In our family, New Jersey is where Rock ‘n’ Roll comes from. For me that means Freehold (Exit 123) with the Boss, for my wife Dorothy, it is Sayrerville (Exit 124) where Jon Bon Jovi went to high school. While our opinions differ on who our favorite Rockers are, we both are envious of those who saw them live in their early years at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park and all those shore bars they played.
So for Dorothy, Max and I are going to review “Slippery When Wet”, Bon Jovi’s 3rd studio album which celebrated its 30th anniversary this past year.
Filled with rock anthems and power ballad love songs, this album is the quintessential hair band masterpiece. All the elements are there; whining guitar riffs, overly elaborate solos, catchy and memorable choruses with plenty of reverb on the vocals to make it feel like you are hearing it live. When Richie Samabora and Jon Bon Jovi made this album with band mates Tico Torres (drums), David Bryan (keyboards) and Alec John Such (bass) they must have envisioned this music on a big stage and tried to create a sound that would feel like they were performing in a giant stadium.
After modest success with earlier records, the band was smart to bring in professional songwriter Desmond Child as a collaborator on this one. With his help they wrote “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Without Love” and “I’d Die For You”. Then when you add “Wanted Dead or Alive to this lineup it makes sense that Slippery When Wet became 1987’s best-selling album in the US, and went on to sell more than 12 million copies. Which is even more impressive when you consider it beat out U2’s “The Joshua Tree”, Guns ‘N Rose’s “Appetite for Destruction” and “Bad” from Michael Jackson.
“Slippery When Wet” contains a unique combination of pop, hard rock, and metal that simply appealed to a broader audience than earlier metal bands. Bon Jovi brought young girls who had largely ignored this musical genre into the fold and showed other bands the formula to follow.
This music is best for me live.
It is also fun to hear the songs late night at a party or when you’re driving but it is unlikely that I would just turn this record on and play it from start to finish — in fact before this project I never did. It’s hard to ignore all the hits and the role the band played making Hair Metal mainstream. What’s even harder to ignore is the longevity the band has had and the deep connection they have with their loyal audience. We have seen Bon Jovi perform a few times and they are a formidable live act, who know precisely how to work the audience. We are going again next month for Dorothy’s birthday and I will admit I am looking forward to it.
“Wanted Dead or Alive” is by far my favorite track on the album and in my opinion the most original. I like the whole guitar sound, cowboy thing and can’t help sing along. The rest of the music seems a little more formulaic and feels influenced by other bands of the time like Van Halen and Motley Crue with Springsteen like blue-collar themes running underneath a lot of it. But 3 decades later, it’s hard to remember or figure out if their sound is an amalgam of other bands of the time or were these guys that other bands followed. Probably both.
Most of your parents taste in music is passed down to you, so coming from the son of a huge Bon Jovi fan, I was introduced to Jon at a very young age and have always enjoyed the intricate riffs and (dare I say) superficial style of this Jersey rocker. “Slippery When Wet” certainly was an experience. It’s filled with tons of hits made to be heard in a crowd of thousands over a blaring sound system. Ten high energy songs that changed rock and roll forever and are difficult to not sing along with. There are many musical things that scream 80’s rock throughout the album, like long fade outs, huge layered voices, and call and response sections in most songs. You also can’t forget the keyboards, guitar solos and occasional horns stabbing in the background.
At first listen, it wasn’t my favorite. It’s well preformed and fun to hear, but the songs are very predictable. Audible throughout record are obvious influences of other artists of this time period like Aerosmith’s front man Steven Tyler’s soulful bluesy singing, Eddie Van Halen style guitar solo interludes and the Boss’s jersey rock lyrical feel are all thrown into a mix with others. The band seems good at absorbing and combining musical trends and putting there own spin on it.
I can see why at the time this album was such a hit. It set the tone for an entire musical decade and in my opinion Bon Jovi’s long career. He really knows how to get a crowd going (or at least make it sound like he can by adding in tons of yelling voices in songs like “Let It Rock”). There were some songs I really enjoyed; “Social Disease” with an almost blues style guitar chugging along in the background and a ride cymbal heavy drum beat. “I’d Die For You” which has keyboards that carry you through each verse oddly like his first hit song from 1984, “Runaway”.
All in all, I had fun listening to this album and if it came on at a party I would say…
“Let It Rock”.
This album was ranked 44th in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of the Definitive 200 Albums of All Time.
“We were cruising to the back beat
Oh yeah, Making love in the backseats
We were wild, wild in the streets
Wild, wild in the streets
Wild, wild in the streets
Wild, wild in the streets”