Part one of a Bon Jovi two-parter!
BON JOVI – Bon Jovi (1984 Polygram, 2012 special edition)
With Bon Jovi sucking quite a lot of ass lately, there has never been a better time to go back and check out some old Bon Jovi. Join us in taking a look at the band’s very first LP, Bon Jovi from 1984. It didn’t do much in terms of sales. The music videos are kind of funny to look at today. But there is an honesty and innocence to early Bon Jovi, that is completely gone from the band now. Then, they were five hungry guys trying to make it together. Today they’re three guys — one boss and two employees. Today we will look at the 2012 reissue, with four live bonus tracks. This is notable since Bon Jovi rarely if ever played these songs after they hit it big.
Jon Bongiovi had been working at Power Station recording studios, having got a job there thanks to his cousin Tony Bongiovi. Several demos from that era have been released on compilations such as Jon Bon Jovi – The Power Station Years. The studio time evolved into a band with a record deal. They soon set down to record nine songs for their debut album to be called Tough Talk, however the label convinced them a self titled debut was the way to go.
The first track and single was actually an older song: “Runaway”. JBJ had a local hit with it, which he recorded with the “All Star Review”, five local studio guys. Among them was bassist Huey McDonald, who later went on to play bass with Bon Jovi themselves. It’s an instantly catchy rock song leaning heavily on keyboards. Even from this early track you can tell that young Jon Bon Jovi had a hell of a talent for writing catchy hooks. The immaculate backing vocals are obviously not those of Richie Sambora. Just wait until Jon goes for the high notes at the end though!
It was 1984, the peak of the “post-apocalyptic wasteland” setting for music videos.
Moving on to “Roulette”, we now get a song that is a little harder-edged. Richie has a chunky guitar riff that gives the song some weight. Jon pours it all on, and it’s clear even on this first album that Sambora was a serious talent. His style has evolved considerably over the years, but at this stage he was already capable of writing great songs with memorable guitar solos.
“She Don’t Know Me” was also a single, but this one has not aged so well. Sounding like a New Jersey version of the lighter side of Journey, “She Don’t Know Me” is a lil’ too sappy for most adults. It’s not terrible but “She Don’t Know Me” is just too heavy on the syrup. It is at least upbeat, with a Sambora solo right out of the Neal Schon book of tricks!
“Shot Through the Heart” is a forgotten song, since its title was used as in the chorus of “You Give Love a Bad Name”. This is a hard rock heartbreak, the kind of thing Jon does so well. The balance comes from Sambora. Without him, there’s no edge. He brings a very special guitar quality to the table, not to mention songwriting.
The first Bon Jovi album’s biggest weakness is an over-reliance on sad sounding love songs. “Love Lies” is another one, a dusky piano based ballad. David Bryan (known here as David Rashbaum) co-wrote it with Jon, and like all the other tunes it does have quality to it. It’s just too much heartbreak for one side of vinyl.
“Breakout”, also written by Rashbaum, is a hard enough rocker to open side two. Jon has found some backbone, telling his ex that he’s “better off on my own”. That’s better, Jon! Let’s stay strong buddy, and crank out a rocker. “Burning for Love” continues the hot streak. Now we’re cooking with gas. Richie really nails it on the axe. Then is a song called “Come Back”. You might expect by the title that Jon has lost his balls again. Thankfully, his pal Richie is there to keep him standing. “Come Back” is a bit of a broken-hearted rocker, but Sambora’s pick scrapes keep it rock and roll.
One last rocker was all you needed to call it an album back then. Of all the songs on Bon Jovi, “Get Ready” sounds the most like what Bon Jovi would become famous for: good time rock music! Guitar, piano, bass and drums: that’s all you need for a rock and roll party. This really sounds like Bon Jovi.
That’s a pretty solid debut album right there, for a band in Bon Jovi’s league. I have no idea why they (he) won’t play so many of these songs anymore. They’re better than most of the stuff he’s been putting out lately. And we still have the four bonus tracks to discuss.
The four live songs come from various shows, 1984-1988. Each is heavier than its studio counterpart. “Runaway” benefits from the full band treatment, as opposed to the studio cats. Having Richie there singing it with Jon makes all the difference. (This is not the same version as the B-side from “Lay Your Hands On Me”.) “Roulette” is a solid inclusion. “Breakout” keeps it rolling, but you gotta love that “Get Ready” was also included, ending the album as it always has.
2010 Special Edition bonus tracks
1. “Runaway (Live Le Zenith, November 20, 1988)”
2. “Roulette (Live BBC Friday Rock Show)”
3. “Breakout (Live Super Rock ’84)”
4. “Get Ready (Live Japan Tour 1985)”