Some rarities are easiest to find on tape.
That’s definitely still the case for “Wanted: Dead or Alive”, the 1987 acoustic version originally released only on an extended play cassette in most of the world. This version, discussed below, is a Holy Grail collectable. What about CD or vinyl? There was a rare Japanese version with a slightly different tracklist, but for 30 years, all I had was this cherished cassette.
The tape has four tracks. The original studio version (titled “Long Version” here to avoid confusion with the 4:10 single edit) leads side A. “Wanted” is Bon Jovi’s first truly brilliant song. An extended cowboy metaphor about the road, it’s timeless. It always has been. Richie Sambora’s 12 string guitar made all the young guitar kids want to play one. His backing vocals were the real highlight. Funny thing about Bon Jovi: the backing vocalist was better than the lead singer! Smoking guitar solo too, where every note counts. You can hear Richie pushing those strings and wrenching that solo from the instrument. It’s a perfect song, with every component serving a purpose and coming together. The old west as seen from New Jersey.
The acoustic version of “Wanted” is the real delight here. It’s just Jon and Sambora together with two acoustic guitars. Jon explains the details in the liner notes, but only the cassette has this information: one more good reason to hunt down the tape. Read below:
“On March 18, 1987 or somewhere there bouts, Richie and I flew into New York to mix some live tracks for a radio special. After a couple hours of record making, donut eating, and MTV watching we got bored, picked up two acoustics and started to jam. The results are here on tape, the way we wrote it, just like it was in the basement on that cold January night in Jersey.”
If that doesn’t set the scene, nothing will. Richie sings more of the lyrics, and belts out a killer acoustic solo too. It was this recording that demonstrated to me the talents of Mr. Sambo. What it lacks in glossy finish, it makes up for in spades with vibe.
On side B, the live version of “Wanted” is another rarity. It’s an extended 8:13 full band version, with a long instrumental prologue. According to the liner notes (again, only on the cassette), it was recorded at Cobo Hall in Detroit on March 11, exactly a week before the studio jam was recorded. It’s likely this is one of the live songs that Jon and Richie were in New York mixing on the 18th. (Production is credited to both.) You may have lots of versions of “Wanted” already, but owning an extended take from early ’87 is better.
The tape ends on “I’d Die For You”, a song that was good enough to be a single in its own right. However, it wasn’t. It’s just an album track from Slippery When Wet, but it’s safe to say it’s a bit of an unsung classic. The Japanese CD version, on the other hand, comes with the non-album rarity “Edge of a Broken Heart”, one of their best tunes ever. After “Edge”, there is an exclusive unlisted interview with all five band members. Inside, Japan also got a “Bon Jovi Dictionary (R to Z)”. Presumably the other volumes of the dictionary can be found in other Japanese CDs.
Though this cassette has an overabundance of “Wanted”, you simply need to get that acoustic version. You want the one that’s 5:31 long, recorded in March ’87. In fact, you need that one. And even though CD is the superior format, the tape has the liner notes and other details you won’t find on CD.
Thanks to Mitch Lafon for helping me locate a CD copy of these tracks!