had in his cherry red Karmann Ghia, so when he was able to, he’d get a few tapes. He was able to get for me the Frontiers album on cassette, and it was not on the day of release, but probably a month after. I clearly remember the cassette J-card being able to fold out, which was somewhat of a first since most cassette J-cards were either blank or just had the song listing. This one had the lyrics for the album in what seemed like, at the time, microscopic lettering. With cassettes now a growing format, the recording industry wanted to find ways to show how special cassettes could be, so having the album cover graphics and lyrics on the J-card was a way to say “look, a compact version of that big record.” Back then it seemed cool, and while I did not have a Sony Walkman (I’d always have some cheapy knock-off), once I carried an album on cassette in my pocket for a few weeks, it was “for life”. Or at least I felt it was a lifelong commitment even though it was a few weeks or maybe a month. I sported my cassettes in my pocket as if they were a pack of cigarettes, hoping someone would say “got a light?” No, but I got Journey. Of course, I was only 12, no adult would ask a kid for cigarettes but then again, we felt like we were freewheeling, and we wanted to prepare for such incidences. Never happened, but I had Journey in my pocket.
  • Journey quickly followed up the “Separate Ways (World’s Apart)” video with two videos that appeared to have been shot at the same time: “Chain Reaction” and “After The Fall”, with the latter showing the band jumping around and falling, as if it was their first album. These were shot in the same studio with a few arrangements in scenery, and both songs were given a decent amount of radio airplay, especially “After The Fall”. When the videos kicked in for “Chain Reaction”, Schon’s vocal reminded me a lot of Gene Simmons’ vocals, and it could have easily been a Kiss song, in the vein of “I Love It Loud”. Compare that to a more sensitive Perry in “After The Fall”, and perhaps one could see why one became more of a hit over the other.

    They were not as popular as “Separate Ways (World’s Apart)” but it didn’t matter too much for by the time airplay started to fade, the group followed it up with “Faithfully”. This was “the ballad”, and the video showed the group braving the ruthlessness of the mistress known as the road. The group were on tour to support Frontiers so a film crew tagged along to show the band at their best. It wasn’t a live performance video, but it included live footage of the band which was synched with the album’s audio. We did get to see Perry shave (whoa!!) and what it was like to be on a Journey tour bus, and the line “they said that the road ain’t no place to start a family” would be one of many reasons why countless hard rock and heavy metal bands would create music videos showing the tortured life of a touring artist. Cue Bon Jovi’s “Wanted: Dead Or Alive” as proof. Nonetheless, “Faithfully” was a song about a man who had to brave the road but knew that his lady would stand by him, and wait impatiently for her man to return home… faithfully.

  • I get a bit sentimental when it comes to the song that Journey would release as their last single and video for Frontiers. When I first heard the album in full, it was the second song on Side 1 of the tape, following “Separate Ways (World’s Apart)”. As a 7th grader attending an intermediate school, becoming more aware of the girls around me, “Send Me My Love” was a song that said to me “this is what love might be like”, the idea that if you depart and travel somewhere, that person will never forget you, and you will never forget them. I loved everything about the song: the sweeping intro, the drums, that flowing bass, the guitar, and the piano/keyboards, all before Perry begins to sing. Even if a love departs, “broken hearts can always mend” so was that words of guidance and/or assistance? I don’t know, my 12-year old mind simply said “this is what love might be like”.

    Upon its release as a single in Upon its release in September 1983, my dad was no longer a part of my life, as he had died three months earlier. My dad had made plans to move us to Canada, as he wanted to find “something better”, but my mom had chosen to move to Washington State to be closer to her sister. I had just started the 8th grade in September 1983 so while I was feeling a bit down and out after the death of my dad, I was realizing that I would soon be departing the place I grew up in, the place I loved, the place that made me. Everything I would be experiencing would be essentially a “last” something, and I’d often tie it in with what the song was saying about how “memories remain” “roses never fade”, and then comes the heartbroken bridge:
    “Calling out her name, I’m dreaming
    reflections of her face, I’m seeing
    it’s her voice that keeps on haunting me”

    Schon follows it up with a very mournful guitar solo that has pinches of optimism, or at least the optimism once had before he departs with one final goodbye, which always does it for me. In time, “Send Her My Love” would become my mythological song to Hawai’i, hoping it would remember me as much as I remember her.

    As for the video, it too would become a stereotype for many videos to come: the band on the road, showing how weary the group are but still rocking out strong, aerial shots showing the success of the tour. Also notable: the shot of original MTV VJ Alan Hunter at 2:31 and for me, I always wanted to know the conversation going on between the lady at the front and an unknown recipient of said conversation which lead to the “oh my God!” expression at the end. Let’s not forget the obligatory of the crutch during this section of the video

  • By the end of 1983, as a student of the music video, I thought it was great that Journey had made videos for all of the songs on Side 1 of Frontier. While a small handful of artists were creating video albums (where they’d create clips for each song on the LP), it seemed to be common practice for an artist to make two or three videos for it and never do anymore. The single would come with a video, and a video generally meant single, so for Journey to make five videos? Awesome!

    This is not to ignore the strength for Side 2, for we’re talking awesome songs like “Back Talk”, “Troubled Child”, “Edge Of The Blade”, “Rubicon”, and a song I felt should have been released as a single, the title track. I always loved Perry’s vocal performance in it and its use of reverb, and the track was a nice way of saying “this is what the album was all about, now let’s everyone join together and find new frontiers”. Those songs on Side 2 are genuine rockers and should receive the kind of airplay that the hits do today, but sadly that hasn’t happened.

  • The release of Frontiers also lead to the Journey arcade video game and pinball machine, and for those of us who would spend hours in game rooms, playing something Journey seemed very cool in between bouts of Asteroids and Moon Cresta. Having a video game named after you, in the first mega-era of video games, was a huge honor and while no one was talking about bit rates or anything like that, I’m certain many of us spent a few quarters on them.
  • By the time airplay slowed down a bit for the Frontiers album, I was about embrace a new world known as the mainland, and find a new home in the Pacific Northwest. The album would become one of the last my dad bought me, but the power of the music has not overshadowed this fact. It did (in my mind at least) mark the end of the Perry/Schon/Smith/Valory/Cain of the band, which turned them into mega superstars. Valory and Smith would be given the boot, Perry would find success as a solo artist with “Oh Sherrie”, “Strung Out” and “Foolish Hearts”. Before the band released their next album, they would release a few songs from the Frontiers sessions onto soundtracks. When they returned with Raised On Radio in 1986, it seemed everyone had/needed to be on MTV to be heard, so giving their album that title seemed less futuristic than previous albums and almost as if they were accepting that they were slowly becoming a thing of the past. It didn’t stop the band from getting hits like “Girl Can’t Help It” and e “Be Good To Yourself”, but it just felt different. Maybe I was getting older, I was officially a teenager looking at a world from “teen eyes”, or I had to deal with the culture shock of new surroundings. Then again, it was much more than that.

    No matter. Frontiers is the peak of an incredible time in Journey’s discography, a record that remains as timeless today as it did when I knew it would be a classic in 1983.

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  • SOME STUFFS: Rock opera missing in your life? Moon & Moon come to the rescue

    Moon & Moon These two gents here are known as Moon & Moon, whose new album, VII Acts of an Iron King
    (La Société Expéditionnaire), is a 21st century rock opera masterpiece in the making. I’m not saying the album isn’t a masterpiece, but I spoke of the masterpiece tag that people will give it. If you are looking for an album that has the majestry and power of the album in your mind, pick it up. The album was released on November 11th, but the band will be doing a CD release show in Brooklyn, New York on December 14th at Glasslands.

    Image and video hosting by TinyPic Interested in what their rock opera sounds like? Here is an MP3 in the form of “Act II: Hands Of A Man” (14.76mb). The CD for VII Acts Of An Iron King can be purchased from CD Universe, digitally from eMusic.com