NEW YORK--To quote one of the band's biggest hits, radio is welcoming back Journey with "Open Arms."
The San Francisco Bay Area act, one of the rock era's most commercially successful but critically maligned groups, is putting out "Trial By Fire," its first album in 10 years, on Oct. 22. In anticipation, Columbia released two singles to radio last week: the ballad "When You Love A Woman" to top 40 and AC stations and the midtempo rocker "Message Of Love" to mainstream rock outlets.
"We've never gotten a response like this," says Rob Roberts, PD at Miami top 40 station WHYI, about "When You Love A Woman." The song, which received the most new airplay this week, according to Top 40 Airplay Monitor, "is blowing everyone away," says Roberts. "We got a copy of the song a few days early and just threw it on the air. I went bananas when I heard it. This song is huge; this is a monster."
While a little more subdued, JR Ammons, music director for top 40 Atlanta outlet WSTR, agrees, saying, "I think it's a top five record, easily. We were a little skeptical when we first heard about it, because we knew there was going to be gobs of pressure from the label, but surprisingly, it was a really good record."
On the rock side, the picture is equally glowing. "Message Of Love," which debuts at No. 39 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart this week, "is a great new rock song," says Rick Balis, PD at KSHE St. Louis. "We're getting very good buzz on the phones for the song. It's a song that's unmistakably Journey."
That was exactly the goal the band had in mind when it reunited. Like the first two singles, the remainder of "Trial By Fire" sounds assuredly like Journey always has: dramatic power rock led by Steve Perry's full-powered vocal charge.
"Nothing sounds more pretentious than someone being something they're not," says Perry of the band's decision to not let its music be swayed by current trends. "One of the things we've always known is that there are certain musical directions that fit what (our) chemistry is about. We're going to sink or swim being what we are and not by trying to reinvent ourselves and not by trying to be the flavor of the month."
"Trial By Fire" reunites the members of Journey who represented the band at its popular height. In addition to Perry, who joined the band in 1977, the lineup includes Journey's two founders, guitarist Neal Schon and bassist Ross Valory; drummer Steve Smith, who joined the band in 1979; and keyboardist Jonathan Cain, who was added in 1981.
When the band broke up in 1986--Valory and Smith had departed earlier--it was still a hit-making machine. Its last album, "Raised On Radio," reached No. 4 on the Billboard albums chart and included four top 20 hits.
"We were kind of at the top of our game when we split," says Perry. "It's not like some bands that break up at the valley of their careers. I'll take responsibility for the breakup. The merry-go-round was going real fast. Musically, we'd said everything we were going to, and bands interacting the way we do, we needed a break--maybe for forever."
In this case, forever turned out to be a matter of years rather than a millennium. Each of the members went on to other projects; most notably, Perry continued his solo career, and Schon and Cain went on to form Bad English with John Waite.
While on tour behind his 1994 solo album, "For The Love Of Strange Medicine," Perry had a wonderful time performing his own material, but, he says, "underneath it all, I was missing more and more being the singer in Journey than I ever thought I would." Additionally, the crowd reaction to the five or six Journey songs he threw into every night's performance was overwhelming.
Because of a severe respiratory illness, Perry had to cancel the end of his tour and was confined to bed. During that time, he thought more and more about Journey. Meanwhile, Columbia Records (U.S.) president Don Ienner called Perry's manager, wondering if the band would ever get together again.
Senior VP of A&R (U.S.) John Kalodner, whom Perry refers to as "the Henry Kissinger of rock," began talking to Cain, Perry, and Schon about re-forming. That led to Perry doing something he thought he might never do again: calling Cain.
"I was excited his number hadn't changed," says Perry. "I hadn't talked to him in years." The two got together a few weeks later in a local coffee shop, "and I said, "Just listen man, before it's too late. For reasons God only knows, there's a lot of people out there who love us, and I saw some of them not too long ago. Maybe it's time to try again," " recalls Perry. After a similar meeting with Schon, the three sat down to try to write together for the first time in more than a decade.
"That was the first thing we had to do--see if we had the spark to write again," says Perry. "If that was there, perhaps instead of putting together a touring (only) campaign, which is not what this is, we could come back as a real band. That's exactly what we've done."
With the songwriting team firmly in place, and Smith and Valory re-enlisted, the band entered the studio with producer Kevin Shirley and recorded 16 songs in four months.
As the band members prepared material for the album, they discussed who should helm their career, eventually deciding on Irving Azoff, the manager behind the Eagles" tremendously successful reunion. "He's done an incredible job with the Eagles, but that didn't have a lot to do with why we picked him," says Perry. "It was more because we all felt overwhelmingly comfortable about working with him."
Similarly to the Eagles, Journey is planning a major, potentially worldwide tour, but not before getting some loose ends tied up. "We're still cleaning up some of our past legal ties," says Perry. "Some were in the way of the re-formation and have gotten cleared, and some have yet to be cleared. But my (hope) is that we will tour in the early part of 1997."
Until then, Columbia plans to make sure that the record-buying public knows that Journey is back.
One week prior to the release of "Trial By Fire," Columbia will issue remastered versions of Journey's eight top-selling albums and Perry's double-platinum 1984 solo effort, "Street Talk."
"The whole point is to highlight the catalog and give them a week to breathe before the coming Journey album," says VP of marketing (U.S.) Tom Corson. "We built a stand-up floor piece for retail, with artwork from the new album and with space for every Journey record and the (1993) boxed set."
There are also plans for a radio special the day of release, as well as launch parties the night before at all 26 Hard Rock Cafes nationwide.
"The reaction to this album is already massive," says Corson. "It's like they picked up just where they stopped."
Not so fast, says Perry, who is clearly not interested in looking back. "I don't know if I want to pick up where I left off. The music business can be a choke chain, and you have to be aware of that, especially when you still have a few marks around your neck from it," he says.
"This time feels so much better, and I don't think it could have happened one inch sooner. Everything had to have happened as it did. You can't push the river any quicker than it flows."