“Open Arms” is a song by American rock band Journey. It was released as a single from their 1981 album, Escape. Co-written by band members Steve Perry and Jonathan Cain, the song is a power ballad whose lyrics are an empowering plea to a lover to forgive past wrongdoings and agree to start anew. It is one of the band’s most recognizable radio hits and their biggest US Billboard Hot 100 hit, reaching number two in February 1982 and holding that position for six weeks (behind “Centerfold” by the J. Geils Band and “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts).
“Open Arms” has been covered by various recording artists. American singer Mariah Carey enjoyed an international hit with the song in 1996; hers is arguably the best-known version of the song in the United Kingdom, where it reached number 4 in the UK Singles Chart. The song has also been covered by such artists as American singer and songwriter Barry Manilow, R&B group Boyz II Men, K-pop boy group EXO (band) and Canadian singer Celine Dion. It is a favorite on reality television singing competitions as well, being performed by contestants on the US shows The Voice and American Idol, and overseas on the UK’s The X Factor.
Journey’s recording of “Open Arms” has been described as one of the greatest love songs ever written; VH1 named the song as the greatest power ballad of all time. Mike DeGagne of AllMusic has described it as “One of rock’s most beautiful ballads”, which “gleams with an honesty and feel only Steve Perry could muster.”
Journey recorded “Open Arms” for their seventh studio album, Escape, which was produced by Kevin Elson and Mike Stone. Jonathan Cain had begun writing the song while he was still a member of The Babys, but Babys vocalist John Waite turned down the melody as “sentimental rubbish.” Cain eventually finished the song with Steve Perry during the writing sessions for Escape, changing the key from A to D and changing the melody slightly, but it was almost left off the album; Journey’s guitarist Neal Schon reportedly disliked the song because “it was so far removed from anything [Journey] had ever attempted to record before”. Drummer Steve Smith recalls that Schon noted that it “sounds kinda Mary Poppins”, added to which the other members of the band were against the idea of performing ballads.
In 2005 Perry commented on the emotions he felt while producing Live in Houston 1981: The Escape Tour and listening to the band performing the song 24 years previously: “I had to keep my head down on the console when “Open Arms” was on. There is one line in the song that I always wanted to be a certain way. I have ideals about certain things. The line “wanting you near” — I just wanted that line to go up and soar. I wanted it to be heartfelt. Every time it would come by I would just have to keep my head down and try to swallow the lump in my throat. I felt so proud of the song.”
The song and its status as a power ballad have been remembered years following its original release. One critic praised “Open Arms” as “a lyrical rock ballad and one of the band’s best-written songs”, while the Associated Press wrote that the song was “fueled by Perry’s operatic, high-flying vocal style.” It has also been referred to as a “wedding anthem” (in a December 2005 Lumino article), and VH1 placed the song at number 1 on their “25 Greatest Power Ballads” list. AllMusic said “One of rock’s most beautiful ballads, “Open Arms” gleams with an honesty and feel only Steve Perry could muster,” and a review of a Journey concert in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution characterized the song as a “classic ballad.” Steve Perry told the Boston Globe, “I can’t tell you how many times I get a tap on the shoulder and somebody says…’This was my prom song’.” The song was later included on Journey’s box set Time3 (1992) and the compilation album The Essential Journey (2001).