“Just a small town girl …”
When was the last time you heard Don’t Stop Believin’? Was it on the radio or in the pub? At a festival or a wedding? Was it sung by Journey themselves, the cast of Glee, a fan on YouTube, a choir of schoolchildren or a drunk friend on a karaoke machine? Boxfresh pop songs such as Tinie Tempah’s Pass Out might have a decent claim on being the sound of Britain in 2010 but nothing has wriggled its way into every corner of the culture quite like a slow-burning power ballad that’s about to celebrate its 30th birthday.
Let’s take some figures. The year began with the curious sight of Journey’s song at No 6, with the Glee version at No 5, and it has barely left the top 75 since. In the US, download sales have passed 4m, making it by far the biggest-selling 20th-century catalogue track. Americans have had longer to live with it. It was a hit there back in 1981, and it’s had so many phases that even its comebacks have had comebacks. But over here it stalled at No 62 on its first release in February 1982 and didn’t begin to register in the pop psyche until relatively recently. Its path from obscurity to ubiquity mirrors its unorthodox structure: the slow build towards the last-minute eruption.
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