By OZZIE WYLDE
‘WE aren’t U2, we aren’t gonna change the world, but we ain’t Metallica, you know what I mean? We’re a rock band and that’s all we’re supposed to be…’ (Jon Bon Jovi, 1987)
A statement which makes being one of the most successful rock bands in the world sound like such a simple business – but also tells you something about how Jon Bon Jovi, and of course the rest of the band, think. They are, above anything else, a rock band. They’ve worked hard to get where they are but success hasn’t changed their attitude. Bon Jovi still do it for their fans – its just that there are hundreds of thousands more of them than there were a couple of years ago.
Dateline: October 17th 1987. Location: Hawaii. What a year it had been for Jon, David Bryan, Tico Torres, Alec John Such and Richie Sambora. After 14 months on the road, the Slippery When Wet Tour came to an end. And what a tour it had been. Not just any old world tour this one but one of the biggest phenomenons to hit the rock world – ever. A new record was set almost every night from Minneapolis to Melbourne. Attendance, speed of ticket sales, T-shirts and merchandising…you name it and Bon Jovi did it bigger and better than it had ever been done before. In America alone, the band played to more than 2 million people. . The host of stars who leapt on stage to jam with them during the tour reads like a who’s who of heavy rock; Van Halen, Cheap Trick, Def Leppard, Ted Nugent, Motley Crue.
While Bon Jovi were rocking out around the world, Slippery When Wet, their third album, was breaking more records – this time in record stores all over the world. Eight times platinum in America, five times platinum in Australia and similar stories in almost every country – if every record bar in the world had been stocking nothing but Slippery When Wet, their profits would have been ten times the normal!
Who could deny that after over a year of touring and more than 350 gigs, a little rest and recreation was due for Bon Jovi? But there’s little time for relaxation when you’re one of the world’s top rock bands so they headed home to New Jersey to write, unpack and write some more.
New Jersey – where it all started in the spring of 1983. Back in high school days, Jon Bon Jovi – as he was then known, played in a Motown covers band (hard to believe now!) called Atlantic City Expressway. Their biggest claim to fame was being joined on stage in an Asbury Park club by that other world conquering New Jersey native, Bruce Springsteen. One night, Jon found himself pushing a broom round his cousins’ recording studio for an extra buck or two. One thing led to another and he recorded a song called Runaway with, among others, Bruce’s piano player, Roy Bittan. “Runaway” did the unexpected and became a radio hit in places like New York, Detriot and Denver. All of a sudden everyone was taking notice of this unsigned solo artist and the result was a recording deal with Mercury Records. They streamlined his name to Bon Jovi – at the time Jon commented, ‘nobody knew if Bon Jovi was a name, a jeans company or spaghetti sauce’ – and began to assemble a band.
Keyboard player, David Bryan, was rescued from a career as a classical musician: ‘You never get laid playing classical’, he commented. Tico Tores was nicked from Franke and the Knockouts, while Richie and Alec came from a band called Message. Bon Jovi was born and before they had time to take a breath, they were in the studio recording their self-titled debut album. Then they hit the road for ten straight months of touring, opening for bands like Ratt, ZZ Top, Judas Priest and Eddie Money.
While critics dismissed those early shows and the first album as soft metal, audiences knew better and the word on Bon Jovi started to spread. right across America. To make the most of all that gruelling touring, they quickly recorded a second album, 7800 Fahrenheit. ‘That title had a trick meaning,’ said Jon at the time. ‘It’s the melting point of rock, it meant American hot rock. But people couldn’t even say it.’ But it didn’t stop the record going gold and staying on the American chart for over a year. Their live shows got better with every performance as they toured non-stop for over two years taking in America, Canada, Europe and Japan with more than 450 shows.(continued below)
January 1st 1986 found them back home to start work on the third album. At the time, they said they wanted to make this one ‘our Born to Run’ – i.e. the one that would launch them into the realms of megastardom. Did they know how right they were going to be? In August of that same year, Slippery When Wet was released and the next fourteen months saw Bon Jovi climb the ladder of stardom right to the very top.
How do you follow up a classic like Slippery When Wet, was the question that must have been in their minds as they started to write the songs for the follow-up. Demos of more than 30 songs were written and recorded up to the beginning of ’88. They eventually chose the 11 that make up their fourth album which was patriotically called New Jersey.
As Jon will tell you, New Jersey is more than just a place. It’s a state of mind that belongs equally to Frank Sinatra and Sly Stallone, as much as it does to Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen. It’s this spirit which makes the album the best Bon Jovi have produced. No contest. And then of course there are the songs. If you thought “Wanted Dead or Alive” was the definitive Bon Jovi anthem, listen to “Blood On Blood” yep, it goes one, maybe even two, better. And there’s plenty more where that came from: “99 In the Shade”, “Stick To Your Guns”, “Bad Medicine”…by now you should know every one of the eleven songs backwards. So we’ve got another classic album from Bon Jovi, but what happens next?
Well, 1989 looks set to be the biggest year in a meteoric career. Plans are underway for another world tour and there’s a whole lot more records to break out there. Next time they hit Australian shores (sometime next year, although no dates have been confirmed) the overnight ticket queues are gonna stretch from here to New Jersey – meanwhile, you’ll all be living on a prayer that you get those front row seats!