New Jersey has produced its share of rock and roll A-listers
over the years. With its odd cultural mish-mash of ethnic Rust Belt
neighborhoods flanked by wide swaths of WASPy suburbia, Jersey has
always been a fertile breeding ground for loud and proud rockers.
Other than Bruce Springsteen, the recording
artist that's perhaps most directly associated with the Garden
State is Bon Jovi.
Halen, Bon Jovi is named after its bandleader -- guitarist and
lead vocalist John Bongiovi. As a teenager, the young musician had
made a name for himself in New Jersey's ever-burgeoning rock club
scene in the late 1970s. By the early '80s, Bongiovi had parlayed
his local music industry connections into a presence at prominent
Manhattan recording studio Power Station. It was there that he
recorded "Runaway" with a troupe of session players. The song's
driving power, fueled by a bright keyboard riff common to that era
of album rock radio, served to propel "Runaway" to victory in an
important regional radio station contest in 1983. That event
exposed Bongiovi to a large audience and spurred the frontman to
put together a top-flight band lineup en route to an eventual
recording contract with Mercury Records.
After briefly deploying lead guitarist Dave Sabo (founder of
another famous Jersey heavy rock band, Skid Row, later in the
1980s) in his new band, Bongiovi had an equally talented axeman
fall into his lap in Richie Sambora. Sambora was a charismatic
stage presence that mildly evoked images of Aerosmith's Joe
Perry. Bongiovi also enlisted long-time friend David Bryan on
keyboards and industry veteran Tico Torres on drums, alongside
bassist Alec John Such, and a Mercury Records executive dubbed the
new group Bon Jovi. As of 2011, all of those players except for
Such were still active with the band.
Bon Jovi's first two albums, 1984's Bon Jovi
and 1985's 7800 Degrees Fahrenheit, are generally
lost in time among the deluge of pretty-boy pop-metal acts that had
exploded in popularity in America during those years. Outside of
"Runaway" itself, which had been included on Bon
Jovi, the material on both LPs gained little traction
outside of the band's home turf in the American Northeast region.
However, Fahrenheit and its singles --
particularly "In And Out Of Love" and "Only Lonely" -- proved a
watershed in the important Japanese market.
Both of those efforts, it turned out, were simply laying the
groundwork for the tidal wave of success that would accompany Bon
Jovi's third release.
1986 was a rather mediocre year for pop music, with one notable
exception. Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet, released
that summer, became an international smash hit. It sported two
Number One songs, "You Give Love A Bad Name" and "Livin' On A
Prayer" -- both of which are still immensely popular today. A third
Top Ten song, "Wanted Dead Or Alive", is perhaps even more popular
today than its higher-charting brothers. And
Slippery is particularly unusual in that it is one
of the only top-selling hard rock albums in history whose ballad
("Never Say Goodbye") was the lowest-charting of its singles.
In retrospect, what Slippery managed to
accomplish for the rock and roll genre was no small feat. It
bridged the juvenile -- at times, even comic -- pop metal scene of
the early 1980s with the polished, corporate juggernaut that pop
metal became in the late 1980s. Slippery
established the formula by which the Whitesnakes, Warrants and
Poisons of the world would sell millions of albums to a more
The band, of course, did not take their foot off the gas upon
reaching superstardom. 1988's New Jersey solidifed
the recipe laid down by its predecessor, spawning two more Number
Ones ("Bad Medicine" and "I'll Be There For You") alongside three
more Top Tens ("Born To Be My Baby", Lay Your Hands On Me" and
"Living In Sin"). The album itself was noticeably heavier in both
songwriting style and production, but neither radio nor the
record-buying public seemed to care. The accompanying tour lasted
nearly two years and, at its conclusion, left no doubt that Bon
Jovi was one of the top five live concert draws on the planet.
Firmly entrenched for the 1990s, Bon Jovi largely escaped the
strong backlash against pop metal and its ilk in the wake of the
emergence of the grunge era. Jon Bon Jovi's 1990 solo sequel to
"...Dead Or Alive", "Blaze Of Glory", was a chart-topper, and the
rest of the band reconvened for Keep The Faith in
1992. Both the title track and "Bed Of Roses" got major rock radio
airplay; the fanbase content to receive more of the same glossy
rock following the band's two year hiatus. Bon Jovi then released a
new single, "Always", included in the band's 1994 greatest hits
release (Cross Road), and that
tune went Top Five as well, despite grunge's mastery over FM radio
The group released a sixth studio album in 1995, These
Days, which again played to AOR formula and replaced Such
with Hugh McDonald on bass. Despite their continuing massive
popularity overseas, Bon Jovi saw this album chart only one US Top
Twenty tune ("This Ain't A Love Song"). Clearly lacking new and
innovative musical direction, the band took the rest of the decade
Bon Jovi reemerged in the 2000s as somewhat of a legacy band,
albeit one with much greater stature than most of its 1980s
contemporaries. It has produced a handful of albums, from which
only three songs have cracked the US Top Forty (the most memorable
of which probably being "It's My Life" from the 2000 album
Crush). The band has chosen to focus on touring,
and continues to be a huge draw throughout the world -- moreso
abroad than in the US -- and routinely tops annual concert draw
With both its original lineup and its reputation still mostly
intact, Bon Jovi continues to keep the fire of 1980s pop metal
alive for a new generation of rock and roll fans, well into the new
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