[This is the first in what will hopefully be a series of deconstructions of album covers that blow our minds.]
Journey’s seventh studio album, “Escape,” was released in 1981 and spawned no less than four hit singles: “Who’s Cryin’ Now,” “Still They Ride,” “Open Arms,” and everyone’s favorite karaoke/wedding/cryptic Soprano‘s soundtrack choice, “Don’t Stop Believin’.” As if that somehow weren’t enough, these songs all come wrapped in fantastically mind-blowing cover art:
What’s so mind blowing about this?
The Birth of “Leet Speak”?
Did you notice the strange spelling of “Escape” (or rather, “E5SC4P3”) on the cover of this album? Looks pretty “1337,” doesn’t it?
Overthinking It readers are probably familiar with (and at least partially annoyed by) the prevalence of “1337” or “leet” speak across the internet. For the uninitiated, leet speak is the substitution of letters with numbers or other symbols to create a symbolic language decipherable only be a select–or shall I say elite–or shall I say “leet”–few.
Though leet speak became widespread with the proliferation of online gaming, in particular, Doom, the practice originated back the early 1980’s, when its use was limited to an actually somewhat “elite” corps of hackers and other sophisticated computer users to mask illicit activity (software piracy and porn distribution) from BBS administrators.
Hmm. Early 1980’s. You mean, like 1981 early?
Obviously, it’s a stretch to think that either the band Journey or the artist responsible for this album cover invented leet speak, or was even aware of its existence at the time. Yet, despite my best attempts at googling, I couldn’t find a more specific date for the birth of leet speak other than “the early 80’s,” which leaves open the oh-so-slight possibility that Steve Perry was teh 0r1g1n4l h4x0rs.
Even if the leet phenomenon and the Journey album art are causally unrelated, the two combined do result in some pretty rich irony. Leet speak was originally used by an elite few to mask the true nature of contraband material from both the unknowing masses and from the authorities. Journey, on the other hand, was the polar opposite from “contra”-bands (pun intended) like AC/DC or Judas Priest and strove to maximize its appeal among the unknowing masses.
So why use the cryptic spelling of E5C4P3 on its album cover? Perhaps to convey a sense of mystical other-worldliness to go along with…
The Star Ship Scarab Beetle
By now, you’re probably used to seeing the scarab beetle in association with Journey–it’s featured prominently on their mega-selling Greatest Hits compilation, of which I am a proud owner–but at the time of Escape, it was only the second instance out of their seven studio albums to use the scarab beetle on its cover. The previous album to do so, Departure, was released a year prior to Escape, and also featured other-worldly imagery, but Escape kicks things up several notches with its depiction of a warp-speed beetle busting out of some sort of spherical object.
(Updated April 23, 2017: Twitter user @raycoopteacher pointed out that Journey released a live album Captured that featured the dung beetle prior to Escape.)
Google mysteriously comes up short in providing an explanation as to why the band chose to incorporate the scarab beetle on its album covers. Fortunately for us, that allows us to create our own interpretation.
First, a quick primer on Egyptian mythology: the scarab beetle was notable for a couple of things: first, it’s a dung beetle. Yup, the band Journey chose the same beetle that begins its life eating from the ball of shit that it was born into, then later rolls its own ball of shit into which it will plant its own eggs. Nothing says “80’s power pop/rock” like shit-eating beetles, right?
Instead, let’s examine the other thing that the dung, er, scarab beetle is notable for. It’s a symbol of the Egyptian god, Khepri, who in turn is a symbol of rebirth, the sun, and creation. The solar association helps make some sense of the Departure album art–the beetle in that image is one of several heavenly bodies depicted–but that still leaves a lot to be explained for the star ship beetle on the cover of Escape.
The best explanation I can provide centers around the rebirth and escape elements. Rebirth, in the case of Journey, refers to the band itself: they started out as a jazz fusion/progressive rock group, but with the addition of singer Steve Perry in 1977, were reborn as a straight pop group. As for escaping, well, that one’s easy: “They took the midnight train, goin’ anywhere…” Granted, a dung beetle traveling at light speed is several steps removed from the midnight trains referred to in “Don’t Stop Believing,” but you get the idea.
Bonus Video Game Postscript:
Or maybe I’ve got it wrong. Perhaps the scarab beetle is meant to be a vehicle for the band to escape from groupies and unscrupulous promoters:
Yup, that’s the Journey video game based on the album Escape. Hmm, it looks rather difficult. Perhaps only the most “elite”—or dare I say, “1337”—players could truly master this one.
And now it all comes together.
Nothing about the countdown progression of “5-4-3” in the l33t speak letters?
No one has noticed the word “HOLY” in the breaking glass at the top?
The scarab beetle looks like a computer mouse to me. A rocking computer mouse.
I thought the same, I think the artist of the cover is a prophet , it took a message of God and put it on a draw, in 1981 mouses were not that broadly used , and if you google it, they were kind of square , this ship looks like a 2000’s mouse. and another coincidence is that the artist last name is Mouse. could you decipher the message
Mlawski amazing you mention the beetle looks like a computer mouse, as the artist who came up with the cover is named Stanley Mouse…. no kidding. Hmm..
@Sharper: good catch. I wonder where the 2 and 1 are.
Something else that I didn’t get around to overthinking: the way “Journey” is tilted 90 degrees on its side. I desperately want there to be some sort of hidden message. The N and E become a Z and W sideways. Could that be a clue?
In terms of the name Journey on its side, perhaps the artist wants us to view the cover at the angle so the word journey is standing upright and legible. I’m still looking… help me out here
@mlawski: ME FRIGGIN’ TOO!! So could that be intentional, as well? It would fit with the leetspeak, wouldn’t it? Did computer mice look like that yet?
Um, how could you forget the glaringly obvious Freudian subtext- here not a phallus, but the oddity of sperm actually escaping from the egg? Although to be fair (and the space theme helps this) it could equally be a fully formed fetus and the womb.
Ouch, that childbirth looks quite painful. Look at all the rips, and the deep red… Poor space woman metaphor.
Maybe it’s because my time zones are all messed up, and maybe I’m severely jet lagged, and maybe, just maybe it’s the result of a deranged thought process, or just too simple a mind, but am I the only one seeing the phallic representation here?
Journey’s live album “Captured” thus the next being Esc4p3(between Departure and Esc4p3) also featured the Beetle on the cover as well as the infinity symbol, which started with the album “Infinity”. Esc4p3 was the first album with Jonathan Cain, who replaced original keyboardist Gregg Rolie, so it kind of was an escape from their past sound. The original covers also had raised letters and art.
Recently I saw videos from the flat earth society (not that I believe it is) and it looks like the beatle is breaking free of the alleged dome that keeps humanity trapped inside. It could symbolize ascension and our souls being able to join with cosmic consciousness, freed from the confines of what some feel is a prison planet.
Mark Lee, I guess you are over thinking it. The band has always been fixated on the future and celestial travel, which they featured on the album covers. The members are seen floating like zero gravity, being transported on Look into the Future, Evolution, Departure, Captured, Escape and Frontiers. All had space travel as a theme one way or another…it’s the band’s JOURNEY together. I remember the tilted letters when the album Escape was released and it made you thing it was some alien writing. The Scarab was also a symbol of transformation which the band adopted in late 70’s. You have to realize we landed on the moon in 69 and the band was formed a couple of years later.
Journeys Music (with Steve Perry,of course,)transports the fans minds,hearts,and souls, to a whole other dimension. Journey has always poured its heart and soul in to it’s music. That is why Journey and it’s music has always resonated with me, and all it’s other devoted fans. I do not care if the music of Journey is esoteric in any way,shape,or fashion, they will always be The best to me,and all there worldly fans. Steve Perry is and always, shall be known, as the heart and soul of Journey. #1 fan, and admirer, for life.
I’ve taken the beetle to be a Jungian reference.
Diving in to The Red Book, it seems to be about synchronicity, awakening, and awareness of the human journey.
Like many bands of the mid 70’s- early 80’s, Journey presented their message/beliefs in their album covers. The limited access to see these bands in media platforms (tv award shows, later MTV), other than in concert, made album covers a big part of a fan’s ‘experience’. Journey was a leader in giving fans some amazing album covers.
Nobody has yet mentioned that their covers represented their belief in Astral Projection, an out of body experience, and reincarnation. Thus the connection with the Egyptian Scarab (Beetle), space travel, pyramids. This belief was shared with other bands in that era – Earth, Wind, and Fire is a good example.
As far as the Leet message, computer coding was in its infancy back in 81. If you were in a high school math class you may have been introduced to something called FORTRAN. This is what you’re seeing on E5C4P3.
I think it’s as simple as that. The sphere the beetle is escaping from is the same one it’s captured in on the cover of the previous album.
You can almost make out Holy Horus in the cracking orb.
Almost zero people knew about 1337 at this point. However, it’s likely that the among the few people who did know, there were Sound Engineers if they were making/experimenting with computer sound creation/manipulation, which at that point was extremely low level programming. They’d certainly be what we’d consider 1337. Also, amongst the 1337 community there has always been a very close affinity and connection with such low level sound and music programming. Also, this is the type of music that alot of the 1337 computer creators and manipulators listened to. Also the fact that the cover points to Egyptian Gods and far-reaching ideas WAY outside the mainstream makes it far more likely to have had more meaning to the 1337folk. It’s entirely possible that this album cover created the movement, and 1337 users adopted it in tribute, at least for much of it. There would be a single handful of people who would have used it at that time, and in 81 you could pretty much say whatever you wanted in IRC, the entire internet was Dark web at that point. The fact that Journey is flipped 90 with a font design purposefully intended to be confusing for the layman and appear foreign is the very essence of 1337, and points to the E5C4P3 being their own original concept as well. Very likely they started the movement, not the band directly, but Sound Engineers and Designers of the day on the project.
Also, the Breaking out theme probably really resonated with the smarter, more technically elite people of the day, as it represents really the movement of the entire internet at that point, and the liberating ideas of the global perspective seeking to break limits and barriers and dogmatic views and beliefs oppressing and limiting the masses of the day. In truth, the cover represents currently much of what many people on the internet still feel today. It seems just as relevant to all of the people who are currently breaking free of the mainstream ideologies, looking beyond common beliefs and mass media consumption, breaking through the barriers that have been put in place to keep us confined, to an interspatial, limitless journey far beyond what “they’d” like us to believe. It really represents much of the Dark Web today.
It’s Osiris,or Baal or (INSERT OTHER CULTURES SUN GOD HERE), aka SATAN. They are obviously Satan worshipers.
The spaceship beetle bursting from the sphere, to me, is an obvious follow up to the album art for Captured. The cover art is spherical and the band members are shown looking trapped in a sphere on the back. Clearly they “escaped” from being “captured” on their next album by bursting through in a space beetle. I was a little surprised this wasn’t in the blog post, or am I the only one with this opinion?
All this talk about beetles and Egyptian mythology and no mention whatsoever about crediting the artist(s) who created it. One should think think that would be – oh I don’t know – maybe the very first thing that you would bring up.