There is something divine about "Don't Stop Believin'." A song isn't supposed to barely crack the Top 10 but then come roaring back a generation later, inspiring a new set of Believers and providing the soundtrack to many cultural milestones. And a hit song isn't supposed to wait three minutes to deliver the chorus - Steve Perry doesn't sing the title until the 3:20 mark. But as we found out from Journey keyboard player Jonathan Cain, there was something special about this one.
Cain joined Journey in 1980, bringing with him the bones of "Don't Stop Believin'." Before that, he was in The Babys with another instantly recognizable vocalist, John Waite. Later, Cain and Waite reunited to form the successful all-star band Bad English, which included Journey guitarist Neal Schon. With every group, Cain was a key songwriter. His hit co-writes with Journey include "Who's Crying Now," "Separate Ways" and "Open Arms" (as well as "Faithfully," which he wrote solo); with Bad English, he worked on "Price Of Love" and "Possession" (their #1 hit "When I See You Smile" was written by Diane Warren).
These days, Cain has entered yet another successful phase in his musical trek, venturing into worship music with the release of What God Wants to Hear. He leads worship at New Destiny Christian Center in Orlando, Florida, where he is married to its pastor, Paula White.
Dan MacIntosh (Songfacts): Now that you have a solo album, I'll ask: Was it ever frustrating, as a songwriter, to have others sing your songs and not you?
Jonathan Cain: No, never a frustration. Only an honor. Any time you get a song recorded, it's a blessing, it's an honor. To me, it's a message you want to be able to add to somebody's identity. To be able to find their identity.
Songfacts: I wanted to ask you about "Don't Stop Belivin'," which has taken on a whole life of its own. And this next question is going to be kind of a multi-part question, if you don't mind. The first part is that the structure is kind of odd because it takes a long while to get to the chorus. And then the second thing, I wonder if you can tell me about when you wrote it. Did you get the sense that it was going to be a song that would touch so many people? And then the last part, how surprised are you that it has sort of taken on a whole new life?
Jonathan: The song began with the chorus. My father had coached me. I was in Hollywood, struggling with my career, kind of lost. I was asking him, "Should I come back to Chicago and just give up on this dream?" And he said, "No, son. Stay the course. We have a vision. It's gonna happen. Don't stop believin'."
So, I wrote that in a spiral notebook, and then years later, I went to San Francisco. This was before I was in The Babys. This was '76 or 77, something like that. I went up to join Journey in 1980. I had the book, and we were recording the Escape album. They said, "Have you got a song?"
I looked in my notebook, and I saw the title. I said, "Lord, show me that Steve Perry would love to sing that song." So, I wrote a chorus. They came in and I said, "Well, I trust you guys. Let's write the rest of it." And so, we did.
But it was always Steve's idea to hold back the chorus. I got what he was doing, because it was a tease, you know? So, when that chorus came in, you would be, like, "Wow!"
I kept saying when we were writing it, when we were in San Francisco, "What about the chorus?" And Steve was like, "No, let's wait." It all made sense to me at the time because we were keeping that chorus in our back pocket.
It's definitely a different form of a song, which makes it unique. We didn't really have a lyric for the verses when I got to his house the next day. It sounded like Sunset Boulevard, 1972, which I was there. I said, "See, the song sounds like Sunset Boulevard," and he said, "Well, tell me about it."
So, I described the menagerie of people who would show up on a Friday night and cruise Sunset Boulevard. All the dreamers that had dreams to become actors. Producers, artists, lawyers, anything... they were all there on a Friday night. Those were the strangers "up and down the Boulevard."
It was a blessing for him to come and agree with me over the concept for the song. So, that lyric went on the record.
We heard it when it was finished, and we knew there was something different about it. That's why we decided to lead with it as our opening track on the Escape album. When you put the needle down, it sounds like opening a book. With that piano line, it just sounds like a book opening up.
That was always my dream: to get the Journey fans into a Journey song. It was the first attempt to bring an audience into the band's world. We're singing for you. We're singing about your world now. So, it was a departure from what they had been doing before.
What I wanted to do was get a little Bruce Springsteen going on. Bruce was the master of that, bringing his audience into his songs. I was a huge fan of Bruce's.
When it came out, I think it went to #11. It never even got Top 10, I don't think. Maybe 9. I can't remember [Yep, it peaked at #9 on December 19, 1981]. It was never a #1 song at the time. When we toured in '98, I started to see the kids come to the front of the stage whenever we played it. These teenagers that were at the show would get out of their seats and rush to the stage. I could never figure out what it was about this song that just speaks to young people.
Before Rock of Ages, "Don't Stop Believin'" was used in a key scene in the 2003 movie Monster, starring Charlize Theron. When the cast of Glee released the song in 2009, it rose to #4; they also did "Faithfully," which went to #37.
And then, of course, Rock of Ages took it on and used it as their closing song. That was a surprise because I'd written it about Sunset Boulevard, which the play was about. I was completely thrilled that they got it.
Then The Sopranos really sealed the deal, along with Glee. So, those three things were just mighty with the song. It just became an iconic part of our culture, and I feel blessed to be a part of it.
Songfacts: The song "Faithfully" is a love song, but does it mean different things to you now, and do you think about your Christian faith when you perform the song?
Jonathan: If you take "Oh girl" and you put "Oh God" in there, you've got a Christian song. It is God-given. God gave me that song. I don't think I've written a song so quickly. I mean, it was probably a half an hour.
I started it on the bus heading to Saratoga Springs. I woke up the next day with a napkin on the side of my nightstand and I looked at the lyrics, "Highway run into the midnight sun." Then I got this supernatural download: This is the rest of the song.
I wrote rest of it down, almost frantically. I'd never had a song come to me so quickly that it was anointed, supernatural. Literally, in 30 minutes I had written that song. I had the napkin in my pocket and I put it on the piano. I had a big grand piano there by the orchestra. I played through it and I thought, "Man, this is good."
The Lord gave me permission to finish it. Normally I would go to Steve Perry or somebody and say, "Help me finish this song." No. God gave me the mind to finish it, and the rest is history. That would be a love song to God, absolutely.
A promo shot from the '70s when Cain was a solo artist
Jonathan: I had a girlfriend when I was a teenager and somebody had called backstage to one of the shows and said, "Virginia still talks about you and your relationship." It was just one of those offhanded comments. I looked at her and just said, "Send her my love."
I walked out, and it hit me: "Wait a minute, that's a song!"
I went home and I called Steve Perry up and I said I came up with this idea, and we wrote it on the spot. A lot of this stuff we wrote was just on the spot. Very, very spontaneous. We kind of wrote with an urgency because we didn't have a lot of time together. The road was hard enough. When we did write, we wrote very intense. All the lyrics were, like, within hours. We didn't mess around.
Songfacts: What can you tell me about writing with Steve Perry? Did you have certain roles where you would write the music and he would write the lyrics, or did you do a little bit of each?
Jonathan: He was more of a melody guy. I was more of a lyric guy. We had great respect. It was a God-given respect. I had no idea. It was very divine intervention because coming into the band I barely knew the guy. And yet, God had this commonality between what we loved and we wanted to do.
I loved his voice. He loved my playing. He loved my music. I loved his melody. We were mighty together. It was supernatural and I seriously believe God appointed it. It had its season and really played out greatly.
Songfacts: We've talked about some of the hits, but can you think of any songs off the top of your head that are underappreciated? Some of the songs with Journey that could have had the same sort of popularity that "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Faithfully" have received?
Jonathan: There's a couple of them. "Why Can't This Night Go on Forever," that was an amazing tune that was on Raised on Radio. We did another song on Arrival called "Loved by You," which I thought was a hit. It didn't really get its time of day. Those are two songs off the top of my head I thought should have gotten the light of day, but what are you gonna do? I'm grateful and blessed with what we had success with.
Songfacts: What can you tell me about the Bad English song "Price of Love"? Do you remember what inspired that particular song?
Jonathan: It's sort of a song about a vulnerable male. John Waite's character was always the bad boy of rock. It was just a song that said, "Forgive me. I still love you, but I've got these bad habits, I go out and mess up stuff." Like so many men do. They don't recognize.
You realize you love somebody, but then you're out the back door with another woman and you're, like, "Why did I do that?" It's one of those songs. You have to come back and ask for forgiveness if you want a relationship. Just get real and check in. Just check in with the one you love.
Cain has written or co-written Hot 100 hits for 10 different artists, including himself. A sampling:
Jonathan Cain - "'Til It's Time To Say Goodbye" - (#44, 1976)
The Babys - "Turn And Walk Away" - (#42, 1980)
Tané Cain (his wife at the time) - "Holdin' On" (#37, 1982)
707 - "Mega Force" (#62, 1982)
Heart - "Allies" (#83, 1983)
Loverboy - "This Could Be The Night" (#10, 1986)
Jimmy Barnes - "Working Class Man" (#74, 1986)
Michael Bolton - "Wait On Love" (#79, 1988)
Songfacts: You've written hits for many artists. Are there songs that stand out as special for you, as far as songs you've written for others?
Jonathan: Peter Frampton, there's a song I wrote with him called "Can't Take That Away." It's a blues song he recorded on his live album, and still plays from time to time.
And of course, Jimmy Barnes, the Australian singer, had a couple of songs. "Working Class Man" and "Too Much Ain't Enough Love" both went to #1 in Australia. We had two platinum records there.
And Michael Bolton, we had "The Hunger," which is a great song, which was the title track to his album. And Heart recorded "Allies." A wonderful song. Ann Wilson sang. And just recently, Joe Bonamassa and I wrote a song together called "Never Give All Your Heart."
Songfacts: You have an album that's a worship album. What inspired that album, and what makes it different – for lack of a better term – from the secular songs you've written?
Jonathan: It's been a walk in faith with the Lord. I recently married Paula White, the pastor and an evangelical speaker. And being around The Word and just witnessing her sermons, it just got me thinking along the lines of, "Can I take this message and put it to music?" And the Lord answered me with lyrics. These were things that He gave me that turned into music.
It's kind of the way I work, with a melody first and then I have to find the lyrics. But in the case of these songs, they were all lyrically crafted first, and then I went back and put on the music. So, it's kind of like Elton John and Bernie Taupin. Bernie wrote the lyrics and Elton John wrote the music, right? So, the Lord is kind of like my Bernie Taupin.