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Bon Jovi Profile - the Roots of Hair Metal

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Bon Jovi Profile - the Roots of Hair Metal
Album Cover Image Courtesy of Island Def Jam

Formed:

1983 in Sayreville, New Jersey

Core Members:

  • Jon Bon Jovi (born John Francis Bongiovi on March 2, 1962 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey) - Lead vocals, guitar and piano
  • Richie Sambora (born July 11, 1959 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey) - Lead guitar, background vocals
  • David Bryan (born David Bryan Rashbaum on February 7, 1962 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey) - Keyboards, background vocals
  • Alec John Such (born November 14, 1956 in Yonkers, New York) - Bass, background vocals
  • Tico Torres (born October 7, 1953 in New York City) - Drums, background vocals

Other Members:

  • Dave "the Snake" Sabo - Lead guitar, replaced by Sambora and known as a founding member of Skid Row later in the '80s
  • Hugh McDonald - Bass, following Such's departure in the mid-'90s

Bon Jovi's Early Years:

Bon Jovi was and is a local Jersey band through and through, the product of long-term musical interests and experience on the part of its five '80s-heyday members. Bon Jovi and Bryan played in other clocal bands during the '70s, but the classic Bon Jovi lineup didn't actually come together until 1983, when the music industry family connections of the former helped him record a demo of what would become the group's first hit song. Soon the band's core lineup would sign a major-label record contract.

Commercial Concessions & A Nose for the Mainstream:

Before the finalized version of Bon Jovi recorded its eponymous debut album, John Bongiovi decided to amend his name in an attempt to sound less ethnic. This Bizarro John Cougar move indicated the newly christened Jon Bon Jovi’s desire to pursue popularity and a high level of audience accessibility. The 1984 album release revealed the roots of the band’s developing sound, but more than anything the band’s first Top 40 hit, "Runaway, set the stage for future pop-tinged success.

Calculated Title + Professional Songwriters = Jackpot:

Although Bon Jovi himself was the key creative force behind "Runaway," the relative failure of the band’s 1985 sophomore release, 7800 Fahrenheit, apparently inspired him to make a move that reeked of desperation but looked like genius in hindsight. Collaborating with songwriter Desmond Child and testing a bundle of songs heavily with teen focus groups, the band released the provocatively titled Slippery When Wet in 1986. The rest is big-hair, glossy pop metal history.

The Bon Jovi Phenomenon Takes Hold:

Timing isn’t everything, but it was a lot for this band. In late 1986 the rising hair metal genre pioneered by L.A. bands such as Motley Crue and Ratt as well as British rockers Def Leppard was gaining steam and popularity on MTV. Enter the photogenic, camera-craving, highly coiffed Jon Bon Jovi, who helped take the form to the next level. Fueled by the monster hits "You Give Love a Bad Name", "Livin' on a Prayer" and "Wanted Dead or Alive", Slippery When Wet quickly went multi-platinum.

Long-Term Plateau & Near-Burnout:

Though 1988’s New Jersey was nearly as explosively successful as its predecessor, the band’s music had become less tuneful and more hackneyed. I would defy anyone to argue that this album’s huge hits like "Bad Medicine," "I’ll Be There for You," and "Born to Be My Baby" do anything but pale embarrassingly in comparison to the best tunes on Slippery When Wet. Still, fans weren’t complaining, and the band carried out a nearly 18-month world tour deep into 1989 before taking a much-needed hiatus.

An Impressive '90s Rebirth and Beyond:

For all of Bon Jovi’s somewhat cynical pop origins, the band made an extremely graceful and consistent transition into the '90s. Jon Bon Jovi’s savvy grasp of a broad arena rock aesthetic helped the band avoid the pitfalls of a post-grunge rock scene that claimed many of its contemporaries in a stack of spandex rubble. The singer cut his hair and calmly produced one of the band’s best songs in "Bed of Roses," a straightforward, melodic power ballad that helped keep Bon Jovi stable and successful.
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