Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Melting Point Of Metal pt. 1

I saw the video for Bon Jovi's new song "We Weren't Born To Follow" and I've got to say it's got me the most pumped up for a Bon Jovi album in a long time. I don't think since "It's My Life" that I've looked forward to a new Bon Jovi disc more. Because it's the best rock song I've heard from JBJ in a while, even if it does ape "Born To Be My Baby" just a little bit..but no more than "It's My Life" aped "Livin' On A Prayer".

Bon Jovi has definitely come up with some great CDs, so today I'm going to focus on when I was Jersey's second greatest band. It all starts in 1984 (no surprise there, huh?)...

Bon Jovi (1984)

When I first starting buying music I leaned heavily towards Arena Rock in my music listening. Throughout my life since being a teenager when people casually identify my music listening they usually say Styx even though I play other bands more often. Styx is great and I guess it just pegs what I listen to perfectly. But as they say that's neither here nor there.

There was this video that kept coming on tv that had everything I loved: catchy rock anthem chorus, blazing guitar, those keyboards that sound like a sci fi spaceship and a great video that featured post apocalyptic garb, Firestarter references and a dancing girl at the end. That was the band's first hit "Runaway" (though the band didn't play on this track instead it was a gaggle of musicians including Rainbow's Chuck Burgi and E Street's Ray Bittan). So I ran out and bought that tape, playing it to death during Summer vacation. Nice memories of going around Lake Tahoe making my family listen to the tough attitude of "Roulette" blare over the car speakers making my aunt complain "WHAT IS THIS?" . Blasting the hard rock chant "Breakout" while bouncing a tennis ball off the wall practicing my baseball catching skills. Relating to Jon Bon Jovi's balladic lament that "She Don't Know Me". And rockin out to what would become a recurring phrase in his songwriting, "Shot Through The Heart" (he was a little more philosophical at that point saying it's all part of this thing that we call love). They came across as a cool bunch of rockin' dudes with Tico "Hit Man" Torres on drums, Alec John Such on bass, David Rosenbaum (Bryan) on keyboards, Richie Sambora on guitar and of course, Jon Bon Jovi on the mic.

7800 Fahrenheit (1985)

The beginning of the famous Bon Jovi sound. Jon Bon Jovi is really good at a lot of things- he has a likeable and identifiable voice, he writes songs that people can relate to, the ladies like to look at him and his Superman tattoo - but there is one thing he is really really great at: marketing. Like many superstars of the 80's their success went hand in hand with their ability to read the marketplace and fit into it. In this case, Bon Jovi did some math - Arena Rock bands need pop hits to sell singles, Heavy Metal bands don't need hits and sell albums because they develop a following. He would get a bigger profit selling albums instead of singles plus no pressure for pop hits (though that would come anyway) so Bon Jovi went Metal. Or in this case Pop Metal. Gone were the regular guy jeans and vests, in were spandex and shredded clothes. Hence the title 7800 Fahrenheit which JBJ said was "The melting point of metal". I said to this to someone one time and was asked "Which metal?". I still have no clue.

At the same time JBJ had a high profile relationship with actress Diane Lane that made them the "it" couple for a time. When that relationship ended, it was rumored to inspire songs on this album plus "You Give Love A Bad Name". Damn dude, that's some hurt when it lasts more than one album.

This was one of those records that for the first six songs were flawless and then got boring really quick after. Those six songs were constantly on my turntable. The first single "Only Lonely" with its using the same word to begin and end a sentence gimmick was melodic rock awesomeness. Ditto the weepy synth ballad "Silent Night" with JBJ mourning the end of a relationship (seeing that "sad that it's over" pattern here). "The Price Of Love" was high charged pop rock while the ass kickin stopmper 'King Of The Mountain" was a favorite of mine. And who could forget the epic "Tokyo Road" with it's detailed lyrics that I think involved hookers or something. Belatedly I got into "Hardest Part Is The Night" after I lent the record to a friend who thought the song was awesome. Anyway, "In And Out Of Love" was the first song to really capture what Bon Jovi was going for -feel good arena sized anthems with a touch of Metal crunch smoothed out with synthesizers driven home with a big steady beat. The party hearty video positioned the group as happenin' guys and set up their approach for the next record.

Slippery When Wet (1986)

I've written this story a bunch of times on this blog, still it never gets old for me so here's the short version. 1986 + Me = big Bon Jovi fan. I bought this record as soon as I saw it and played 3 months nonstop 'cause it was the greatest thing I ever heard until I was sick of it. I got a lot of crap from my friends who thought they sucked. In December '86 "You Give Love A Bad Name" goes to #1 and the record I was sick of gets played everywhere all the time including by all those friends who a month before told me they sucked. I was never as big a fan after that as I got really burned out on hearing these songs. Demon dogs!

Now that my personal bitch fest is over, this is an undisputed masterpiece of Hair Metal. I knew of Producer Bruce Fairbairn through his splendid work with Loverboy and Honeymoon Suite, Fairbairn did not disappoint in here. His drive and focus results in tightly structured energetic tunes with bass lines that actually move instead of thudding along. Songwriter Desmond Child was also brought in and gave the band huge ass choruses that let them swing for the fences. Plus, in a making of the record documentary Child surprised me by saying he put a Latin feel in some of the songs including the beat to "Livin' On A Prayer". Armed with powerful songs and a Producer who could surpass their original vision, Bon Jovi could not fail.

And so they became the big thing. "You Give Love A Bad Name" meshed a vampy groove with a high flying chorus mixed to sound like 20,000 voices were singing at the same time. Matched with another feel good party hard video emphasizing JBJ's looks won the band a mass audience. The follow up single "Livin' On A Prayer" with its talk box beat and steady escalating melody became a rock classic. A surprise pick for the third single "Wanted Dead Or Alive" created an instant mythology for the Jersey boys as a weary group of road warriors doing it all for the fans (as well as leading to JBJ to proclaim in Circus magazine that "Wanted" was better than Led Zep's "Stairway To Heaven". "Raise Your Hands" showed up in an early scene of the Star Wars parody Spaceballs. The sentimental power ballad "Never Say Goodbye" won a ton of airplay with that classic verse "remember when we lost the keys and you lost more than that in my backseat baby." "Wild In The Streets" left no secret as to how much influence Springsteen had on JBJ.

As perfect an album as this was, there was even more goodness to be found as Sacramento radio grabbed onto "Edge Of A Broken Heart" from the Disorderlies soundtrack. A killer cut and one of my favorite Bon Jovi songs, I bought the record for this song even if it did mean owning that ambomination that was the Fat Boys rap remake of "Wipeout". Despite my personal bitterness of not being able to get away from Slippery When Wet, I was happy to see this worthy band make it to the top. And about six months later I started to play the record again and still found it great.

New Jersey (1988)

Ever the smart business man, Jon Bon Jovi went the sequel route with the follow up to his breakthru album. New Jersey is Slippery When Wet supersized. Lead single "Bad Medicine" took "Bad Name's" 'tude to the next level with a bigger arrangement and rapidfire verses. Wait a minute, wait a minute, hold on...I'm not done! "Born To Be My Baby" effectively revived the desperate romance of "Prayer". And if you liked the cowboy metaphors of "Wanted Dead Or Alive", this time you got "Ride Cowboy Ride" and "Stick To Your Guns". Not to mention the slightly Countryish bracing power ballad "I'll Be There For You". More hits were racked up taking the racy "Never Say Goodbye" further on "Living In Sin" complete with a steamy video and a little gospel fire thrown in on "Lay Your Hands On Me". Even album tracks like the youthful "99 In The Shade" and the excellent "Wild Is The Wind" killed. New Jersey proved they were no fluke. Many Sacramento days and night were spent cruising and hanging out to these tunes while shopping at Tower Records (which I'm told is now a thrift store). The only caveat I had was that photo in the inner tape/CD cover - it looks like Jon Bon Jovi is caught taking a leak under a dock. What's up with that? And didn't Sambora date Cher around this time? Again, what's up with that?

Blaze Of Glory (1990)

After all that success, it was only natural that Jon Bon Jovi take a solo turn. He did it in an odd way, at least odd to me. Emphasizing his previously occasional earthy Country and Western vibe he had developed starting with "Wanted Dead Or Alive", JBJ created a set of original songs for the soundtrack to the Brat Pack Western Young Guns II. He even made a cameo in the film (very brief, though in later years he would be respected for his acting in larger roles). Led by the outstanding single "Blaze Of Glory" that I first heard while watching the end of this movie (I said "Really that's Bon Jovi" aloud while my friends looked at me in shock that I didn't know this already) JBJ nabbed a #1 single all by his lonesome. As good a song as this is, I could not get into this album as a whole. Maybe I'll re-evaluate it some day, but as a result of my initial reaction I can't tell you a thing about this disc other than I didn't like it. Meanwhile, Richie Sambora turned out to have a surprisingly strong following with his solo album Stranger In Town. As Emilio Estevez said, "I'll make ya famous."

Keep The Faith (1992)

A year before this CD, Grunge hit and Alternative Nation took over MTV and all of rock music. In one fell swoop, all the Warrants, Cinderellas, Slaughters and Firehouses got kicked to the curb for being too shallow and predictable - out of touch with a Country that had sunk into recession and a wave of slacker youth who wanted to "keep it real". Could Jon Bon Jovi lead his team through this massive change in music culture? Hell yeah he could.

Keep The Faith found Bon Jovi adapting their formula to fit the alternative rock 90's with mixed success musically but still effectively commercially. A new emphasis was placed on promoting themselves as a traditionalist rock band, mixing in covers like The Animals "We've Gotta Get Outta This Place" alongside their slighly darker new material live. The title track with its loose groove, spoken word verse and heavily featured piano figure leading to that classic Bon Jovi chorus put the group right in with times on their terms - It wasn't pure feel good drama like before, it was more weary but hopeful like classic Springsteen (who at that time wasn't writing like classic Springsteen which left the door wide open for this style). What really drove the album home was the piano based power ballad that followed, arguably Bon Jovi's best known song of this format - "Bed Of Roses".

"Bed Of Roses" with its twisted pain and near martyrdom in the face of love has become the power ballad I've heard most on the radio and people's karaoke from Bon Jovi. Even a few months ago at my parents house, I walked outside into a neighborhood throbbing with Hip Hop beats and Spanish horns from various homes to suddenly hear a really loud karaoke take on this song. It is without a shout of a doubt a great song.

In terms of memories, my wife often associates this album with our dating because I played it a lot at the time. "In These Arms" was the song I was really digging at that time and perfectly explains how I feel about her.

The rest of the album I don't remember a whole lot about, I seem to recall a lot of slow songs on the second side. I did like the kicky "I'll Sleep When I'm Dead" though.

Crossroads (1994)

In a rare moment, a greatest hits disc perfectly encapsulated a band's career in addition to being the predictable cash in it always is. With Crossroads Bon Jovi summed up this period by including all their Top 40 hits plus some new stuff. Included was the unnecessarily acoustic moody take on "Livin On A Prayer" plus a forgettable "Someday I'll Be Saturday Night". But the third new cut was an ace power ballad "Always". Written for the film Romeo Is Bleeding but pulled by JBJ after he saw the film (is what I understood at the time, it is a bloody film) it is my personal favorite of his sweeping power ballad statements. After all this success bassist Alec John Such quit the band, leaving the official lineup a quartet from this point forward which I'll continue with a part 2.

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