Although 1986's classic Slippery When Wet unquestionably represented Bon Jovi at its peak both commercially and artistically, that rootsy pop metal band actually enjoyed some underrated but strong moments on its first two albums. While the group's early releases are not as well known, some of their songs display a better grasp of heartland rock melody and genuine rock and roll passion than the far more recognized songs on 1988's highly popular New Jersey. Still, few bands made as many waves in pop and rock music during the late '80s than this one. Here's a chronological take on Bon Jovi's best '80s songs.
It may be a bold statement to say that a band of this magnitude's first sniff at a hit may have been its finest moment, but I feel just about that strongly about this great, keyboard-heavy rocker from Bon Jovi's self-titled 1984 debut. At least in part the product of some of Jon Bon Jovi's earlier demo sessions, the song clearly had been shaped to near perfection. Fueled by E Street Band member Roy Bittan's excellent keyboard riff, the tune stands proudly as prototypical mainstream rock: melodic, hard-driving and passionate. This one should have launched immediate stardom for the band but was instead criminally overlooked upon initial release. Thankfully, repeated listens do not disappoint.
Here is the sleeper of all sleepers from Bon Jovi's '80s catalogue, an early song that has traditionally received little airplay or attention. Of course, part of the reason for the tune's relative obscurity is that it's one of the only songs recorded by Bon Jovi that does not boast at least one band member as composer. The track's release as a single was a record label decision, and the band has sworn off playing it live ever since. Still, it's a solid mainstream rock song, a mid-tempo gem that plays to the band's strengths, namely Jon Bon Jovi's soaring vocal style (which was especially prevalent during the band's early years). Composer Mark Avsec's song made the rounds during the early '80s, but this is the definitive version.
On its second album, 1985's puzzlingly titled 7800 Fahrenheit (the temperature at which rock melts, according to Jon Bon Jovi the geologist), the band amped up the hair metal trappings, possibly to keep up with the Ratts and Def Leppards of the world. Fittingly, the song employs vocal effects that suggest a veritable army of harmonies in the chorus, and the lyrics focus on party-time-excellent sorts of concerns: parties and women and the importance of boys' night out. Still, it's a highlight of the record, full of the compelling anthemic qualities the band would soon perfect.
As the lead-off track to Bon Jovi's megahit 1986 album, Slippery When Wet, this tune worked hard to set a new standard for the essence of arena rock. Richie Sambora's muscular rhythm guitar really sets the stage well for some of his most blistering leads, and the empty-headed but lively chorus takes the notion of "anthemic" clear to the rafters of any stadium Bon Jovi ever played. It's a fitting start to a classic album that still gave no indication of the stratospheric heights the album and its many singles would eventually reach.
Perhaps the band's first true power ballad smash hit, this song suggests prom memories even before you realize that precise rite of passage actually receives direct lyrical treatment. Indeed, the band's slowed tempo and lilting instrumental approach create a nostalgic cloud so thick that listeners almost have to brush it away from in front of their faces. But let's be honest, it's probably the ladies who get into this one the most, though the guys happily tolerate it in hopes of "losing the keys" and their female companions losing possibly "more than that" in their back seats after the show.
For my money, Bon Jovi's slightly disappointing 1988 album, New Jersey, is most certainly at its best when it indulges the heartland rock impulses only hinted at previously. Where "Bad Medicine" is schlocky and silly, this straight-ahead tune benefits from its very depth of earnest innocence. The Springsteen influence certainly remains, but the band's unique way of building up to transcendent choruses makes for a pretty entertaining listen. As always, Sambora's rhythm work builds a nifty foundation, especially in the verses.