“Evolution” by Journey (No. 78)

There are many sins in programming music on radio stations, but here are a few biggies: “Train wrecks,” where the second song is jarring and takes the listener out of the moment; “Ramps,” when the deejay talks over the instrumental lead of the song; and failing to program Journey’s “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” and “City of the Angels” back to back.

Loving Journey’s 1979 classic rock masterpiece Evolution may not mark me as a musical connoisseur, but I wear my affection for this one proudly. The fact that Journey’s Evolution is on the list is a happy accident of fate. Sure, I heard Journey all over the airwaves living near St. Louis. They were a staple on Album Oriented Rock (AOR) stations like KSHE and KSD. But I discovered Journey thanks to finding a discarded 8-track tape in a building my dad rented briefly for sign painting and other work.

It’s a miracle the 8-Track didn’t wear out or disintegrate from overplaying. First, as a youngster with a pretty small music collection, I tended to put things in very heavy rotation. Second, it’s a damn good album, and I never got tired of popping it into the stereo and attempting to match Perry’s amazing vocals. Spoiler alert: I never really could.

Setting the stage

Evolution begins with the instrumental track “Majestic,” opening with an acoustic guitar and then switching to an impassioned guitar solo courtesy of Neal Schon. It’s just a bit more than a minute long, but it sets the stage perfectly for the rest of the album.

“Too Late” is a classic power ballad, but I mean that in the best possible way. Sure, power ballads were overdone and unwelcome by the mid-80s, but this is well before power ballads had become a cynical add-on to every hard rock album.

Schon’s guitar solo at 1:25 or so is a soaring masterpiece, lasting just long enough to really whet the appetite and then turning back over to Perry to bring it home.

The aforementioned “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” and “City of the Angels” dynamic duo follows “Too Late.” If, and I’m really sorry if this is the case, you’ve never heard these before take a minute and give them a go. The YouTube link is right there. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Like a fat kid through Oreos

In the hands of a lesser band, this would be pure cheese. But Journey is no lesser band. “Lovin'” is made for a live show, to work the crowd into a pure frenzy before launching into “City.” The sustained energy rolls through “City of the Angels” like a fat kid through Oreos. (The analogy isn’t random. I was that fat kid.)

“Lovin’ You is Easy” manages to cover some serious territory in just three minutes and 37 seconds. Schon once again demonstrates his guitar virtuosity, and Perry and the rest of the band just blow the doors off the choruses. The guitar/vocal interplay, Perry’s voice and Schon’s guitar practically meld at one point, is amazing. The band applies this technique again in “Do You Recall.” Probably some studio magic going into this, but we’re not talking autotune…

“Just the Same Way” gives keyboardist Gregg Rolie a chance to take lead vocal, while Perry takes the backing/chorus vocals. Rolie does a fine job with it, and in any other band he’d have been just fine as the lead vocalist. It’s hard to compare to Perry, but Rolie holds his own.

It was the 70s after all…

The aptly titled “Daydream” is, I’ll admit, just the tiniest bit pretentious. What do you expect? It’s the 70s. Perhaps the weakest track on the album, it’s still incredibly fun and impressive to see how quickly the band can turn on a dime from ethereal woo to hard rock. Once again, Schon and Perry alternate between dazzling with guitar and vocals.

I should give drummer Steve Smith his due as well. He shines at many points in the album, especially the intro to “Lady Luck” bashing his kit while Perry really struts his stuff. Smith may be the first player that brought my attention to the ride cymbal, using it copiously on “Lady Luck” and other tracks.

Are the lyrics on Evolution profound? No. No they are not. But who cares? Is Evolution formulaic? In retrospect it may be tempting to paint Evolution as having many hard rock cliches, but I think Journey got there first with this one and were copied quite a bit. (Even by the band itself later on.)

Journey has put out quite a few good records and singles since, and they had some solid wins before Evolution, but this is my desert-island disc from the band. It’s a mandatory chapter of 70s rock history, and belongs in every collection.

Leave a Reply