REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Bon Jovi (1984, 2012 special edition)

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.

3.5/5 stars

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)”

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24 comments

  1. Just searched ‘shot through the heart’ on youtube, the properly titled song was the 4th result. I enjoyed the poster’s tagline: “PEOPLE. You give love a bad name and this song ARE NOT THE SAME!! Gosssh (:”
    As I enjoyed this early Jon Bon review Mike!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Here’s the interesting thing Geoff — I have a live version of that song from an old Bon Jovi 12″ single from ’85. In that one, they do it as a mash-up with Sonny and Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)”. Brilliant stuff. I wonder if that is on youtube.

      I think so! I think this is the same concert as the 12″ single.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Bon Jovi came through town in support of 7800 Fahrenheit (the Sophomore album). At the time, I considered them a “chick” band and being a broke high school student, I didn’t want to spend my meager funds on a ticket to the show. Now I wish I had gone to see them pre-Slippery, as it seems that all but “Runaway” has been forgotten from those early years.

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  3. Yowzer! Seems ol’ Bon Jovi was mighty inspired by Linda Hamilton in Terminator, eh? Anyhoo, I know that Runaway song. Strangely enough I never knew that was a Bon Jovi number!

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  4. I saw Bon Jovi open for the Scorpions in 1984 and my impression was that they weren’t bad but nothing spectacular. I never would have thought then that they would have made it as big as they did 2 years later.

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  5. I have to say I quite like the chick on the left on the top (right) photo. She’s got it going on!

    Really good review Mike. I really quite like this one, there’s something endearingly small town about it all at this point. They managed to keep their charm for a bit even when they got gi-normo-massive, but just became too much of a money machine after that for my tastes.

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  6. I think this record is great. I remember hearing Runaway on the radio here in Sweden the same week as the record came out and I was completely floored. They also played Breakout at the end of the show and I bought the album the next day.
    It’s strange how some songs have matured and some of them really don’t stand the test of time. Roulette is one example. I thought it was a mediocre song back when, but today I hold it as the best tune on the record. I loved She Don’t Know Me back in 1984 but today I cringe when I hear it – what a bucket of butter that one is. Yuck! Besides that song, the only tune I really can’t stand is Get Ready – boring and goes nowhere.
    It’s a shame that great stuff like Roulette, Burning For Love and Come Back hasn’t been played live since the 84 – 85.
    Also, I think the production could be better, but that’s trivial. I’d give this reord 8/10.

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      1. Haha. Awesome. Dude, I started to write a review of Bon Jovi’s latest record Burning Bridges yesterday and I used that exact words to descrbe their music of late – suck ass! :-D

        Liked by 1 person

        1. That’s sad but accurate! Man I can’t imagine how Jon can talk about the next studio album in 2016…and no Richie. And what the fuck is with his band now? He has Phil X…IN HIS BAND…he HAD Bobby Bandiera…IN HIS BAND…yet the guitar player on his new album…is John Shanks?? WHY?

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        2. They had this dude Matt O’Ree or something for some gigs lately. Dunno who the hell he is.

          I don’t think Shanks is playing on the new record, I think they kept Richie’s parts. I heard the rumor, but there’s no proof anywhere of Shanks being the guitarist. Or have I missed something?

          Liked by 1 person

        3. Just checked bonjovi.com. Shanks do play on the record and there’s no Sambora to be found. What an asshole! Removing all Sambora’s parts…
          That said, there are a few great guitar parts on there, so I guess Shanks isn’t all that bad. I guess he copied Sambora’s playing, though…
          Who the hell is John Shanks anyway?

          Liked by 1 person

    1. So funny, I was gonna comment on that line, but couldn’t make a good enough one about the sucking of the ass making it difficult for him to sing. So I let it go because I also thought it stood fine on its own. And then you came along and nailed it. Too legit to quit? Hahaha :)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Mike, I read these in reverse order. They do seem like a different band from their early days. Your review made me think of a picture I saw of Jon wearing a t-shirt that read: “Say hi to your mom for me.” It was funny because he sure knows his target market. Forever after I’ve thought of their music as “Mom Rock”.

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        1. Exactly this. I think he lost all his power when he cut his hair, started wearing flannel (‘cos he always meant to anyway koffkoff ok Jon) and started writing lite FM pap rock for the soccer mom crowd. “Oh Ashley, this new Bon Jovi album sounds, like, SO good in our new minivan speakers!”

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