Yes, it’s that time again. To brush the dusty cobwebs off my vinyl, my CDs, and my staggering number of playlists; to sweep away the markings of time and take a retrospective look back at a band’s legendary career – in the hopes of finding the songs that never got the attention they deserved. The underrated gems, the overlooked, buried treasure on B-sides and forgotten debuts. The deep cuts.
And today, we’re looking at American glam rock giants, Bon Jovi – a band that, incredibly, are still going to this day, having released a full-length album only last year, titled, aptly, 2020. In light of the band’s enduring spark – and the possibility we can bask in the sun once more, I’ve compiled my list of the top ten anthems Jovi wrote, recorded and released, which remain (largely) in the dark. From their 1984, eponymous debut, to 2016’s This House Is Not for Sale, there was a lot of listening. And a whole lot of rockin’. So, without further ado, grab your hairspray, and here we go.
10. We Got It Going On (2007, Lost Highway) – 2007’s Lost Highway marks one of the last albums to feature original guitarist aficionado, Richie Sambora, and was described by frontman Jon as ‘Bon Jovi influenced by Nashville’. It’s track listing is a real infusion of country rock – much to the chagrin of longtime, hair metal fans of the ‘80s days, admittedly. But it features some of the more electrifying moments of the band’s modern era – from the title track to playful ‘Summertime’ and classic ballad in ‘(You Want to) Make A Memory’. But it’s track number five that kicks off our list. ‘We Got It Going On’, featuring country duo Big & Rich, is possibly as generic as punchy country gets. It’s middle-of-the-road, and not overly memorable, but by God does it still prove an undeniable jolt of radio-friendly power. From the bluesy bassline and high-octane chorus to the song’s talkbox crescendo (reminiscent of ‘Livin’ on A Prayer’s opening), it proves infectious – if a tad throwaway in the lengthy catalogue of Bon Jovi.
9. Work for the Working Man (2009, The Circle) – When the New Jersey giants returned to their rock roots for The Circle, it met a… mixed reception. Though topping the Billboard 200 in its initial week of release, it would drop 18 places the next, and received generally iffy reviews from critics. But it did give us the ever defiant ‘We Weren’t Born to Follow’; a worthy anthem beside modern classics like ‘Have A Nice Day’. The Circle also bore ‘When We Were Beautiful’ – a surefire way to close out the stadium gigs – and ‘Work for the Working Man’, a song about standing up for the common person. It’s Jovi’s ‘Springsteen song’, and it rocks. Though a clear tribute to the band’s signature in sound, it’s deserving of its own mention, and shows off some of Jovi’s best latter-day vocals.
8. Living in Sin (1988, New Jersey) – New Jersey is, to many, Bon Jovi’s high point. Riding the high of their global breakthrough, Slippery When Wet just two years earlier, the Jersey boys ended up creating an album that boasted the likes of ‘Lay Your Hands on Me’, ‘Bad Medicine’ and ‘I’ll Be There for You’, which is a pretty unbeatable line-up. Another single from the album, however, would be a power ballad. Enter, ‘Living in Sin’. Detailing a lover’s plight in how true love beats all, no matter what other people say, it’s eternally relevant – and has a pretty awesome chorus. It would go on to make Jovi’s fifth single from that album to reach the Top 10 (a record to this day), but it doesn’t get enough attention, I feel, and is a testament to the writing prowess of Jovi himself. Interestingly, the song’s B-side, ‘Love Is War’ is also more than a worth a listen – but for the sake of this list, we’re only looking at songs released on full, studio albums. (Sorry.)
7. If I Was Your Mother (1992, Keep the Faith) – Produced by Bob Rock (who’s worked with the likes of Metallica, Mötley Crüe and Aerosmith), Keep the Faith was the first sign of Jovi moving away from the hair metal sound of old. It would be the band’s last album to feature their original line-up and had flairs of more straight-forward rock ‘n roll, with pop influences. Nevertheless, with the ballad, ‘In These Arms’, classic rockers ‘I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead’ and its title track, and ‘Bed of Roses’, it was hardly experimental. Keep the Faith also shows the most ‘metal’ Bon Jovi ever got, with a thunderous opening from Sambora and drummer Tico Torres in ‘If I Was Your Mother’. It’s a track about a tumultuous relationship, where neither side knows what to do – Jovi pondering that, if he was their partner’s mother, whether they’d let him in at last. Jovi at his most pained. The band at their heaviest. Result? A damn good song.
6. I’m With You (2013, What About Now) – Bon Jovi’s first effort without longtime songwriter and axe-wielder, Sambora, What About Now is surprisingly robust in its standout, rock moments. ‘That’s What the Water Made Me’ is another underrated gem that shows another dimension of Jon et. al, ‘Because We Can’ is, in true Jovi fashion, a staunch stance on doing the right thing and getting through the thick of it, but it’s in ‘I’m With You’ that I really find something to write about. Ever a soothsayer on the progression of society, Bongiovi sings, ‘When hope is gone and all we want is the truth/ I’m with you…’, echoing the civil turmoil that would plague America – and the world – for the next several years. It’s got a pretty bombastic chorus and shows a darker side to the band that doesn’t come through very often.
5. Love Lies (1984, Bon Jovi) – Longtime fans of the blog will know just how much I deeply, deeply love Bon Jovi’s first two records. Their ’84, eponymous arrival onto the glam rock scene – by now beginning to pick up some speed – and follow-up, 7800° Fahrenheit, are just full of underrated songs, particularly when each of them only really offered one real radio hit. In 1984, it was ‘Runaway’ – a track about a girl wanting to move to the big city, get away, and realise what life is really like in the process. And it’s a great song; certainly a fitting introduction to this band from New Jersey. But one of the album’s ballads, ‘Love Lies’, is a heartbreaking number set to some of Jovi’s most emotional wails. You can really feel the pain and fleeting romance of the New Jersey alleyways; the mean streets and collared leather. I wish more from the band’s early days was played live, and certainly this one, in particular.
4. Let It Rock (1986, Slippery When Wet) – It’s hard to believe that the band’s breakthrough – their fabled third album – could leave any stone unturned given the success and acclaim it’s continued to reap to this day. From ‘Prayer’, to ‘You Give Love…’, ‘Wanted…’ and ‘Never Say Goodbye’, there is no shortage of public wisdom on how amazing Slippery When Wet is. And yet, somehow, it’s most overlooked piece is the opener. I can only imagine what it was like to slide this onto the record player in August of ’86 and be greeted by the downright haunting organ solo of longtime member David Bryan. Then, the guitar and drums kick in like thunder, and Jon leads us on a crusade close to all our hearts, ‘Let it rock/ Let it go/ You can’t stop the fire burnin’ out of control’. Lyrically, it’s a pretty simple song. But it’s one Hell of a statement, and one of Jovi’s best album openers to date.
3. Come on Up to Our House (2016, This House Is Not For Sale) – 2016 was the year I really got into music, and Bon Jovi was one of the ‘Big Three’ that I listened to, non-stop, for many months. Thus, This House Is Not for Sale, the band’s fourteenth studio effort, was the first taste of ‘new’ music since I’d got into them. Sure, I wasn’t blown away given that ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ was practically my girlfriend at this point. But the album still had its shining glimmers – and continues to hold them to this day. The title track is delightfully rebellious; and proof that the guys haven’t necessarily softened with age. ‘Labor of Love’ and ‘Living with the Ghost’ are beautiful songs, and ‘Knockout’ is downright explosive. But the final track – it’s climax – is a welcome invitation from Jon. It’s sweet, it’s neighborly, and it’s a dose of what we really need right now. It builds and builds and remains one of the band’s more heartfelt performances.
2. Roulette (1984, Bon Jovi) – Back to 1984 again, and this time a track much in the same vein as Bon Jovi’s glittering debut, ‘Runaway’. ‘Roulette’ is so painfully accurate; likening life to a roll of the dice (or ball). ‘Roulette/ You’re going ‘round in a spin/ Caught up in a game you can’t win…’. It’s a straight-forward, simple rock number, but don’t let that fool you. Sambora packs one hell of a solo, and Bongiovi himself delivers glass-shattering vocals from the heart. Most bands’ first albums are pretty mediocre affairs, but with songs like this one, Bon Jovi is a must-have for any fans of rock and glam. Delectable.
1. The Hardest Part Is the Night (1985 – 7800° Fahrenheit) – The band’s sophomore record had to be on here, somewhere. It’s by far one of the most underrated albums the band ever put out. Fans seem lukewarm to it; the critics weren’t won over and Jovi themselves have continued to distance themselves from the release. But I don’t care. It’s an amazing album; and a prime example of the up-and-coming glam metal scene. It’s title alludes to the melting point of rock, for God’s sake. It literally means, ‘American hot rock’. And with songs like ‘Tokyo Road’, ‘King of the Mountain’ and the blistering solo of ‘Only Lonely’, I don’t find that to be any exaggeration. But ‘The Hardest Part is the Night’ takes the crown for me. Those opening, electrifying bars signal like a beast bursting from its cage, and over the track’s runtime, Jovi does a great job in conveying this scene of a darkened night in a bustling metropolis, where crime is everywhere, and safety is only a fleeting illusion. ‘Darkness fades/ He’s the prince of the city/ In a place where they all know your name’. It’s deliciously dark, infectious and a testament to how ‘hair’ the boys could go. I don’t care what they say, 7800° is gold. And ‘The Hardest Part…’ shines the brightest.
So, there you have it – the final ten. There is a slew of honourable mentions that I’ll also drop down below; as with all bands, Bon Jovi are remembered for far too few in the 21st century, but these were ten tracks that… I just love for various reasons, and I never really seen spoken about. I was pleased to note the spread amongst the list – I’d resigned myself to thinking they were all going to be from the 1980s. But, if nothing else, this just proves the enduring skill of Bon Jovi, as songwriters, and musicians, through thick and thin. Like the ballad of Tommy and Gina, they’re rock solid.
Breakout (Bon Jovi)
Only Lonely, Tokyo Road, Secret Dreams (7800° Fahrenheit)
Wild in the Streets (Slippery When Wet)
Dry County, Blame It on the Love of Rock ‘n Roll (Keep the Faith)
Hey God, Damned, Hearts Breaking Even (These Days)
I Want To Be Loved (Have A Nice Day)
Brokenpromiseland (The Circle)
Burning Bridges (Burning Bridges)