Journey: Don't Stop Believin' Meaning
Song Released: 1981
Covered By: Glee Cast
Don't Stop Believin' Lyrics
She took the midnight train goin' anywhere
Just a city boy, born and raised in south Detroit
He took the midnight train goin' anywhere
A singer in a smokey room
The smell of wine and cheap...
anonymous Oct 7th, 2009 10:37am report
This is a powerful song that is wonderfully vague. It is the tapestry of life, good or bad. Open your eyes to what’s out there but don’t let what’s out there hold you back.
The first two verses are about a boy & girl (it can happen to anyone) who ramble “anywhere” searching for something missing in their life. The beauty of the first verse is either or both people could also be trying to escaping from something. The train suggests both sought to move fast and far. It’s midnight and so you’d think that if they had a car, it would be easier to drive. No, the train was by choice or lack of alternatives. What goes through each one’s head on that silver bullet. Are they staring blindly out a window, are they sad, hopeful, numb?
The singer in a smoke’ room that is dominated more by wine and cheap perfume suggests a club of sorts. (This is not a brothel: There is a singer, wine and the flow of lyrics does not take us there … yet). This is a club where “they” (boy & girl) can spend a night (time, not necessarily more) and get to (or from) what they sought when entering the midnight train. It’s easy to picture romance, but neither love nor sex are mentioned. Perhaps it is simply to seek companionship or escape. Nothing happens unless one (or both) pays (“for a smile”) by reaching out to a stranger in a strange land. This is no small cost: We can assume neither is local to the club and neither know if the other one is a local to the area. With a singer on stage, neither knows if the other is here for the show, with someone else (friends or lover) or even interested in “sharing the night”. There is a fusion of horizons between lyrics and listener where the listener interprets. Best of all, we don’t even know if boy and girl “share the night”! The chemistry is there but is that enough? We've all gone home from the midnight hour regretting not having paid the smile. Pan the camera out and these are just two of many (It goes on and on and on …)
The third verse expands on the theme of anyone, anywhere, and in the dark of night. This is to be a world of the ones that are restless and cannot or will not sleep. Like the boy and girl, there are numerous strangers along the avenue of life, waiting to run to or run from “it”. Their long, searching shadows reinforce anonymity. These strangers are abundant, seeking, yet void of detection. Is this a gentle hand saying that it’s okay to be behind one of these shadows (you are one of many) or a call to join their ranks (leave the small town or city)? Perhaps it’s an urging to seek out the shadows, for these night dwellers (living in the hour of the streetlight) also seek emotion (like the boy and girl). Again we can imagine the scale of emotions that rule the midnight hour ranging from romance to rage to depression and so on.
The singer (Perry?) steps into the fourth verse and, yes, even he seeks a thrill. The thrill is the midnight train that takes the streetlight person to (or from) his/her emotional destination. Do not be lulled into thinking that the thrill is positive. The players in this game will do anything (hop on any train) to get the emotion. The reference to rolling dice slices open the underbelly of this world and shatters illusions of a universe comprised of country girl meeting city boy. This is a subterranean layer that lurks below the verse-three avenue. It smacks of uncontrolled servitude to gambling, drugs, prostitution or any other extreme. This is life and we are all in the game. The outcome may be black or white but there are other sad variations. There are no happy endings and no clean finish. Pan the camera out again and there is a history to this film that was here before us and will be here long after we are gone (it goes on and on and on …).
As we shrink in horror (or weep or rebel or vent or delight, etc.) at the realization of this sad story that is life, the song commands us to not forget the boy and girl. Ride the train and seek the emotion. Take a chance and live with no regrets.
Those are my two thoughts. It’s midnight & I’m late for a train,
anonymous Aug 19th, 2007 8:30am report
Everyone goes through rough times. nobody has a smile on their face 24/7. people get depressed. and sometimes we feel like there's no way out, or we're doomed for life. while being depressed, maybe sometimes people are afraid of being hopeful again, only to be let down. They may think its doing more harm than good to dream of better days. but this song is telling us to 'hold on to that feeling' because life is never short of opportunities to find happiness. There's other people surrounding us, and love can be found in the most unexpected places. There's so many places that happiness can be found, too. They can range from a town on the countryside, the big city, in a deserted area, or even around the corner of where our home is. don't stop believing because this world contains a lot of sadness, but also an infinite amount of opportunities, happiness, and love.
anonymous Oct 8th, 2009 10:45am report
First, I don't think it's about hookers. :)
It's about living life and finding true love in the city. Perry's talking about our simple city life: we work hard, we take a chance on finding love, we bear the disappointments - and we don't stop believing.
How many of us have gone out night after night, jaded by a singer in a smokey room, enduring the wine and cheap perfume, rolling those dice, searching, hoping for that true one, only to end up alone under the streetlights thinking that some win and some lose, and perhaps you're the one born to sing the blues?
And The City? It doesn't care. It has no 'happily ever after.' for us. It's a movie that'll never end; it just goes on and on.
Walking alone under those street lights, our shadows searching in the night, it does feel like we're living just to find emotion. There really is no other reason to go on. It's love - or nothing. And in the city, we barely believe we can find it. We can barely hold on to that feeling.
Perry offers us a small comfort:
Don't stop believing.
Hold on to that feeling.
So, streetlight people, you lonely city-boys and small-town girls: you would have never met if not for the city, if not for that urge to take that midnight train to anywhere. Sure it seems like you met just looking for a thrill, giving those easy smiles, perhaps sharing the night, but it's okay - you were just searching for that feeling. Don't fret. Just remember,
Don't stop believing
Hold on to that feeling
Streetlight people, hold on...
anonymous Sep 24th, 9:56pm report
For me this song is simple, picture a fishbowl will all types of fish from all different parts of the pond (the boy and girl) day in and day out we pass each other often barley acknowledging each other in the mundaneness of our lives but the one thing that unintes us is LOVE we all crave it we need it, it's hard wired in our brains. When we don't have love we are in constant search of someone who can feel that deep dark lonely void. (streetlight people, dark of the night) I think the train represents the uncertaintly of life we all face not knowing whats next as well as willing to take chances in order to fulfill our void.(train bound for anywhere) We go to nightclub in search of love (singer in a smokey room) and if were lucky we can find someone (for a smile they can share the night) perhaps were really lucky and have an instant chemistry with someone the kind where you spot them across the room and feel an instant connection deep down in your soul and right then and there you take a chance you could get lucky and find your soulmate or you may just end up singing the blues who knows. The same story is carried out day after day night after night because were humans and love is what drives us we are constantly in seek of it wether we realize it or not(the movie never ends it just goes on an on)
anonymous Apr 23rd, 2014 4:08pm report
i think that the boy and girl were just desperate to get away from their homes because they have lived there their whole lives. they wanted something new-and they got it by just going anywhere.when the chorus comes in, i believe he's telling them(the boy/girl)that they cant give up and to keep believeing that they can have a better life.
never stop believing, and if a (Barely!)12 year old can see something in a song, you should be able to too.
anonymous Feb 1st, 2014 2:27am report
Can mean anything to anyone depending on their own perspective.
for a smile you can share the night- If your at an event, lets say a football game and you have your teams jersey on and next to you is a guy, girl and they have the same jersey on, you can stay in your closed mind in your own thoughts OR you can "smile" or buy the person a beer and "share the night" with a total stranger and have a great time!!! People...wake up!!! enjoy one another...this is life and life is a journey. Share the night!!!
anonymous Feb 6th, 2012 2:17am report
It doesn't mean a damn thing, it's just a tearjerker..
anonymous Jan 19th, 2012 1:35pm report
Born and Raised in South Detroit.
anonymous Oct 22nd, 2011 10:04pm report
The "streetlight people" in this song were actually viewed from one of the band members' hotel windows while they were staying overnight on the eastern side of Detroit before a concert. However, "east Detroit" was changed to "south Detroit" because it flowed better.
anonymous Aug 1st, 2011 8:25pm report
This song to me is about believing. It doesn't even say if the guy and girl actually meet (it's possible but where does it say he meets her or if they are even in the same city anymore) and then it talks about a singer in a smoky room and possibly two people sharing the night. The next line is it goes on and on and on. It goes from a guy and a girl who want something else out of life and then a singer who is probably getting lung cancer from the smoke and just wants something more. and the shadows what if they are searching for more. What if the emotion they are searching for is happiness? then later with paying anything to roll the dice just one more time, it's about getting another chance. Just don't give up and keep believing.
anonymous May 25th, 2011 5:59pm report
I'm graduating this year and this was voted in for the class theme song. I think the reason it endures so much for graduation is not only that it's something everyone knows, but that unlike most of what gets picked ("Good Riddance," "Here's to the Night," etc.) it doesn't focus on being sad something's over or saying goodbye. Instead, it focuses on all the joy and opportunities life brings, even after high school (such as the two people that meet in the first and second verses). It sends the message that although "some are born to sing the blues" and life may not be very easy at times, the important thing is to "roll the dice just one more time" and, of course, "don't stop believin'" - to keep trying and never give up no matter what happens.
anonymous May 11th, 2011 5:26pm report
While I like all the in depth analysis everyone has left about this song, I think most of you are overthinking it. It's simply a song about Las Vegas, "The Strip" in particular, Las Vegas Boulevard. Steve grew up just over the border in CA and spent a lot of his early music career there. All the obvious topics are mentioned in the song, prostitutes, gambling, smokey lounges, blues singers, the tram system, movie making... all the things you think of when you think of Las Vegas Boulevard. Told perhaps through the eyes of a prostitute and tourist meeting somewhere in the night. This is the song to be playing on your Vegas road trips.
anonymous Nov 15th, 2010 11:59pm report
Never Stop Believing
I have often wondered what it is that makes a song “good.” I can still recall the day vividly, over six years ago, as I rummaged through a box of old music tapes, hoping to find something fascinating to cure my boredom. My eyes alighted on a tape with the label “Journey: Don’t Stop Believin’” Interestedly, I picked it up and placed it in the cassette player. Smiling, I knew that at that moment my life was eternally changed because of it. The song, “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey has inspired two generations, which is astounding, and is sure to inspire more generations to come. Originally written by Steve Perry, Neal Schon and Jonathon Cain, it is still topping charts nearly 30 years after its debut, and has since been heard on such hit shows and movies as: “American Idol,” “The Sopranos” “The Wedding Singer” “Bedtime Stories” “Scrubs,” “Shrek the Halls,” “Glee,” and many others. The question however, is, why? Why has it become so admired?
‘Don’t Stop Believin’ follows a strange pattern; the renowned chorus is not heard until over three quarters of the way through the song, certainly proving false the saying “Don’t bore us - get to the chorus.” It would seem that while this may prove that saying false, critics still conjecture at how the song became so popular. Los Angeles Times said of the song, “Structurally, it’s a mess. Surely one would get tossed out of songwriting school for a tune that follows its opening piano riff with a verse, a guitar arpeggio, a second verse, a bridge, a guitar solo, a third verse, a repeat of the bridge, another guitar solo, and then, 3 minutes, 20 seconds in, when the song is ready to fade out, one of the most unforgettable choruses in rock.” And yet, despite the strange structure, the song remains one of the most listened to song on iTunes.
The song opens up with one of the most unforgettable keyboard riffs in the history of rock; easily distinguishing the song from any other. Vocalist Steve Perry, who has been listed in Rolling Stone’s “Top 100 Greatest Singers of All Time” because of his incredible range from high to low, begins to melodiously sing the words,
Just a small town girl,
Livin’ in a lonely world
She took the midnight train going anywhere
Just a city boy,
Born and raised in South Detroit
He took the midnight train going anywhere
Inside these first two stanzas alone the song appeals to the average American youth. Steve Perry said in an interview that he believed that the reason for this was because of the need of all people to break free from the bonds that hold them to their everyday lives, and to explore places they have never been before. It was that determining factor that surprisingly convinced the makers of “Glee” to use the song on their superbly stunning show. When these opening lines lead into the “pre-chorus” or, “bridge” of the song as it has been dubbed by Journey, it gets even more chilling in the hearts of youth and adults alike who listen to it.
“Strangers, waitin’, up and down the boulevard,
Their shadows, searchin’ in the night
Streetlight people, livin’ just to find emotion
Hidin’, somewhere in the night
Listeners are often stunned. This “pre-chorus” as it has been dubbed by the band, speaks volumes for not only the middle-lower class, but for all mankind. Because it is a fact that there is not a single person on Earth; whether they be Oprah Winfrey or Gandhi himself, who has not at one point or another felt lost in the world around them. They may look outwardly confident, but on the inside, their shadows hunt blindly for some kind of answer to their current predicament. Inside reality, everyone has at one point or another felt this in their lives; especially young people because of the challenges they have not yet learned to face. Thusly there is even more appeal to the song that, since becoming available for download, has had over 3,000,000 downloads, (far greater than the population of Utah.) After a moment we are ripped from our thoughts on this subject and thrust into another revealing verse as Steve Perry continues with this ballad. He continues to stun.
Working hard to get my fill,
Everybody wants a thrill,
Paying anything to roll the dice,
Just one more time
Some will win,
Some will lose,
Some were born to sing the blues,
Oh the movie never ends,
It goes on and on and on and on
Everyone takes risks. It’s only human. It’s our disadvantage. Everyone labors to get by in this cruel world, and yet we still “want a thrill,” we still need to keep searching for that reason to live. Occasionally we might be struck down in a philosophical sense, but that’s life, there aren’t always happy endings because in reality there are no “endings.” Life goes on, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it; you can only keep on living. This verse speaks, like so many Journey songs, about everyday people who are just trying to get along in the world as they live. It speaks of the overlooked part of world culture, the part in the shadows that works every day just to survive.
Finally, after another bout of the “pre-chorus” Journey finally thrusts down to the heart and principle of the song with their final “chorus.” The band knew immediately that the verse and song were both something exceptional because of the way they felt as they sang it. Talking about it, Jonathon Cain, who was the keyboardist and background vocalist at the time, said of the last chorus while in an interview, “We knew we wanted to save it. It's like a wave about to happen -- the anticipation of something happening, a change in your life."
Don’t stop believin’
Hold on to that feeling
Don’t stop believin’
Shocking everyone, the final words, “Don’t stop believing” chime out loud and proud as the song slowly fades out. According to many people’s interpretations, mine included, Journey is speaking to the “streetlight people” and telling them to never give up hope; even when they may not know what to do; even when they’re lost and the going is tough; even when they’re afraid to venture out from their, “streetlight” to visit the dark unknown abyss beyond. Only because of examples in our culture like this do people who need it are inspired to continue on with their lives, although they may at times not feel the slightest desire to.
Finally the question must again be thrust forward. Why is it that “Don’t Stop Believin’” has become so admired? The song that was adopted as the Chicago White Sox’s Theme Song that they played if they were down points; and they claim caused their victory at the World Series. The song that became the most downloaded song of the 20th century. The song that children, teens, and adults alike still rock out to nearly thirty years after its release in 1981. The answer is simple. Don’t Stop Believin’ appeals to the soul of all mankind, the part of the soul that constantly yearns not only for an answer, but for love, and comfort as well. Besieging us is overwhelming evidence that “Don’t Stop Believin’” has become a solid foundation that men and women around the world who never stop believing can lean on to alleviate their fears when they’re afraid, to lift them up when they’re down, and to guide them if ever they are lost. And it’s all possible because they will never stop believing.
steakosaurus Oct 30th, 2010 10:43pm report
This song is about loneliness and the search for true emotions. The main message seems to be ultimately positive, exhorting the listener to not give up on finding true love, thereby escaping loneliness.
The song starts with two nameless characters, the archetypal boy and girl, who despite being from different backgrounds (ie, small town vs. city), are both willing to jump on a train going anywhere in order to escape their lonely homes. In the second verse, the boy and girl end up in a cheap bar, where they meet and potentially find a respite from their loneliness in each other. (Reminds me of the lyrics from Piano Man "they're sharing a drink they call loneliness, but it's better than drinking alone".)
The song then zoom out to a panoramic view, and you see the city in all its loneliness. Here the singer focuses on the paradox of modern city life: that of people being desperately lonely even as they are surrounded by others. Hence the image of strangers searching for something -- searching for emotions, for connections -- along city streets at night. Even the image of streetlights, which render the cityscape as isolated islands of light in a dark and gloomy matrix, fits into this utterly depressing view of urban life.
The song then moves to the singer's point of view. The singer also suffers from this feeling of missing something. He works hard and has enough money, but he still feels he's short of something in his life: real emotions, which he tries to get by buying thrills. The lyrics uses the metaphor of gambling and movies, but given the context of the preceding two sections, I think he is referring generally to the sybaritic but empty lifestyle of city nightlife.
Unless you interpret it ironically, the title refrain "don't stop believing" provides an ultimately positive message in this otherwise very dark song. The refrain is an exhortation to not give up on the hope of extinguishing your loneliness by finding that true connection with another human being, like the boy and girl of the first section.
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