Bon Jovi was formed in 1983 in New Jersey and currently comprises singer Jon Bon Jovi, guitarist Phil X, drummer Tico Torres, keyboardist David Bryan, and bassist Hugh McDonald. Alec John Such and Dave Sabo have both played key roles in Bon Jovi’s history, but it is icon Richie Sambora, the band’s guitarist from 1983 to 2013, who continues to be deeply missed by fans.
Bon Jovi has released over two dozen albums and sold over 100 million records, making them…. huge! Here is Guitars Exchange’s pick from their incredible range of songs:
10. Runaway - Bon Jovi (1984)
We kick off with Bon Jovi’s first hit, written by Jon Bon Jovi and George Karak, which tells the story of an unloved young girl who runs away from her parents and becomes homeless. Social activist Jon Bon Jovi used to travel a lot on Greyhound buses and often saw teenagers in this exact same situation, who inspired the song. Despite the power of the lyrics, however, the song did not gain traction until he took it directly to DJ Chip Hobart at Long Island radio station WAPP and, as he tells it, said:"Hey Mister, I've go the right chords, and a cool melody. What do you say to do me a favor, and in three minutes and thirty seconds, what you're going to see is a rock and roll star." The DJ was impressed by his boldness and played the song, which led to the band being signed by Mercury, and the rest, as they say, is history...
9. Bad Medicine - New Jersey (1988)
Bad Medicine, penned by Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora and long-time collaborator, Desmond Child, was the band’s third number 1 on the US Billboard 100. Riffing off the much-mined ‘love is a drug’ theme, the lyric includes double-meanings such as “There ain't no paramedic gonna save this heart attack". But, as Sambora confessed later, for him the lyric was based on a real-life experience: “'Bad Medicine' was about a crazy ass, tumultuous relationship that I was going through. I was just drawn to this woman, sexually, physically, and mentally, but it was bad. It was bad medicine, but that's what I wanted. I wanted some more of it." Bon Jovi were utterly fed up with the way their songs had been portrayed in their early music videos, so they asked around 250 of their fans to shoot whatever they wanted for this song, with the ‘bait’ being the possibility of participating on a part of their tour. “I was hoping they'd goof off a bit more, that they'd take the cameras out in the hallways and film their shoes, go film anything…” said Jon Bon Jovi. However “these kids turned up with their own lights, trusses, tripods, assistants and all that shit, 'cos they all wanted to be the ones that go on the road with us" - and the result was groundbreaking.
8. Just Older - Crush (2000)
In Bon Jovi’s live gig at Giants Stadium, New Jersey, the lead singer introduces this song by shouting: “Like a fine wine it just keeps getting better all the time!” - and you can see that in the chemistry between him and Sambora on the accompanying video. “I like the bed I’m sleeping in, It’s just like me, it’s broken in” Bon Jovi sings as he compares himself to a pair of ripped blue jeans that you love more with each passing day. This infectious song suggests that as we can’t do anything about the relentless passing of time, it is best to just celebrate it… and who would disagree?
7. Have a Nice Day - Have A Nice Day (2005)
The powerful anthem Have a Nice Day, written by Jon Bon Jovi, Sambora and John Shanks, is about overcoming adversity. The lyric was composed after George W. Bush was re-elected as US president in 2004, as the lead singer had campaigned for his opponent, John Kerry. The single was taken from the album of the same name and peaked in the top 10 in 11 different countries.
6. Wanted Dead or Alive - Slippery When Wet (1986)
Written by Jon Bon Jovi and Sambora, the band leader said this song was inspired by Bob Seger's Turn the Page. The lyric has a cowboy theme to describe the supposed lonely life of a rock star, and on the video of Jon Bon Jovi and Sambora’s legendary performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1989 you can see the guitarist playing his signature Ovation double neck, while at their Moscow show you can see him playing his amazing triple neck. A final anecdote here is that the acoustic MTV version of this song kickstarted the whole ‘unplugged’ craze.
5. Always - Cross Road (1994)
Superficially the lyric of this song suggests a strong romantic feeling, but today it might well be interpreted as borderline harassment: “I'll be there, Till the stars don't shine, Till the heavens burst, And the words don't rhyme.” Even the writer acknowlegeded that it has that edge: "It's a sick little twisted lyric," said Jon Bon Jovi, "So many people feel it's so romantic and so wonderful, but truthfully, this guy is practically a stalker. He's a sick human being." However the ‘sick lyric’ didn’t stop the song selling over half a million copies in Britain alone…
4. It’s My Life - Crush (2000)
Played at the 2002 winter Olympics and at the Super Bowl closing ceremony, It’s My Life was the first single from the band’s seventh album. The lyric "For Tommy and Gina, who never backed down," riffs off Livin' On A Prayer, which featured these same two youngsters trying to get by in hard times. There is a further link to Livin' On A Prayer as Sambora used a talkbox on both, to create the distorted vocal effects. Interestingly the king of the talkbox himself, Peter Frampton, reportedly builds Sambora's guitar effects units for him. The song hit number 1 in Austria, Belgium, Italy and Switzerland.
3. Bed of Roses - Keep The Faith (1992)
Jon Bon Jovi started writing this power ballad in a hotel room in Los Angeles about the problems he was experiencing at the time. His mood is evident in the lyric: “Sitting here wasted and wounded, At this old piano, Trying hard to capture, The moment this morning I don't know, 'Cause a bottle of Vodka's still lodged in my head.” The gorgeous melody helped take it to number 10 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and Number 2 in Canada.
2. You Give Love a Bad Name - Slippery When Wet (1986)
On the very first day Desmond Child went to work with Jon Bon Jovi and Sambora in the New Jersey basement of the guitarist's mother's house they wrote You Give Love a Bad Name. Child suggested the title, and the lead singer immediately responded with the opening line: "Shot through the heart...". It is rumoured that the difficult relationship the singer had with actress Diane Lane around 1985 helped inspire this song. Whatever the case, it was played on rotation by MTV and made number 1 in the US.
1. Livin’ on a Prayer - Slippery When Wet (1986)
The three songwriters followed up their first hit with this monster, which told the story of Tommy who works on the docks and Gina who works in a diner. At the time songwriter Child was working as a cab driver and his girlfriend - who was actually a waitress in a diner - was called Gina by her colleagues, as she reportedly resembled the Italian actress Gina Lollobrigida. The problems decribed in the lyrics resonated strongly with young working class Americans, while the anthemic refrain held out the inspirational promise of hope.
This was the song that won ‘the fan’s vote’ at the 2010 Grammy Awards and spent four weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. “Whoa, We're half way there, Whoa-oh,
Livin' on a prayer, Take my hand, we'll make it, I swear, Whoa-oh, Livin' on a prayer” – it is number 1 here because those words are almost impossible not to hum along to!