They filled stadiums with their brand of syrupy power ballads but vanished from the music scene just as the seeds of tougher-edged grunge began to take root.
Is it just a coincidence that 10 years later Journey is back - and selling millions of records alongside Celine Dion, Toni Braxton, Kenny G and other decidedly non-grunge acts - as alternative music slips off the charts and back into relative obscurity?
"We didn't plan it that way," guitarist Neal Schon says of the band's comeback release, Trial By Fire, and plans for a worldwide tour this spring that will bring Journey to Canada. "But I think people are ready for anything that's going to lighten their lives, take some of the darkness out of it, put a smile on their face and not make them want to run out and shoot up heroin."
Schon is onto something. Record company executives - including those at the influential MTV in the U.S. - are emphasizing more upbeat pop music and taking a pass on a lot of alternative rock and rap.
Schon and his bandmates - the big-voiced Steve Perry and musicians Jonathan Cain, Ross Valory and Steve Smith - returned to the studio last April to record 14 new songs for the album, which was released just before Christmas. The first single, When You Love A Woman, is at the top of adult contemporary music charts across North America.
Recording the album marked the first time the band had been together since 1987, when Schon says "physical and musical burnout" prompted Journey to take an indefinite break. "It was like we never left, which was really cool," Schon, on the line from California, says of the reunion. "It was really strange; we just picked up out instruments and started to play and it sounded as good as ever."
Some might consider that debatable. Journey's soft rock, characterized by blustery, booming love songs like Open Arms and Send Her My Love, was roundly loathed by critics the first time around and isn't being warmly embraced by music writers in its second at-bat either.
Schon fires off a few barbs of his own.
"During my break I watched the whole music scene radically change." he says, "But grunge - to me, it just never entered my soul. I saw the rock 'n' roll greats, the early Who, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Cream and to me the whole grunge thing didn't come anywhere close to that. It was pointed in a dark, ugly direction. I didn't see the musicality in it."
Neither is he much of a fan of the reigning princes of pop, Oasis, who are nothing if not melodic. "I don't like to criticize other bands but those guys invite it when they say they are better than the Beatles," he says. "I am not impressed. They are a poor man's Beatles."
Schon, who will turn 43 next week, says this time around with Journey is much sweeter than the last because the bandmates are off the booze, have stubbed out the reefers and have settled down with wives and children since 1987.
"Everyone thought we were this clean-cut band but that was a myth. Behind the closed doors it was a very different story. But now we're real and we feel and look pretty good."
Journey Comes Back After 10 Year Hiatus
Canadian Press ~ Toronto
February 21, 1997