Credit Bruce Fairbairn.
Have you heard “Turn Me Loose” recently?
It’s usually on Classic Rewind or ’80s on 8. I’m drifting along, just minding my own business, in that fog you enter when you’re behind the wheel, and then…
There’s that ascending synth note. Takes forever. Kind of like a space launch. Then you’ve got liftoff and a series of bass notes and…a crunchy guitar that launched a zillion bedroom fantasies and after a full minute intro Mike Reno enters as if he RAN to the studio and starts singing. Meanwhile, the synth is still going, the bass is still pounding, and Mike screams and the choir of backup singers comes in on the chorus and that slashing guitar returns… “Turn Me Loose” is a masterpiece. Which shot up the chart because certain tracks are just undeniable. And sure, Loverboy went on to have more hits, eventually became a caricature of itself, but this debut was as strong as Bad Company’s, as strong as ANYBODY’S! And it was produced by Bruce Fairbairn.
Ain’t that Canada. They lead with their talent, which they honed over years in frigid gray weather. Whereas in the U.S. you lead with your mouth, and rarely have anything to back it up.
So Jon Bon Jovi is produced by his cousin and Lance Quinn and gets a bit of traction with “Runaway” on the initial LP, but then the whole thing goes sideways, the band increases its audience on the road, but there’s little radio action. They decide to make a switch. They decamp from Tony Bongiovi’s Power Station, where the Boss and the rest of the east coast legends made their records for…Vancouver. Where they were produced by Fairbairn and the tracks were mixed by Bob Rock and the result was… Fame and a three decade legacy.
You’ve got to understand. In 1986, the classic rockers still ruled. Sure, Duran Duran was on MTV, but the station was still worried about baby boomers. Bon Jovi broke that whole paradigm wide open. Suddenly, the boomers were passe and Generation X ruled.
It all came down to “You Give Love A Bad Name.”
And sure, we could tolerate that on MTV, but once the band came out with “Livin’ On A Prayer” as the follow-up single, even the most jaded of oldsters took notice, and some of them signed up and bought the album and discovered…”Wanted Dead Or Alive.”
“Slippery When Wet” is imperfect, but its initial side is about as classic as they get. Except for the B-level “Social Disease,” everything else is a stone cold smash.
And it all starts with “Let It Rock.”
Now we can see the similarities between “Turn Me Loose” and “Let It Rock.” But this was six years later, so much had changed, it was hard to make the connection. But today it’s obvious right down to the full minute instrumental intro.
It’s also like a space launch, or a fireworks display. The keyboard is like flashing lights, explosions atop the edifice. The intro says nothing so much as PAY ATTENTION! Hell, it DEMANDS ATTENTION!
The weekend comes to this town
Seven days too soon
For the ones who have to make up
What we break up of their rules
It’s like a march. As if over the hill, coming up from the dale, is an army of twentysomethings here to steal the music business and your daughters along with it.
Well I saw Captain Kidd on Sunset
Tell his boys they’re in command
While Chino danced a tango
With a broomstick in his hand
He said: It’s alright (alright) if you have a good time
It’s alright (alright) if you want to cross that line
To break on through to the other side
Sunset Strip culture. The home of hard rock, before Guns N’ Roses got its victory lap. Where all the oddballs and weirdos marinated in their get-ups, not caring about the rest of society, this band from New Jersey just wrote their anthem.
Let it rock, let it go
You can’t stop a fire burning out of control
Let it rock, let it go
With the night you’re on the loose
You got to let it rock
The bass is pounding, your fist is pumping, all you can say is DAMN STRAIGHT! This is the essence of rock and roll. Rebellion and attitude meshed together. With a pounding bass beat, a stinging guitar and a vocal wail. ABSOLUTELY!
And then comes “You Give Love A Bad Name,” putting the stake in the heart, nailing you to the floor, committing you to the band. Instead of slowing down, taking a break, balladeering, Bon Jovi amps up the intensity and goes FASTER!
And then comes “Livin’ On A Prayer.”
You remember the video. The one wherein Jon Bon Jovi flies over the audience.
They were so smart, to go for credibility, live performance at this point.
But what we’ve got to stop and make note of is…THIS IS WHERE BON JOVI GOT THE GIRLS!
That’s what’s keeping the band going. The female audience.
They love their bad boys. Especially the good-looking ones.
This wasn’t Justin Bieber, no New Kids On The Block. This was a band, who would get you on the bus and give you the ride of your life! They knew how to write, they knew how to play and they knew how to… They were white hot.
And the track was just great.
With that pregnant synth intro. The irresistible bass line. And then the talk box, straight off of “Frampton Comes Alive,” not that anybody under the age of twenty knew that.
Tommy used to work on the docks
Quite possibly the most famous lyric of the eighties. Well, we can throw in Michael Jackson’s work, but this is the absolute paragon, the absolute peak.
Union’s been on strike
He’s down on his luck…it’s tough, so tough
Gina works the diner all day
Working for her man, she brings home her pay
For love – for love
There’s a whole STORY! It’s an aural MOVIE! You can SEE IT!
She says we’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got
’cause it doesn’t make a difference
If we make it or not
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot
For love – we’ll give it a shot
Do you think everybody at the show, today in 2013, won? OF COURSE NOT! But listening to “Livin’ On A Prayer” they believe they did. Hell, they’ve got the joy of listening to this music!
And if you didn’t sing along to the chorus, you didn’t have the ability to speak.
And then came…”Wanted Dead Or Alive.”
Sure, it was the label going in for the kill, cementing the legacy of the band, making the album go stratospheric, but at this point millions had already discovered the track, before it got airplay. “Wanted Dead Or Alive” is the essence of rock, the anthem. Even better than the aforementioned Bad Company’s song about rock stardom, “Shooting Star”… It’s the road piece de resistance. The Eagles wanted to be desperadoes, but it was Bon Jovi that nailed the western ethos.
Sometimes I sleep, sometimes it’s not for days
And the people I meet always go their separate ways
Sometimes you tell the day
By the bottle that you drink
And times when you’re alone all you do is think
THAT’S IT! You’re on the road to stardom and the only ones with you are your band members on the bus. It’s lonely, it’s frustrating, you’re sleep-deprived, it’s hell, but you’re doing it all in the service of rock and roll, for that moment on stage when you blow the audience away!
And that’s what Richie does, when he wails on his guitar.
But even more it’s the pure sound of the track. And the dynamics. Hear the intro and you’re immediately taken to a western town for the movie of your dreams.
“Wanted Dead Or Alive” was not Bon Jovi’s biggest hit of the era, but it’s their biggest hit decades on. It’s the soundtrack of “Deadliest Catch” because it connotes being alone, just you against the world, and that’s the story for all of us.
And side two opens with “Raise Your Hand,” a variation on “Let It Rock” without being repetitious. And ultimately there’s the ballad, “Never Say Goodbye,” but the problem is the first side is so damn good. Seemingly only the Beatles could sustain this quality level through both sides of an album. Furthermore, we were still listening on vinyl, on cassettes. We’d get stuck on one side!
Then again, both sides of “Back In Black” were just as good, phenomenal.
But that album is a great example. AC/DC had been working for years, had its breakthrough moment, and couldn’t repeat it. Despite working with Mutt Lange on its follow-up album. Bruce Fairbairn produced 1988’s “New Jersey,” which I bought without hearing first, but I was even more disappointed than I was with “For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)”. “Lay Your Hands On Me” was good…but from there it was downhill.
You see Bon Jovi was working so hard to make it, that once they did…they had nothing left to say. The hunger was gone. They were stars. NOW WHAT?
Well, Bon Jovi went solo and essentially rerecorded “Wanted Dead Or Alive,” but called it “Blaze Of Glory,” and it was just about as successful, because the original was just that damn good. It’s kind of like buying a Ferrari and then upgrading to the newest model, what could be wrong…IT’S A FERRARI!
And then the band got back together and Jon acted and the music continued to be generic.
They tried country, they tried everything.
But nothing measured up to “Slippery When Wet.”
But that’s enough. To sell out arenas, even stadiums.
Because if you want to relive 1986, if you want to know what it was like way back then…
You play “Slippery When Wet.”