In and Out of Love with Bon Jovi

Jon Bon Jovi at Wembley Arena in 1990

So where do you stand on Bon Jovi?

It’s always pretty cool to be first amongst your friends to be into a new band. Bloggers love new stuff – there are thousands of new music sites out there ensuring no stone is left unturned in our constant quest for something new, something different and original. To be the one to discover a new band – it’s the holy grail of hip.

History can be a harsh judge though. Somehow having reviewed an early copy of Arcade Fire’s demo tapes sounds better than having been an early convert to, say, Bon Jovi.

Because to most people nowadays Bon Jovi really aren’t that cool. In fact they are the antithesis of cool. They couldn’t be cool now if they were locked in a fridge overnight, although that’s no reason not to try it. For many, they are Anti-Freeze.

Bon Jovi

“Whaadaya mean? Look how cool I am. These trousers make me look like a really cool bullfighter guy.”
Ritchie Sambora at Wembley Arena in 1990

If you ever want a giggle / feel outraged (depending upon which side of the debate you stand), Google some of the reviews that other writers have written about the band. I couldn’t help but smile at this one from the Guardian:

“A panicked call to NHS Direct reveals you can’t actually die from exposure to their version of Hallelujah, it just feels as if you are while it’s playing”.

Also (on another site) that they are “responsible for the worst music this side of The Wombles. (Except that at least that group had the decency to tidy up their own rubbish afterwards)“. Why do they attract Spinal Tap-esque reviews like no other band…?

Let’s look at the possible reasons why, like Findus Crispy Pancakes and racist comedians, Bon Jovi’s credibility may never really have survived the end of the eighties:

  • Poodle hair was out. So he cut his hair. Black Sabbath never cut their hair over anything as trivial as it being unfashionable. (Probably because they were never fashionable in the first place).
  • Country-tinged middle of the road albums. That means you, Lost Highway
  • Captain Crash and The Beauty Queen From Mars. We get it. You have great kids. So do I. But you should have played that song on Sesame Street, not your big Rock Comeback album.
  • Ripping off his childhood friends from Skid Row by taking them as support band on tour In Return For A Huge Chunk of Their Royalties That They Earned From Their Debut Album. And kept the money. (This was probably my biggest teeth-sucking moment…)
  • Punching Bach in the face onstage when he bitched about it. (Actually he gets points for that…)
  • Too outwardly eager for commercial success, money etc (corporate / private gigs – not that everyone doesn’t do them).

Looking at that list, there doesn’t seem to be any single reason. Maybe it’s just that they were so successful? Sadly for me, being early to the table of Bon Jovi’s success is pretty much all I have.

Runaway, from Bon Jovi’s first album, appeared on the Kerrang! Kompilation 1985 double album and was a great tune. The accompanying debut album also stood out. A bit of digging revealed the band had released a second, less well received album (7800 Fahrenheit), which I also bought. Guess what? It was also pretty good. If anything, songs like Tokyo Road and In and Out of Love were a bit heavier.

So when I heard their new single, You Give Love A Bad Name on the Friday Rock Show on Radio 1, I knew at last here was a band that was my own – one that everyone else was now getting into but which I Had Known About Before Them.

Why radio in the UK suddenly decided that guitar bands were okay all of a sudden is a mystery, but Bon Jovi were the band that did it. Jon was a good looking dude – and perhaps what set him apart from his predecessors was that he looked like he had more than a passing acquaintance with a bar of soap. He was the Tom Cruise of rock – which is ironic as following the latter’s role in Rock of Ages, Tom Cruise is now the Jon Bon Jovi of Hollywood (only shorter).

They clearly did something right. Everybody liked them. They were the rock band it was okay to like. They showed that rock bands could be commercially successful again. This broke down barriers, helped UK bands (Thunder, Little Angels, Quireboys) sell records and get radio airplay and created a tidal wave of interest for Def Leppard and Whitesnake to ride all the way to unprecedented success.

Jon Bon Jovi

I was a big fan of Bon Jovi: I last saw the band at Wembley Arena in January 1990 (where these pictures are from) two nights running. They had a great live show, changing the set each night to keep things interesting. I also saw them headline Donington in ’87 and the Milton Keynes Bowl in ’89 in the year that Donington was cancelled.

The latter was a good day out. Skid Row’s first UK appearance opened the show and Sebastian Bach showed why he was Dee Snider‘s natural successor with his between-song raps which were blatantly sexist and mysogynistic lacked a certain political correctness. At one point he talked about how every girl in the crowd should wear fishnet stockings, to which a mildly offended girl behind me muttered “oh yeah, because I’m a tart…”.

After Vixen and Europe played their support sets, Joe Perry and Steven Tyler joined Bon Jovi onstage for the encore, playing Walk This Way.

However, perhaps it says something about me that my strongest memory of the day is my watching the aftershow fireworks light up a beautifully clear night to the sound of Aerosmith’s Back in the Saddle.

So where do you stand on Bon Jovi? Given the recent revival of ’80s rock through Rock of Ages, it’d be interesting to hear how people feel about them now…

Record #66: Bon Jovi – Tokyo Road

Categories: Hard Rock

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

35 replies

  1. I think age is a major factor here. When I first heard Bon Jovi (and this also applies to Aerosmith), my primary reaction is there’s nothing wrong with it but it sounds like a rehash of stuff done by other people, but not quite as good. Bon Jovi was like Bruce Springsteen without the depth and substance. Aerosmith was like the Yardbirds, but they didn’t have Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page. If you hadn’t heard the earlier bands they could sound pretty good, but I could never get excited about either one.

    My wife bought the first Bruce Springsteen album before the second one came out, and one of the first things she did when we met was introduce me to her fellow New Jersey native. Now THERE’S a bandwagon to jump on early.


    • I think you make a good point. I was pretty ambivalent towards Springsteen in 1986 but thought Bon Jovi were great. It has only been in later years that I have listened to Born To Run, Darkness… and Nebraska and perhaps those records have aged better than Slippery When Wet.


  2. Bon Jovi, one of the most insincere, predictable and arsewipe orientated bands to have ever graced the rock’n’roll boards. As a journalist living in New York, I had the misfortune to review them twice – once in a small theatre in Red Bank, New Jersey, the other at the rather large auditorium Meadowlands – and I have to say, they are the cheap, cheap, and I do mean cheap mans’s Springsteen. Designer rebels with neither a clue nor a cause.


  3. I never liked the 7800 Fahrenheit album. Still don’t. Don’t know why. I prefer te first album.


  4. I remember loving “Silent Night” as a kid…and then when I bought the album, all of a sudden I didn’t like that song anymore, it was too long and boring! I still like “In And Out of Love” but in general I still really prefer the first one. My sister who was also a huge Bon Jovi fan back then feels the same way about it. In fact, we both got it for Christmas — the same Christmas — each of us got our own tape, so we wouldn’t fight over it. Both of us give it similar marks.


  5. Here’s a food for thought: Quite a few people have said that Bon Jovi represented everything that was wrong with heavy metal in the 80s. I won’t go that far myself, but they were definitely the commercial face of it. Another thing was that a lot of girls liked them so Bon Jovi was common ground when discussing musical interests with a lady. At least it was that way back then for my first wife and me.


  6. “those records have aged better than Slippery When Wet.”

    I’m not a fan of either, but Springsteen never wore spandex and never had a permanent. 🙂


    • Playing devils advocate, Iron Maiden wore Spandex, but never had any issues with credibility. Perhaps Jon is too pretty?


      • I’m not a Maiden fan. (I bought Dance of Death a few months ago and think it is good. I bought En Vivo yesterday but haven’t listened to it yet. (Yesterday I also bought Clockwork Angels by Rush, Children of the Sun by The Sallyangie and A Knight in York by Blackmore’s Night. Think of me what you will. 🙂 )) Spandex, yes, but no permanents. 🙂

        I’ve always enjoyed the good riff (say, mid-1970s Jethro Tull) and for a long time was looking for a good hard-rock/heavy-metal band. What I don’t like, though, are trivial schoolboy-type lyrics. 😦 Some Uriah Heep is good, a bit of Deep Purple, some Scorpions and the wonderful album Perlenfischer by the (East) German group Puhdys. (I don’t think it’s typical of their output, but it is one of the best 1970s hardrock albums I know of. (They have a 2-guitar-plus-keyboard lineup; most hardrock bands in the 1970s had 2 guitars (except power trios, of course) or guitar and keyboard, but not 2 guitars and keyboards. Also, no-one who sings without an instrument. As such, the formation is more like, say, Jethro Tull than the typical hardrock band (which almost has to have a poser lead singer).)

        I was always put off of Iron Maiden due to Eddie. However, listening to Planet Rock, occasionally a song would come on which I didn’t recognize but thought quite good—good riffs, good solos, good vocals and reasonably good lyrics. It was usually Iron Maiden. The musicality is much better than most other bands. Yes, there are other guitar wizards, but with no soul, sort of like Billy Cobham, say, as opposed to Neil Peart. The lyrics are also a cut above the average heavy-metal band, though not quite in the league of Roger Waters, Ian Anderson or Neil Peart. I might even buy a T-shirt if Eddie isn’t on it. 🙂

        What should I buy next? The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, and Live After Death?


      • I think that’s a pretty good list of classic Maiden – it is pretty much the order I went in. After those, try the two early records. Killers is under-rated.


      • OK, thanks. What about after that? The general wisdom is to avoid the stuff with BB on vocals, and perhaps the stuff with BD after the classic albums and before BB. What about the albums after BD returned? (I only have Dance of Death.)

        Iron Maiden have many live albums and compilations. In general, I’m not a fan of live albums, so one or two should be enough for now. Is any compilation worth it, or should one just get the good albums and avoid the bad?


      • After that? Buy some old Judas Priest records and move on!
        Your thinking is spot on. I don’t like compilations either. I find latter day Maiden slightly harder work, but others love those long songs they do now. Brave New World was good, because some of the songs ran to less than ten minutes. Perhaps brevity is not something they do enough of …


  7. Well, personally, I openly admit to being the un-coolest music blogger on the planet- as I actually love Bon Jovi- they are (to me) just such good ol’american rock music. I did grow up with them in the 80s so I may have some sort of an emotional attachment (they were considered the bad boys back then…lmao!!)
    What comes around, goes around… soon they’ll be so out and they’ll be in…


  8. Great pics – nice that you got the halo of light around Jon’s mane …

    Here in the States Bon Jovi had its strongest ties with New Jersey’s female shopping mall set back in the day. They’re still showing up, decades later, for BJ’s horrendously overpriced arena gigs. My daughter, then 14, went for free with a friend, the friend’s mom and the friend’s mom’s friend and was appalled by how much everything cost: “The place was full of loaded old people!”

    Never liked Bon Jovi or most of the hair metal set. (The only exception: Ratt. No accounting for taste …)


    • Thanks – the pics have been in a photo album for 22 years…
      I always associate the shopping mall set with Tiffany for some reason. Similar to Jon in many ways (hair, teeth, etc)…
      Ratt? I liked them, although they didn’t sell many records in the UK. Invasion… was a good record. A Kerrang! review praised the fact that they didn’t use backing tapes saying “the vocals sounded so bad they couldn’t possibly have pre-recorded them”.


  9. I like the songs I like by Jon Bon and the boys, but that’s about as far as it goes. I think I have maybe 6 on my ipod. I really don’t think about them at all anymore, except when Sambora gets arrested for some alcohol-related incident.

    And I think Jon Bon probably cut his hair because it was too time consuming to take care of the mop.


  10. At the time they broke Bon Jovi would have fallen into that category of music my friends and I referred to as ‘American Wimp Rock’. And yet, the debut album, as you suggest above, was just SO good. I’ve always had a soft spot for them since. Really liked the ‘New Jersey’ album, and ‘Dry County’ is a stunning track – perhaps their best – whatever you think of the hair and the way Mr. BJ generally conducts himself and his business. Bottom line for me is that Jon Bon Jovi is a talented song writer, and Sambora plays some pretty good guitar. Still not my style of music, as a rule, but still expert practitioners of the genre.
    (Saw them at Donington too – sharing a bill with Anthrax and Metallica. Could that happen these days?)


  11. I actually think Bon Jovi is one of the most underrated bands in history. They made 6 of the greatest rock albums of their generation, each being better than the previous. Bon Jovi<7800<Slippery< New Jersey< Keep The Faith< These Days. These Days is a gem, a masterpiece, one of the best 10 rock records ever produced.

    At the same time, I don't know any other band to have experienced such a decline. Not even the Stones. Since These Days, every record has been worse than anything else they had recorded before and I think this is where the lack of credibility comes from. Their latest 2-3 records are unbearable. Painful.

    Yet, Richie Sambora is a remarkable guitar player, better than most of his contemporaries and Jon Bon Jovi is a very sensible songwriter. Songs like Wanted Dead or Alive, Dry County or These Days are masterpieces. Yet people tend to remember and judge Bon Jovi for Livin' on a Prayer and It's My Life. Quite sad and not totally fair. Yet it's their own fault and they deserve it. Trying to please too many housewives, they forgot what they set out to do in the first place – and that was to be a genuine American rock 'n' roll band. At their peak in 1995, pretty much the best that country had produced.


  12. Bon Jovi were & are a great band and I agree with the above poster about These Days, it’s fantastic.


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