Behind the Meaning of “Wheel in the Sky,” by Journey

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

“Wheel in the Sky” appeared on Journey’s fourth record, Infinity—the first album to feature frontman Steve Perry on vocals. The anthemic track, along with the rest of the album, pushed the band into the limelight, acting as a predecessor to decades of high-pulsing rock classics. 

Meaning Behind the Lyrics

According to Journey’s Time3 compilation, “Wheel in the Sky” began as a yearning poem written by bassist Ross Valory’s wife, Diane. Originally titled, “Wheels In My Mind,” Valory’s first iteration spoke about the isolation of missing her husband while he was away. The poem was then rewritten by former lead vocalist Robert Fleischman to reflect the grind of life on the road as a rock band. 

The lyrics are philosophical to boot, speaking about a man desperate to get home, the fear of losing a significant other, and the ever-turning wheels of time. 

Haven’t been home in a year or more
I hope she holds on a little longer
Sent a letter on a long summer day
Made of silver, not of clay
I’ve been runnin’ down this dusty road

While Fleischman carved out the lyrics, Perry eventually recorded the track after joining the group. In a 2014 interview with Louder, Perry recalls experiencing an intense tour schedule in 1978 – completing a 298 show run and “not coming home for almost a year.” That’s enough to make anyone sympathize with the lyrics I’ve been trying to make it home, I can’t take this very much longer.

While the verses take a more oblique viewpoint, the chorus paints a straightforward metaphor about the unstoppable nature of time. 

Ooh, the wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’
I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow
Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin’

Production

Guitarist Neal Schon’s acoustic melody for “Wheel in the Sky” was transformed into the arena-rock anthem we know it as today with the help of Roy Thomas Baker – a famed English producer whose other credits include the likes of the incomparable “Bohemian Rhapsody.” 

“What Roy gave us was the opportunity to try different textures and ideas,” Perry told the outlet. “But the foundational aspect of the songs and the arrangements were done. Roy really gave us a direction, and from there the band found itself.”

Legacy

The band released three modestly selling albums before Perry. Journey, Look Into The Future, and Next all had more of a prog-rock sound before Perry’s wailing vocals came into the mix. Perry brought with him concise songs that worked in a singles market, complete with catchy, unforgettable hooks. Not coincidentally, “Wheel in the Sky” became the first Journey song to chart in the Hot 100. 

“I remember clearly “Wheel In The Sky” being the first single,” Perry recalled. “Neal [Schon] and I went to this pizza place, and I went over to the jukebox and saw a Wheel In the Sky vinyl 45 in the machine – an ecstatic feeling.

He continued: “I didn’t tell Neal, I just put two quarters in, pushed the button, and sat down, and the song started. Neal looked at me and started laughing. It was a monumental moment. Back then if you were started to show up in jukeboxes it was a sign that you might be finally starting to happen.”

Photo by Michael Putland/Getty Images

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