For many bands that became popular in the facile, videocentric late '80s, it's been a case of hair today, gone tomorrow.
Not so for Bon Jovi, the New Jersey-based group that helped put pop-metal on the map, but that somehow didn't fade away, despite constant drubbings by critics and the onset of grunge in the '90s.
The singer was born John Francis Bongiovi March 2, 1962, in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, and grew up in Sayerville, N.J. A poor student, he spent much of his adolescence playing in local bands with friend David Rashbaum. His cousin Tony Bongiovi owned the Power Station, a prominent New York recording studio, and hired the aspiring singer as a janitor. Sweeping floors provided entrée into the world of music, though, and soon he was recording demos with the likes of rocker Aldo Nova and members of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band.
One of Bongiovi's songs, "Runaway," found a spot on New Jersey radio, and he formed a band to hit the club circuit. It featured Rashbaum on keyboards, guitarist Dave Sabo, bassist Alec John Such, and drummer Hector "Tico" Torres. Mercury Records won a bidding war for the group in 1983, though some controversy still surrounds the signing — according to some accounts, Bongiovi himself was the only one signed, with the rest of the band being regarded as little more than employees.
The name of the group became Bon Jovi, to capitalize on his success of Runaway, which clearly thrust the singer out front, also removing any ethnic traces from his name. John Bongiovi became Jon Bon Jovi, and in a similar spirit, Rashbaum became David Bryan. Before the band actually began recording, guitarist Richie Sambora replaced Dave Sabo.
The album Bon Jovi was released in 1984, and "Runaway" became a national hit, just making it into the Top 40 at No. 39, while "She Don't Know Me" made it as far as No. 48. It was, however, a Gold Record in Japan. With a degree of success came headaches, though, too — Bon Jovi's cousin Tony came calling with a lawsuit, claiming he was being cut out of the band's largesse despite having helped develop their sound. Though Bon Jovi denied the claim, they chose to settle out of court rather than go through protracted litigation.
The album 7800 Degrees Fahrenheit followed in 1985 but produced no major hits. "Only Lonely" made it to No. 54, while "In and Out of Love" charted at No. 69. The band relentlessly toured and opened for such acts as Kiss and Scorpion.
Should anyone doubt the effects of marketing research on rock and roll, they need look no further than what happened next. After bringing in hit-making songwriter Desmond Child (Aerosmith, KISS, Cher), the band played tapes of its new songs for some New Jersey teens, basing the song selection and even the running order of tunes for 1986's Slippery When Wet on their opinions.
Three additional factors led to that album's breakthrough success. The first was the material, some of it co-written by Child, including "You Give Love a Bad Name" (a No. 1 hit), "Livin' on a Prayer" (also No. 1), and "Wanted Dead or Alive" (No. 7); the immense impact of videos also boosted the album, as women in particular found Bon Jovi's chiseled looks and feathery hair irresistible. A third factor was Slippery's album cover, which was switched from the standard metal cliché of a woman in a wet T-shirt to the inoffensive image of the title sketched out on a wet surface. Bon Jovi became a metal band for the whole family, and Slippery When Wet went on to sell 9 million copies.
Formula took over for the band's next release, New Jersey, which sounded a lot like its predecessor but managed to sell 5 million copies nonetheless. The album spawned no less than five Top 10 singles: "Bad Medicine" (No. 1), "Born to Be My Baby" (No. 3), "I'll Be There For You" (No. 1), "Lay Your Hands on Me" (No. 7), and "Living in Sin (No. 9).
Following the record's release, the group stayed on the road for 18 months, even taking a trip to the Soviet Union. In the middle of the tour, the band members took time off to back Cher, who was dating Sambora at the time, on her 1989 album, Heart of Stone. After all the roadwork, the band went on hiatus.
Jon Bon Jovi went solo for the 1990 album Blaze of Glory, featuring songs from the soundtrack of Young Guns II, a film in which Bon Jovi had his blink-and-you'll-miss-him big-screen debut. The album sported guest shots by the likes of Elton John, Little Richard, Jeff Beck, and his old pals Aldo Nova; spawned the No. 1 title track, as well as "Miracle" (No. 12); and earned the singer Grammy and Academy Award nominations.
The band reunited in 1992 for Keep the Faith, which was met with less enthusiasm than its predecessors but did manage to spin off a couple of hits in the title track (No. 27), "Bed of Roses" (No. 10), and "In These Arms" (No. 27). The following year saw the release of Cross Road, a greatest-hits collection that included two new songs, one of which, "Always," went as far as No. 4, and "Someday I'll be Saturday Night" went as far as No.7 in the UK Charts. Bassist Such left the band, which remained a quartet for 1995's These Days. That album featured the No. 14 hit "This Ain't a Love Song." and "Lie to Me" (No.88). The title track of the album "These Days" topped at No.7 in the UK Charts.
In the last half decade of the millennium, Jon Bon Jovi's attention turned increasingly to acting. He appeared in films such as Moonlight and Valentino in 1995 and The Leading Man a year later. In 1997, when his solo album Destination Anywhere was released, it was accompanied by a long-form video starring Bon Jovi and Demi Moore. He appeared in Row Your Boat, Little City, No Looking Back, and Homegrown, all released in 1998. In 1999 he appeared in an episode of HBO's Sex and the City, and in the year 2000 we saw him show up in U-571 and Pay It Forward. Watch for him in 2002 in the movie "Vampires, Los Muertos", and on several episodes of "Ally McBeal".
Other band members have also pursued solo careers. Bryan released Netherworld in 1992, On a Full Moon in 1995 and Lunar Eclipse in 2000. Sambora's solo discs, Stranger in This Town and Undiscovered Soul, came out in 1991 and 1998, respectively. One of the songs from Richie's first Album "Ballad of Youth", could only go as far as No. 63 on the charts. Tico Torres concentrated his efforts in his art and baby clothes.
band members reunited once more to record the single "Real
Life" for the soundtrack of EDTV in 1999.
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