richie sambora

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

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REVIEW: Merry Axemas – A Guitar Christmas – Various Artists (1997)

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MERRY AXEMAS A Guitar Christmas (1997 Sony)

Do you have a favourite Christmas album? Perhaps you need some Merry Axemas in your life.  The first one, in particular.

I used to have an annual tradition of making a Christmas mix CD.  I dropped it because after a while I ran out of good Christmas tracks. Something from Merry Axemas used to make the list every year.  Not only are there great traditional songs, but also the finest guitar slingers in the world.  For an album of (mostly) instrumentals, this one really rings the bells.

Louisiana blues rocker Kenny Wayne Shepherd gets things started with “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”.  Anyone on board with the blues should enjoy the solid jamming going on here!  This isn’t for grandma.  This is for guitar maniacs!  Progressive stylist Eric Johnson has a beautiful “First Nowell”, on a classical and electric guitars with accompaniment.  Grandma won’t mind this one at all, in fact she might want a copy for herself.  The wizard of the wires, Jeff Beck, then presents his slide guitar version of “Amazing Grace” complete with choir.  A different mix of elements, but not too hard to digest.


Not the version from this CD, which is instrumental

The Brian Setzer Orchestra comes out swingin’ with their instrumental “Jingle Bells”.  If you ever needed reminding how awesome the former Stray Cat is on six strings, then check this out.  Brian keeps it all accessible while simultaneously blowing off your nuts.  The big band is icing on the cake.  Joe Satriani is next up to the plate with an adventurous “Silent Night/Holy Night Jam”.  This one is strictly for guitar-heads and players, as it’s more a Joe showpiece than anything else.  Picture Joe circa Flying in a Blue Dream and you’re in the right place, but not very Christmas-y.  This is the only song that has never made one of my annual Christmas mix CDs.  Steve Morse’s “Joy to the World” is far more successful as far as the Christmas theme goes.  Steve does do it his way, but at least you can tell which carol you’re listening to.  If anyone can capture angelic Christmas guitar tones, it is Steve Morse.

How big can these names get?  Try Steve Vai on for size.  You might recall “Christmas Time is Here” from the classic Charlie Brown Christmas special.  Vince Guaraldi made it popular for all ages, and Steve does a playful take on it, using his guitar like a voice.  And the names keep getting bigger.  Heard of Joe Perry before?  The Aerosmith guitar hero does Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas” as a Hawiian guitar instrumental which suddenly goes surf rock.  Rush’s Alex Lifeson then brings “The Little Drummer Boy”, with a low-key and quiet instrumental.

“‘O Holy Night”, performed by Richie Sambora formerly of Bon Jovi, swings and just barely misses.  It just doesn’t have that Christmas feel.  The Japanese guitarist Hotei has the final track, John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over)”, which is actually a traditional that Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote lyrics to.  He goes a little over the edge partway through, but it mostly maintains the right feel.

Here’s the great thing about Merry Axemas.  Even if you don’t care for Christmas music, there is usually a need for it around, once a year.  Merry Axemas, with some modest editing, could suit your needs.  Don’t celebrate Christmas?  No problem — if you’re a fan of these players (particularly Morse, Vai, Perry, and Johnson) then you’ll want to hear what they did with these tracks.

4/5 stars

 

 

 

 

 

 

Richie Sambora, Bret Michaels, Robin McAuley and more! The stars rock Kitchener (11/17/2017)

Boppin heard a rumour that Bon Jovi was coming to town. Then an anonymous source informed us that a super-secret private concert was taking place Friday night right here in Kitchener Ontario.  The list of talent:

Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora, Foreigner’s Lou Gramm and Stephanie Calvert of Starship.
Backed by an all-star cast of legendary rockers and potential surprise guest performers:
Howard Leese
-Guitar- Heart, Bad Company, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Hugh Mc Donald
– Bass- Bon Jovi
Doug Aldrich
– Guitar- Whitesnake, Dead Daisies, Dio
Jay Schellen
– Drums- Asia, Yes
Michael Ross
– Keys- Lita Ford Band, Missing Persons
Robin McAuley
– Vocals- MSG/Survivor
Andrew Freeman
– Vocals- Offspring, Last in Line
Paul Shortino
– Vocals- Rough Cutt, Quiet Riot
Mark Boals
– Vocals- Yngwie Malsteen, Dokken

And then our sources tell us that Bret Michaels showed up!

Richie played guitar, but also sang lead vocals without one.  According to our source:

“He did both. He was out for the middle bit of the show. He did two Bon Jovi songs, “Dead or Alive” and “Livin’ on a Prayer” and then a super extended (self serving if I’m honest) rendition of “Respect Yourself”. General consensus was that he was the low point of the night!! Even his back up singers, Robin McAuley, Mark Boals, Paul Shortino and Stephanie Calvert looked confused by the end. The night was amazing. So much energy and so much sound.”

Our source also enjoyed Robin McAuley.  “He was awesome. ”

Enjoy these photos!  Thanks to Krista Ward, our anonymous source!

 

REVIEW: Richie Sambora – Stranger In This Town (1991 2 CD deluxe)

scan_20161021-2RICHIE SAMBORA – Stranger In This Town (1991 Mercury 2 CD deluxe)

Bon Jovi went on hiatus after the lengthy New Jersey tour.  Their future appeared uncertain.  Jon had released his first solo album, a soundtrack called Blaze of Glory. Alec John Such was reportedly opening carwashes in Hungary, although that was probably a joke answer in a magazine interview.   Meanwhile, the rest of Bon Jovi (Richie Sambora, David Bryan and Tico Torres) gathered in the studio to record.  With Tony Levin on bass and Chapman Stick, the group assembled Richie’s first solo album, Stranger In This Town.  Although fans were worried about a possible split, there was much excitement for Richie to have a chance to sing his own songs.  Adding to the hype, Eric Clapton appeared as a special guest.  (Randy Jackson played bass on one song, “One Light Burning”.)

Sambora seemed to determine to fly his own colours.  Predominantly, that’s blue, as in the blues.  He also mixed in soul, pop, and rock to create an album that wouldn’t alienate any Bon Jovi fans.  David Bryan contributed songwriting, and there is even one Bon Jovi song in the mix.  It’s not a guitar album, although it need not be stated that the guitar playing on this album is brilliant.  Richie went for feel and atmosphere rather than flash.

This is apparent on opening track “Rest in Peace”.  It’s not really a full-fledged song, but more an introduction to the album.  It even has listening instructions:  “Turn down the lights…light a candle…welcome.”  That doesn’t sound very rock and roll, does it?  But it is good advice.  That’s the kind of album this is.  “Rest in Peace” is loaded with soul, and this merges with the pop rock on “Church of Desire”.  A song like this wouldn’t have worked with Bon Jovi.  It has more soul, and its quiet production lets the music breathe more than Bon Jovi songs do.  It’s a brilliant track, and Richie’s solo just blasts.  Different from Bon Jovi, but accessible for Bon Jovi fans:  it’s an ideal song for a first Sambora album.

The blues single “Stranger In This Town” sounds like something Richie had been aching to do for years.  Backed by a choir of vocalists, this is Richie fulfilling some musical dreams.  Both blues fans and rock fans should enjoy the middle ground where they meet on “Stranger In This Town”.  As a single, it seemed to represent the image Richie was going for.  This album has three singles in a row, making the first side a little more consistently strong.  “Ballad of Youth” was the debut single, combining Bon Jovi’s anthemic melodies with Richie’s new laid-back vibe.  It even has a Bon Jovi-like positive message.  “Don’t waste your life away, thinkin’ ’bout yesterday’s blues.”  The excellent third single was the synth ballad “One Light Burning” which almost sounds like Richie Sambora joined the Cars.  For the programmed sounds and percussion, Richie said they had “about 100 computers” networked together.  Oh, 1991!  Though a ballad, it’s the centerpiece of the album.

It’s possible they intended “Mr. Bluesman” to be the centerpiece, but the lyrics are difficult to digest.  When you write a song as a tribute to your hero, such as this tribute to Eric Clapton, lyrics are always the trick.  Thankfully Mr. Clapton’s guest guitar appearance, though brief, does tell us the story.  Hearing him rip on this blues ballad is like a searchlight cutting through the murky haze.  But here’s the weird thing.  Didn’t Eric find Brian May’s tribute song “Blues Breaker” embarrassing?  Yet he appeared on this ballad?

IMG_20151004_091117“Rosie” is a Bon Jovi song that was heavily bootlegged, from the fruitful New Jersey sessions.  It sounds like Bon Jovi, but Richie’s version has way more guitar.  Unfortunately the Bon Jovi version has never been released.  It was mysteriously not included on the Sons of Beaches demos that came out in 2014, even though the other songs were.  One has to assume Jon didn’t include it on his set because Richie already had his version out.  The next track “River of Love” is a title that has nothing to do with the Bon Jovi demo of the same name.  This is the first and last really greasy rocker on the album.

It’s ballads from there out, but terrific songs nonetheless.  “Father Time” (written with Desmond Child) is a melancholy rock ballad that Jon probably wishes he wrote.  It’s a powerful song, like an amped up “One Light Burning”.  Guitars burn up and down your spine while Sambora soothes your ears with his soulful croon.  Tico and David provide the solid base upon which the song is built.  Their expert chops are essential parts of the entire album.  Things draw to a close on “The Answer”, an acoustic lullaby-like song that has a lot of heart.  A sentimental ballad asking existential questions is an unconventional way to end an album, which is part of what makes it special.

Mercury did something unusual for the era, but very common today.  They released Stranger In This Town as a single CD, and a 2 CD deluxe edition.  The deluxe is housed in a long box, and has two bonus tracks.  At the end of CD is “The Wind Cries Mary”, which saves fans from having to buy the atrocious Ford Fairlane soundtrack on which it originated.  It’s a smoking Hendrix cover, and the best tune on that soundtrack.  On the second CD you will find an almost 20 minute interview with Richie discussing the songs on this album.  No revelations here; it’s really just an extended promo for the album.  Half of it is music anyway…snippets of the same music from disc one!  An OK extra, but the real bonus is “The Wind Cries Mary”.

The final extra, usually missing on the second hand market, is the metal guitar pick shaped pendant.  It has Richie’s solo logo on it, but nobody’s going to be wearing this thing.  All this is packed in the box, which is a beauty but awkward to store.

As an introduction of the “real” Richie to the fans, Stranger In This Town was a success.  He differentiated himself from Bon Jovi, and also proved he could sing an entire album easily.  Critically and commercially, the album was less successful.  There were mixed reviews, with the rock press hung up on the soft songs.  With the benefit of 25 years’ hindsight, Stranger has aged well, better than Bon Jovi itself.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: The Adventures of Ford Fairlane – Original Soundtrack (1990)

MOVIE SOUNDTRACK WEEK
Scan_20160604THE ADVENTURES OF FORD FAIRLANE – Original Soundtrack Recording (1990 Elektra)

This movie stunk.  Somebody had the idea:  “Hey, let’s get Andrew Dice Clay to headline a raunchy comedy movie, and get a hard rock soundtrack!  The kids will love it.”  The movie and soundtrack were loaded with famous names:  Wayne Newton, Sheila E., Vince Neil, Priscilla Presley, Robert England and so on.  It didn’t help; the movie tanked and its resultant soundtrack was a hodge-podge of music that no one listener would like all the way through.

There is plenty to dislike on this CD.

A past-his-prime Dion remade “Sea Cruise” with Don Was, rendering it limp like a stunted child of the 1980’s.  Skip the unbelievably terrible Sheila E. track.  The Teddy Pendergrass song is also pretty awful, in a nondescript 80’s fashion. Tone Lōc dropped a turd with “Can’t Get Enough”, despite a phat Hammond organ riff that must have been sampled from something much better. Finally, Andrew Dice Clay taints both the band Yello and the song “I Ain’t Got You” with his voice. The Yello track is just synth music with movie dialogue on top. Then “I Ain’t Got You” is less than two minutes long, so at least it’s relatively painless. I don’t know if somebody had the idea to launch Dice as a rock star next, but if they did, it failed miserably.

There are a few songs that could be considered keepers.

Billy Idol was experiencing a comeback at the time, with the classic-tinged “Cradle of Love”. It combined new wave production values with rock and roll stylings of the 1950’s. Striking while the iron Idol was hot, the song is included on this soundtrack as the opening number. It was Idol’s first single, post-Steve Stevens. It featured his new guitarist Mark Younger-Smith, and ex-Ozzy bassist Phil Soussan who briefly appeared in the movie as one of Vince Neil’s bandmates. (He later became one of Vince’s bandmates in real life.)

Speaking of Vince, Motley Crue contributed the Dr. Feelgood outtake “Rock ‘n Roll Junkie”, well before it was released on Decade of Decadence.  This mix is slightly different than the one commonly released on Motley albums.  Vince sings an audible “Uh!” sound at the 30 second mark on the usual versions.  That is absent on the Ford Fairlane mix.  There is also a stronger flanging effect on the bass during the intro of the common version.  So, for Motley diehards, this CD presents one mix that you don’t own elsewhere in your collection.

I have no idea how Queensryche got involved with this soundtrack; they were even on a different record label. “Last Time in Paris” was an accessible rock track; an outtake from the sessions for the forthcoming Empire.  It would not have been one of the best Empire tracks, but it’s good enough for fans of vintage ‘Ryche.  Chris DeGarmo employs a slide on his guitar solo, and Geoff Tate throws down a sassy lead vocal.

The final track was also an outtake from a forthcoming release:  Richie Sambora’s Stranger in this Town solo debut.  Sambora recorded a classy cover of Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary”.  Sambora was displaying previously unseen depth and blues chops.  “The Wind Cries Mary” was later included on a deluxe edition of Stranger in this Town, but by and large most Bon Jovi fans have not heard it.  With this track, Richie had the best tune on the soundtrack.

The verdict on this “rock and roll detective” movie sountrack?  It gets the dreaded Flaming Turd.

1.5/5 stars

Scan_20160604 (3)

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…

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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

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