Album Covers That Blow My Mind: Journey’s Escape

Album Covers That Blow My Mind: Journey’s Escape

A deconstruction of the cover art for the Journey album Escape.

[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:

journey-escape

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?

e5c4p3

Im in ur st3r30 rockin ur d00dz

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.

d0nt st0p bl3v1ng w00t!

d0nt st0p bl3v1ng w00t!

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

Power ballads. The final frontier.

Power ballads. The final frontier.

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.

Dude, it's a dung beetle.

Dude, it’s a dung beetle.

(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?

So that makes Steve Perry the shitty Paul McCartney?

So that makes Steve Perry the shitty Paul McCartney?

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.

9 Comments on “Album Covers That Blow My Mind: Journey’s Escape”

  1. Sharper #

    Nothing about the countdown progression of “5-4-3” in the l33t speak letters?

    Reply

  2. mlawski OTI Staff #

    The scarab beetle looks like a computer mouse to me. A rocking computer mouse.

    Reply

  3. lee OTI Staff #

    @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?

    Reply

  4. Gab #

    @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?

    Reply

  5. Richard #

    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.

    Reply

  6. Amy #

    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?

    Reply

  7. Frank #

    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.

    Reply

  8. Kat #

    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.

    Reply

  9. David #

    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.

    Reply

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