The debut album for the band Bon Jovi was released in the autumn of ’83 when I was listening to the alternative rock of 97X as much as the spotty reception would allow.
Most of the time, the radio was tuned to one of a half dozen or so album rock stations or, still on occasion, Top 40.
(though it had only been over the previous year that I’d begun to loosen the tether to Top 40 stations)
So I remember well hearing Runaway and She Don’t Know Me, their first hits, on the radio. I thought that the songs were catchy and even took a chance on a copy of Bon Jovi’s eponymous debut on cassette.
(I actually exchanged a cassette of Spandau Ballet’s True that I’d found in the high school parking lot for it, so I was gambling with house money)
I think that I ended up exchanging the Bon Jovi cassette for something else. I dug the singles, but the rest was as dull as dishwater to me.
(especially compared to the quirky stuff like Talking Heads and XTC that I was being introduced to on 97X)
The music of Bon Jovi fit well, though, as part of the soundtrack to our small-town, Midwestern landscape of Camaros and cornfields, where Billy Squier and Journey blared from car stereos. I heard Bon Jovi on the radio, but I was neither a fan nor a detractor.
I was in college when the band became superstars with Slippery When Wet and the songs were inescapable if you watched as much MTV as the average college kid did at the time.
You knew the songs regardless of your taste in music. I preferred 120 Minutes and MTV’s late-night, more-obscure fare, but, though I was mostly indifferent to the music of Bon Jovi, I didn’t loathe it as the hipper critics I was reading did.
The band was a radio juggernaut and, though there’d be a song here and there that I’d particular like, mostly I remained indifferently aware of Bon Jovi.
Though I was ambivilant about the music, it seemed that Jon Bon Jovi was a rather genuine cat.
In the 1985 movie The Sure Thing, Jon Cusack’s character opined on names, concluding that “Nick’s a real name. Nick’s your buddy. Nick’s the kind of guy you can trust, the kind of guy you can drink a beer with, the kind of guy who doesn’t mind if you puke in his car.”
Bon Jovi seemed like a Nick.
During the early ’90s, he happened into the record store where I worked.
It wasn’t an unusual occurance for the famous and semi-famous to shop at the store and often they would do so unnoticed by the other shoppers. We’d hang out at one of the counters and observe people walking through the aisles and showing no signs that they’d recognize even some of the biggest stars.
(sometimes you’d see an expression of surprise or someone whisper to a friend and point)
I did have a short conversation with Bon Jovi regarding a song written by a friend that he’d recently produced for Hall & Oates.
Perhaps each morning a fresh litter of puppies arrived in his hotel suite for him to kick.
Maybe his the jacuzzi was filled with the tears of clubbed baby seals.
But he definitely had the vibe of a Nick.
I don’t have a lot of music by Bon Jovi, but here are four songs…
With its seizure-inducing opening keyboard riff (courtesy of the E Street Band’s Roy Bittan), Runaway introduced Bon Jovi to radio listeners and it did pop from the radio at the time.
I much preferred Runaway‘s follow-up She Don’t Know Me, a bit of crunchy arena rock written by Mark Avsec of Donnie Iris’ band, The Cruisers. Not that the reception to either song hinted at how popular Bon Jovi would be in a few years with the former barely reaching and the latter just missing the Top 40 in early 1984.
Bon Jovi – Livin’ On A Prayer
from Slippery When Wet (1986)
Generally credited as one of the albums that helped make hair metal appealing to the mainstream, Bon Jovi’s third release was one of the biggest selling albums of 1986.
I was in a decidedly more college rock headspace at the time and found songs like You Give Love A Bad Name and Wanted Dead Or Alive to be inoffensive yet unremarkable despite their heavy exposure.
I thought that Livin’ On A Prayer - with its Springsteen-lite tale of the down and out and anthemic chorus – to be the most compelling of the lot and too catchy to ignore.
Bon Jovi – Born To Be My Baby
from New Jersey (1988)
With New Jersey, Bon Jovi had reached World Premiere video status on MTV which was reserved for the biggest acts at the time. Like its predecessor, the songs didn’t really resonate with me aside from the punchy Born To Be My Baby which, like Livin’ On A Prayer, was an anthemic ode to blue-coller devotion.
Years later, I would become friends with a guitarist who had been in a band that opened for Bon Jovi on New Jersey‘s sell-out, global tour. Apparently on an off day during some UK dates, Jon loaned my buddy the use of a Jag so that he could woo a Swedish stewardess.
Nick would have most certainly approved.