Slippery When Wet | Photo by uDiscoverMusic.com
Bon Jovi is one of those rock bands that everyone has heard at least one song from, no matter where they grew up.
Whether that tune is the working-class anthem “Livin’ on a Prayer,” the hard-hitting debut single “Runaway,” a ballad like “I’ll Be There for You” or “Never Say Goodbye,” or any other selection of their discography, each of us can relate to a Bon Jovi tune.
They take us back to the time of glam rock, big hair, leather and Ray-Ban sunglasses, when teens could take in cult movies and enjoy a simpler life with friends.
Without further ado, this week’s Retro Rewind will be an album that brings the nostalgic feelings of the 1980s to the forefront: their third studio album, “Slippery When Wet.” Released on Aug. 18, 1986, the record spawned four singles that have become rock radio favorites: “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Never Say Goodbye.”
What famous rock song inspired “Wanted Dead or Alive?” What drenched household item has the album’s title written on it on the cover artwork? How does a band come up with a name like “Slippery When Wet” for an album? Read on in this week’s Retro Rewind to discover these answers and more.
American rock group Bon Jovi was formed in Sayreville, N.J. in 1983. Currently, the band’s line-up consists of vocalist and rhythm guitarist Jon Bon Jovi, lead guitarist Phil X, bassist Hugh McDonald, drummer Tico Torres and keyboardist David Bryan.
However, Bon Jovi included McDonald as a studio musician at the time of “Slippery When Wet”’s release, with Richie Sambora and Alec John Such playing lead and bass guitar, respectively.
Bon Jovi has released a total of 14 studio albums, three live albums and five compilation albums. The group has sold over 130 million records across the globe, solidifying their status as one of the top-selling American rock groups. They were inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018.
Opening the album is a beautiful introduction featuring keyboard and electric guitar as “Let It Rock” slides its way into the listener’s ear. The song’s chorus has the lyrics “let it rock, let it go. You can’t stop a fire burning out of control” in an anthemic manner.
After this comes “You Give Love a Bad Name,” one of Bon Jovi’s most popular tracks. Originally, the song was written for Bonnie Tyler as “If You Were A Woman;” however, Desmond Childs later reworked the tune with Sambora and John Bon Jovi.
Next up is “Livin’ on a Prayer,” another popular Bon Jovi track and the band’s signature song. McDonald had written and recorded the bass guitar part for this track.
“It deals with the way that two kids – Tommy and Gina – face life’s struggles,” Bon Jovi remarked about the song’s central characters, “and how their love and ambitions get them through the hard times. It’s working-class and it’s real… I wanted to incorporate the movie element and tell a story about people I knew. So instead of doing what I did on ‘Runaway’, where the girl didn’t have a name, I gave them names, which gave them an identity… Tommy and Gina aren’t two specific people; they represent a lifestyle.”
Aerosmith were fans of the next track, “Social Disease.” The track features heavy horns and a quite good Sambora riff. Following this is another popular tune, “Wanted Dead or Alive.” Inspired by Bob Seger’s “Turn The Page,” the song draws parallels between the lives of a rock band and a wild west outlaw, as both are, according to Bon Jovi, “a young band of thieves, riding into town, stealing the money, the girls, and the booze before the sun came up.”
The anthemic “Raise Your Hands” opens the album’s second side, and the tune sounds like the ultimate way to rouse a stadium crowd. “Without Love” is a rocking ballad brought to life by Torres’ drumming and a killer solo from Sambora.
“I’d Die for You” is fairly similar in structure and sound to the band’s debut hit “Runaway,” but that doesn’t diminish the song. “Never Say Goodbye” tells the story of a high school romance in a much slower tempo than the rest of the album. Closing “Slippery When Wet” is “Wild in the Streets,” where Bon Jovi spins a tale of New Jersey life.
After the release of their second album, “7800° Fahrenheit,” Bon Jovi hired Desmond Child as a songwriting partner and began work on “Slippery When Wet.”
The band wrote 30 songs and auditioned them to teenagers from the New York and New Jersey areas, ordering the tracklist by the teenagers’ opinions.
Four tracks on the record, “Livin’ on a Prayer,” “You Give Love a Bad Name,” “Without Love” and “I’d Die for You,” were written by Sambora and Bon Jovi in collaboration with Child in the basement of Sambora’s mother’s home.
The remainder of the songs on “Slippery When Wet” were written by the duo except for “Wild in the Streets,” which Bon Jovi wrote solo. Originally, the singer did not want to put “Livin’ on a Prayer” on the album because he wasn’t satisfied by it, though Sambora convinced him that the song would become a hit.
“Slippery When Wet” was recorded in 1986 at Little Mountain Sound Studios in Vancouver, Canada. This title was decided upon after the band visited the No. 5 Orange strip club in Vancouver.
The record’s cover art, a wet, black trash bag with the name traced into it, was not the first choice; the original art for the album features a busty woman whose wet t-shirt showed the title. “Our label freaked out a bit when they saw what we’d done,” Sambora mentioned. “They thought it would be banned by American stores, so we had to come up with something else – fast.” The original cover artwork is still included in most Japanese releases of the album.
What critics thought of “Slippery When Wet”
This record continues to reign as the top-selling album in Bon Jovi’s discography, as it is certified 12x Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.
It spent eight weeks atop the Billboard 200 chart and 38 weeks inside the top five, and Billboard proclaimed “Slippery When Wet” 1987’s top-selling album. The album was also included in the book “1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.”
However, critics had a mixed response to the record. Music journalist Robert Christgau remarked that “Slippery When Wet” “proves that youth rebellion is toothless enough to simulate and market.”
Meanwhile, Rolling Stone’s Jimmy Guterman was extremely critical of the record, writing that “Jon Bon Jovi and his band serve up condescending sentiment, reducing every emotional statement to a barefaced cliché – either because they think that’s all their audience can comprehend or because that’s all they can comprehend. On “Slippery When Wet,” Bon Jovi sounds like bad fourth-generation metal, a smudgy Xerox of Quiet Riot.”
What I think of the album
I would have to agree that “Slippery When Wet” is somewhat cliched; however, I don’t think it takes away from the value of the project. While some songs may be hard to listen to (“I’d Die for You” gave me a headache, which is a first, while “Livin’ on a Prayer” could be considered annoying by some, as it’s been played to death at sporting events), there are still plenty of gems across the tracklist.
“You Give Love a Bad Name” is an absolute classic while “Wanted Dead or Alive” conjures up Western imagery and a traveling tour bus playing to fans from around the world.
In addition, Bruce Fairbairn’s production does wonders for the album, enhancing the vocals and instrumentation to another level. With a combination of anthems, ballads, and iconic stadium rock, “Slippery When Wet” is a nostalgic and entertaining experience that invites the listener to rock out with the band as if Bon Jovi was playing in their very living room.