Steve Perry songwriting collaborator Randy Goodrum describes "Oh Sherrie" in the 2024 band biography Journey: Worlds Apart as "a perfect combination of all the moving parts working as they should – band, singer, production, melody and lyrics. It's a perfect record, in my opinion."

The song's beginnings, however, were anything but perfect.

"Oh Sherrie" started as a demo with studio aces Craig Krampf on a drum pad and Bill Cuomo on keyboards. Perry was in the midst of a rough patch with then-girlfriend Sherrie Swafford, and was struggling to convey his turbulent feelings.

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Perry and Swafford remained "crazy in love," he later told the Tampa Bay Times, "and it was a very tough time because the band was peaking. ... The truth is that it's hard to navigate a relationship when you're in the midst of such a ride."

She went to bed early one night while Cuomo, Krampf and Perry kept working. There were small musical breakthroughs along the way, as Cuomo added a distinctive turn at the beginning and end on the Chroma, an electric harpsichord-type instrument.

Still, when he connected with Goodrum, the longtime Journey frontman only had a few loose phrases (including "hold on, hold on") and some placeholder humming. Goodrum helped him match words to music, surprising Perry by instinctively echoing his sensibility and emotion.

Goodrum had a unique approach that helped the process to completion. In conversation, he'd gotten a general idea of who Perry and Swafford were like as people – and he sensed a certain amount of tension in their relationship. So he focused on that as the song's main point, rather than immediately trying to craft a hook. Then Goodrum worked to fit his words into the places where Perry had only hummed.

Perry suggested an a cappella beginning, which he connected with the old Four Tops song "Bernadette," where singer Levi Stubbs cried out her name all by himself. Perry would sing the opening "should have been gone!" in much the same manner.

By the end, Perry had somehow woven these disparate strands of creativity, drama and inspiration into a smash-hit solo debut single. "Oh Sherrie" entered the Billboard singles chart on April 7, 1984, and then roared to No. 3 – but not before rhythm guitarist Waddy Wachtel led Perry back to rock for a moment.

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During the sessions, Wachtel noticed there was an open spot in the recording, so he asked engineer Niko Bolas what Perry was planning. Informed that Perry intended to put a sax solo there, Wachtel blurted out, "Oh, no, he's not!" Wachtel then tore through the solo that appears on Perry's finished release. His reasoning was simple: Wachtel told Guitar Player that he thought of "Oh Sherrie" as a rock song, and rock songs required guitar solos: "A saxophone? Are you joking?"

Next came the iconic music video. Perry had connected with producer Paul Flattery after CBS video department executive Debbie Norman was impressed by his team's approach on a contemporary clip for Earth Wind and Fire star Philip Bailey's solo song "I Know." That signaled to Perry that Flattery was willing to try something different. The stripped-down emotion of his first-ever solo video would stand out in an age of rapidly spreading excess at MTV.

"Steve didn't want the ordinary video," Flattery says in Journey: Worlds Apart. "He didn't want, you know, the girls and tights and the flashing lights and leather and all that kind of stuff. He wanted something a bit more classy, something that reflected his song."

Watch the Video for Steve Perry’s ‘Oh Sherrie’

Completing the 'Oh Sherrie' Video Was a Struggle, Too

Flattery's team suggested the story-within-a-story approach that showed Perry pushing back against a typically over-the-top shoot in order to film a more straightforward plea to Swafford. The rejected high-concept portion had an Egyptian motif, "but we couldn't find anywhere in L.A. to shoot it," Flattery said. "So we changed it from being an Egyptian motif to being a kind of Shakespearean one."

They decided to film at Los Angeles’s architecturally appropriate Plaza Hotel, now known as The MacArthur, using stagehands and neighborhood folks as extras. "They actually fitted really well into those Shakespearean-type costumes," Flattery added. "I like to think of it as 'Richard III' — with Steve's hair."

The result became a longer-form video, with an unusual two-minute intro. "The thing was, [director] Jack [Cole] was all about making what he called 'mini-movies,'" Flattery said. "He was about making something that was not there in and of itself, just to sell the record. It was there to become a piece of entertainment they would want to watch. I don't recall the specifics, but nobody at the label at that time complained."

Perry's "Oh Sherrie" promotional clip would not be complete, however, until they made one final tweak to the script. "When we first cut the video, it didn't work — because, you know, you just saw Steve blowing up saying, 'I can't do this,'" Flattery said.

"So Jack pulled in an editor that was working in films, showed him all the stuff and the guy said, 'Look, it doesn't work because you have no sympathy for this guy. You just see him as a spoiled rock star.' What he did was, he re-edited the beginning to show multiple takes of Steve going through this kind of like ridiculous scenario — and then he finally blows up. That's what made it brilliant."

The video ends with Perry escaping into the California afternoon with Swafford in tow, as his overbearing director continues to plead for another take. She soon made a similar exit from public life, though Swafford's whirlwind brush with fame meant that reporters kept trying to make contact long after she split with Perry.

Swafford finally released a statement to Marc Tyler Nobleman in 2013, confirming that she had gone on to become an esthetician and yoga instructor. She said she never married and had no children. She cherished "my friends — including Steve — and my privacy," Swafford added. "It was so different for us! It was just love, nothing else!"

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Gallery Credit: Nick DeRiso

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