Today's post comes to you from (sort-of TMFW 72 subject) Boston. But it's about a band from the Bay Area and a song featuring a city in Michigan. We've got all the time zones covered.
In 1981, Journey had a #9 hit with their rock anthem "Don't Stop Believin'." Since then, it has been a staple of classic rock radio, and in the last 10 years or so it has had a renaissance of sorts. The song was a centerpiece of the first episode of Glee and the last episode of The Sopranos, and is a popular choice for singing competitions like American Idol and The X Factor. In fact, though it never reached the top 40 in the UK during its initial release in 1981, its popularity from TV and film usage saw it enter the charts in both 2009 and 2010 in the UK, and it stayed in the top 10 for nearly two months. It reached number 2 in Canada around the same time, and has sold over 4 million copies as a digital download (the most of any "pre-digital" track.)
To an exhausting degree, the song is a popular stadium anthem, too. In baseball alone it has been a rallying song for the 2005 Chicago White Sox, the 2008-09 Los Angeles Dodgers, and the 2010 and 2014 San Francisco Giants. It was the pump up song between the 3rd and 4th quarters for the 2014 Mississippi State University football team, and is played often (and belted out by the crowd) during Detroit Red Wings games.
That last one makes sense, as the opening lines of the song introduce its characters: "just a small town girl / living in a lonely world," and "just a city boy / born and raised in South Detroit." Detroiters are no doubt proud to be namechecked so prominently in the song, and that must be especially true for people who were "born and raised in South Detroit."
Except that there are none.
If you look at a map of Detroit, you will see that downtown is on the northern bank of the Detroit River, a short waterway between Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie. Across the river - directly south of downtown Detroit - is Windsor, Ontario, in Canada. There is no place called "South Detroit" to speak of. The only real candidates for that name - cities and suburbs southwest of Detroit - are referred to as "downriver."
This geographical and lyrical quirk has long amused (or maybe bemused) Detroiters, and in 2012 New York magazine's Vulture blog reached out to Journey frontman and "Don't Stop Believin'" songwriter Steve Perry to understand his odd choice. Perry explained that he was inspired to write the song during a tour stop in Detroit, when one sleepless night he stared down from his hotel room and saw people periodically emerging from the darkness into the light of the streetlamps. That inspired in him the phrase 'streetlight people,' and he went from there.
As for "South Detroit"? Well, it just sounded the coolest. Perry told Vulture “I ran the phonetics of east, west, and north, but nothing sounded as good or emotionally true to me as South Detroit.” Maps be damned, that became the line.
So the next time you are singing along with Journey, know that the "city boy" in question probably loves maple syrup and Tim Hortons, occasionally punctuates his sentences with "eh," listens to Rush, and has the Queen's face on his money.
BONUS FACT: There is in fact a "South Detroit" in the United States; it is one of the 44 townships in Brown County, South Dakota, in the northeast part of the state. But with only 35,460 people in the whole county, and a population density of 21 people/square mile, a kid born and raised there would hardly qualify as a "city boy."
BONUS FACT 2: The full version of the Glee cast singing "Don't Stop Believin'" was released as a digital single in 2009. It has since been certified platinum, and reached #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 (compared to #9 for the original) and #2 on the UK Singles Chart (compared to #6 for the original). That's nuts.
BONUS FACT 3: (Everybody knows this, I think, but...) Randy Jackson - he of "yo dog" American Idol judge fame - was a session musician for Journey from 1986 to 1987. He played bass on most of their double-platinum record Raised on Radio.
BONUS FACT 4: Jackson also played on The Divinyls self-titled record, including the top-5 hit "I Touch Myself." If you ever find yourself singing that song during a drunken karaoke session, take a moment to appreciate his bass line.
BONUS FACT 5: As part of The Onion A.V. Club's excellent "Undercover" series, Clem Snide did a sparse cover of Journey's love ballad "Faithfully." I rather enjoy it.