For most people around my age (freshly 22), Journey might only bring about thoughts of cheesy ’80s fads and drunken karaoke nights where a handful of overly ambitious bar patrons chose to belt out “Don’t Stop Believin’.” But to me, Journey is a keystone in my relationship with music and with life — and Escape is easily an album included in my “favorites of all time” list. The iconic rock band’s 1981 release celebrates its 35th anniversary today, and as a lover of the decade of big hair and jukebox hero dreams, I couldn’t help but dive in and relish in its guitar-heavy glory.
Brace yourselves for a fact that may be shocking to hear: Though it’s the band’s most popular by a massive margin, Escape is actually Journey’s seventh studio album. With the departure of founding member Gregg Rolie came new keyboardist Jonathan Cain, his fresh perspective on songwriting and his sleek synthesizers that pushed aside the old-school-in-comparison Hammond B-3 organ that Rolie favored. The jigsaw pieces were connecting harmoniously, setting Journey up on the journey toward massive international success that would land them (and eventually immortalize them) in the rock music canon for eternity.
The album opens on a historic high with its first track, “Don’t Stop Believin’.” It’s a somewhat overplayed, over-parodied classic, but its one filled with instrumentation that skyrockets into air-punching catchiness. Though I’ll never truly understand what or who “streetlight people” are, Escape makes one hell of an introduction. ♫ Just a city boy… ♫
And then comes track 2 — my favorite on the album and my favorite Journey song of all time. (Whoa, bold claim! I know, I know.) With a bounce-groove bass line, building drums that top the chorus with the sweetest of cherries and belt-worthy lyrics like, “In the heat with a blue-jean girl/Burnin’ love comes once in a lifetime,” the infectiousness of “Stone in Love” is undeniable. Escape moves forward in a bobbing up-and-down motion throughout the rest of the album. It upholds the “Stone in Love” height of delicious guitar goodness with the tangibly electric “Keep on Runnin'” and the tasty titular “Escape” that buzzes with an effervescent melody and can-do-attitude lyrics. “Lay It Down” airs on filler material but still kills it with high-pitched vocal features and kickin’ harmonies — and the oh-so cheesy line “Whiskey, wine and women/They get me through the night — and “Dead or Alive” is 80s hyperactivity to the highest degree, fit with multiple guitar solos and staccatoed lyrics. Journey knows how to write sing-along sensations, expertly displayed in these tracks on Escape.
In contrast, Escape slopes downward into mellowed out, lulling ravines that are admittedly hit or miss as you listen track by track. While “Who’s Crying Now” is a bass-sprinkled tune that cozies up to ballad status, “Still They Ride” is a bit stretched out and spongy. The good news is that the final two tracks, “Mother, Father” and “Open Arms” are Journey powerhouses — slow-winding and sentimental and insanely irresistible. (Just give in and sing along to these ditties. You won’t regret it.) Where “Don’t Stop Believin'” swung us into the 80s party by our velvet cheetah-print coat lapels, “Open Arms” carries us home with a gentle piano-driven arrangement and soft, sweet vocals. These two tracks bookend the album beautifully.
In all, Escape was Journey’s biggest smash and one whose songs I can never resist jamming to. It’s not difficult to see how and why it burst forward into the mainstream and remains so iconic to this day. Happy 35th, Escape!