Happy belated birthday to this single, released March 3 1987!
GETTING MORE TALE #658: Wanted Dead or Alive
I didn’t care for Bon Jovi. They seemed like a “girls’ band”. It seemed to be all about the screaming ladies. I did like Europe. “The Final Countdown” was a pretty cool anthemic track, with a sci-fi lyric. The rock press were pitting one band against the other: “Who’s better, Bon Jovi or Europe?” I took Europe every time.
Besides, what the hell was a “Bon Jovi” anyway?* Bon means “good”. “Good Jovi to you, sir!”
I continued to ignore Bon Jovi, while receiving Europe’s The Final Countdown as a gift for Easter 1987. The album took a couple listens to get into, but once I did, “Rock the Night”, “Ninja” and especially “Cherokee” blew me away. Europe weren’t a “girls’ band” to me, with songs about Ninjas and Cherokees.
My sister and her friends loved Bon Jovi. One of them had a crush on keyboardist David Bryan. I thought he looked weird, like he had gummy worms in his hair. I remember they were writing “BON JOVI” and “DAVID BRYAN” in the sand at the beach. I erased it and changed it to “BON SCOTT” and “BRIAN JOHNSON”. Take that, eh? No wonder I thought Bon Jovi were a “girl’s band”. Anyone who had a younger sister at the time probably thought so too.
Considering that I own an extensive Bon Jovi collection now (Richie Sambora era only), something must have changed. What was it?
Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora wrote a song together in Richie’s mom’s basement. It was an acoustic song called “Wanted: Dead or Alive”. When I saw the music video in July of 1987, it changed all my impressions.
That 12 string acoustic rang true, on a song that deserves all the awards, video play and accolades. Something about the song was very real. Writing in that New Jersey basement about the road life was about as honest as Bon Jovi get, and you can hear it in the recording. “Wanted: Dead or Alive” turned me around rather quickly. I taped the video, and from there put “Wanted” on a cassette tape. The cassette tape had a lot of new songs from the summer of ’87: Ace Frehley’s “Into the Night”, and Ozzy’s live “Crazy Train” were among those tracks. Eventually I had to get all those albums.
I received the Frehley and the Ozzy for my birthday. I bought Bon Jovi later on in September. By then, I was familiar with all the singles and a track called “Raise Your Hands” from the movie Spaceballs. I just had to digest the album tracks.
Slippery When Wet was…OK, I guess. Not as good as The Final Countdown was. Not all it was hyped to be, but good enough. “Social Disease” was pretty bad. Slippery struck me as a couple songs short of a great album. Good enough, though, to hang on ‘til the next one.
1988’s New Jersey was the next one. It seems they ditched 80% of the schlock and really tried to get back to their roots. I loved New Jersey and it was my first Bon Jovi CD once I had a player. Whatever authenticity they had on “Wanted: Dead Or Alive” spilled all over New Jersey.
“Wild is the Wind”, “Blood on Blood”, “Ride Cowboy Ride”, “Stick to Your Guns”, and “Homebound Train” had the magic. There is something real and close to perfect about those songs. Bon Jovi put out an album soaked in passion, as opposed to the sterile and clean Slippery When Wet. It didn’t match the 12 million copies sold of Slippery, but New Jersey was so slouch at 7 million.
It’s funny to be using words like “integrity” when speaking of Bon Jovi today. They’ve become an adult contemporary project; no longer a rock band. “Wanted” was their first acoustic hit and it’s often considered one of the landmark ballads of the era. In many respects, the lite-rock Bon Jovi of today was forged by “Wanted”. But that doesn’t tarnish the song itself. “Wanted: Dead or Alive” is still fantastic. Even better is the 1987 acoustic version, only available on cassette single (or Japanese CD single).
You can go ahead and scoff at Bon Jovi, in light of the last 10 or even 20 years. They’re a mere fraction of the group they used to be. Yet “Wanted: Dead or Alive” still stands as a high water mark that any band would be jealous to have.
*Real name: Jon Bongiovi