Do you live on a street where girls talk about their social lives? Or do you live in another world, trying to get your message through? If the answer to either is yes, then you may be familiar with John Bongiovi. That’s right folks, this talented man’s band, known as Bon Jovi, put out their self-titled debut record thirty-five years ago. While Jon Bon Jovi tends to get a lot of hate from many a hideous metal fan, he may just have more to do with heavy metal than you think. While Slippery When Wet was the record that broke them through with the big hits “Livin’ On A Prayer,” “Wanted Dead Or Alive,” and some others, Bon Jovi, which dropped two years earlier, had a little more attitude to it and definitely carrying a handful of harder riffs. It just gets overlooked by the bigger records, sadly.
In the early ‘80s, Jon Bon Jovi hadn’t seen a lot of success in the music industry until a local radio station heard his song “Runaway” and loved it so much that they played it, which eventually would make it to this disc. Richie Sambora and co. would join soon and the band was eventually formed, dropping the “Jon” part of his name and simply calling themselves Bon Jovi. Mercury Records would then take them on and put Bon Jovi out.
Now before I dive too deep into this, I will make clear note that the synthesizers and sappy lyrics about women were still very much a part of the building blocks. But it had a sharper and thicker sense to it. Hell, “Runaway” is actually the easiest example of this since it’s the song that most people actually know from here. The rhythms ride on fingered synth beats and the lyrics are kinda corny, but man if those guitar chugs and shredding solo don’t rip! Plus, the falsettos at the end are crushing, and I always try to hit those highs (usually failing) when I sing this one. Numbers like “Breakout” and “Roulette” have the exact same chemical makeup, they just never got big. The singing is very powerful and there’s an obvious kick behind his voice, and Sambora can play like a maniac on these! The choruses rely on a lot of backing help, which adds really tight flow.
But you will just as easily find the calmer tracks that would melt the ladies’ hearts here too. See “Love Lies,” “Burning For Love,” or “Get Ready” to find a cluster of harmonies and easier going rhythm patterns and a much slower approach. “Shot Through The Heart” is also an interesting one because it has this kind of emotion to it, but it undoubtedly rocks out pretty damn hard. The intro to it may be misleading but for the most part, but the song resolves itself. Things like this are also what keep this disc very consistent. There’s also some obvious production work that has a distinct sound, helping the debut stand apart from other albums.
What I haven’t touched on yet are my two favorite tracks, “She Don’t Know Me” And “Come Back.” The former has a little more recognition than the majority of this record, and that’s because this song does a stellar job of combining the rhythm guitars with the keyboards to make for the ultimate experience. The notes on both weave in and out of each other, and when one of them slows down a bit, the other picks up, like with the staccato key playing that bridges the gap between the intro and the first verse. “Come Back,” on the other hand, is a chorus heavy tune that shifts singing duties between Jon and the rest of the band, which I find to be unique. Both songs also have that sweet combo of soft emotion and hard delivery at the same time.
If I’m being very honest with myself, I can’t say that Bon Jovi holds up that well today, simply because almost all of the songs save for “Runaway” and maybe “She Don’t Know Me” are overlooked or forgotten about. Jon Bon Jovi has even said himself that he didn’t think they wrote good songs until 1986, but I have to disagree with that, and if any metal fan is going to give one of their albums a chance, this should be the one. When I loaded in one of his shows back in April of 2018, I stuck around for the performance, and nothing from this disc was played. So sadly, it’s definitely not something widely talked about and doesn’t hold a lot of weight in today’s world.
On the contrary, there is no denying that it had some impact back in the ‘80s. For those that say Bon Jovi had nothing to do with heavy metal, I have to also disagree with you. Shortly after this is when synthesizers would begin to make heavy appearances not just in glam, but with acts like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. I’m a firm believer that records like this one were what pushed experiments like Turbo! and Somewhere In Time.
Bon Jovi was released on January 21st, 1984 through Mercury in the US and Vertigo in the UK. CDs, cassettes, and vinyl are all fairly easy to come by. Newer pressings exist but are a bit more limited due to the lesser demand. As usual, pick up any version right here.