Rock bands can be completely synonymous with a geographical area. Anytime someone mentions Skynyrd, the state of Alabama raises a collective fist. Pearl Jam gets a standing ovation for entire concerts every time they play in the Seattle area. There is no substitute for fans when the band is from their hometown. Today’s band IS New Jersey through and through.
At age 13, Jon Bon Jovi started playing guitar and piano. He formed his first band at age 16 and played local clubs. His career remained very low-key, but he did open for a few major local acts in the early 80s. In 1983 he started singing jingles for ads which were recorded at a local radio station.
A few folks there thought he had talent, and encouraged him to record one of his own tracks for a station compilation album of homegrown artists. He recorded the track ‘Runaway’ with a makeshift band and created quite a bit of buzz. The track reached New York City and he got a record deal from Mercury Records. The secretary at Mercury had the idea to drop the “Jon,” and just go with Bon Jovi as the band name, similar to Van Halen. Initially reluctant, they went with it, and the rest is history.
I’m listening to Bon Jovi’s third studio release today, Slippery When Wet, which was released in August of 1986. After two modestly successful albums, the band decided to hire a professional songwriter to help out. After six months recording the record, they felt they had a solid one on their hands. I’m not sure in their wildest dreams they knew what would happen next.
Twenty-eight million copies later, this album is one of the most successful to come out of the 80s. Perhaps the biggest single on the album, ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ was nearly excluded because Jon felt it “wasn’t good enough.” Guitarist Richie Sambora convinced him it was a hit single, they re-recorded it and it would go on to headline the album. To this day, it’s one of their most played songs on current radio.
This is the 1980s summed up in one rock album. It’s impossible not to hear this and immediately think of all the bands from that era making this music. I’m not sure there is anything overly unique about Bon Jovi’s style or songwriting, but this album is amazingly catchy. I’d argue all rock from that era was fairly “poppy”– but this is popular music more than rock, and that’s why every man in the band is a millionaire.
As someone who would have never claimed to be a big Bon Jovi fan, I’m shocked at how many songs I knew on this album without realizing it. Just being a fan of classic rock, you hear these songs all over the place. For example, the TV show Deadliest Catch has been using ‘Wanted Dead or Alive’ as the theme for many years.
This is a slam-dunk album at $5 bucks. There are at least four major singles I can guarantee you’ll sing along with today, even if you were born 20 years ago. This type of music defined a decade, and Bon Jovi was at the forefront of that. If nothing else, find someone from New Jersey today, and talk Jon Bon Jovi with them. I promise you they’ll love it.
Top 3 Tracks: