Ten Reasons Why It Was Okay To Like Bon Jovi In The Eighties

Acceptable in the eighties. Bon Jovi at Wembley Arena. Picture by Every Record Tells A Story

Acceptable in the eighties. Bon Jovi at Wembley Arena.
Picture by Every Record Tells A Story

If you have been reading some of the rubbish I have come up with over the last eighteen months you may have built up a Sherlockian picture of me, although instead of observing the type of sand on my shoe (mentally noting I must live by the sea), or the bruise on my otherwise clean fingernail (office worker, not very good at DIY), you will have noted a knowledge of late eighties heavy rock that to most people would be quite unbecoming.

Music is like that. Looking back 25 or so years, it can often seem unfathomable that people liked…..that? For example: Dave Hill of Slade’s wardrobe…

Dave Hill of Slade

Dave Hill of Slade

What was all that about? Also:

  • Did people really like Bucks Fizz?
  • How did Blue get to play with Stevie Wonder?
  • How did people not think Blue were just hopeless morons? There were plenty of clues.*
  • Michael Bolton: discuss.
  • Did girls really swoon over the tartan-clad dock-workers of The Bay City Rollers?
  • And in case I didn’t already ask, how the heck did Blue, yes, Blue, get to play with Stevie Wonder????

As boring old 1986 moved into the exciting new era of 1987 and onwards to the even more enthralling cacophony of fun that was 1988, the charts in the UK began to be cluttered with poodle-haired rockers of all descriptions. Indeed, if you wanted to be the front man in a rock band, all that was apparently required was a pair of tight leather trousers, a shaggy perm and to be called Joe. Joey Tempest with his Shakespearean name was the first to reach number one with Europe’s The Final Countdown. Joe Elliott’s Def Leppard gave the UK their own band. But both of these owed much to Jon Bon Joe-vi, whose own “Slippery When Wet” album blazed a trail.

As an aside, it’s interesting to look at the original album art for Slippery When Wet

The original album art for Bon Jovi's Slippery When Wet. Not sexy, sexist...

The original album art for Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet.
Not sexy, sexist…

versus what we ended up with:

That's better...

That’s better…

So why did this music become so popular? Why did it interest me so much? Why was I prepared to overlook such crimes against fashion as this?

Dee Snider and Twisted Sister

Dee Snider and Twisted Sister

And this?

The wonderful Cinderella's debut album cover

The wonderful Cinderella’s debut album cover

And if the music was so good, why did so many hair metal bands die out when the meteor-crash of Grunge covered us all in its gloomy cloud?

I have been giving these questions literally moments of contemplation and have come up with a Definitive List of Reasons Why It Was Okay To Like Eighties Hair Metal At The Time:

1. Rock stars suddenly started paying attention to personal hygiene. For years, rock stars measured their popularity on how many warts they had. Jon Bon Jovi put a stop to all this by being a good looking fella who actually washed. Being a Rocker Who Washed was a big step to international stardom as it meant that when you appeared on TV you didn’t make half your viewers immediately lose their lunch just by looking at you.

2. Pop songs. Hair metal bands used outside song-writers to make their stuff more catchy. Writing credits for “Desmond Child” and “Jim Vallance” became commonplace. Previously hard-to-find musical concepts such as “choruses” began to appear.

3. Better lyrics: Allusions to Dragons, Death, Pain and Misery were replaced by charming folk tales about struggling couple Tommy and Gina, the latter of which worked in a diner all day (didn’t have to work shifts: so not too bad then), and brought home her pay “for love”.

4. Radio started playing rock music. It had been actually illegal in the UK for Radio to broadcast any guitar music except Status Quo since The Jam split up**. Getting Bon Jovi played on radio was, in retrospect, a huge step forward. No Bon Jovi, no Brit pop? Discuss.

5. Rock wasn’t produced by Stock Aitken and Waterman. This was quite a rarity for any kind of song in 1988, with over three quarters of the charts regularly being populated by throwaway pop singles sung by badly dressed Australian soap stars with mullets. Rock music offered people a genuine alternative of throwaway pop singles *with guitars in* sung by badly dressed Americans with mullets. When you consider the alternatives available***, Bon Jovi really looked like a credible offering.

6. “Bigger” production. When I was sixteen years old music made in the 1970’s just sounded….old. The 4-track production of such fuddy duddy efforts like er, Sgt Pepper, sounded flat compared to the vibrant echo-filled sounds produced by Def Leppard in their 128-track recording studio. Now, of course, all that eighties production is described as over-production and dates everything more emphatically than pebble dash cladding on your house.

7. We didn’t know any better. Radio didn’t play, say, Ray Charles or Led Zeppelin. It played Kylie. The History of Popular music wasn’t a subject to study at school. I didn’t know Zeppelin were good. I thought Bon Jovi were rock legends. The first time I heard The Stones’ Jumping Jack Flash was on the Whoopi Goldberg film of the same name. The first time I heard “Stairway To Heaven” was on a three minute single performed by Far Corporation. The producers of that latter record went on to produce those music “legends” Milli Vanilli…

8. A greater toleration and acceptance of sexism. And not in an “ironic” way. The songs The Darkness sang a decade or so later with a nod and a wink were sung in earnestness by the likes of Poison (authors of the wholesome “Talk Dirty To Me”) and Def Leppard. I was shocked to learn that “Pour Some Sugar On Me” is apparently not about high jinks in the Tate and Lyle factory.

9. We just didn’t know how bad it would get. Like allowing some kids to lark about with fire extinguishers after some fizzy pop and a tin of sweets we didn’t think things would get that bad. We weren’t to know the record company would come up with anything as awful as Warrant’s “Cherry Pie“.

10. Even Bowie did it. His Tin Machine project reflected the times. Although to be fair he retained his style: he only eventually sported a mullet when performing in The Labyrinth.

He's got balls...to sport a hair cut like that. David Bowie shows us a hair metal mullet in Labyrinth

He’s got balls…to sport a hair cut like that.
David Bowie shows us a hair metal mullet in Labyrinth

So there you have it. We weren’t mad. Just like the way we will look back at Lady Gaga in twenty years, it all made perfect sense at the time…

Song 221: Cinderella – Push Push

* Clues that Blue were morons included Lee Ryan’s quotes such as ““I still have imaginary friends who I talk to in my head”, the 9/11 classic response “Who gives a f- about New York when elephants are being killed” and “They say if you’re left-handed and dyslexic you only use the creative side of your brain. It’s very rare to be left-handed and dyslexic, so I’m a bordering genius”, to which the obvious response is “The word is “borderline”?

** Not actually true, but for all intents and purposes it may as well have been.

*** Unless you were cool and liked The Smiths.



Categories: Hard Rock

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

30 replies

  1. Fascinating post for so many reasons, I don’t know where to start. I’m no publisher (no, really) but I think there’s the makings of a book here.

    And it made me realise that Lady Gaga is just a 21st Century Dave Hill. And not a particularly good one at that. Don’t tell Caitlin Moran, she’ll be devastated.

    More please.

    Like

  2. “We didn’t know any better.”

    That’s what I’m going with myself.

    Also, Stock Aitken and Waterman DID produce rock music…heavy metal music in fact! In 1987 they produced 3 songs for Judas Priest, none of which have been released. One of which was a cover of “You Are Everything” by the Stylistics. I for one hope they get released some day but the band has been very reluctant to do that.

    Like

    • I thought you might mention that!
      I understand Johnny B Goode (on Ram It Down) was a product of those sessions. I had a paragraph about Priest, but it read better without it – glad you brought it up!

      Like

      • I believe Johnny was produced by Tom Allom. But it was the same reasoning — a song that was meant to be used on a soundtrack, and not a Priest album.

        Of course they ended up using it on a Priest album AND releasing it as a single!

        Like

      • A quick google search reveals you are right – not sure where I got the Johnny B Goode thing from. Just as well I cut it from the article!

        Like

      • Oh probably just because it was a soundtrack cover song, from the same time frame.

        I really would love to hear Halford singing “You Are Everything”, I bet he could just nail it. But also I don’t think they want the songs heard because they are so out of character.

        Back to Bon Jovi. It’s kind of shocking to see the cliche sexual imagery from the perspective of today. They are not that band at all anymore. And I don’t really like who they are today.

        They could have had a turning point right around 1992-1993 with Keep The Faith, where they could have gone further in the direction of long songs, great playing, groove, etc. Where they ended up was not the direction I hoped they would take. I find them embarrassing to listen to today.

        Like

      • That’s a really good point. They could have turned into something else – and I’d have written this article using the example of Def Leppard instead…

        Like

  3. To be honest, most of us liked Bon Jovi because our girlfriends did. I admit this totally. However, a friend recently stated that Bon Jovi represented everything that was wrong with heavy metal in the 80s. Is this true?

    Like

    • That’s another great comment: “Most of us liked Bon Jovi because our girlfriends did”!
      I don’t think Bon Jovi are everything that was wrong with eighties metal. That title goes to Warrant. They were soooo much worse.
      Jovi were just the first to break through in the UK, and thus responsible for what happened next. I always thought he just wanted to be Springsteen anyway.

      Like

      • Thanks and well they were both from New Jersey. However, growing up in that state, we didn’t get Bon Jovi shoved down our throats the way we had Springsteen shoved down them. Not that I thought that was a bad thing.

        Like

      • I have to disagee about Warrant. I know for a fact at how manipulative the record company were in how those records wound up and Jani Lane found it hard to deal with the fact that ‘Cherry Pie’, a song he came up with in half an hour when ordered to write a single, wound up being so popular when much better, deeper songs like ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ were more or less ignored by comparison. The third album, ‘Dog Eat Dog’ was much heavier, lyrically deeper and way more cohesive than the first two, but the onset of grunge put paid to it. The label was all over Alice In Chains like a rash by that point.

        R.I.P. Jani.

        Like

      • That’s interesting to hear. It must be frustrating for a band to be known for an unrepresentative song.
        But – they were never really on my radar for some reason (I don’t know why not – I liked other similar bands such as Poison) – and a recent viewing of the Cherry Pie video does nothing to change my mind – albeit I dare say that would have been the record company too.

        Like

      • I think Warrant were a pretty weak band. All of that is true about Dog Eat Dog but it was too little too late. They lost me personally when they admitted they had two instructors to write & teach the guitar solos to Erik and Joey.

        Like

      • Is that right? Ouch. A bit like hearing Cinderella’s drummer had to be replaced by session musicians in the studio because he wasn’t up to the job…

        Like

      • So I read in a 1991 Guitar magazine. There was a ton of reader fallout over that interview.

        Cinderella ended up with Cozy Powell on Long Cold Winter…not a bad substitute.

        Like

      • Ha! I knew I hadn’t imagined it. That Cinderella thing was in the deepest recesses of my memory so I’m glad someone else recalls it too.

        Like

      • The only thing is, I remember the reason being that Fred Coury had to play with Guns N’ Roses, because Adler broke his hand punching a wall.

        Like

      • Beau Hill was the producer of the first two albums. In an interview with him for ‘Classic Rock Presents:AOR’ in 2011 he told me that the reason why he brought in ex City Boy and Streets guitarist Mike Slamer to play a great deal of the guitars on the first Warrant album was because the band were now about to step up to compete with the likes of Van Halen and Bon Jovi in terms of sales. He didn’t feel that Joey Allen and Erik Turner were quite up to scratch at that point. Slamer subsequently taught the pair what he played and they replicated that live. Slamer appeared on the ‘Cherry Pie’ album as well, but by that point he was used sparingly. Warrant were not the only band to use ‘ghost’ players. Hill had also brought in Slamer to play on a Kix album and other producers have used similar methods going back years….Kiss, for example, used ghost guitarists on ‘Destroyer’ and the studio tracks on ‘Alive II’.
        Whenever I saw Warrant live they could certainly cut it playing wise. It’s just a pity that there was no credit given to Slamer on the albums which would’ve meant there wouldn’t have been such a big deal made about the whole thing.

        Like

      • Wow thanks for the details!

        Some disagree with me, but I’ve never liked Beau Hill. I especially hated the uncredited Dee Snider sample at the start of the Cherry Pie album! Beau produced the last Twisted Sister record too…using ghost players from Kix and Winger!

        Like

      • Speaking of Kix, does anyone remember the Blow My Fuse album? My mind could be playing tricks, but that was a pretty decent album wasn’t it? Highly derivative of AC/DC but good. I’ll have to listen to it again and write something about them…

        Like

      • I never bought it. But what you’re saying is familiar.

        Like

      • I certainly remember the Kix ‘Blow My Fuse’ album. I saw them live several times in the US in 1989 on a three band bill with Ratt and Britny Fox after that album was released. They were fantastic. Britny allowed them to be the second band on before headliners Ratt when they played in Landover, Maryland and they absolutely stole the show in their own neighbourhood. Utterly brilliant! Much better than the show they had played at L’Amours in Brooklyn in 1986 just after ‘Midnite Dynamite; had been released. Cinderella opened there. ‘Night Songs’ had just been released.

        Like

      • Good to know it’s not just me. I saw them a couple of times (once at The Marquee). Will check that record again to see if time has been cruel or kind…

        Like

  4. Bon Jovi popped up on my radar when I had to do some distance driving. I listened to a so-called oldies station and Bon Jovi was in the rotation. Personally I don’t miss the ’80s or ’70s or ’90s for that matter. For me rock stopped in ’67 after that it got lost and wandered into maudlin garbage and ultimately the most heinous crime disco and all its mutations.

    Like

    • Wow. For you, rock finished very early. For me, it’d be a shame to miss out on Bowie, the Stones’ most compelling LPs and so on. Out of interest, what was the pinnacle of ’67? Did it all go downhill after Sgt Pepper? Or was that where it all went wrong?

      Like

      • I started early listening late at night with a wire out the window to pick up Buffalo or Chicago. I went to Catholic school but had a rebellious streak. Rock and roll moved the body and soul. After ’67 music became more introspective and yeah, the Beatles and Stones were putting out some of their best work, we as Americans couldn’t recognize our own creations. All the Beatles and Stones and Mayall and The Yardbirds did was recycle our music and send it back to us. Other than that we didn’t need makeup, space aliens or big hair. It’s the music, that’s all.

        Like

  5. It was ok to like Bon Jovi for about 5 minutes (Wanted Dead Or Alive was a decent tune) until Appetite came out. That was proper Pop-Rock and should have signalled the end for Jovi.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: