On the 19th of September 1988 Bon Jovi released their 4th album called New Jersey. The album produced a lot of hits and is a household name in its own right. Let’s revisit this period of Bon Jovi 32 years after the release date.
Launching themselves to the top
Bon Jovi started as a band back in 1983. Singer Jon Bon Jovi wrote Runaway which became a top 40 hit. He wanted to do a small tour and called keyboardist David Bryan who, in turn, called bassist Alec John Such and drummer Tico Torres. With guitarist Richie Sambora added to the line up the first incarnation of Bon Jovi was formed.
The self-titled debut album Bon Jovi was released in 1984 and got them a top 40 hit with Runaway. The band found themselves opening for the Scorpions in America and KISS in Europe! 7800° fahrenheit was released in 1985 and gave them the opportunity to go out on tour again to promote their music. The album itself didn’t give them the success they hoped for, but with Slippery When Wet in 1986 they hit the jackpot. Multiple number one hits and a very successful two year tour around the globe followed.
The start of the album
Bon Jovi started working on the New Jersey album only 3 weeks after finishing the Slippery When Wet Tour. For the band it was important to prove that they were not just a one hit wonder, but a band that would stay till the end.
Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora began writing and recording demo’s for 17 songs. However the pressure of writing a song like You Give Love A Bad Name seemed too much. They were pushing their musical writing skills to get this hit. Love Is War came out of these sessions but the search to make a hit like You Give Love A Bad Name ended up with a song that had the same chords as the mentioned song.
With Desmond Child they wrote Bad Medicine and Born To Be My Baby which was originally recorded acoustically. However the producer of the album Bruce Fairbairn made the band rerecord it with electric instruments for the harder rock style.
Bon Jovi still kept the glossy production and anthems that were found on Slippery When Wet, but wanted to show a more diverse style. The album is in that sense much more experimental. The details of these will follow for each individual song in the following paragraph.
It was initially planned to make New Jersey a double album. However the record label felt the higher price wouldn’t be in favor of the band and so decided that they would only release it on one album. The success has been proven as New Jersey became a 7 time platinum album.
Songs of the album
Lay Your Hands On Me
This explosive album opener has a long and atmosphere building intro. It wasn’t demoed, but created directly in the studio after the video production team said the band needed a mighty show opening. The band stated that this song was a way to say they are still accessible after the immense success of Slippery When Wet.
A video clip for the song was recorded during the New Jersey Syndicate Tour. The song peaked at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the 4th single of New Jersey to chart in the Top 10. This song is still found on the setlist of the band’s live performances today.
The lead single of the album, Bad Medicine is a perfect cheeky hard rock anthem. It is one of the more upbeat songs of the album. The song features constant playing by David Bryan and loud guitar playing by Richie Sambora. Jon Bon Jovi delivers the lyrics fast, loud and punchy. Towards the end of the song Jon Bon Jovi is mentioning he runs out of breath to do one more go at the verse.
I gotta, I gotta
I gotta do it again, wait a minute, wait a minute
I’m not done
One more time
Help me out now
Your love is like bad medicine
The song idea came during shooting a commercial for Fuji Tape in Japan. The title of the track came to Richie Sambora while standing in knee deep water. Mentioning it to Jon they decided to work on it together with Desmond Child. Bad Medicine reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and it became a top 10 hit around the world.
Born To Be My Baby
As previously mentioned Born To Be My Baby was originally recorded acoustically. The producer, Bruce Fairbairn, however felt the band needed to rerecord it with electric instruments. Jon Bon Jovi felt they would have had a number 1 hit with the acoustic version.
The song was written by Jon, Richie and Desmond Child and it peaked at number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. The second single of the album served as the thematic sequel to the smash hit Livin’ On A Prayer (Slippery When Wet) focussing on the everyday struggles of ordinary people.
Living In Sin
A slow beat and a strong bass rhythm by bassist Alec John Such and an emotional delivery of lyrics this song argues that true love is stronger than anything. No matter what other people may say:
I call it love, they call it living in sin
Combine the powerful lyrics and bassline with driving guitars and interspersed keyboards and you got yourself another top 10 Billboard Top 100 hit.
It is the only song only written by Jon on this record. For the rest of the album the songs were either written with Richie, Desmond Child, Dianne Warren or Holy Knight.
Blood on Blood
The album’s masterpiece might be Blood On Blood. The song brings something to the record that the other songs don’t. Inspired by the movie Stand By Me this song is described by Richie as an emotional rollercoaster. He even went as far as saying: “Blood On Blood is something we really live by”.
The story is about 3 childhood friends that are like brothers for each other. They cut each other’s hands and from that day they became blood brothers. It’s a powerful song about friendship with strong lyrics and amazing guitar parts. This song truly is a highlight that shows the talent of the band.
Homebound Train is one of the band’s heavier songs. It features a brief back and forth between the keyboard and harmonica solos before going into Richie’s guitar solo. The song is filled with up beat drumming, and guitar parts.
Wild Is The Wind
Still a heavier song that was never released on a single by the band. It was rarely played live during the New Jersey Syndicate Tour. The song is about commitments and priorities and making these.
Ride Cowboy Ride
Ride Cowboy Ride is a song that introduces the following one. It is recorded in mono and gives a very old school vibe with the cracks of a vinyl record. The song features Jon and Richie singing with only a guitar.
Stick To Your Guns
After the introduction in mono you come back to the analog sound with Stick To Your Guns. To be able to choose from all the songs written for this album the band asked their fans for some help. Stick To Your Guns and Ride Cowboy Ride became their 3rd pick to the surprise of Jon. In the end both of the songs made it onto the album.
I’ll Be There for You
A true power ballad as only Bon Jovi can write them. This song quickly climbed to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 to be the 4th and final number one hit of this album. The song is also a peek into the future of the more mature sound Bon Jovi would display on the Keep The Faith and These Days albums. The song is co-written by Jon and Richie and you can hear the bluesy guitar parts combining their harmonies with the vocals.
99 In The Shade
Tommy and Gina (famous from Livin’ On A Prayer) are mentioned in 99 In The Shade. It is a song about enjoying life and making the most of it.
Love For Sale
New Jersey closed with Love For Sale, an acoustic blues jam that came directly from the demo tape recording made by the band. It shows you inside the recording room and gives a lot more personality from the band.
Title and artwork
Originally the band had a different album title in mind called Sons of Beaches. The cover art would feature images from the Jersey Shore and combine them in a design that would bring homage to The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
However a change of mind made this idea go down the sink and it was named after the home state of the band: New Jersey. Jon Bon Jovi stated in interviews at the time: “ It’s a place you are from, but it’s an attitude that you carry around with you.”
The band chose once again for an album cover that wouldn’t feature the band, but rather an abstract cement wall featuring the logo and album name. Fans and press put a lot of focus on the looks of the band including the hair of Jon. Instead of wanting to be known for their looks they wanted to be known for the great songs. Their looks will be overexposed enough in the magazines, video clips and other news items.
When New Jersey was released on the 19th of September 1988 it debuted at a number 8 position on the Billboard 200. The following week it was at number one and the goal of proving Bon Jovi was more than a one hit wonder was achieved. In total New Jersey would remain at the top spot in the Billboard 200 for four weeks.
In Canada, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden and New Zealand the album debuted at number one. New Jersey holds the record for the hard/glam metal album to have the most Top 10 hits. A whopping 5 hits charted in the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Bad Medicine and I’ll Be There For You both made it to the number one spot. Born To Be My Baby, Lay Your Hands On Me and Living In Sin all reached the top 10. No other hard rock or metal band ever achieved the same success of New Jersey.
The album was very well received by fans and press. Till this day many of the songs are featured during the live shows of the band.
New Jersey Syndicate Tour
A month after the release of the album Bon Jovi started their World Tour that would last 2 years. This big and successful tour would see the band perform over 232 shows in 22 countries. Some days the band would perform two shows a day. It was an exhausting tour that had a big effect on each of the band member’s mental health and social and private life.
During the New Jersey Syndicate Tour the band would often play longer versions of their songs and aim more at the maturing of the band. Acoustic sections were put in the set and Jon would add raw emotional vocal performances. A vocal coach was hired to help Jon maintain his voice and Richie would help out with the high notes.
The show was bombastic and would feature pyrotechnics, an elevated catwalk above the crowd and Jon entering the stage through a hole in the stage. The setlist was mainly focused on the New Jersey and Slippery When Wet albums. The two earlier albums would only feature in two songs on the setlist and till this day only Runaway survived the setlist of time.
A first in Russia
In August 1989 Bon Jovi headed to the Soviet Union for the Moscow Peace Festival. Bon Jovi was the first band officially sanctioned by the Soviet government to perform within the Soviet Union. Next to that New Jersey became the first U.S. album to be released legally in the U.S.S.R.
The show had a little bit of controversy with the manager of Bon Jovi and some of the other bands on the bill that he managed. The manager Doc McGhee was earlier in the year involved with a drugs scandal. The event would be hosted as a charity event and bring some of the biggest artists in the world over to Russia.
However McGhee always denied this and said it was always a goal of him to host an event in Russia.
Then there was the Mötley Crüe vs Bon Jovi incident. Mötley Crüe wasn’t allowed to use pyrotechnics, Bon Jovi however was allowed to do this. The drummer of Mötley Crüe wasn’t too amused with this and punched the manager Doc McGhee in the face. Mötley Crüe fired the manager and Bon Jovi followed not much later with firing McGhee.
The end was near and going solo
Touring and the extremely busy schedule almost ended Bon Jovi. The exhaustion of recording not only Slippery When Wet and New Jersey but also spending 16 months touring and performing drained the band members physically, mentally and emotionally.
After the last tour date in Mexico on the 17th of February 1990 the band left home without saying too many goodbyes. Bon Jovi as a band seemed to be burned out and the members retreated to their own solo projects. The desire to make a new Bon Jovi album seemed to be non-existent.
In 1990 Jon Bon Jovi released his critically acclaimed Blaze Of Glory album. The album features some of the biggest stars like Elton John, Jeff Beck, Little Richard and many more. Richie Sambora released in 1991 the album Stranger In This Town which features great songs Rosie, Mr Bluesman and Stranger In This Town. David Bryan produced the soundtrack for the movie Netherworld.
However as we all know the drive came back. The band came together and spoke out any differences and started working on the Keep The Faith album. Jon Bon Jovi took over the band’s management side after Doc McGhee was fired and from there the story of Bon Jovi kept going. Keep the Faith, together with These Days, are arguably some of the best albums the band ever released and had a much more mature sound.
Bon Jovi was and still is one of the biggest bands around. Standing proud above the rest and soon ready to release their 14th studio album called 2020 (October 2nd). The future seems bright and hopefully once Corona has been stopped we can enjoy live shows again of this mighty band!
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