Legendary Rock Hit Crowned 'Biggest Song Of All Time'

By Logan DeLoye

March 20, 2024

Photo: Getty Images

A small town girl living in a lonely world met a city boy born and raised in South Detroit in October 1981, and the rest was history.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) officially named Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" the "biggest song of all time." What started as the "biggest-selling digital song of the '80s" (per Billboard) is now certified 18x Platinum in the United States alone, standing out as the most-sold hit in music history over 40 years after its initial release.

According to Forbes, "Don't Stop Believin'" peaked at No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart the year that it was released, and went on to propel the success of Journey's first No. 1 album, Escape, released a few months prior in July 1981. The single cultivated an unrivaled legacy built on sheer creativity, unmatched vocals, and a melody that, unbeknownst to Journey bandmates Steve Perry, Neal Schon, and Jonathan Cain, would stand the tests of time for decades to come.

How does a band create a song so iconic that listeners of all generations immediately know the title just by hearing the first couple seconds of the melody?

Schon and Cain sat down with iHeartRadio's Humberto Rodríguez (aka Gato) to detail the origin and evolution of the track. Schon revealed that the creation of the "biggest song of all time" was a group effort in its entirety.

"Well, you know what, John had the chorus and he came in the studio with Steve and I and really it was like the three of us kind of like..." Cain, who drew inspiration for the chorus from an inspiring conversation that he had with his father before the band rose to stardom, interjected to describe the session as "improvisation." The lead-guitarist continued:

"He [John] just came in and started playing the piano part. He said 'I have this chorus' and he started singing it... 'Don't Stop Believin'' you know? And we kind of took it from there. Steve Perry brought so much Motown to the band and soul so I started thinking baselines and I thought, 'what would Smokey Robinson or somebody like that do?' So I started coming up with the baseline, then John helped me finish it."

Schon went on to unveil that through collaboration, he was able to build on Cain's chorus with the lyric "strangers, waiting." The iconic "midnight train" that the artists narrate was derived from the part of the melody (before the second verse) that sounds like a train moving along a track. Perry, completing the puzzle, was the one to decide that the train would be going "anywhere."

"Don't Stop Believin'" was born in a stroke of creative genius, and to this day, remains one of the most well-known hits of all time.

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