Although America's melodic hard rock band Journey is most popular with their multi-hit producing Steve Perry era, the band actually started a lot earlier than Perry joined them. Formed by two former Santana members, Gregg Rolie on keyboards and vocals and Neal Schon on guitars, this amazing band actually captured a very nice progressive rock sound on their debut album. Though the following Gregg Rolie era records also had progressive elements, their self-titled release may be their most fusion-inspired release with amazing synth and organ sounds, killer dual lead guitars, and a fantastic rhythm duo.
Joining Rolie and Schon are drummer Aynsley Dunbar (also of Fank Zappa, Jeff Beck and Sammy Hagar fame), bassist Ross Valory and second guitarist George Tickner. This is also the only Journey release with Tickner on second guitar, as he decided to leave the music business after recording the album. Actually I'm of the opinion that Tickner and Gregg Rolie may have been huge factors in taking on a progressive songwriting attitude on this disc, since the band slowly departed from this approach on their following releases. Tickner not only supports the amazing Neal Schon, laying down choppy lead work, but he also wrote the instrumental track "Topaz", punctuated by deft acoustic passages and big synth washes. Gregg Rolie's organ sounds are huge, but he always gives Ross Valory enough space to provide a full bass bottom and drummer Dunbar to add some sick polyrhythms akin to his work on the earlier Zappa albums. The band delves into a mesmerizing jam session towards the end delivering fluctuating rhythms, awesome cymbal sounds, and a full-fledged keyboard lead. On "Of A Lifetime", Rolie introduces his trademark organ sound where he experiments with almost psychedelic soundscapes that would even surprise the biggest Eloy fans, but it is Neal Schon's unique sense of melody and phrasing on the guitar where no element overtreads each other. On this song, he goes from slowly building arpeggios to jaw-dropping whammy bar usage and finally fierce lead soloing as he is eventually joined by George Tickner for a full-on guitar attack in the outro. The other instrumental "Kohoutek" starts out as a moving piano ballad before gloomy guitar chords are thrown into the mix as pounding drum beats are heard and suddenly the listener is caught amidst madly wailing twin guitar harmonies, Moog sounds, jumping bass lines before things calm down and the piece concludes with a nifty piano melody, almost the same way it started. Among all these fusion-styled compositions are also shorter syth-pop tunes like "To Play Some Music" (which yet closes with another fusion solo) and the somewhat bluesy ballad combo "In My Lonely Feeling / Conversations", two songs that are merged into a single framework. The first part is hook-laden and melody-friendly displaying a beautiful vocal performance by Rolie, while "Conversations" is an all instrumental cut filled with rich bass and keyboard textures.
Unlike the Perry era, the Gregg Rolie albums all retain a characteristic prog vibe while still aiming at a more mainstream direction. In this respect, Journey might quite possibly be the one and only band which successfully balanced these two different visions. Though far from being commercially viable, I consider the first three Journey albums absolutely essential for any melodic prog rock fan that enjoys beautiful songwriting, defined by otherwordly guitars and excellent synth work, not to mention the amazing drum and bass combination of Valory and Dunbar.
Highly recommended. Give this disc a try.
- Of A Lifetime
- In the Morning Day
- To Play Some Music
- In My Lonely Feeling/Conversations
- Mystery Mountain