Where To Start With... Bon Jovi
The history of popular music is one of a constantly shifting landscape, with various genres and styles coming and going over the last few decades, waxing and waning with the reliable regularity of the changing seasons as new trends fade in and out of fashion. More often than not, these changes happen gradually, with one type of music steadily gaining an audience as another loses theirs. But there are two or three examples in living memory when the demise of a genre has been instantaneous, so much so that you can pretty much pinpoint their death to an exact date.
The first victim was Progressive Rock, whose expiry date arrived on June 4th 1976 just as a group of brash young punks by the name of The Sex Pistols departed a stage for the first time, leaving in their wake a stunned audience and thousands of unwritten keyboard solos. The second to bite the bullet was Disco, its demise a particularly violent one marked by an infamous event on July 12th 1979 inside the stadium of the Chicago White Sox. During the intermission of a baseball double-header named 'Disco Demolition Night', 50,000 people showed up to watch a crate of disco records being blown up with dynamite on the playing field (the stunt went so badly that the second game had to be forfeited to the Detroit Tigers).
Then came the turn of Glam Metal. Right the way through the 1980s, bands like Poison and Skid Row had been packing out arenas across America and the rest of the world, but then on January 11th 1992 a little-known three-piece from Seattle completed their slow but steady climb up the Billboard charts to knock Michael Jackson off the top spot. The band was called Nirvana, their album titled Nevermind, and the prognosis for Glam Metal bands everywhere was fatal. Except for one.
By the time of their breakthrough album Slippery When Wet in 1986, Bon Jovi had established themselves as leading players in the burgeoning Glam Metal scene and, just like their peers, they had the tight trousers, the headbands and the apparently unlimited supply of hairspray. But when Nirvana came along and swept all the other 'hair metal' bands under the rug, Bon Jovi survived. Not only that, but their 1992 album Keep The Faith yielded some of their biggest hits.
The lesson here is one of substance over style. Strip away the make-up and the onstage posturing from a band like Poison and there isn't much left to talk about, but Bon Jovi always had a knack for songwriting that many of their contemporaries lacked and even though they don't attract quite the same level of airplay as they used to, the band have continued to churn out hits and their fan base is as solid and as dedicated as they come.
They're not done yet, either. Even with their longtime guitarist Richie Sambora having departed to pursue a solo career, Bon Jovi just keep on going, recruiting a replacement in Phil X and adding Hugh McDonald on bass, who had been working on and off with the band since its inception but became a full member earlier this year. Having released their final album with their former label Mercury in 2015 with the aptly-titled Burning Bridges, billed as a 'fan album' featuring a collection of offcuts from earlier sessions, today sees the release of its follow-up, their first for new label Island Records and the first 'proper' album recorded without Sambora's input.
This House Is Not For Sale arrives in stores today and despite all the under-the-hood changes over the last couple of years, it's business as usual as far as the music goes, with a mixture of arms-in-the-air stadium fillers (particularly the title track and lead-off single 'Knockout') and tender, swooning ballads like 'Labour of Love'. Part of that consistency is down to the band's decision to retain producer John Shanks, who has dutifully manned the controls on all their albums ever since 2005's Have A Nice Day. The spandex trousers are long gone, but their ear for a hit remains and the new album offers more of the same for their adoring fans.
You can find the video for 'Knockout' below, beneath that we've picked five of the band's best ever tracks as a guide for the uninitiated...
'Livin' on a Prayer'
Taken from their third album Slippery When Wet, 'Livin' On A Prayer' was the song that catapulted the band into the mainstream and it remains one of their most enduring songs. The talkbox effect that would later appear on many of Bon Jovi's biggest hits makes its first appearance here, alongside the huge choruses and a trademark, wailing guitar solo from Richie Sambora. This pretty much sets the template for the years of success that would follow.
'Wanted Dead or Alive'
Even as far back as 1986, Bon Jovi were showing that there was more substance to their music than many of their contemporaries had to offer and the opening guitar riff from Sambora here is properly iconic. Originally, Wanted Dead or Alive was going to serve as the title track to their 1986 album until they came up with Slippery When Wet, but the song is still one of the album's best moments and it remains a live favourite.
Taken from 1988's New Jersey, named after Jon Bon Jovi's hometown, 'Bad Medicine' is another of the band's most enduring songs and kicks the album properly into gear after the sprawling, grandiose opening salvo of 'Lay Your Hands'. Some great guitar work from Sambora propels the verses before the huge, singalong chorus hooks you in.
'Keep the Faith'
In a post-Nirvana landscape where even the mighty Guns 'n' Roses seemed to having a bit of an identity crisis, Bon Jovi held their nerve and continued to refine a winning formula. The title track from their 1992 album ended up being one of their biggest hits and showed that this was a band that had outgrown the scene that spawned them and moved on to bigger and better things.
'It's My Life'
The song that inspired what might be the worst tattoo of all time, 'It's My Life' was taken from the band's 2000 album Crush and its theme of taking control of your own destiny struck a chord not only with their own fanbase but with a new, younger audience too, propelling the song into the Top 5 of just about every country on the planet apart from their own. Nearly two decades after their debut album, Bon Jovi were proving they had real staying power and still had the capacity to write a great hook.