Rolling Stone magazine declared 1987 the year of the heavy rock invasion. The cover featured Mötley Crüe, who had released Girls Girls Girls, but it was also the time of Metallica, Guns ‘N’ Roses, Europe, Def Leppard, and Whitesnake, to mention but a few. And Bon Jovi was at the top of the list.
Meanwhile in Europe, teen magazines sold the virtues of two of the leading sex-symbols of the moment: the frontman of Europe, Joey Tempest, and the frontman of Bon Jovi, Jon Bon Jovi.
Slippery When Wet led them to big arenas worldwide, where the singer opened the shows swinging down on a rope over the audience. Bon Jovi did well in 1984, supported by “Runaway”, one of their classic hymns (with “Livin’ On A Prayer” and “It’s My Life”), but their second album, 7800º Fahrenheit, was generally disappointing.
Bouncing back, Slippery When Wet was brutal, commercially and artistically. It went to number one in the US and the top five in the UK. By the time of the album’s release, they had the looks, the Bruce Springsteen-style singing, the social awareness, and the catchy rhythms and choruses to become superstars — not to mention the vital touches of Desmond Child and Bob Rock.
Slippery When Wet is the Bon Jovi album you should choose if you had to choose just one from the band, because it sums up Bon Jovi’s best without getting cheesy.
Bon Jovi — Slippery When Wet: Track-by-track review
1. “Let It Rock”
The song starts like an engine and mixes with the keyboards of David Bryan that seem stolen from the Phantom of the Opera, in an opening as surprising as that of “Lay Your Hands On Me” would be when New Jersey was released. Richie Sambora shows his guitar hero status with a fantastic solo in a song dedicated to the magic of rock ‘n’ roll, and the happiness it brings.
2. “You Give Love A Bad Name”
An angel’s smile is what you sell
You promise me heaven, then put me through hell
Jon Bon Jovi points a barbed, accusatory lyric at a bad girl, at a time when he was posing for pictures in jacuzzis and seemed surrounded by strippers. Because of the opportunities to take advantage of his massive fame, magazines would wonder how he could stay true to his wife, his high school girlfriend.
Jorge Salan, ex-guitarist of Mago de Oz, covers this song in his solo concerts.
3. “Livin’ On A Prayer”
The beginning of “Livin’ On A Prayer” is as famous as any use of the vocoder. The song is the story of Gina, who works in a diner, and her boyfriend Tommy, who used to work at the docks but is out of work due to a union strike. This is the life of the working class in hard times, and illustrates a test of how far true love can go, like a classic Springsteen tale.
We’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got
It doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot
For love, we’ll give it a shot
But sometimes she can’t stand the pressure of the situation, and that’s when Tommy consoles her — they will get through.
Gina dreams of running away
When she cries in the night, Tommy whispers
‘Baby, it’s okay…
Swedish hard rock group Talisman covered “Livin’ On A Prayer” on their farewell tour in the summer of 2007.
4. “Social Disease”
Love is the disease, the one nobody can escape from and the one that can’t be cured, not with the help of police, doctor, or even death. “You can’t hide when infection starts” — love is the kind of thing you “can’t live with … but you’ll die without it.”
The intro to “Social Disease” is a parents’ advisory, references faking an orgasm, and then hits us with the mischievously unclear line “in some places it comes in thirty-two flavors”. It’s as ambiguous as the cover of the album, which has the title written over a misted window, and as ambiguous as the girls on the inside of the album packaging: rescued, almost, from a wet T-shirt contest.
5. “Wanted Dead Or Alive”
Fellow 1980’s rockers Cinderella wrote “Gypsy Road” to describe the unique life of successful popular musicians, calling themselves gypsies. Bon Jovi used the term cowboys, riding “steel horses”, better known as motorcycles.
And, like cowboys, musicians are loved whether they’re dead or alive, because it is the closeness that fans long for. Jon would follow the classic cowboy image to his first solo album, the soundtrack to Young Guns II.
The video for “Wanted Dead Or Alive” shows the band members’ lives both on and off stage, facing a jumbled life of the ecstasy of playing live, and the drudgery of meeting fans through tiredness and boredom.
6. “Raise Your Hands”
This song is something to warm up audiences in concert; an easy chorus and strong guitars, and a prototypical 1980’s rock anthem.
7. “Without Love”
According to legend, Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home” started the tradition of rockers including ballads in their repertoire (because the Crüe hit the charts with it), and Bon Jovi followed in the footsteps.
Right then, they didn’t overuse power ballads, and weren’t cloying. They provided rockers, famous for not dancing, a chance to pick up girls during the slower parts of the show. The narrator of “Without Love” learns from the mistakes of the people he knows: heartbreak is unbearable, but living without love is even worse.
8. “I’d Die For You”
Playing the tough guy can be hard sometimes, when it seems you don’t care about the girl. But under the façade, there’s a love stronger than everything, and capable of anything.
I might not be a savior
I’ll never be a king
I might not send you roses
Or buy you diamond rings
… but even so,
I’ll die for you, I’ll cry for you
I’ll do anything, I’ll lie for you
You know it’s true, baby
I’ll die for you
9. “Never Say Goodbye”
One of Bon Jovi’s most powerful ballads. Is it dedicated to Jon’s wife? “Never Say Goodbye” brims with memories about high school and the promise of eternal love. “Remember when you lost the keys and you lost more than that on my backseat, baby?”
There are emotional memories of fights, and how love can solve anything if it is for real.
Remember the prom that night?
You and me, we had a fight
But then they played our favourite song and
I held you in my arms so strong
We danced so close, we danced so slow
And I swore I would never let you go
A song to melt the heart of any rocker girl.
10. “Wild In The Streets”
Being young is not easy, and parents forget about how they used to behave before becoming parents: the most forbidden is the most interesting. This song is about good girls messing around with the wrong guys and discovering pleasure in back seats.
Slippery When Wet by Bon Jovi
“Let It Rock”
“You Give Love A Bad Name”
“Livin’ On A Prayer”
“Wanted Dead Or Alive”
“Raise Your Hands”
“I’d Die For You”
“Never Say Goodbye”
“Wild In The Streets”