Released on September 19, 1988 (Mercury Records)
In the summer of 1984, I met the most unlikely of people in maybe the mostly unlikely of places as I happened upon a future rock star sitting comfortably on a couch in a relative’s livingroom. Funny thing is, as a new artist, I was already dying to hear more after catching a few listens of his band on the radio but despite consistently picking up every rock and roll magazine on the planet at the time, I was clueless what the band even looked like. All I knew was that thanks to radio (back when radio was still worth a crap) and our area rock stations’ ’emerging artist play’, I was digging this new rock band and now before even hearing another track, I suddenly found myself being introduced to what turned out to be the writer and the singer. The song? “Runaway” from Bon Jovi’s debut album.
For a well-traveled Army brat, meeting a cool artist still chasing his dreams was in a way like that kid first discovering rock and roll and in awe of the older rock musicians in high school. I mean, what wannabe rocker wouldn’t have wanted to be like Jon back then? He had the hair, looks, cool clothes, chicks would eventually fall in love with him, he sang for a cool band, and the bonus for me was the one thing we actually had in common (yeah. in 1984, I didn’t have cool hair, clothes or a cool band) — we both came partially from American-Italian stock and turned out we both seemingly shared this Shakespearean romantic look on life because of it. Polite, attentive and genuine — the impression added another spot on the list of traits I wished to carry in my own life. Maybe it’s why along the way I gravitated towards artists from Jon Bon Jovi’s geographical area as my musical heart continued to grow.
I had already been raised on all kinds of music but the real-life fairy tale compositions of artists such as Tom Waits, Willie DeVille and others from the Northeast Tri-state area have over the years been the biggest influence on my own music and in a way, Bon Jovi was the start of that. Funny how for years, I never gave Bruce Springsteen a thought but thanks to Bon Jovi, I was able to grow to love the boss in large part because of the similarities between the two. Yeah, the Boss influenced Jon and it makes me chuckle how many folks who absolutely loved Bon Jovi over the years totally think Springsteen is crap when the two have so much in common as far as songs, sounds, themes, and bands it’s crazy but then again, I find it even funnier that fans of Bon Jovi in the ’80s think that the band’s “hair metal” era is totally different than the band they grew up to be over the years. I love ’80s music, especially hair metal, but I considered Bon Jovi hair metal about as much as I considered the London Quireboys a glam band — not at all!
So, to get back on track, I was totally enamored with that first album, even more so than 1985 follow up 7800° Fahrenheit and like the rest of the world was totally a fan once I grabbed a copy of Slippery When Wet. The songs were passionate, inspiring, uplifting, visual, and most importantly, real. Like Springsteen, Bon Jovi was able to take this world many, many miles away and paint a picture that not only made it feel like your own town but suddenly had a way of making you feel like even in the smallest locale, there could be great stories by every day folks to be found in the water, grass, even the dirt and decay any and everywhere. On New Jersey,the band took it even further by directly drawing everyone to their spot of the world to tell stories that anyone could feel were in their own world bringing together people from the largest cities on the coast to the smallest farm towns in the Midwest. For a rock and roll junkie who had lived in several countries and was now residing in a large city with a small town attitude, it brought so many things together for me and my own life started to make better sense and my own burgeoning song crafting began to change for the better. Yeah New Jersey, as it turns out, was much more than just a rock album released in the MTV era, it was an album as real and substantial as anything by Springsteen, U2, REM, and Mellencamp but with a palatability for fans of just good, simple rock and roll.
Starting with the volume raising anthem “Lay Your Hands on Me”, Jon and the band offer up an invite for the listener to jump in right off the bat regardless of sex, sexual orientation, color, age, whatever. It’s a theme pretty much everyone can relate to about something most of us need, a connection to others. Yeah, for some, it’s just good plain sing-a-long rock and roll but if you sincerely think about it, if it didn’t draw something common inside, it wouldn’t feel as good. Kinda like the overwhelming difference between making love and that one night stand. Yeah, the one-time roll in the sack may have been good at the time but love memories linger far longer even after the love itself fades away. “Lay Your Hands On Me” is as much love song as it is a call to experience the overtaking pull of rock and roll. It’s that “religious” experience of the heart and soul without having to tithe or take sides. Hell, it’s hard to take sides when everyone is standing together in song.
With the first single from New Jersey, Bon Jovi directly worked to get the fans on board choosing to sidestep a totally pro-shot high dollar presentation and go with a very multi-angle video shot via cheap cams by an audience of fans. It’s that whole “by the fans, for the fans” idea that can connect lovers of bands to artists through a direction even deeper than just the music. As a fan of music himself, Jon Bon Jovi in the ’80s was not yet so far removed that he couldn’t still get star struck around his heroes and maybe he is still that way. For those who think it’s impossible to maintain that kind of awe for idols, they need just listen to veterans like Keith Richards of the Stones, Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, Sebastian Bach or even Springsteen when they talk about their heroes. It’s still in their hearts and can be seen in their eyes. Those who still keep rock and roll young at heart want more than anything to share it.
“Born to Be My Baby” is “Because the Night” but built for the ’80s generation. Keel may have had a minor hit with their own version of the Springsteen-written Patti Smith classic but Bon Jovi wrote their own chapter of young love and the promise and excitement in the uncertainty of the future. It’s a theme the band had already successfully explored, most successfully on their previous album Slippery When Wet via massive hit “Living On A Prayer.” Real love and struggles of the heart are recurring themes within the albums of Bon Jovi and to this day continue to work because few things in life are more real and relatable than love, pain, and struggle. As the second single and video from the record, Bon Jovi end up tying in listeners to the first two tracks from the album and set up New Jersey for a great push. Even with a strong anthem of an opener and the first two killer singles within just the first quarter of the record, the greatness of New Jersey is still hardly hinted at. Starting with track four, Bon Jovi hit a center stride that on any other bands’ album would be reserved for filler material — but not Bon Jovi.
“Living In Sin” continues the theme of young love being able to conquer all completely wrapped up in a dramatic visual ballad much in the same way “Purple Rain” sounds perfect over the closing scene of the movie of the same name. And while a popular topic, Bon Jovi‘s music goes much deeper than first loves and those first difficult (yet exciting) strains of adulthood. Nostalgia also flows throughout the band’s music and much like Springsteen years earlier, Bon Jovi occasionally explore childhood bonding as on the great track “Blood On Blood” — an “our gang” style ode that delivers a musical image of what Hollywood had already shown on coming of age films like Stand By Me and The Outsiders. A “friends against the world” ideology that most can relate to. It’s Spanky, Alfalfa, and the whole gang for the ’80s generation but in an inspiring rock and roll kinda way including trials, tribulations, and even costumes.
If ganging up to take on the world isn’t inspiring enough, Bon Jovi seemingly likened their time in rock and roll, specifically on the concert tour trail, to some sort of troubadour western novel and over the course of four songs, Bon Jovi let their own vision as rock and roll cowboys shine. From the slide guitar opening of “Homebound Train” to the rise above battle cry of “Stick To Your Gun”, Jon and the band use up every weapon in the wagon including acoustic guitars, campfire sing-a-long worthy melodies, and for a couple minutes, even a dose of crackling mono. But it’s far from meant as music to ride off into the sunset to. Matter of fact, it’s the perfect soundtrack for the hero to ride in on, acoustic in hand, to woo the leading lady.
Bon Jovi’s fourth number one US hit (and second from New Jersey) — “I’ll Be There for You” — to this day stands remembered as one of the most nostalgic love songs from the ’80s. A song filled with nostalgic visions of high school football games, dances, roller rinks, blankets by the lake, first kisses, and many magical first times. It is New Jersey’s answer to the band’s own “Never Say Goodbye” but more urgent and far more direct and personal. It’s an apology and a goodbye wrapped into one and sprinkled with hope of makeups and new beginnings. It’s Bon Jovi at their ballad best and even if the girls swooned, the guys winked a nod of thanks for the mood music.
It’s funny to think that sometimes even fans forget that after “I’ll Be There for You”, the albums finishes up with even more great music in tracks “99 In The Shade” (a summertime anthem if there ever was one) and the fun acoustic blues scale number “Love For Sale.” Hard to blame anyone, on an album filled with so many huge radio songs and even more deep cuts that are just as good, it’s not surprising that over time one or two might slip past the old noggin especially considering how much really awesome rock and roll was on the radio and how many great albums there were to listen to from start to finish in 1988.
So yeah, 30 years ago, kids and music fans all over America and the world were invited to check out New Jersey complete with all of its beaches, bars, straight legged mullet-topped Romeos, diner counter Juliets and of course Jon and the boys burning up the charts and all 99 in the shade. It was a time for great music, young love, and discovery for the ’80s generation and New Jersey was a huge part of the soundtrack, and for many… still is.
01. Lay Your Hands on Me
02. Bad Medicine
03. Born to Be My Baby
04. Living In Sin
05. Blood On Blood
06. Homebound Train
07. Wild Is The Wind
08. Ride Cowboy Ride
09. Stick To Your Guns
10. I’ll Be There for You
11. 99 In The Shade
12. Love For Sale
Jon Bon Jovi – lead vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar
Richie Sambora – lead guitar, background vocals
Alex John Such – bass, background vocals
Tico Torres – drums, percussion
David Bryan – keyboards, background vocals
Scott Fairburn – cello
Audrey Nordwell – cello
Bruce Fairbairn – additional percussion, horn
Peter Berring – additional vocals
Produced by Bruce Fairbairn
Engineered by John Allen, Chris Cavallaro and Bob Rock
Mixed by Bob Rock
Mastered by George Marino
Reviewed by John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, September 2018
Bon Jovi‘s “Bad Medicine” video:
Music video by Bon Jovi performing Bad Medicine. (C) 1988 The Island Def Jam Music Group
Bon Jovi‘s “Born To Be My Baby” video:
Music video by Bon Jovi performing Born To Be My Baby. (C) 1988 The Island Def Jam Music Group
Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There For You” video:
Music video by Bon Jovi performing I’ll Be There For You. (C) 1988 The Island Def Jam Music Group
Bon Jovi‘s “Lay Your Hands On Me” video:
Music video by Bon Jovi performing Lay Your Hands On Me. (C) 1988 The Island Def Jam Music Group
Bon Jovi‘s “Blood On Blood” video:
Music video by Bon Jovi performing Blood On Blood. (C) 1988 The Island Def Jam Music Group