Cover vs Original

Hey Streetlight People, Don’t Stop Believin’

There’s one song that can always get me pumped: don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey. Don’t Stop Believin’ tells the story of a “smalltown girl and a city boy,” and the rest of the “Streetlight People.” The hope exuded out of Don’t Stop Believin’ makes you want to almost throw up – it’s so cheesy. At the same time, it’s kind of a good cheesy. Don’t Stop Believin’ might be a cheesy song, sure, but it’s also near perfect. Don’t Stop Believin’ is one of the most played karaoke songs of all time. The song is also one of the most covered songs ever. So let’s take a good look at some of these covers, and see how Don’t Stop Believin’ evolves from artist to artist.

Original – Journey (1981)

The original Don’t Stop Believin’ starts with a steady piano part. The cadence of the piano notes match the lyrics perfectly, as you hear the “midnight train going anywhere” chugging along. As the smalltown girl and the city boy meet, we hear something otherworldly – a seemingly out of place guitar solo, signifying something magic happens when the boy and the girl meet.

As the song progresses, the tempo increases, as does the volume. We lose track of the small town girl and the city boy – they just become two more “streetlight people” trying to find emotion and “that feeling.” That’s ok – they were never really the stars of the song anyways – well, not the only stars at least. In fact, we’re all the stars; all of us wandering around, trying to find something or someone. Maybe it’s as simple as one night of company, maybe it’s something as complex as chasing a lifelong dream.

Don’t Stop Believin’ becomes everyone’s song. The point of the song is, well, don’t stop believin’! That’s not just some rock band making up a feel good line by the way – that’s the advice Jonathan Cain’s father gave his son, while Journey’s eventual drummer was just a struggling musician.

Cover – Red Hot Chilli Pipers (1997)

The Red Hot Chili Pipers, who, according to their website, are “the most famous bagpipe band on the planet,” give us an instrumental version of Don’t Stop Believin’. All the vocals in the song are replaced by bagpipes, and oh, how wonderful does this song sound!

Other than the bagpipes, The Chili Pipers give us a pretty straightforward cover. The guitars are an almost duplicate of the original song. The drums, however, take on an interesting rhythm which greatly adds to this cover of Don’t Stop Believin’. The pipers also replace the pre-chorus at the end of the songraditional celtic medley.

Insert celtic influences, and we end up with a version Don’t Stop Believin’ that sounds entirely unique. The Chili Pipers show us that “Streetlight people” cred with this unique sound and unique dream of playing classic rock anthem as though it were a classic Scottish song.

The Original Pine Mountain Railroad (2003)

“The Original Pine Mountain Railroad” covers Don’t Stop Believin’ in their signature bluegrass style. A fiddle, an acoustic guitar, a banjo, and a mandolin – these are the only instruments used on this cover. No electric guitars, no synths, no drums – and yet somehow this bluegrass cover rocks!

One surprising part of the song comes when the fiddle player plays the otherworldly electric guitar solo. Somehow the fiddle sounds electric, not to mention transcendent. This transcendence, of course, sets the tone for the rest of the song. We want more – and The Original Pine Mountain Railroad gives us another couple of minutes.

The Original Pine Mountain Railroad furthers the point that Don’t Stop Believin’ is everyone’s song. It doesn’t matter how you play the song, as long as you put yourself and your dreams in the song, you’re one of those Streetlight People.

Cover – Petra Haden (2007)

By now you must see a pattern in the covers I’ve chosen for Don’t Stop Believin’. Most of these covers have a special flare. Petra Haden’s flare for her cover? She uses almost no instruments. Haden sings every guitar note and every piano note and even some of the bass and drum parts! Only towards the end of the song do we hear a little bit of programming. And yes – she even sings that otherworldly guitar part!

An interesting feature of Petra Haden’s Don’t Stop Believin’ – she does not sing the pre choruses. Haden narrates these parts instead. Another interesting feature, Haden vaguely alludes to Wilson Phillip’s “Hold On” towards the end of the song as she sings “Hold on for one more day.”

Haden’s Don’t Stop Believin’ might sound silly – but silly works and makes us smile. Besides – sometimes our dreams are silly. Streetlight people oftentimes chase silly dreams.

Cover – Badly Drawn Boy (2007)

Badly Drawn Boy starts his cover of Don’t Stop Believin’ a little faster than most other versions. The tempo change really gets us excited, and actually makes me wonder if the orignal should have started at the same tempo!

Aside from the tempo change, Badly Drawn Boy’s Don’t Stop Believin’ really doesn’t stray from the original too much. We find no crazy gimmicks, genre changes, or bizarre instrumentation. Just a fun cover played during a concert.

With that in mind, Badly Drawn Boy’s vocals contrast with Steve Perry’s original vocals. Badly Drawn Boy has more of a deep baritone compared to Perry’s screaming tenor. The change in tone draws emotions from the song we really didn’t know were there. Emotions we Streetlight people long to feel.

Cover – Glee Cast (2009)

The TV series Glee does a cover of Don’t Stop Believin because – well – it would be weird if they didn’t. Firstly, Glee does a cover of every song. Secondly, the focus of Glee seems to be about everyday people chasing one’s dreams. So yeah – the thesis if the show meshes with the thesis of the song nicely.

As far as covers go – the Glee cover seems pretty vanilla, though it charted at #4 on Billboard and was even nominated for a grammy. I guess people must like this cover! Personally, I could take or leave the Glee version – but I also recognize the power of the song coupled with the thesis of Glee – so I can’t really say anything against this version.

I will say that, while most likely a coincidence, the background vocals on the pre chorus sound an awful lot like what Petra Haden did. That’s not a bad thing at all as it ties this cover in with the greater “universe” of covers….this cover shows itself as one of many options.

I will also say that the Glee version of Don’t Stop Believin’ probably brought the song back into the spotlight and may have even inspired some of the other later covers. Glee might be a teen show, but these teens are certainly Streetlight people.

Cover – Steel Panther (2009)

Steel Panther might just be the last great hair metal band ever. Granted, Steel Panther gets mixed reactions (depending on who you ask). Some people view Steel Panther as a cover band that just makes fun of hair metal, some view Steel Panther as a love letter to the hair metal genre. Regardless, either view of Steel Panther really works well with their cover of Don’t Stop Believin’.

Steel Panther does a heavier and more aggressive cover of Don’t Stop Believin’. Pretty much everything is louder…the guitars, the drums, even the vocals. Part of Steel Panther’s gimmick, after all, is an exaggerated version of hair metal. And oh does it sound amazing! Seriously – the Steel Panther cover makes you want to sing as loud as you can into your hair dryers, 80s style! You just feel the song pulsing through every inch of your body. So much excitement! So much adrenaline!

Back to the divergent views of Steel Panther – it really doesn’t matter which view you take on the band, at least not with Don’t Stop Believin’. Steel Panther conveys the emotions of the strangers waiting, the smalltown girls, the city boys, and the streetlight people. Steel Panther also shows us their own dreams with their cover of Don’t Stop Believin’. Steel Panther rocks hard and loud with this cover.

Cover Martina McBride (2010)

Honestly, I don’t know what to say about the Martina McBride cover of Don’t Stop Beleivin’. Of all the versions thus far, it’s got more of a karaoke feel. Then again – as I said earlier, Don’t Stop Beleivin’ is one of the most popular karaoke songs ever. The crowd seems to like the song – and you certainly get that emotional boost throughout the song. So I guess with that being said, while not the best cover ever, Martina McBride’s cover fits in with the rest of the streetlight people.

Cover – Klingon Pop Warrior (2017)

Yes – there’s a version of Don’t Stop Believin’ translated into Klingon. BIHar ‘e’ yImevQo’ might sound geeky, tongue in cheek, and even cheesy, but if you know any trekkies – you know they are a very passionate people. Klingon Pop Warrior is no exception, as she shows the song (both in English and in Klingon) really belongs to everyone and really crosses every boundary imaginable. We all have dreams, we all have passions, and damn it, if you want to put on face make up and sing in Klingon – who am I to stop you! Follow your passions – no one ever said that streetlight people have to be human!

By the way – the bandcamp version of BIHar ‘e’ yImevQo’ is far superior to the video posted below.

Cover – Mickey Thomas (2017)

Finally, we get to a cover of Don’t Stop Believin’ by Mickey Thomas (Jefferson Starship / Starship). Mickey Thomas might be responsible for one of the most hated songs ever recorded – he’s also responsible for one of the most soulless covers ever recorded.

Ok, maybe I went to far – but when I claimed Martina McBride’s version sounded like a karaoke version – at least it had a soul! The Mickey Thomas version of Don’t Stop Believin’ just sounds like he had an empty spot on the set list, and jammed the most popular song he could think of into the void.

As far as the technicals of the song, he and the backing band (which still call themselves Staship) plays the song perfectly. Thomas even manages to sound a lot like Steve Tyler, which is kind of impressive. But this perfection is exactly why the Mickey Thomas version of the song is soulless. The cover is just too perfect. There’s no error, there’s no individuality, there’s no divergence into the self.

Mickey Thomas with his “perfect” cover of Don’t Stop Believin’ misses the entire point of the song. We streetlight people are all individuals (including Thomas). We all have our imperfections and our preferences. To demand such stone cold perfection is to deny one’s individuality.

Which of These Streetlight people did Don’t Stop Believin’ right?

Usually I compare and contrast the different version of a song at this point With a song like Don’t Stop Believin’, however, as long as you get the message right, you get the prize for best cover. Mickey Thomas does not win the prize, but I feel like every other artist mentioned in this article brought out the emotions of the song and expressed their individuality well enough to “get” Don’t Stop Believin’.

Certainly, I have a few favorites – The original, The Steel Panther, Petra Haden, and Badly Drawn Boy versions top my list – but that’s subjective. Don’t Stop Believin’ is about individuality, and thus the subjective is irrelevant.

So listen to whatever version you want – even the Mickey Thomas version. Listen to it often, feel the emotions, and get inspired! Most of all, my fellow streetlight people, don’t stop believin’!

Streetlight people, or street sign people - don't Stop Believin'.Image credit: Juhan Sonin (https://www.flickr.com/photos/juhansonin/5118710692).Image used under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)
Image Credit:
Juhan Sonin