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|Written by Dahlia Liwsze|
|Friday, 11 June 2010 00:00|
Tommy used to work on the docks
Union's been on strike
He's down on his luck... it's tough, so tough
Gina works the diner all day
Working for her man, she brings home her pay
For love - for love....
Take my hand and we'll make it - I swear
Oooohhhh... Livin' on a prayer
Livin' On A Prayer (Bon Jovi, 1986)
Since the release of their self-titled debut album in 1984, Bon Jovi has been writing songs about regular folk-the working folk, the Tommys and Ginas of the world.
It is hard to believe then that during the recording of the band's breakthrough album, Slippery When Wet (released in 1986), front man Jon Bon Jovi wanted to drop "Livin' On A Prayer" because he found it unimpressive. Guitarist Richie Sambora was adamant the song would be a hit, and it was re-recorded. The promotional video won the Best Performance award at The MTV Music Awards in California in 1987. The song also was Bon Jovi's second (after "You Give Love A Bad Name") to hit Number 1 on the American Billboard Hot 100.
The inspiration for Tommy and Gina came from the people Jon went to high school with. They represented the typical story of a sports stud that met and impregnated a good-looking girl, and then had to find a job to support his new family rather than follow his dream.
Jon told Classic Rock's Malcolm Dome: "...they could've been me, if I hadn't learned to play guitar. Tommy and Gina aren't two specific people - they represent a lifestyle."
Slippery When Wet-frequently voted one of the best rock albums of all-time-was the album that made Bon Jovi. Released in the UK in September 1986, it peaked at Number 6 and spent 123 weeks on the charts. It reached Number 1 on the Billboard 200 in the United States, selling 16.9 million albums there alone, while it sold 26 million worldwide. It was the most commercially successful album of 1987 and held the Number 1 spot for 15 weeks in the States. Slippery remains the most popular and best selling Bon Jovi album.
However, Bon Jovi began writing about unfulfilled dreams even earlier than "Livin' On A Prayer," which is just one of their many well-known hits.
As quoted in Metal Hammer (No. 8, Vol. 5) about "Runaway," Jon said, "When I was living in New York, 53rd Street...I'd drive out to Jersey to see my parents, I'd pass by the Greyhound bus station, and all the hookers would hang out there. I'd see these girls who would come out to New York, much the same way they'd come out to Los Angeles, looking for dreams."
While Jon worked at The Power Station Studios as a janitor, he would mix demos at night. He refused to listen to the naysayers that would not accept his music until radio stations, notably Long Island's WAPP FM 103.5, began picking up "Runaway" one day. Through airplay, he received attention that led to signing with PolyGram in 1983. He created his band that released its first album a year later.
Their New Jersey album in 1988 meant more touring - to the point that Jon, Sambora, keyboardist David Bryan, drummer Tico Torres, and bassist Alec John Such, were sick of each other.
"There was a time from '83 till '90 when everyone's sole heartbeat was the band. It could have killed us, because we were so burnt out," said Jon.
Shortly after the one-year anniversary of the New Jersey tour, Bon Jovi-"dead" as Jon called it-went its separate ways.
Between the two-year hiatus, the mediator that Jon hired, and the one-week vacation to the Caribbean island of St. Thomas that he took his band mates on, Bon Jovi was able to resolve its differences and re-affirm its musical commitment.
"We're a band of brothers. When one man falls, we're there to pick him up," said keyboardist Bryan.
Bon Jovi released Keep The Faith in the UK in 1992 and hit Number 1, making it the band's second consecutive Number 1 there. It spent 70 weeks in the charts and became Bon Jovi's fourth best selling album of all-time.
In the US, however, Keep The Faith only managed to make it to Number 5 (their previous two albums had been Number 1's) in the Billboard 200. The album's second single, "Bed of Roses," reached Number 10 on the Billboard Hot 100. This performance did nothing to quash the critics' cries that Bon Jovi was passé and irrelevant to the 1990s when Seattle grunge bands like Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and especially Nirvana were growing in popularity and dramatically changing the current trends in rock music. But Paul Elliot ended his mixed review in Kerrang! (October 1992) with: "...Keep The Faith has something for everyone; rock, ballads, pop, whatever."
Bon Jovi's best selling single of all-time was "Always" from 1994's Cross Road: The Best of Bon Jovi. Issued as a single in the UK in September 1994, "Always" hit Number 2 in the Top 40, spending 18 weeks in the charts. It did equally well in the States, reaching Number 4 and "shifting 1.5 million in the States and 4 million globally."
The darkest and most introspective Bon Jovi album, These Days (1995) was faithful to the band's theme of unfulfilled dreams and blue-collar life. It included songs like the fifth single, Hey God, where a family man asked God: "We're barely holding on, when I'm in way too deep. We're two paychecks away from living out on the street...Hey God - tell me what the hell is going on...do you ever think about me?" A career highlight that year was playing three sold-out shows at Wembley Stadium.
Bon Jovi began its 21st century transition with its hit single, "It's My Life" from the Crush (2001) album, which introduced them to a new, younger fan base. The song referred to Jon's fictional characters, Tommy and Gina, and climbed to Number 33 on the Billboard Hot 100-Bon Jovi's first Top 40 single in five years.
Bon Jovi continued to reinvent itself as popular music trends continued to change. The band appealed to yet another audience with 2007's Lost Highway, a Nashville-influenced album. A Number 1 hit on the Billboard 200, the album became the band's third US Number 1 after Slippery When Wet and New Jersey. The band collaborated with country artists that included Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, duo Big and Rich, Brett James, and LeAnn Rimes. Lost Highway is one of Bon Jovi's most popular albums, selling almost four million copies worldwide. The tour was the top-grossing concert of 2008. Bon Jovi also won its first Grammy award that year for "Who Says You Can't Go Home" in the category of 'Best Country Collaboration' with Nettles.
A memorable event in June 2009 was Jon and Sambora's induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Bon Jovi returned to rock n' roll in November 2009 with the release of its eleventh studio album entitled The Circle. It debuted at Number 1 on the Billboard 200 and sold 163,000 copies in its first week. Singles include "We Weren't Born To Follow" and "Superman Tonight," with "Work For The Working Man" representative of Bon Jovi's homage to the blue-collar class. The tour started in February 2010 and will have featured 135 shows in 30 countries when it ends in 2011.
Bon Jovi re-released its entire collection of studio albums, including The Circle, as special editions in the US and Canada on May 11th. Each "Special Edition" will give fans "backstage access" to The Bon Jovi Vaults-a website offering exclusive content, including photos, tour memorabilia, and additional live audio tracks. The titles also are available digitally.
And for fans like me aching for more Bon Jovi? The band will release its second greatest hits album since 1994's Cross Road: The Best of Bon Jovi sometime this year. The album will feature songs from These Days forward.
After 26 years of being one of the most successful rock bands of all-time, Bon Jovi shows no signs of slowing down. Having sold over 120 million albums worldwide and performed 2,600-plus shows in over 50 countries for more than 34 million fans, Jon remembers why the band is where they are.
"Every band says they owe it to their fans, but in our case it couldn't be more true. We didn't have the media on our side. We didn't have the machine. We had-and still have-you, the generation that came up with us and the generation you've passed our music on to. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to write this down, twenty-five years in - and counting," said Jon in Phil Griffin's 2009 documentary, Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful.
Books to check out
Daniels, Neil. Bon Jovi Encyclopaedia. New Malden: Chrome Dreams, 2009.
Griffin, Phil. Bon Jovi: When We Were Beautiful. New York: Collins Design, 2009.
Jackson, Laura. Jon Bon Jovi: The Biography. London: Portrait Books, 2003.