Journey - Journey

Year of Release: 1975
Label: Columbia
Catalog Number: PC33388
Format: CD
Total Time: 38:40:00

I have so much to say about this seminal, ground breaking, perfect release. I don't even know where, and how, to begin. Would I tell you that this first, self-titled release came out on my birthday in 1975? That I joined my first band that summer, and we all agreed that we would learn and play nearly all the material on this record? Would I begin by describing the attributes that an album needs in order to qualify for my designation as "perfect." All those things I guess, and more, must be put on paper, or online, in the ether.

This is the album that led me away from Yes and ELP and Jethro Tull, sent me down another path, so to speak. This is the music that got the guitar out from under the bed, and in my hands for most of the next twenty years. This album, this band, was so much a part of my life, my soul, for so long, so very long. I have to be careful about even playing my old Journey records around anyone, and this is a secret, don't laugh, because I get tears in my eyes. I love what this band was, not what they became, what they were in their musical youth, before the oppressive hand of big business took the art of music and mangled it beyond recognition.

Herbie Herbert, the man I should be on my knees, thanking for the existence of Journey, was an ex-roadie for Santana. He saw something special in Neal Schon, and after vocalist and organist Gregg Rolie quit Santana to move to his old home state, Washington, Herbie convinced Neal to form his own band. Based in San Francisco, they recruited Tubes drummer Prairie Prince, rhythm guitarist, songwriter George Tickner and bassist Greg Valory to fill out what was, in those days called "The Golden Gate Rhythm Section." Both Tickner and Valory had played in the SF psychedelic group Frumious Bandersnatch, a local legend, and Ross Valory had been filling the job of bass guitarist for The Steve Miller Band, when he was called by what was to be Journey. Prairie Prince would soon be replaced at the drummer's throne by veteran Aynsley Dunbar, in the first of the many changes of personnel Journey would see in their long, and continuing life.

Back to Herbie for a moment please. Herbie said something that I still remember many, many decades later. He said once that Neal Schon was the "premier guitar expressionist of his generation." A three dollar term for "good," right? I thought so at the time. But today, and just today, I know exactly what he meant. Let me tell you another story about the making of this "perfect" album, and let's see if I can tie it all together and make this worth our time.

This debut album was produced by Roy Haylee. One day, he listened as Neal played the solo for the first cut, "Of A Lifetime." Pleased with what had gone down on tape, he asked, as is usual in the studio, for Neal to cut a second solo. Maybe it would be better, maybe something would go wrong, or had gone wrong on the first take, and a second, third, good lord, for some artists a twentieth take would be put on tape. He was stupefied when Neal said, sure, and proceeded to play exactly the same solo. The same in every way, every bend, every nuance, every rest, exactly the same. So what, you may ask? That means he couldn't improvise, couldn't jam, right?

No, an emphatic no.

What Herbie meant with his fancy term was this. Neal wrote poetry through his fingers, his Les Paul. We all accept the idea of great poetry, great literature. We can recite Poe and Keats and Joyce. What Schon was producing was no less than that. He produced the poetry of the guitar solo, and could create and recite those creations on demand. I saw Journey probably seven or eight times between the release of the record I review here, and their second, only slightly less inspired, album. He recreated the notes we heard and memorized every time, with only slight variation, a little more flash here, an exaggerated wrist vibrato there. The songs and solos themselves were always extended, with additional length, an extra guitar solo at the end perhaps, and here Neal Schon would prove that he was a man who could create on the spot, and his improvisations always floored my friends and I. Every time it was different, every time it was apocalyptic, every time it left us with plans to travel to Hayward, or San Jose or wherever Journey would appear the next week or the week after.

Every night, in every town, someone would walk to the microphone stand in darkness to say the same words. "Here they are, the pride of the West Coast, Journey", and I and my buddies would surge forward, in the midst of the already packed crowd, and shoulder our way to the front of the stage, to stand in awe, watching Neal, Gregg, Ross and Aynsley create the universe again before our eyes. George Tickner was the second casualty. He left the band, but contributed two more songs that appeared on Journey's second release, Look Into The Future. George's songwriting was an important part of the first release as well, and the band and the sound that I love so much would have been far different without his early participation. He penned the albums opening and closing numbers, "Of A Lifetime" and "Mystery Mountain," with the others and the records brilliant instrumental "Topaz" alone. "Of A Lifetime" was a Northern California FM staple in those days. Not an hour would go by without some Journey song being played, and "Of A Lifetime" hit the radio waves more than any song I can remember in those days, and I am not forgetting the ubiquitous "Stairway To Heaven" or "Free Bird." Well, those days were not to last, and the release of Frampton Comes Alive and the recreation of Fleetwood Mac into a huge money making machine would strangle the artistic freedom that had reigned since the early sixties, as companies would realize the power of well controlled and formulaic rock music. Journey would be allowed three chances to turn themselves into a pop music making, golden egg laying goose for Columbia to control. Failing this after their third release, Next, their management laid down the law. Find a charismatic front man and get a top ten single or find a new line of work. They chose to make a deal with the devil, and the rest is history. I don't blame them, not a bit. They had gifts to give the world and they wanted to continue. I lost, little by little, my adoration of the product they began to produce, but never my love of the music they first pursued.

I suppose it is time to begin telling you about that music.

I have called this a "perfect" release. That means a release that shows the players at the peak of their creative and performing lives. It means a release that provides something new, something that was lacking before. It means a release that will pave a path that others will follow, music that will be imitated, a style that will spawn imitators. It means a release that contains songs that will transcend the style, the times, the artist his/her self. That's what perfect means to me.

I want to first quickly touch on the vocals on this release. Gregg's vocals are great on this album. His voice is warm and powerful, and I for one, prefer him now and always. That's enough on this topic.

The lead-off song on this first Journey album is, you already know, "Of A Lifetime." It begins, as do a couple of these gems, with softly strummed chords on the guitar, accompanied by the voice of Neal's Les Paul, stating his perfectly thought out melodic licks. This theme is joined by Aynsley's pounding intro and Gregg's B-3 joins in, and takes over the progression as the verse begins and Neal accents the melody with tasteful fills, a brief reprise of his theme repeated at the end of each verse. A powerful riff speaks the second theme and leads quickly into the first solo, three minutes into the work. The theme is repeated and this pattern is followed until the song ends with showers of fire from Schon. Within the first few minutes of Journey's introduction to the world, Neal has trampled every other guitar player into the dust.

The second piece on this record is "In The Morning Day." Beginning as a soulful R&B number featuring Gregg Rolie's warm Hammond sound, and offset by the work of Aynsley Dunbar, it moves quickly into ripping rhythm guitar and a roaring solo from Rolie in his patented, Santana proved style. I should give some attention to the drumming of Mr. Dunbar at this point, as he will remind us again and again throughout this release of his majestic sound, and unique style. He is among a very select group of drummers who can carry a song on his own, though that would never be required of him during his brilliant tenure with Journey. John Bonham, Leonard Haze of Yesterday And Today, better known as Y&T, and a few others besides Aynsley Dunbar were able to master and show impeccable bass drum, snare syncopation. I guess I must refer to Bonham's right foot, and the triplets he was famous for with Led Zeppelin to make my point clear to those unfamiliar with Dunbar's style. This bass drum style made famous by numerous Zeppelin numbers is what I am pointing out here, and Aynsley was every bit as good and ground breaking as Bonham. I hate to take away the focus and shine the light on another band, but I think you will all understand the technique I am speaking of now, right? Another hallmark of Dunbar's style, one which I have found to be rare among drummers was his penchant for constant pumping of his hi-hat cymbals in time with the beat, whenever his left foot was free of their double bass duties. After two verses comes a popular studio effect of the day, the phase shifted swirl. The drum fill that leads into Gregg's B-3 solo is sent through this effect, sending the swirling sound of the drums from speaker to speaker. This tool has been used to death by some bands, but in the day, and on this record in particular, it is a powerful addition to Journeys inter-galactic style. This number ends with another jaw dropping display of Schon's guitar work.

The following number, "Kohoutek," is an instrumental, and will bring the Mahavishnu Orchestra instantly to mind. Again, a guitar showpiece, Schon's licks are amazing. Few players would even dare to try to pull off something like this at this time. His only peers at the time, men who could play with this ferocity, were of course, John McLaughlin, and Focus guitar god, Jan Akkerman.

The sheer mastery of the guitar displayed in this song would be unequalled for a decade, except by his own work, on this and the next few releases. These three songs fill side one of the LP, certainly a progressive trait, No?

Side two begins with their live show starter, "To Play Some Music." This song is a stab at radio friendly song construction, but as Journey was inclined to do, they paid more attention to the center instrumental section than to the relatively simple three chord progression of the verse. This song kicks some major booty, which can be truthfully said of anything on this LP. The bridge of this number is the same chord progression that would later be used by Van Halen as the lead in to the solo on their brutal "On Fire," off their debut release. The following piece on side two is the aforementioned "Topaz," written by George Tickner. This is one of the highlights of this album, showing a decidedly jazz/fusion bent. It starts with a variation in G major, and features some of the most lovely, soulful, expressive licks ever played by any guitarist, anywhere, anytime. It quickly picks up tempo and intensity, and alternates between this forceful guitar work and an almost Brubeck like, jazzy counterpoint. This song is notable for Dunbar's volcanic drumming and Ross Valory's beautiful bass lines. This shift back and forth between rocks power and jazz/fusions delicate restraint allow many opportunities for Valory and Dunbar to shine, and bridge to stylistic elements. This is a great, great piece of music, and a fun way to stump your friends with "name that band." Most people who THINK they know Journey cannot guess that this is the stadium filling AOR monster of the later years.

Next in line is the other masterpiece of this debut. "In My Lonely Feeling/Conversations" is in my opinion the best work of Journey's long and hit filled career. It starts, again, as a deceptively low key R&B, bluesy number and lays down a solid foundation for all the players to strut their stuff. Powerful B-3 carries the theme as Aynsley plays the best drums of his storied career. He kills the competition, flat out. You will hear no other rock drummer who can match his mastery of his instrument. I will not go to such an extent, I'm sorry, in describing Ross Valory's bass line, or Neal Schon's guitar work on this song. I don't have enough adjectives to avoid repeating myself. Let's just say I get an uncontrollable urge every now and then to listen to this song ten or more times in a row.

I love, I worship this one. Ok?

Last comes "Mystery Mountain," another straight forward rocker, somewhat similar to the lead off, "Of A Lifetime." This song used to make me freak when performed live. Over a simple chorded intro, Neal would bring forth the piercing, thick feedback that introduces the first verse. He was a master of producing endless feedback from his guitar and amps, and his ability to feedback instantly, and in any key, was amazing to me then, and still is. In case you don't know, the art of creating controllable, useful, musical feedback is not easy. This tune is the simplest, most conventional work on the LP. This is mostly a vehicle for jamming, and jam they do. It features crushing drums, and blistering guitar work, as well as powerful B-3 and bass. It is a fitting end for what I consider one of the best debuts in musical history.

This LP was a bolt of lightning to a music world that was nearing its end. The days of freedom and minimal interference from the suits and the bean counters was almost over. Soon, the bottom line would be the only line that mattered, and the days of a band making three or four albums, finding their way, and developing an audience and a unique style or voice, would be gone.

Gone Forever?

You'll have to answer that question yourself.

Of A Lifetime (6:50) / In The Morning Day (4:22) / Kohoutek (6:43) / To Play Some Music (5:16) / Topaz (6:11) / In My Lonely Feeling/Conversations (4:55) / Mystery Mountain (4:23)

Gregg Rolie - keyboards, vocals
Neal Schon - guitar, vocals
Ross Valory - bass, piano, vocals
Aynsley Dunbar - drums
George Tickner - guitar

Journey (1974)
Look Into The Future (1976)
Next (1977)
Infinity (1978)
In The Beginning (1978)
Evolution (1979)
Departure (1980)
Dream After Dream (OST) (1980)
Captured (1981)
Escape (1981)
Tron (OST) (1982)
Frontiers (1983)
Raised On Radio (1986)
Greatest Hits (1988)
Ballad Collection (1992) Time 3 (box set) (1993)
Trial By Fire (1996)
Greatest Hits Live (1998)
The Journey Continues (2001)
Arrival (2001)
The Essential Journey (2001)
Red 13 (ep) (2002)
Generations (2005)
Revelation (2008)

Live: 2001 (DVD) (2001)
Greatest Hits DVD 1978-1997: Videos And Live Performances (DVD) (2003)
Live In Houston 1981: The Escape Tour (DVD) (2006)
With Love From Japan (DVD) (2008)

Genre: Melodic Rock-AOR

Origin US

Added: March 22nd 2004
Reviewer: Tom Karr
Artist website:
Hits: 972
Language: english


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