“Tommy used to work on the docks…”, yes, it is time today for 1987’s #1 selling album, which was released in August of 1986, “Slippery When Wet” by Bon Jovi. Not only was the record a massive commercial hit, it opened the aperture further, along with Def Leppard, for the merging of pop music with heavy metal, and with a lot of hair spray and spandex involved, we have one of the most broadly appealing variants of hair metal. Love it or not, this record launched Jon Bon Jovi into the stratosphere, and he remains one of New Jersey’s most famous recording artists today, along with Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen.
The album opens with “Let It Rock”, which is somewhat reminiscent of “Let It Go” by Def Leppard from their early days. The hit parade begins with “You Give Love a Bad Name”. This song was a massive hit and the first single off of the record, but it has never been a favorite of mine. As if that song wasn’t a big enough of a hit, then comes “Livin’ on a Prayer”, which along with “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, is one of the two most enduring anthems of this entire decade. I would be hard-pressed to find any music fan of almost any generation who doesn’t know this song by heart, whether they like it or not. It is undoubtedly a pop-rock classic, and like most of the big hits on this album, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora leaned on professional songwriter Desmond Child for an assist. Child is a hit machine, cowriting many of the hits of the 1980s for bands like Aerosmith and Kiss among many others.
“Wanted Dead or Alive” is the third single and third massive hit from this record. It is a bit cliché (ok, maybe a lot cliché) but again, it is an iconic rock ballad with the rock-star in the wild west imagery. I will cop to liking this song, and always have, and like any of us who only dreamed of rock music success, I certainly wish I could say that I “had seen a million faces, and rocked them all”. They say it isn’t bragging if you can back it up, and Bon Jovi certainly did that. I will also give Richie Sambora a well-deserved credit for a really powerful guitar solo on this song (along with his omnipresent backing vocals). This solo is living proof that a great guitar solo doesn’t have to be the fastest or contain the most notes, it just has to hit the right ones. David Gilmour of Pink Floyd is another who truly mastered this concept.
“Raise Your Hands” actually opens with a guitar riff that sounds remarkably similar to the opening of “Bark at the Moon” by Ozzy Osbourne, so Sambora is doing his best to not let the band completely backslide into pop and schmaltz purgatory, which is what we have on most of the rest of the album. “Never Say Goodbye” was the best of the rest and a reasonably popular hit, if not quite as big as the first three singles.
In total, Jon Bon Jovi and his band created a wildly successful record that fueled years of sold-out arena shows throughout the rest of the happy and relatively carefree musical 1980s. While the depth of the content is questionable, good music is often synonymous with the happiest times of life, and I have no doubt an entire generation of music fans look back on this record with big smiles and happy memories.