perry-collage

Steve Perry was nicknamed “The Voice” by Bon Jovi back in 1989. The moniker has stuck for more than 20 years and for good reason.

I have my own thoughts about what makes Steve Perry, the former lead singer of Journey, special. No, it’s not the tight jeans nor the fabulous long hair, while those certainly do count.

A complete analysis of “The Voice” was done by Ross Muir on his FabricationsHQ Web site, so I am not going to try to match that ebook ‘argument paper’. (https://www.fabricationshq.com/one-in-a-million—a-vocal-analysis-of-the-voice.html)

But I have listened to a few different singers doing one of the ’80s great power ballads “Open Arms,” and a couple of things make it really clear why Steve Perry is just so darn good.

It is his lyrical phrasing and control of vibrato.

On Perry’s step-down notes of “believe_what_I_say,” in “Open Arms,” he uses a controlled vibrato on each word, each step. He employs the technique several times in that piece. (https://tinyurl.com/2bnhoqp)

Many other performers just sing the song “flat.” Not out-of-tune flat, but rather with no emotion, no nice vibrato. Each word is the same, with very little inflection. And let’s not forget the vocal ad libs Perry uses to such great effect in his solo work and classic Journey releases, such as the powerful anthem “Mother, Father.”

If those other vocalists are not singing blah, they are shouting, trying for emotion — it is “look at me, I am singing loud so believe what I say.”

It’s hard to explain but many of the old Journey songs affect me on a visceral level.

The aforementioned “Open Arms”  — and within “Still They Ride,” I find one of the finest emotional phrases in any Journey tune.

The song is a short-story masterpiece recorded live at the 1983 Budokan concert in Japan. Another deft writer, the woman behind (www.chosenmadness.com) turned me onto this youtube video and I will be forever grateful. (https://tinyurl.com/2crsru2)

The phrase “ridin’ slow-oo-oh” — man oh man. Jesse is movin’ slow through a town that doesn’t know him any more and Perry’s phrasing in that song conveys all the feelings of the restless rebel. Sublime moments, perfect phrasing. I just hit repeat on the ol’ iPod and head out on the highway looking for my own Jesse.

Now here is what I think about some of the over-the-top female fan stuff.

If you’ve read any of the posts on the (unofficial) Steve Perry Facebook fan page you’ll notice a strong trend toward the thinking that Steve Perry must be a fabulous, warm, sweet and caring guy who loves everybody and adores his fans as much as they adore him. And poor Stevie, life has been so cruel, father leaving, mother dying, former band dudes being dicks.

I have tried to interject some reason into the mix, but I am usually shot down in flames because I dare to say, “We don’t know him, the man he is now.”

Because Perry sings with such unadulterated emotions, he must be the guy in the music. In “What Was” we feel his pain as if it were our own.

If someone can sing about those feelings so well, words and phrases that touch our hearts, then he must be above the petty jealousies and foibles that plague the rest of us mere mortals.

He very well may be, but hey, we don’t know since we are not personally acquainted with the man.

Here is my other thought about why “The Voice” so appeals to us — it’s all about sex.

Perry’s high voice suggests innocence. On the 1981 Houston “Escape” concert DVD, his joy at performing is palpable. He looks like a boy/kid having a blast on stage and wearing his heart on his sleeve.

Just like the perfect (pre-zits and shaving) boy we had a crush on when we were 13-14 years old.

The boy didn’t really notice us but we knew if he would just look our way, love would burst forth and we would walk hand-in-hand to the sophomore dance in perfect non-sexual bliss.

Gene Pitney, Roy Orbison, and Del Shannon  —  all were soaring tenors that affected us in the same way. Early Frank Sinatra too, for a different generation — tapping into as yet, unknown sexual territory.

What the heck did we know about sex anyway. Just the juicy parts of Peyton Place, and we didn’t understand those very well at all.

Deeper voices can be more threatening. Think of the bass singer in an opera. Usually the bad guy. And sometimes the baritone too — bad guy.

The dichotomy of lower register voices means baritones can also remind us of husbands, fathers, brothers — safe, comforting. Analyzing baritones can be tricky.

But oh, the tenor — he is the guy in the white hat singing of unrequited or broken love. Our hero.

High-pitched voices are pure; singing love songs that promise something more than sex.

I think that is why they pushed Josh Groban in his early work — a baritone by the way— to sing in his higher range, reaching for that tenor purity, appealing to young teenage girls and old teenage women.

Then we have Elvis the Pelvis. Boy, did he open up a can of worms. Not only the lower sexual voice, but lower body movements we just knew were dirty.

Women like to remember when they were girls, asexual beings with unrecognized longings.

That’s where Steve Perry comes in — that counter tenor voice reminding us of our girlhood.

Some lady fans don’t acknowledge Steve Perry’s later public crudeness. Maybe they never heard him sing in a recorded live performance, the guttural beginning to “Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’” that talks about, well, I ain’t gonna say the words. And for sure, many of those fans haven’t heard “Can’t Stop” or can’t acknowledge it is totally sex on wheels.

It’s all about fan favorites, “Faithfully” — “Open Arms” — “Don’t Stop Believing.”

I used to think, “Thank God Mr. Perry isn’t into that whole crotch-grabbing thing made popular by Michael Jackson.” But you can see Perry did exactly that in an video shot from the audience during the “For the Love of Strange Medicine” tour. Holy crap. Talk about my mental illusions being shattered. Where was the innocent boy? And what was he doing grabbing at his crotch? For crying out loud he was too old for that sh*t.

To maintain our girlish daydreams of innocence and Mr. Perry’s dignity, we respectfully request no more crotch grabbing, please. Just sing.

29 COMMENTS

  1. What a great article. I am ‘not’ musically inclined and your writing is down to earth and I can follow. thank you for that.

  2. Loved the article. I’m a huge Steve Perry fan and loved that you put everything into perspective. Hadn’t heard about the crotch grabing though. Can’t wait to read more of your articles.

  3. Wonderful piece! I’ve always loved Steve Perry’s voice — his phrasing, his vibrato, his sustained breath control. I grew up on Journey’s greatest hits, which include “Lovin’, Touchin’ Squeezin’,” so I never thought of him as the innocent tenor, though I like the comparison. And I’m used to hearing him only, not seeing him “do” much of anything. Also, thanks for a good primer on how the male voice affects us.

  4. I understood what you actually meant about the pure voice. It is the same thing with female vocalists. In play/show the more innocent female characters will often have the higher Soprano voice.The more “worldly” women will sing in the lower register. With Steve it was a whole package, he had the lovely voice, eyes,hair etc.He just projected this intoxicating mix of innocent and sensuality even before he opened his mouth. And I also understand what you said about the joy in the Houston performance. It just seemed like Steve loved his life so much at that point, like a kid on Christmas morning who woke up to find his dream toy under the tree.

  5. i was using the word “innocent” in the way the voice sounded in the early years, its purity which could suggest innocence. when i wrote this i was thinking more of the joyfulness he had on stage in the “escape” concert in houston. there was an innocence in that performance. if that makes any sense whatsoever. 🙂

  6. i enjoyed you’re article been a steve pperry fan for 30yrs , the mans ‘voice’ has always been an orgasm to my ears lol. i agree w/ what you said tho. Everything Steve sings radiates Sex just love it 🙂 He does it with perfection.

  7. Well said! The purity of his voice, his intonations, the words he wrote, the visceral reaction to all of those beautiful gifts put together are like a caress, a butterfly kiss to a teenage girl or as you said us teenage ladies. I remember hearing Patiently and Opened the Door! But if want to see the real purity of Steve’s voice, watch the live La Do Da video. His sense of timing and insane range will blow your mind. Talk about hitting replay!!

  8. I have seen the concert footage, Where Mr. Perry (you say) he grabbed his crotch… news flash, he did NOT… what he did was run his hand down the front of his jeans, what he did was VERY sensual and sexy as hell. Watch the video, it during, Lovin’ Touchin’ Squeezin” IN NYC.

  9. Patty’s correct…no grab…just a very sublime gesture which played directly to the audience. If you watch any of the footage from the FTLOSM Tour (’94), Steve still has that stage presence and is even sexier to me than in his youth. No other voice will ever compare to Steve Perry’s, but even more what a stage presence! OMG, combine the voice and the sex appeal and that’s Steve Perry…. the Journey boys will never be able to replace that.

  10. I actually had an experience with Steve Perry that proves your analysis; he always represented purity to me because of his tenor vouce, but then when I met him in real life he was a jerk who just wanted sex!

  11. However, it is still difficult to give up my chivalric image of Steve Perry because of that miraculous, beautiful voice. I guess I will always long “to walk hand-in-hand to the sophomore dance in perfect non-sexual bliss”.

  12. I was stuck on the “tight pants & long hair”….I can listen 2 Steve 24-7….& he does so have the knack 4 pulling the audience into his story. It’s almost mesmerizing especially on the ballads. But, even in “Anyway you want”…the feeling is there…over & over again, dare I say. He is a master of “the voice”…

  13. Would love to hear personal behind the scenes true stories like that! Would love to get a glimpse into what Steve Perry is really like!

  14. I never felt that he was “innocent”. Not even The Voice left me that impression. I always heard a man behind that deceptively sweet voice. And then when I heard him talk in interviews, I heard his true voice. A deep and soft voice, that held a bit of Commander Spock in it. That part of him left a long, long, long time ago, and I’m not talking about the primal part. His father left him and his mother at the age of seven, so that little part of security was taken away. But he positively radiates sex and sexy while being very mysterious about it. I enjoyed your article nonetheless and yes Mary, I too would love to hear true stories of what he was really like, but so far, its nothing but respect for the man.

  15. This is a Great read ! My family vacations twice a year in Southern California. This year was the Steve Perry spotting trip I think our home was very close to his residence . While very voyeuristic I can only comment on what my sister and I saw . Each time we passed him he was nice with a wave and a nod or a smile and a hello . My sister ten years older than me went into a complete over heating and near fainting spells after he cleared us each time. She a connoisseur of his music and the Journey years . Myself not as extreme , of course I had heard the power ballads and more famous songs . Lets get real he could be my dad with the age being so . The first sighting was at a small California healthy morning joint. Once my sisters radar went off she was locked in a full stare . We were a few tables away on the patio he was with a group of people talking resting back in his chair with sunglasses hat and walking shorts casual morning attire . Then as the check came I noticed if you looked a little closer you might notic the lady across from him talking and staring reciprocatory in a land lock of deep stares with Steve. . She had that kind of Sherilyn Fenn in Two Moon Junction sex appeal alabaster skin, auburn hair pretty smile very sexy in a natural kind of way. The kind of women men with healthy egos usually try to gain . We were staring at him he was staring at her perfect situation to get a real peek. My sister hitting me under the table mouthing “oh my GOD” too many times to count . Just call us the voyeur sisters at this point , better than anything on TV with summer being here . My sister even went and paid for another coffee so she could keep her seat. Curiosity gets the best of us all sometimes . This was no choir boy at play , one felt the need for a shower after about twenty minutes of watching these too mildly kanoodling without barely touching and no one really noticing even at their table or on the patio . Then we leave and go to our car. My sister is now sounding like a Journey song. Continuously repeating “who is that I wonder, lucky girl” twenty times in a row . She was carrying on like a scorned lover. I watched my sisters “mental illusions” being shattered . Then he walks right in front of our car to leave. Closer than a front row seat in 1985. We both look off into the distance as to not get caught staring. Then just like clock work the female comes around the back side of his car right next to ours. At this time we could only see partial heads but that touching of the face and kiss was well ” totally sex on wheels” the author may have nailed it . Next we see them both leave in separate cars carefully orchestrated in plain sight . My sister then had her dreams shattered and envy hat slapped on her head all in a split second. He definitely ruined my day my sister had a bit of an attitude you see her “innocent boy” delusions had been torn away from her by that encounter! After reading the blog I now have a better understanding of what had actually happened . The safe happy love space of relationship thinking had been changed to a rated R sexed up version, not to her liking. A few days later went down to the beach and like a boomerang coming to whack my sister in the head again, who appears on the fairly empty beach 20 feet in front of us? You guessed it Steve Perry again. For a quick second I saw my sister in disbelief . Two sightings in one week. What was going through my sisters head the author helped me understand “if someone can sing about those feelings so well, words and phrases that touch our hearts, then he must be above the petty jealousies and foibles that plague the rest of us mere mortals” NOT. Steve Perry then turned around and went back up the stairs so we were behind him again , then we passed him with the vacation nod. As we get up to the car and pack it in we both notice at the same time that auburn haired smoldering sex bomb leaning on his car. He must have been checking the beach for people. Is this going to happen twice? Yes it did, the two voyeur sisters brushing sand off in the car watch the two again unaware of us sneakily peering. He was really mesmerized . Any women would be happy to be embraced kissed and held like that with the ocean in the background. It was like a scene from that lady flick Nights in Rodanthe Richard Gere out Steve Perry in, blonde out brunette in we did not even have to pay $15 dollars and buy popcorn, what a deal. For a second I got lost , then reality set in he is in his late sixties this is oddly erotic I must stop watching and throw my sister a life ring . So my vacation was interesting and my sister will probably never really get over it , her perfect innocent love God had been mortalized in the span of a week. Thirty years of delusion down the drain. Bravo on the blog I believe the author is right on the money !

  16. Nikki. Whoa. You had me at hello. That was incredible. Was that THIS year?!? Sweet Jesus. My heart was racing and i could “see” everything you wrote. Too bad for her. I knew it when you said she went to his car and they kissed…beach (sex) rendezvous. Well, I knew he was no choir boy and his song of Homemade Love was what really goes down. Good for you and your sista. I need a drink…some whiskey maybe.

  17. @ Nikki B: name the beach, the “healthy morning joint,” and the town you were actually in where there are rentals anywhere near Steve Perry’s house let alone next door, and MAYBE you might buy enough cred for me to stop laughing at this story. As for the article, anyone who actually saw the band live back in the day on yearly basis as some of us did have plenty of our own stories to tell about “the real Steve Perry” or any of the other band members for that matter. It was rock n roll – what did you expect Dion and flowers??

  18. Nikki B we need to hear more. What part of CA and any more info. I live in VA so not very close to going there. What kind of car was he driving. Was this Red head girlfriend younger. We need more information please. You and your sister were so lucky.

  19. Nikki B – that is a hilarious story! Does he still live in Del Mar? I fully empathize with your sister’s heartache, but what a fun/funny celebrity spotting. Steve lost the love of his life to cancer a few years ago so I say good for him if he’s out there trying to find some Lovin Touchin and Squeezin again. She is indeed a lucky girl (and thankfully it was the same girl on both spottings.) 😉

  20. G Welch – would love to know more about your story and what time period that was!

    Always been curious of the love/sex lives of rock stars….are they all the same? Do they all have a line of groupies to whisk away after every show? And how do they “date” when they want a relationship. I don’t think I could be with a man who’s been with 1,000+ ladies. Too much comparison for my taste.

    Sounds like Mr. Perry, like most stars, might’ve gotten spoiled with the ladies thrown around at him in his day.

  21. Lara – good article, very interesting.

    I’ve always had a slightly different viewpoint on the appeal of tenors. The young/innocent angle makes sense, but I think the higher pitch also has an underlying reference toward sexual angst…and those feelings of want/pleasure drive voices upwards in range.

  22. I loved the Steve Perry that I listened to in the 1980’s. He is a “man” so why would you believe he would be any different than any other man that has power over you !! There is no sad story behind his singing voice. He was gifted with a beautiful voice and certain songs made him even sound better than human. Any woman that let’s her guard down when they hear a beautiful voice should be shot I did it. Lead singer for a local group that had the most beautiful voice. I met him at different gigs he was playing. Then I see this girl that could have been my twin. He never went near her but I just felt a vibe. Yep, it was his wife. I feel in love with his voice and nothing else. He was ugly as sin but a smooth talker. A man is man no matter how he sounds or looks. Give it a good year before you trust a “man”. It’s a different story with boys.

  23. @Lara
    “But you can see Perry did exactly that in an video shot from the audience during the “For the Love of Strange Medicine” tour.” <<—- some of us would like to see said video! Link?

    @Nikki B I feel for your sister. I would have been heartbroken as well, but not because I would see him in a different light, but because I would want to be that red head! Lucky lady indeed!

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