Number Ones: #87


  • BON JOVI Livin’ On A Prayer (Mercury)
  • Week Ending 15th November 1986
  • 1 Week At #1


Hair Metal. Poodle Rock. Call it what you will. By late 1986 it had arrived in the mainstream, with Jon Bongiovi and his ultra-coiffured pals leading the commercial onslaught.

Of course, Bon Jovi didn’t invent the genre. It roots lay in old-school Heavy Metal and the theatrical Heavy Rock of Kiss, Twisted Sister and their ilk. There was an audience for it, quite a significant one in America, but in UK Top 40 terms it remained a niche market. Even for a band like Def Leppard, who would eventually go on to have huge success in Britain, the singles charts were still tantalisingly out of reach.

Nothing on Bon Jovi’s first two albums (the self-titled 1984 effort and 1985’s 7800 Degrees Fahrenheit) marked them out for multi-million, multi-platinum dominance, but on 1986’s Slippery When Wet they added the songcraft of Desmond Child and upped the profile of impossibly good-looking lead singer Jon. Slippery…‘s first single, You Give Love A Bad Name hit the top of the Billboard Hot 100, but it still had too many trappings of traditional Heavy Rock to grab my attention. No, what was needed to make an impact on my personal charts were some synths, obviously.

Livin’ On A Prayer had synths. And that “voice box” effect, used relentlessly through the verses. The chorus is a belter, but crucially the record really isn’t that far from the soft rock sheen perfected by Foreigner, Journey or Survivor. And for once, the vocalist didn’t look quite so ridiculous or uncomfortable with flowing locks.

Somewhat ironically, Livin’ On A Prayer was eclipsed on the Top 40 in the closing weeks of 1986 by The Final Countdown, a hammy European take on the format which was not helped by singer Joey Tempest and his frankly ridiculous poodle hair-do. Inexplicably, the Europe single went to #1 while Bon Jovi had to settle for #4. And annoyingly, a lot of people (including a few close associates at the time) confused the two bands.

“No, they’re not from Scandinavia….”, I’d have to point out when playing my copy of Slippery When Wet. “They don’t do The Final Countdown….”. 

(And, “Yeah I know Europe are shit, these guys aren’t though….”).

While they didn’t invent Hair Metal, Bon Jovi did in a way invent that other staple of late 80s and early 90s Rock, the “rootsy ballad”. On another Slippery When Wet track (and its third single) Wanted Dead Or Alive, they set a trend for taking a breather from bombast and walls of sound, to gather round a campfire and pluck out a gentle tune about the hardships of being rich and famous rock stars flying around the world, and/or how they miss the simple pleasures of home and their sweet lovin’ lady. Everyone from Guns N Roses to Poison, Damn Yankees, Skid Row, Metallica, Extreme…you name it, they all had a go. And they nearly always got to #1 in America.

In true “story song” pop fashion, the tale of Tommy and Gina – Livin’ On A Prayer‘s young protagonists – was revisited on 1988’s Born To Be My Baby…..with the inevitable mixed results. However hard they tried to recreate that magic, it felt forced and lacking the energy of the original.

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