In a Perfect World: “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” Would Be the Definitive Journey Power Ballad
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on August 28, 2008
Tearin’ me apart, every day
I saw Journey on a State Fair bill with Cheap Trick and Heart this past weekend. I had shit seats and Journey was on their third post-Perry vocalist (Arnel Pineda, who both sounds and looks almost exactly like him, except slightly more Mexican), but within seconds of launching into “Only the Young,” this mattered little. I still can’t figure out whether pop culture’s recent re-appropriation of Journey (and more specifically, flagship anthem “Don’t Stop Believin'”) is a good or bad thing for the band; surely they deserve it, but ironists should never be trusted in the canonization process for such matters, and the divide between those who still show up to Journey concerts wearing their shirts and those who continue to use DSB as their last-call karaoke standard is too great for Journey to simply be treated as a Great Band. Point is, Journey are a hell of a band, and even their new songs at the gig were practically indistinguishable from their barrage of classics, minus the fact that signficantly fewer people were singing along.
But there was still much fault to be found with the gig–namely, the omissions. It’s understandable that Journey would a) pimp as much of their new album as they felt they could without their audience inciting to riot and b) mostly stick to the crowd-pleaser power ballads and scorching rockers for the majority of their set, and they didn’t have as much time to work with as they probably needed for a three/four-decade catalogue. Still, it disturbed me a little how much they stayed away from any of their mid-tempo, ambiguously anthemic classics–not just unjustly forgotten second tier hits like “Walks Like a Lady” or “The Party’s Over (Hopelessly in Love),” but legitimate chart-busters like “The Girl Can’t Help It” and “Who’s Crying Now?” Those weird middle ground songs are a huge part of the reason I love Journey as much as I do, providing substantial evidence against them being the sole intellectual property of either arena rock meatheads or cheese-fixated retro fetishists. Still, their absence was understandable, even excusable.
Less, so, however, was the lack of the song I had waited for all night. I was sure they would play it at the end of their encore (after returning with a resounding “Any Way You Want It,” and when they even referenced its title, I geared for the high point of the evening. And then they just walked away.
Journey did not play “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”.
I was afraid I was going to be the only one devestated by this, but a quick check with a couple of the friends I saw the show with and the ladies on line for the port-a-potties afterwards confirmed that they were similarly busted up by it. “Send Her My Love” doesn’t really bring home the bacon in live settings, fine. But “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'”?!?? That song begs for the live treatment. Amidst a catalogue of songs written practically with the express purpose of making them as stadium-chant-ready as possible,
“Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin'” reigns supreme as the song you’d most want to be singing along with the band and 50,000 of their closest friends to. And without it, the entire concert was practically ruined for me.
I wrote recently about another Southern Soul song written by quintessential white dudes. That’s all well and good, but compared to “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’, Squeeze is about as soulful as Laurie Anderson. LTS is Steve Perry’s vocal masterwork, a song built on the escalating drama of his voice, constantly getting higher, more agressive and more passionate before exploding into the song’s finale, which, despite my recent re-appreciation of “Hey Jude,” gets my vote for the best multi-minute “na-na-na-na” outro in classic rock. I always pictured it as being in a Sam Cooke sort of mold–maybe slightly more bitter, but the title and concept (a tale of blissful schadenfraude about the satisfaction of watching your cheating ex-lover get stepped out on herself) are both very sort of classic soul, and I’m sure Sam would’ve had a blast with reaching for those high notes.
Really, to call it my favorite Journey song is almost a discredit to the band, since it stands out so awkwardly from the rest of their power ballad repertoire. Usually, the JPB falls into one of two categories: The street-level, heavily romantic fist-pumper (“Wheel in the Sky,” “Don’t Stop Believin’,” “Stone in Love”) and the unguarded, tender weepfest (“When You Love a Woman,” “Open Amrs,” “Faithfully”), but the only one of these that has much in common with LTS is “Lights,” which I thought was a Bob Seger song for a number of years due to its soulfully deliberate pacing and nostalgic sentimentality (despite the geography being all wrong). Journey are still rockers in the classic sense at their core, and that’s probably for the best.
Take the moment, though, which marks my favorite part of the song. Perry has finished detailing how his ex will invariably see karma come back to her in the form of her new man’s abandonment, and now it’s time for him to rub it in a little. He lays down the final taunt–“Now it’s your turn girl to cry!“–and drummer Steve Smith quickly pounds the drums as the song briefly goes silent, right before Perry’s “na-na-na-na”s kick in and the song goes into overdrive. It’s just a moment, probably meant to mark the halfway point in the anthem (akin to Paul’s “better-better-BETTER-BETTER-WAHHHHH!!!!” moment in “Hey Jude”), but the punctuation it puts on the song’s first half (which somehow turned from gooey self-pity to vengeful boasting while you weren’t really listening) and the excitement it builds for an extremely satisfying musical coda is absolutley perfect. They might not have had much practice with this kind of power ballad, but it looks like they nailed it on the first trial run.
It probably won’t ever replace DSB as the go-to Journey song, and that’s probably not without reason–DSB is an inarguably great song to begin with (one of these days I’ll actually write why I think that is), and it has a certain cultural cachet (and a more visceral emotional reaction) that LTS probably never will. Still, I’d like to hope that they never shut it out from live gigs again–Journey might have fucked themselves by writing too many great power ballads, sure, but this was probably the best of the bunch, and setlists need be adjusted accordingly.