Steve Perry has had two tenures as the lead singer of [lastfm link_type="artist_info"]Journey[/lastfm], from 1977 to 1987 and the second from 1995-1998. The song “Lights,” written by Perry and Neal Schon, was one of the first he did after joining the band for the first time.
The song itself is about San Francisco, the city where Journey got its start. It never got higher than #68 on the charts, but like a number of Video Classics we’ve covered in the past, it’s gotten more and more popular over the years, and is now a staple of quite a few radio stations.
Part of the song’s initial lukewarm reception may well have been spill-over from the lukewarm reception Perry himself received upon joining the band. A lot of this was due not to his level of talent, which was clearly good, but instead because of the way he joined the band.
Journey had been struggling, and the band’s manager ‘Herbie’ Herbert had decided it was a time for a change in frontman. Whether this was because then-current singer Robert Fleischman wasn’t meshing well with the band’s prog-rock style or simply because Fleischman had refused to move under Herbert’s management may never be known. But Herbert began setting up the change without either Fleischman’s OR the rest of the band’s knowledge.
Perry, who had been on the verge of leaving the field of music, took a call from Herbert, who invited him to a rather unorthodox audition. Herbert introduced Perry to the band as the ‘Portugese cousin’ of one of the band’s roadies. Then, when Fleischman was away from the stage, Herbert had Perry perform a ‘sound check’ by singing a song with the rest of the band. Only then did Herbert inform them of the pending lineup change.
Perry’s rather clandestine shuffling into the lineup was accompanied by a new sound for the band, as he brought a much more pop-rock vibe to the stage. This represented a big change to their former progressive sound, one which turned off many fans. It is a credit to Perry’s talent, however, that he eventually won most of them over, and today is considered to perhaps be the defining voice of ’80s arena rock.
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