Nick’s Your Buddy And Jon Might Be, Too

November 5, 2011

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.

(though I did crack up when I read the opening dig from this Rolling Stone review)

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…

Bon Jovi – Runaway
Bon Jovi – She Don’t Know Me
from Bon Jovi (1983)

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.

(the latter did provide fodder for a rather odd experience)

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.

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It Wasn’t A Nakamichi Dragon, But It Was Mine

March 13, 2010

I’m not sure when Spring Break became an event, but it was beginning to take on a life of its own by the time I reached high school in the early ’80s.

It was an underwhelming stretch on the calender for most of us in southern Indiana. Sure, it was time off school which was a wonderful thing, but there were no junkets to Ft. Lauderdale or Cancun for most of us.

There were a handful of kids from more affluent families (or families feigning affluence) who trekked off to more sunny locales, but, for the majority of my classmates, Spring Break was something people in teen movies – or, a few years later, MTV – experienced.

Instead, I remember a lot of rain. It seemed to always rain during that week in mid-March, but, coming out of winter in the Midwest, rain meant that it was too warm to snow and that was enough to put most folks in a hopeful mood (even when it was a cold, stinging rain).

Despite the uncooperative meteorological conditions, there were a couple Spring Breaks which were memorable to me, maybe none more than 1984.

When I had first become interested in music three or four years earlier, I staked claim to an old, boxy tabletop radio with big dials and a front panel whose grill was becoming detached. I’d dug it up in our basement where it had likely languished since the early ’70s.

Sometime over the next year or two, I’d gotten a tape recorder and begun to purchase albums on cassette. However, mostly I was taping songs I liked off the radio, placing the built-in mic as close to the radio’s single speaker as possible for maximum fidelity and minimal background noise.

(and, as Any Major Dude will agree, you opted for pause instead of stop)

The next step in audio evolution was a “component.” Though it was almost the size of an actual stereo component, it was essentially a glorified clock radio with a tape deck.

I loved it and my crude radio compilations of Journey, The Police, and Duran Duran had never sounded better.

But, several of my friends were burgeoning audiophiles and were putting together actual rack systems and so, as Spring Break arrived in March of ’84, I was ready to take the first step in entering into this audio arms race.

So, on the first morning of the first day of that break, I headed into Cincinnati with a couple friends and $150 I had saved from a part-time job with the intent to purchase an actual tape deck.

It was, of course, raining.

By that evening, I had contributed to Pioneer’s first quarter profits, purchasing a sleek, silver CT-20 model (with Dolby). It would be toward the end of the summer before I would scrounge up enough cash to add an actual tuner and speakers to the electronic menagerie, so I hooked up the tape deck to the glorified clock radio.

And there was no place on earth that I’d rather have been that Spring Break than sprawled out on my bedroom floor, setting recording levels, dubbing cassettes, and taping songs from the radio.

Here are four songs I distinctly remember taping from various stations as I got to know the tape deck which would be a fixture in my life for the next five or six years…

Bon Jovi – She Don’t Know Me
from Bon Jovi

Though I’ve never really been a fan aside from a couple songs, I’ve always kind of rooted for Bon Jovi. He seems like a pretty good guy.

She Don’t Know Me got played a lot on 96Rock that Spring (along with Runaway) and it was a catchy reflection on unrequited love at the time. Marc Avsec of Donnie Iris & The Cruisers had written it and it’s not hard to imagine that band doing the song.

(maybe they did a version, but, if they did, I haven’t heard it)

Thompson Twins – Hold Me Now
from The Gap

I didn’t really think much of Thompson Twins when I heard the hits from Side Kicks (it had a different title in the UK). I thought Love On Your Side and Lies pleasant at first but soon they were annoyingly hyperactive and grating.

(you know, the kind of song you start to really fall for and then wonder what the hell you heard in it in the first place)

So, I was truly surprised when I heard Hold Me Now. It was languid and lush. It totally drew me in.

David Gilmour – Murder
from About Face

I was on the cusp of a Pink Floyd phase when About Face came out and the album further stoked my burgeoning interest in the band.

(a year after the quartet’s iconic line-up released their final album)

I seem to recall Pink Floyd guitar great David Gilmour’ second solo album getting mixed reviews at the time, but me and my friends dug it and Murder sounded stellar on the radio.

Ultravox – Dancing With Tears In My Eyes
from Lament

I had never heard Ultravox before late winter of 1984, but I had seen their name in my Columbia Record & Tape Club catalogs. Then, Lament was released and I heard Dancing With Tears In My Eyes on the radio (though not very often).

I actually borrowed Lament from a friend. It was the first cassette I ever dubbed – a most momentous personal milestone.

I was a fan. At least for that album. I never really have gotten around to explore the rest of their catalog aside from knowing the songs Vienna and Reap The Wild Wind.