Robin Remembers: Arena Rock

by robinhardwick

You know how it is just so gauche to like things earnestly? I kind of hate that. If it’s not something that is deemed subversive enough by some invisible judgement of culture, we have to claim to like it ironically. Like how men liked Downton Abbey ironically, because that’s a woman’s show! I think at one point Glee was supposed to be ironic? Except that now it’s a parody of itself? Why am I talking about Glee?It actually is relevant, because it brought back interest in the band Journey after covering “Don’t Stop Believin” in the pilot. Before this moment, Journey was seen as an embarrassing relic of our cultural past, fodder for those “I Love the ___” shows and an ironic karaoke choice.

The embarrassment came from, I think, frontman Steve Perry’s blatant earnestness. He belted out love songs like he meant it. He contorted his face in emotion while he sang. Speaking of singing, these arena rock bands had crooners. Men with great voices in the full range, who sang the songs with musical aptitude. They didn’t sing, they belted. Steve Perry, say, also had a wicked eighties coif and tight pants, and this was many decades before the return of the skinny jean. The man was singing his heart out for Cheri and other unnamed loves to thousands of people in stage. Journey was okay with being loved by millions, because….being loved by millions is a good thing.

Somewhere our culture got cynical, and bands hated being loved. They kept their heads down and practically shoved their microphones into their mouths for fear that people heard them. Having FUN while performing was strictly forbidden. There are the exceptions of course, but I lived in New York in the early ‘aughts, where I spent many a night at Irving Plaza or the Bowery Ballroom watching bands who didn’t even give a shit if I was there or not.

Sure, artists still sell out arenas, but even if they do, they mask it with large production numbers and carefully choreographed productions that leave little room for impromptu moments with the audience. Gone are the days when a sweaty front man thrust the microphone in the crows for them to sing the words.

My point is, that we can never have big arena rock bands like this again. Whose songs are actually beautifully crafted melodies, yet also meant to be sung at the top of your lungs at a concert. I long for the heyday of these bands, even though I never experience it when it happened. I was too young to appreciate a great guitar solo and the necessity of a keyboard player in a rock band. I’m not a snob about it either, I like the ones that everyone liked, which I consider the big three: Boston, Journey, and Survivor. These three are always on my rotation, which I can listen to at work or for a workout.

Don’t forget, along with the song, you also need a video accompanying it that is a montage of life on the road, serving as a love letter to fans. Here’s the best of the three bands.

JOURNEY: Despite being somewhat sick of it, can we all just admit that “Don’t Stop Believin” is their masterpiece? Since everyone knows that, it’s worth knowing their power ballad “Faithfully”. My happy place is a world in which Steve Perry pulls me onstage to sing it to me.

BOSTON: Mostly known for “More Than a Feeling” (of which Kurt Cobain straight up admitted that he stole the riff for “Smells Like Teen Spirit”) but I prefer “Peace of Mind”. Plus it’s a pun!

SURVIVOR: Plagued by many lineup changes, Surivor was always the poor man’s “Journey.” Best known for “Eye of the Tiger”, and another song from Rocky “I Can’t Hold Back” is my jam. Although…I can’t get behind the video. It’s too cringe-worthy, even for me.

Oh my god, I didn’t think it could get worse. It does. Jimi Jasmison (yes, his real name) is clearly a talented singer and songwriter, but the acting is shameful. Fun fact: Jimi sang and co-wrote the “I’m Always Here” theme song from Baywatch.

Bonus: Apparently, The Voice butchered “Peace of Mind”. I think the band is rolling in their graves. (I doubt they are dead.)

The only thing that has come remotely close to any semblance of this genre is The Darkness, whose debut album Permission To Land is one of the greatest triumphs of music. They mixed elements of early eighties rock with glam metal. Then the lead singer went to rehab, got sober, thus making several sub-par albums (as a band is apt to do after sobriety).

I know the appropriate answer to the question “what would you do if you had a time machine?” is “Kill Hitler,” but my answer would include going back to 1986 to see Journey at the Houston Thunderdome (there must be an arena named this in Texas somewhere).

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