When people argue over the Worst Song of All Time, inevitably someone will mention Journey’s (in)famous “Don’t Stop Believin’.” If Starship had never built that city on rock and roll, it would probably take the crown.
Frankly, I like other Journey songs, but “Don’t Stop Believin'” deserves most of the hate it gets. Its ubiquity on class rock radio, bad karaoke stages, and every college a cappella group that ever donned bow ties has made in insufferable (thank the Glee cover inexplicably going to #4 on the charts for the last one). Even The Sopranos couldn’t give it a coolness bump. It is not only Journey’s biggest song by a mile, it’s one of the most well-known songs of the 1980s, period.
The funny thing is that when it came out, not only was it not Journey’s biggest hit, it wasn’t even the biggest hit on that same album. “Open Arms” off Escape went to #2. “Who’s Crying Now” went to #4. “Don’t Stop Believin’,” meanwhile, barely scraped its way into the top ten.
Escape turns 36 this week, which might occasion a Full Album if anyone ever covered any of the other songs off it. But they don’t. They only cover “Don’t Stop Believin’.”
And they mostly cover it badly. Spotify features hundreds of insufferable a cappella slogs and novelty let’s-play-it-on-banjo/violin/harp/xylophone/18th-century-lute versions. It’s a heavy lift to make such an overplayed song enjoyable again, and most artists who try fail.
But we’ve dug up five who succeed. Even if at some point in your life you’ve prayed to never hear “Don’t Stop Believin'” again – and who hasn’t – these five will make you reconsider.
eels – Don’t Stop Believin’
The enigmatic Mark Oliver Everett (aka “e” of eels) appears to be a genuine Journey fan. Though Steve Perry no longer sings with Journey, he came out of semi-retirement a few years back to sing onstage with eels. The band thanked him shortly after with this gorgeously tender live cover. Rather than inspirational, this “Don’t Stop Believin'” sounds like a man who has definitely stopped believing. Sort of a powerless ballad.
Marnie Stern – Don’t Stop Believin’
Guitar goddess Marnie Stern can fret-tap like no one’s business, and she shows it off to perfection on this heavy cover. It’s the most similar to the original of the bunch, but her punky energy sells it.
Clem Snide – Don’t Stop Believin’
Clem Snide’s Eef Barzelay can sell a solo acoustic cover as well as any musician alive. Good thing too, as he’s got dozens and dozens on his Bandcamp page. If you sign up as a VIP member, you can even suggest a “song we hate” to make him cover. “Don’t Stop Believin'” certainly qualifies – and Eef makes it much less hateable.
Petra Haden – Don’t Stop Believin’
I know what you’re thinking. “Wait, you spent half the intro trashing a cappella covers, and now you’re posting one?” I know, but Petra Haden is different. After all, this is the same singer who recorded a complete a cappella version of The Who Sell Out. So, suffice to say, not your typical a cappella act. Which shows with this cover, weirder and less chipper than the Glee-ful competition.
Sarah Menescal – Don’t Stop Believin’
The newest cover of the bunch, Menescal’s 2016 south-of-the-border “Believin'” gives the track a bossa nova twist. It rises above the typical novelty cross-genre cover though, finding a heart and soul pretty much absent in the original. Forget South Detroit; she’s headed straight to South America.
Bonus: Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, Sting, Elton John, Debbie Harry, Shirley Bassey – Don’t Stop Believin’
This is more of a fun video than a cover with some deep artistic merit, but still…it’s a really fun video.
‘Escape’ – an album that we swear has many songs besides “Don’t Stop Believin'” – came out on July 31, 1981. Buy it at Amazon.