BON JOVI – New Jersey (1988 Mercury)
Slippery When Wet sold 28 million copies and went to #1 in over half a dozen countries, including Canada. The easy way to follow that might have been creating a carbon copy album, a sequel to follow it. Bravely, Bon Jovi chose not to do that. Their ambition was running high. The next album (tentatively titled Sons of Beaches after a line in the song “99 In the Shade”), was intended to be a double. The record company ixnay’d that due to the cost, but Bon Jovi had written and recorded plenty of good songs. The proof of this is that some of the best, including the B-side “Love Is War”, didn’t make the final single disc album.
New Jersey is not a carbon copy of Slippery nor any other Bon Jovi record. It’s more raw, more rock and roll, with bluesy elements added. There are dueling solos, long song structures, live jams and even a song in mono! Bon Jovi’s three main musicians (Richie Sambora, David Bryan, Tico Torres) performed and recorded some of their best playing on this album. Indeed, if New Jersey had come out under a different band name I don’t think many people would have recognized it as Bon Jovi. I think it remains one of their highest achievements, if not the very highest. Clocking in at almost an hour, it was a long varied album even if it wasn’t a double.
Slippery began with a long, ominous opening and New Jersey maintained that. “Lay Your Hands On Me” begins with drums and chants, but soon morphs into a top-ten (US) soul-rock single. The guitar is muscular and song is about as heavy as Bon Jovi get. “Bad Medicine” follows; the first single and one of the more pop-rock oriented songs. On the last album, Jon claimed he had a “Social Disease”, this time he needs a shot of “Bad Medicine”. I don’t think “Bad Medicine” is one of their best songs (I felt it was “just another Bon Jovi song” back then) but it sure had legs. It’s still a concert highlight today. I do prefer the album version to the single version with its playful, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, I’m not done!” false ending.
“Born To Be My Baby” was written acoustically and intended to be “the hit”. I think it’s just fine electrically, which is how it was recorded. I got this one as a single in a cardboard sleeve with post cards (see below), and I prefer it to “Bad Medicine” by a fair deal. The “na na na, na na na” vocal part is catchy as hell and the song rocks hard enough for the dudes. The ballad and single “Living In Sin” follows. It too was a huge hit, helped by a black & white video with some blonde-haired male model that looked like Mike Tramp, for the ladies.
Side one’s closer was the heartfelt epic “Blood On Blood”, which was not a single, but still gets played live today. Once again, Jon has managed to capture the essence of his young adulthood, growing up in Sayreville, New Jersey. Jon, “Danny” and “Bobby” are three friends who went through everything together. But with the years and miles between them, Jon lets them know that if he got that call, he’d be right by their sides. Lyrically, it’s this kind of thing that was Jon’s bread and butter, and it also resulted in a great song musically. “Blood On Blood” is one of the band’s proudest achievements.
If “Blood On Blood” was not enough musicality for ya, then “Homebound Train” is Bon Jovi at their most impressive. A 5-minute blues-rock workout, “Homebound Train” is one of those tracks that laymen just won’t believe is Bon Jovi. The band laid down some harmonica and guitar solos backed by some serious groove, something not often associated with Bon Jovi. “Homebound Train” would have to be among the band’s best tracks, and it serves to open a killer side of vinyl.
“Wild Is the Wind” might be considered a ballad, I think it’s more an anthem. If you can’t stop singing along to it, congratulations, you have a pulse! The chorus is brain-explodingly good. “Ride Cowboy Ride” follows, which is a brief instrumental in mono. Although it’s intentionally just an intro to the next song, on its own it’s an enjoyable listen – in fact it made my own mix tapes on its own a few times. “Ride Cowboy Ride” serves to introduce another cowboy anthem, “Stick To Your Guns”. The title reflects the positive affirmations of the lyrics, but this is just another standout song. Any one of these songs could have been singles.
A massive single, “I’ll Be There For You”, slows the side down a bit by being so soft. I’m sure there are those out there who don’t hate this song. Musically it’s fine, but the lyrics…I just can’t handle the lyrics. “When you breathe, I wanna be the air for you.” What does that even mean?
“99 In the Shade” contains the lyric that almost named the album: “I see those Sons of Beaches out there living it up, in the surf and the sand, yeah that life ain’t so tough.” This would be the weakest song on the album. It’s a standard Bon Jovi boogie, nothing wrong with it, but it pales compared to the rest of the songs on the record. Having said that if it were on Bon Jovi’s latest, it would be one of the best songs…
A personal favourite is last: “Love For Sale”, recorded live “during one hell of a party”. This drunken jam is among the most magical musical moments on any Bon Jovi album. Consider that it was the 1980’s, and the band just came off the ultra-sleek Slippery When Wet. They threw down a drunken, smoking acoustic blues jam to close the album? Yeah, man – cool! I’m down. It’s hilarious and fun, not to mention Richie just smokes on that six-string. Tico’s on the brushes and Jon sounds blasted.
And that’s New Jersey, an album the band had to be proud of. It went #1 all over the place, and multi-platinum in the US. It’s a curious mix of rootsy hard rock quality, and pop melody. It’s certainly among the best examples of such a mixture.
BONUS GALLERY! “Born To Be My Baby” 45 rpm single!
I believe this baby was about $2.99 at Zellers in 1988. It came with postcards which I obviously kept.