Alec John Such

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Red Hot and 2 Parts Live (1985 EP)

 

All hail the mighty Aaron of the KMA.  He is a very generous man.  He is known to send parcels to friends all over the world, and he always keeps an eye out for things that people look for.  He’s incredible that way, and he deserves a tremendous amount of recognition for all he does for the Community.

 

BON JOVI – Red Hot and 2 Parts Live (1985 red vinyl Polygram EP)

Preamble:  Although I forgot about this, back in the fall Aaron did his regular Toronto shopping excursion.  He found a Bon Jovi 12″ single that I’d never seen before.  But I was tapped out, cash wise.  I had done my own Toronto trip to pick up an an absolutely massive toy for my collection.  Apparently he texted me about the Bon Jovi, and I asked him to leave it there because I couldn’t afford it.  Naturally he bought it anyway and secretly stashed it away.

Aaron sent me a big box of goodies for Christmas (and reviews of those will come too!) but the Bon Jovi was the centerpiece.  I didn’t actually open this box of goodies until Easter.  Due to illness and circumstance, our family finally just got around to celebrating Christmas.  I saved his box until then.

This three song EP, on brilliant clear red vinyl, has two live tracks and one remix.  “Hardest Part is the Night” (from 7800° Fahrenheit) was mixed by David Theoner though the differences are minor.  Interestingly, it was also issued as its own single with “Always Run to You” on the B-side.

The other two tracks were recorded live in Japan in 1985.  “Tokyo Road” was later released on the remastered 7800° Fahrenheit as a bonus track, but that CD doesn’t look nearly as pretty as this vinyl.  It’s a little odd hearing Jon introduce it by saying, “Welcome back to ‘Tokyo Road’…” when in fact they were the visitors in Tokyo, but whatever!  Jon’s the professional frontman, not me.  “In and Out of Love” is the real treat, featuring an extended guitar solo, and a different version from the one on 7800° Fahrenheit.  The track is still over 10 minutes long with all that (smoking) noodlin’, but Sambora fans who miss him will want to have this.

Fans of early Bon Jovi — hunt down this EP.  Get it or live your life without this awesome live Bon Jovi that you won’t get otherwise.

4.5/5 stars

 

Advertisements

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – “Please Come Home for Christmas” (1994 single)

BON JOVI “Please Come Home for Christmas” (1994 Mercury single)

Christmas of ’94 was a good one for Bon Jovi.  Their first greatest hits Cross Road was a smash, returning Bon Jovi to the charts.   It spawned two hit singles:  “Always” and later on, “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night”.  With all that going on, it is understandable if you missed another Bon Jovi single that was just under the radar.

“Please Come Home for Christmas” is billed as a Bon Jovi single, but in actuality it’s a Jon Bon Jovi solo track.  It was first released exclusively to the album A Very Special Christmas 2 (1992), billed to Jon Bon Jovi and not performed with the band.  By ’94, solo and band Bon Jovi were becoming blurred.  Jon’s solo track “Blaze of Glory” was on Cross Road even though it’s from Jon’s first solo album.  Nowhere on the “Please Come Home for Christmas” single is it indicated that this is a Bon Jovi solo recording, further blurring the lines.

None of that really matters; Bon Jovi is Jon’s band and this single gathers together his first three Christmas recordings in one place.  It’s actually a great value.

The old Charles Brown seasonal classic has been covered over and over, notably by the Eagles.  Jon’s version isn’t bad either.  You either like Bon Jovi or you don’t.  If you like Bon Jovi then this will probably be right up your alley.

Next up, one of the B-sides from Keep the Faith and an original song too:  “I Wish Everyday Could Be Like Christmas”.  This has the vibe of Keep the Faith, with full production by Bob Rock.  Why can’t everybody be kind to each other every day like they are on Christmas?  It ain’t easy to write an original Christmas song, and Jon did an excellent job on this one.  I’ve always preferred it to “Please Come Home for Christmas”.

Finally, from the first Very Special Christmas album (1987), it’s a live take of “Back Door Santa” (Clarence Carter).  That means it’s from the Slippery When Wet tour.  Vintage Bon Jovi with cheesy keyboards right out “Social Disease”.  It’s not good but it’s here!  Meaning, Bon Jovi fans don’t have to look for A Very Special Christmas to complete their collections.

Two for three decent songs isn’t bad.  All are non-album tracks, so that’ll make this single worth it to you.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – New Jersey (Super Deluxe, part 2)

Concluding an in-depth review of the Bon Jovi New Jersey Super Deluxe edition. Previous reading:

BON JOVI – New Jersey (2014 Universal Super Deluxe edition, part 2)

Of all the Bon Jovi albums, New Jersey certainly deserved the Super Deluxe treatment.  New Jersey‘s promotional cycle included two VHS releases, both present on this DVD: The old Wayne Isham tour documentary Access All Area, and New Jersey: The Videos.  Isham was responsible for virtually every cool larger-than-life video Bon Jovi made.  In 1988, trendy grainy black and white footage was all the rage, and so Access All Areas, where we will begin, has an over-abundance of it.

In a piece of incidental pre-show rehearsal footage, Richie Sambora sings “Purple Rain”, proving who the talent in the band always was.  It is nice though to see everybody in the band hanging out, having a good time, and seeming like genuine friends.  As for the audience, it’s amusing to see the giant hair from the perspective of today.

The sound of “Bang” by Russian metal band Gorky Park indicates we’re off to the Soviet Union.  Bon Jovi were pioneering in being one of the only hard rock bands to play behind the Iron Curtain (they were officially sanctioned by the government), and this part of the show is certainly the most interesting.  Bon Jovi even have a ten-man blues jam with the Russian band, building bridges at the end of the Cold War.  The blues is universal.  This visit leads to the massive Moscow Music Peace Festival, which I had on tape from MTV, and wore completely out.  (Not shown: the backstage moment when Tommy Lee rips the shirt off Bon Jovi manager Doc McGhee’s back, for allegedly upstaging Motley Crue by using fireworks in Bon Jovi’s show, against prior agreement.  It’s a long he-said she-said story involving McGhee who was managing both Motley and Bon Jovi at the time.  Motley felt McGhee had prioritized Bon Jovi, and fired him immediately after.)

The boys have a blast in the warmth of Rio de Janeiro, quite a contrast with snowy Moscow.   In Tokyo they are chased by a swarm of screaming girls.  Through it all, even though they’ve been on the road forever and can’t wait to get home, they maintain themselves with a lot of joking around.  Fortunately Isham captured this endearing footage.  The live rehearsal stuff is also excellent, up close and in the faces of the band.

In a very cool moment backstage at Wembley, Bon Jovi, Cinderella and the Scorpions work on covers together for a big jam.  “Travelling Band”…holy shit, is that Elton John on piano?  Sure looks like it.  Rick Allen, Brian May, Lita Ford!  “I am the happiest kid on Earth!” shouts an excited David Bryan.  Another gig features Bon Jovi with the late comedian Sam Kinison on “Wild Thing”.  At Tower Records, they are threatened with arrest by the riot squad if they perform, so naturally Jon and Richie break out the acoustics and do “Ride Cowboy Ride”.  In swoop the fuzz, who had nothing to worry about.  Alec John Such’s birthday is celebrated in West Berlin, where they visit the wall.  (In a shivery moment, Jon is eyeballed by an East German soldier on the other side.)  Their cover of “The Boys Are Back in Town” is performed, and Jon takes a chip out of the wall.

Jimmy Page is present at a three hour charity gig at Hammersmith, and they jam on “Train Kept a Rolling”.  (Best moment: when Jon sings a Steven Tyler “wha-ga-ga-ga” in it near the end, just like Tyler did in Aerosmith’s version.)  It’s clear that even then Jon was the boss — he alone makes the setlist, and says if something goes wrong he’ll call the shots.  He comments he has “never been so nervous.”  Bad Company’s “Shooting Star” is a duet with Richie Sambora, who had been playing it long before Bon Jovi formed.  It’s a stunning version and it’s hard to imagine Bon Jovi ever doing anything this big again, both in terms of success and quality.

Australia!  “Bon Jovi: We go everywhere, but we live nowhere!” says Sambora.  “Love For Sale” is played at HMV for swarms of long-hairs both male and female (but mostly female).  Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party” is another incredible cover selection, and you have to give Jon credit for that.  The final show is a big multi-gig stand in Guadalajara, Mexico that almost never happened due to “politics” (money) and a riot!  The first gig is postponed to the next day forcing Bon Jovi to play a double-header starting at 11 am!  “We should go on stage in riot gear,” jokes (?) Jon.  (They don’t.)

Access All Areas was a good rock doc for the time.  It feels whitewashed and scrubbed clean of blemishes, but that was music in general in the late 80’s.  The real pleasure is getting to see the other band members hanging out.  Alec John Such seems a funny, talented guy with a great voice.  David Bryan is clearly a lot more gifted than he gets to show off in the band.

The music videos (only mixed in stereo, unfortunately) are all you remember them to be: more mixtures of black & white, and colour footage, golly!  Both versions of “Bad Medicine” are included.  (More Sam Kinison!)  There are funny interludes with the band in between the songs, joking around back stage.  (Special guest: Skip Rope Skid Row’s Dave “Snake” Sabo.)  “Me, if I wasn’t a musician, I’d be a drummer!” says Jon. Of the music videos, “I’ll Be There For You” and “Lay Your Hands On Me” are the coolest, just no-nonsense stage performance clips.  “Blood on Blood”, which I’d never seen before, is a live version.

The DVD portion of this box set is a nice supplement, but you won’t be in a hurry to sit down and watch again.  The black & white/colour back and forth is very tiring.  Fortunately Bon Jovi seem(ed) like a nice bunch of guys from the neighborhood that have loads of talent, and fun to watch in any setting.

DVD: 3/5 stars
Bonus tracks: 4.5/5 stars
Album: 4.5/5 stars

Overall rating:  4/5 stars

Thanks for joining us for this massive review! Back to something else tomorrow.

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – New Jersey (Super Deluxe, part 1)

BON JOVI – New Jersey (2014 Universal Super Deluxe edition, part 1)

BACKLOG! I received this box set over 10 months ago.  We at LeBrain HQ are so busy with so much rock and roll that it has taken that long to finally give this entire box set a proper examination.  Fortunately, we (the “royal” we) have already reviewed New Jersey itself, in March of 2014 before this box set was released.  There is no need to repeat what was said in that review.  It is still an accomplished album worthy of its 4.5/5 star rating.  New Jersey was and easily remains a very high water mark.  For this review we will look at all the bonus tracks and the entire DVD in detail.  All three parts combined will probably give you the most complete look at the New Jersey Super Deluxe edition out there.

There are loads of bonus tracks to discuss, some of which were available before.  Bon Jovi must have known this release was always in the cards.  Look at the track list for their box set, 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong.  Not one of these demos is on that massive five disc box set.  Many of these tracks had been leaked a long time ago on bootleg CDs such as Keep the Faith/New Jersey Outtakes, but never issued by the band.  It’s natural to be cynical and say, “Well they must have been saving them for another box set like this one.”

“The Boys Are Back in Town” is an A-OK Thin Lizzy cover.  When Lizzy wrote this song, Phil Lynott almost had the blueprint for the future of Bon Jovi plotted out.  Bon Jovi, a back who love singing songs about the boys being back in town, were the perfect band to cover it and make it their own song.  Cynics may laugh, but Richie Sambora and Tico Torres are quality players able to inject class into the cover.  Keyboardist David Bryan uses the “organ” setting on his keys to offer appropriate backing for the boys.  It’s hard to have a winner with a Lizzy cover and not sound like a bunch of jackasses.  This one was recorded by Bruce Fairbairn for the 1989 anti-drug compilation Stairway to Heaven/Highway to Hell.

“Love is War” was good enough to be a single in its own right, but it was only the B-side to “Living in Sin”.  Perhaps the reason it was chosen for B-side status was that the verses and chorus don’t quite jibe.  The song has great, dark verses and a big old Slippery-like chorus.  It doesn’t quite sound like a New Jersey song, but it’s hard to track down today.

A very rare bonus track is an acoustic version of “Born to Be My Baby”, only available on a Japanese “Living in Sin” CD single.  Fans love when Jon and Richie just sit down together with a couple acoustics and do a live-in-the-studio rendition of a hit.  It’s an uber-rarity that LeBrain HQ did not even know existed before this box set was issued.  As usual, Richie’s soulful singing reaches deep into your guts.  His classical-influenced guitar solo is a masterpiece.

Famously, Bon Jovi once considered the awful title Sons of Beaches for their 1988 album.  Disc two is called the Sons of Beaches Demos and there are plenty more great tracks here that are familiar to bootleg collectors.  The opening demo version of “Homebound Train” is even bluesier and greasier than the great album take.  Anyone who doubts the instrumental ferocity of Bon Jovi can check this out and see what the original lineup was capable of.

IMG_20151004_090939

“Judgement Day” opens with traditional “nah-nah-nah” Bon Jovi vocals, giving it a sound-alike quality to other more familiar Bon Jovi songs.  It is good enough that it could have been on an album (or single B-side).  Then “Full Moon High” (also known as “River of Love” on bootlegs) is familiar.  I recognize the music from somewhere else: it became the Keep the Faith B-side “Save a Prayer”!  The riff is intact, and what “Full Moon High” amounts to is an alternate 80’s version of it.  It is just as great as “Save a Prayer”, and it is difficult to pick a preferred version.  “Full Moon High” is an achievement, and Richie’s guitar playing is nutso.  “Growing Up the Hard Way” is back to the “nah-nah-nah’s”, and it sounds as if this is an early version of “Love is War”, but with a very different chorus.

With a slinky, dusky song behind him, Jon urges someone “Let’s Make it Baby”.  This tune would have been good enough for Keep the Faith, but did not surface until a double disc version of These Days was issued in the mid-90’s.  This is a noticeably different mix from that release — more raw.  Then “Love Hurts” goes into upbeat territory with a decent set of melodies to sing along to.  It is a bit similar to “Love is War” once again, but that’s why these songs were never officially released before.  I’ve had this song in my collection for 20 years, but not with this level of audio quality.  Likewise “Backdoor to Heaven”, a ballad that fans have loved for a long time (just not officially).  Again, this song was probably deemed too similar to others such as “I’ll Be There For You”.  Same with “Now and Forever”, another ballad of high quality, but also similarity.

A harder-edged “Wild is the Wind” demo is otherwise very similar to the album arrangement, with some different bits on keyboards and acoustic guitars.  Singling out Tico Torres as drummer extraordinaire, I love his hard hitting style.  Same with the excellent “Stick To Your Guns”; it’s more or less already complete at the demo stage.  The rawness is a beautiful thing…you can hear Richie talking at one point.

The one track of all of these which LeBrain HQ was most excited about is “House of Fire”, a song that Jon donated to Alice Cooper for his Trash LP.  Brother Deke over at Arena Rock told us, “Don’t worry Bon Jovi do it great!”  Cooper’s version was “unremarkable” [LeBrain Trash review], but Bon Jovi did it right.  If Alice didn’t release his own single for it, I wonder if Jon would have?  One word:  infectious.

Fans in the know have always loved “Does Anybody Really Fall in Love Anymore”, another ballad that might be deemed too similar.  Another issue is that the chorus really reaches for the high notes, and Jon misses most of them on this demo.  Somebody probably realized it would be a difficult song to bring to the concert stage.  The bootleg version of this is more complete, with backing vocals filling it out.  This demo, perhaps earlier than the one that was bootlegged ages ago, lacks all backing vocals and sounds like it may be live in rehearsal.  “Keep going,” says Jon to someone, indicating this is likely the case.

IMG_20151004_091117“Diamond Ring” became such a fan favourite after the band played it live that this New Jersey demo was tried out again for Keep the Faith, and finally made an album in 1995 for These Days.  Each arrangement of the ballad was different from the last.  This one is the earliest, featuring bluesy electric guitars and organ.  Its final incarnation was much quieter.

Very conspicuous by its absence:  “Rosie”.  This was written by Richie and Jon about someone they knew growing up (as many of their songs are).  Desmond Child and Diane Warren helped them finish it, and it was recorded by Sambora for his first solo album Stranger in This Town.  Since that album featured Tico Torres and David Bryan on drums and keys, you can almost consider that a Bon Jovi song.  But why is it not here, with the demo sessions that it belongs with?  It’s cynical but not unlikely to think it’s due to Jon and Richie’s feud.  Shame.  There are other Sons of Beaches demos missing that are out there on bootlegs, such as “Love is War” so don’t fool yourself, this is not a complete set of ’em.

Come back tomorrow and we’ll look at the final disc in this set, the DVD.

To be concluded…

Scan_20151004

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – 7800° Fahrenheit (1985, 2012 special edition)

Part two of a Bon Jovi two parter!  For the last instalment, 1984’s Bon Jovi, click here.

BON JOVI – 7800° Fahrenheit (1985 Polygram, 2012 special edition)

Sophomore slump? Bon Jovi’s first record didn’t set the world alight, but their second, 7800° Fahrenheit sounded like they’d run out of material. It had a darker overall vibe, but managed to go gold in the US. To this day, 7800° Fahrenheit remains an inconsistent listen with a few great songs and a number of pure filler.

Although I was backtracking through their catalogue after Slippery When Wet, I was decidedly disappointed with 7800° Fahrenheit. Based on the excellently fun single and video “In and Out of Love”, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect more. That song was a blast, quality-wise sounding like a Slippery also-ran. It’s the only tune that periodically shows up on Bon Jovi hits albums. This remastered edition also has a smoking live version of the tune (from Tokyo), featuring an extended jam and guitar solo by Richie Sambora, before Tico Torres gets the spotlight for a drum solo! It’s a 12 minute track total, not the kind of thing you expect in a bonus track.

“Tokyo Road”, another hard rocker, is also worthy of praise. Japan was about the only place Bon Jovi were big. I could do without the boring “Sakura” intro though. Wow, does that thing get old fast. Otherwise, “Tokyo Road” is superfine. Jon seems to find these songs embarrassing today. They were certainly not very sophisticated lyrically, but neither is “When you breathe, I wanna be the air for you.”

Also on the better side are “The Price of Love” and “The Hardest Part is the Night”. Every good Bon Jovi has to contain a few heartbroken rockers. These two do the job while retaining an edge of toughness. Having Richie Sambora unfettered on axe sure does help. I’ll also admit a fondness for the single/video “Only Lonely”. Bon Jovi captured that tone of desperation. This rock ballad also appears as a live bonus track, much tougher and stronger than the studio version. It sounds like possibly a rehearsal tape.

“Only Lonely” had a pretty high budget music video for a band of Bon Jovi’s stature. It’s cheesy as hell and absolutely hilarious to watch today. So serious! It almost appears like a trailer in some kind of Bon Jovi movie. I guess Jon was interested in acting even back then.

7800° Fahrenheit was also plagued with its fair share of filler, leading to believe that Bon Jovi really only had half the material needed for a good second album. Among the filler: “Silent Night”, one of the sappiest of the sappy ballads from early Bon Jovi. It does work in clinical studies* as a sleep aid, if you need that sort of thing.

The last three albums tracks in a row were all pretty dozy and unremarkable, rendering the second side a limp finish. “Always Run to You”, “To the Fire”, and “Secret Dreams” as as forgettable as they are substandard. This second side has always made 7800° Fahrenheit a hard album to want to finish listening to in its entirety. The only interesting bit of trivia about these songs is that drummer Tico Torres only had one co-writing credit in Bon Jovi history, and it’s on “Secret Dreams”.

I don’t need to tell you that whatever slump Bon Jovi were in, they certainly overcame it by the next album. With a little help of course: names such as Desmond Child, Bruce Fairbairn, and Bob Rock. 7800° Fahrenheit is a forgettable blip in their trajectory.

2.5/5 stars

* LeBrain HQ study sample group size: 1.

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)”

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – “Born To Be My Baby” (7″ single)

I thought it would prudent to post a mini-review today, lest some of you thought I had lost my mind earlier.  What’s the date again?

BON JOVI – “Born To Be My Baby” (1988 Polygram 7″ single)

This single is a beauty.  I bought this 45 at the Zellers store at Stanley Park Mall in Kitchener when I was a young fella.  It doesn’t have any exclusive tracks — not even single edits which were very common on Bon Jovi 7″ singles.  Instead it came in a collector’s package with cardboard picture sleeve, and three postcards.

The postcards are interesting to me for a reason.  Look at the group photos of the band.  Jon’s face is always obscured.  These pictures from the New Jersey period represent a brief time when Jon was trying to give the band more face time.  Check many photos from that era — his back is often to the camera while the others look straight ahead.  I read a quote in a magazine where Jon was pissed that people only knew Richie Sambora as “the guy in the cowboy hat”.  He was trying to give them attention and I think that’s cool.

The two tracks on the single are two of my New Jersey favourites!  “Born To Be My Baby” was always a cool groove.  I enjoy listening to Tico Torres’ drums on this track.  Understated but perfect.  But “Love For Sale”?  Shit, I think that’s the best tune on New Jersey!   Proof of the talent of this band, drunk or sober.  Hard to imagine it was just something that happened and got recorded.  It actually makes me a little sad today — sad that Jon and Richie have now broken up this amazing chemistry.

Fun single though!  Glad to have kept it all these years.

4/5 stars

BORN TO BE_0003

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Livin’ On A Prayer (double 12″ single)

Welcome back to the Week of the Singles 3! Each day this week we’ll be looking at rare singles and EPs.

MONDAY: OZZY OSBOURNE – Ultimate Live Ozzy (1986 CBS picture 12″ record)

BON JOVI – Livin’ On A Prayer (1987 Polygram double 12″ single)

For the second time this week comes a record that I acquired via T-Rev.  This time, some friends of his were selling off some old vinyl, and he knew I’d be interested in this one.  Indeed!  From the juggernaut mid-80’s smash hit Slippery When Wet comes “Livin’ On A Prayer”, possibly the best known Bon Jovi hit.  Previously, I owned this single on cassette, but we all know how permanent the music on a cassette can be.  I was seeking what I call a “hard copy” — something more permanent like vinyl.  T-Rev delivered!

There are six tracks total, with two on the first record.  What a pair!  “Livin’ On A Prayer” is a song I have nothing bad to say about.  It’s hard to talk about a song such as this, which I probably hear daily, via the radio.  Trying to look past the intense familiarity, I hear some great dark keyboards and a still-great talk box guitar part.  It’s a still a great song, achieving musical heights that Bon Jovi would seldom scale.

Even better though is “Borderline”. This song is so hard to find, that I don’t even own it on a CD. It’s not on the (domestic) version of Bon Jovi’s 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong box set (though it is on the Japanese). This is an undiscovered Bon Jovi gem, deep into that Slippery sound and keyboard-heavy. It easily could have been on the album; hell it could be a single in its own right. Songs like this are long-time favourites of Bon Jovi fans in the know.

The second record commences with a Bon Jovi semi-hit, “In and Out of Love” from 7800° Fahrenheit.  I used to like this song when I was young.  Even though it’s one of Jon and Richie’s hardest rockers, it doesn’t really appeal to me anymore.  The words are laughably bad:  “You wanted me to meet your what? Your daddy is who?  Hey, just how old are you anyway?  Oh, no…”  Thankfully you can’t keep Sambora down, and Richie nails a cool, memorable guitar solo.

The coup de grâce is the final side, all rare live tracks recorded in Japan on the 7800° tour. These are some of my favourite Bon Jovi live recordings, and once again, I’ve never seen them on any kind of CD. All three tracks are from Bon Jovi’s first album: the single “Runaway”, “Breakout”, and “Shot Through the Heart”.

“Runaway” sounds amazing, and I think this song is underrated. It’s played a bit faster than the album version, and the vocal harmonies of Jon and Richie are young and fresh. “Breakout” is not especially notable, though hearing first-album Bon Jovi played live is a rare treat. Then, a surprise, as the band break into Cher’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” as a segue into “Shot Through the Heart”. The “Bang Bang” segment is an absolute treat, once again showing off those young voices, accompanied only by some David Bryan keyboards.  This intro overshadows the song itself, though it is still one of those great Bon Jovi deep cuts.  It’s a dark broken-hearted hard rocker with some smokin’ Sambora axe.

At roughly 32 minutes, I don’t know whether this is a single or an EP.*  All I know is, it’s longer than Diver Down.

5/5 stars.  An absolute must for any Bon Jovi fan with a turntable.

IMG_20140517_062656* It’s an EP, according to the spine, which I only noticed while taking these photos.

 

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – New Jersey (1988)

BON JERSEY_0001BON 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.

BON JERSEY_0002If “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.

4.5/5 stars

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.

REVIEW: Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet (2010 special edition)

BON JOVI – Slippery When Wet (1986, 2010 Universal special edition)

I’m not blown away by the new series on Bon Jovi reissues. For the running time of a CD, they could give you a heck of a lot more content. I mean, I’ve bought this album 3 times. I bought it on cassette back in ’87, then I bought the first round of remastered CD issues of the entire Bon Jovi catalogue. Now, begrudgingly, I’m starting to pick these up, because I’m a completist. How many times have you bought Slippery When Wet already? At least once, I’m guessing.

Slippery When Wet is one of those oddball albums: It’s considered the classic landmark by a very successful band, but it is by no means their best.  I’ll tell you what it is though:  It’s a concept album.  When I listen to Slippery When Wet, all I can hear is a concept album about growing up in Sayreville, New Jersey.  Think about it!  “Wanted: Dead or Alive”?  That’s not about touring, man.  That’s a song about dreaming, while writing songs in Richie Sambora’s mom’s laundry room.  Lyrically, Slippery When Wet captures a more innocent era and presents it in the form of different characters from all walks of life.

She says we’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got
Cause it doesn’t make a difference if we’re naked or not

Slippery is the album that made people like Desmond Child and Bruce Fairbairn into household names.  It’s notable for the presence of three smash hit classics: “Wanted: Dead or Alive”, “Livin’ On A Prayer”, and “You Give Love A Bad Name”. All three are obviously available on various Bon Jovi hits compilations. There are a couple deep cut classics, but Slippery is mostly padded out with filler. Surely, “Social Disease” with its juvenile lyrics and terrible synth-horns is one that Jon would like to disown?  Also cheesy are “Wild In The Streets”, “I’d Die For You”, and the sappy “Without Love”.  What helps save these songs are earnest performances from Jon, but especially Richie Sambora.

Two of the best songs are the deep cuts.  “Let It Rock” is a cool song, a bit muddy in the mix, but with some really cool sounding keyboards.  The atmospherics of it were unique for the time.  It still stands as one of Jon’s better moments.  Then there is “Raise Your Hands” which opened side 2.  This one rocks, and has some blazing guitars.  I have always been a fan of “Raise Your Hands”. Remember when it was used in that one scene in Spaceballs? Sweet!

John freakin’ Candy

The production, by the late Bruce Fairbairn, is muddy at times and too glossy at others. Fairbairn’s work on the 80’s Aerosmith albums was more innovative and interesting. I’ve always liked talk-box on guitar solos though, so I’ll give him and Richie Sambora credit for the catchiest talk-box solo in history.  Regardless this album set new standards.  Suddenly, everybody wanted to work with Desmond Child and Bruce Fairbairn.  Aerosmith were next, then Poison, then AC/DC.  As for Desmond Child, his old pal Paul Stanley came-a-knockin’ when it was time to write for the next Kiss album.  Slippery When Wet was undeniably one of the biggest influences on the second half of the 1980’s.  Rock bands were adding keyboardists, and trying to find ways to get played on radio and MTV the way Bon Jovi had.  Jon also used his newfound influence by helping friends like Cinderella and Skid Row get signed.   Cinderella certainly benefited from having Jon and Richie appear as rivals in their “Somebody Save Me” music video.

As influential as it is, albums such as New Jersey, Keep the Faith, and These Days are superior in my ears.  When I was swept up in the Bon Jovi tide in ’87, I finally picked up Slippery on cassette.  I was surprised, because I expected it to be a lot better.  Considering all the hits, all the hype, and all the sales, I was hoping for more than half an album of good songs.

Nope, not on this CD.

As far as the reissue goes, the reason I picked this particular one up was that I saw there was a “live acoustic” version of “Wanted” on here. I hoped and prayed that it was the acoustic version from the original 1987 “Wanted” cassette single. (If you haven’t heard it, man, you absolutely need to.) I only have that on cassette.  However, it’s not the same version. It’s a good live acoustic version, with just Richie and Jon.  It’s purportedly from the Slippery tour, and made stronger by Richie’s powerful vocals. “Prayer” and “Bad Name” are the other two live songs included, sounding pretty standard.   These three bonus tracks are all there is; no era B-sides such as “Edge of a Broken Heart” or “Borderline” are included.  Songs like these would have gone a long way to strengthen an album that’s a little weak in the knees.

I was pleased to see a retro looking backstage pass included within the slipcase. That made me a bit happier with my purchase. Nice touch, this is the kind of thing that rewards people for buying the CD rather than downloading.

3/5 stars