Bon Jovi’s Beauteous Ballads

Hi Everybody, Today we have another awesome article by Robert. Bon Jovi has some great rockin’ songs – especially in the early days. But, their power ballads are just as great. The whole band puts a lot of passion in these ballads, and you can feel it. Robert is here for us to cover some of their best ballads. So, let’s check them out. As always, you can click on the song title to hear the song/watch the video. Enjoy!

I have four children and they all play sports. Soccer, basketball, tennis, volleyball – club, high school, college – there is always a kid playing somewhere. So saying, this means that I am on the road quite often traveling to games. Because of conflicting schedules, my wife and I are frequently forced to go in different directions to watch games in different parts of this really flat state of Nebraska. It was on one of this solo trips to watch my freshman daughter set for her high school varsity volleyball team that a song by one of my all time favorite bands – Bon Jovi – suddenly transformed meanings.

On my way home during a relatively short hour and a half drive home from the match, I reached into my trusty travel CD case and pulled out Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet. I know most of you are very familiar with this album and it was previously reviewed here on Return to the ‘80s. When I bought the album (on cassette) in 1986, I was completely mesmerized. I enjoyed the band’s first two album Bon Jovi and 7800° Fahrenheit, but with this one I knew I was listening to something special. My love of Bon Jovi has never waned: I have bought every album as soon as it was released , I have seen them in concert every time they were in or near Nebraska (I have pictures on the wall from a few of these shows, I have purchased the books, DVDs, and I even have proudly displayed my Richie Sambora and Jon Bon Jovi action figures. I consider them my favorite band. So, I imagine my surprise when, while listening to “Never Say Goodbye” for the thousandth time, I questioned my previous interpretations of this excellent ballad.

This song is one of my favorites from Slippery When Wet. If not for the alcohol and sex references it would make a perfect song for a high school graduation. I was just starting my senior year when I bought the album and I think that is why this song has always struck a chord with me. I will discuss the song more later, but one thing I realized was how much I love Bon Jovi’s ballads. The band rocks as well as most rock bands from the ‘80s, but I have always been drawn to their slow songs. In concert, I prefer the songs that have Richie’s strong guitar presence, but the ballads are just as good. In an interview, Jon Bon Jovi once said that he is well aware that an audience cannot rock to the upbeat songs for two straight hours. The slow songs need to be performed so people can catch their breath, save some energy and rock through all of the upbeat tunes that close each show. Besides that insight, those slow songs are fantastic.

So here is my purpose. Since my interpretation of “Never Say Goodbye” has changed a bit, I need to go back and listen to the rest of Bon Jovi’s ballads. I know I love them, but has my understanding of them changed as I have aged? What follows are my Top 10 + 1 all time favorite Bon Jovi ballads. Choosing a favorite set of songs by Bon Jovi is no easy task, but here is my attempt.

Honorable mention – Living in Sin (album New Jersey)

I was honestly a pretty good kid growing up. I didn’t get into trouble, did my school work – no tickets, no suspensions. But like most young adults, I saw plenty of hypocrisy in the adult world I was entering. I purchased New Jersey when it came out during my sophomore year of college; I was in a serious relationship so this song became an anthem defending the right to be an adult and not cow towing to traditional views on relationships. I must say that now that I four children myself, I see things slightly differently. The lyrics from the song that always stick out to me are, “Is it right for both our parents who fight it out most nights / And pray for God’s forgiveness when they both turn out the lights / Or wear that ring of diamond / When your hearts are made of stone.” This still makes perfect sense to me and I have tried my best to be sure my own children do not feel this way about their parents. The song itself is highlighted by strong vocals from Jon Bon Jovi, a typically searing guitar solo by Sambora, and a strong keyboard from David Bryan. The video is a bit risky and garnered a few complaints and even some banning upon it’s release.

#10 – If That’s What it Takes (album These Days)

This is a more upbeat ballad, so long as we loosely define ‘ballad’ as love song. Lyrically, this a typical Bon Jovi statement of determined faithfulness. This can easily be seen in the chorus: “If that what it takes, then that’s what I’ll do / Tonight’s the night I’m gonna prove it to you / Do I have to break down just to break through / If that’s what it takes, that’s what I’ll do.” Sambora’s solo in the song is quite a bit different than what we have come to expect; it is more of a brooding, low register solo – understated, yet solid.

#9 – I Want You (album Keep the Faith)

Here is one of my favorite types of ballad – the one about regret. The speaker in this song has just been told that the relationship is over. Now he has time to reflect on the reasons why it has ended and, to his credit, he take full responsibility. He has tried so hard to make the relationship work; unfortunately, he has been trying by doing the wrong things. He thought filling her life life with material possessions was enough – it wasn’t. This song is a clear lamentation for things lost. He did not realize how special and important she was until she had left. Here is the evidence: “I never wanted the stars / Never shot for the moon /I like them right where they are /All I wanted was you / So baby just turn away / Because I can’t face the truth / All I’m trying to say / Is all I wanted was you.” I am a complete sucker for a great chorus (probably one real good reason I love Bon Jovi) and this song has a great one. Listen to this song once and the chorus will be stuck in your head for hours.

#8 – Silent Night (album 7800° Fahrenheit)

This one goes back to Bon Jovi’s second album. Combined with “Runaway”, “She Don’t Know Me” from their first album and “Tokyo Road” from the album, I knew that Bon Jovi was going to a band that I would like for quite a while – little did I know that Slippery When Wet was on it’s way! The opening keyboard clearly suggests ballad right away. Yes, this one is a bit over the top, but isn’t this what we loved about those hair bands in the ‘80s anyway? This is another ‘end of the relationship’ song and it scared me. I was young and completely girlfriendless when I first heard this song. I knew right away that I did not want to go through an experience like this. There is real pain in these lyrics, “It was all so simple when you were to be queen and I’d be your king / I guess the dream got lost / Because you’re still you and I’m still me / Now letting go is always the hardest part to fight / When we both know we’re just two more victims of the night.” The song captures that innocent view that many of us approach those early relationships with – knowing it probably won’t last, yet surprised when it ends. There is also an early example of a Bon Jovi ballad highlighted with a great Sambora solo. You can really hear the promise that this young band had.

#7 – Lie to Me (album These Days)

This excellent ballad has a much more bluesy feel to it. Bon Jovi, like Bruce Springsteen, has the ability to capture the view of the blue collar segment of the United States. The song does this by portraying the toll that economic frustrations can have on relationships. LIfe has not worked out as planned for the couple in this song. The man seems to be willing to let her go back home, but clearly understands the costs it will have on their relationship. He does not want to accept yet another failure in his life. The comforts of life he promised her have not come through and he cannot face the idea that she does not love him – he cannot handle an emotional failure. To prevent having to admit this to himself, he says, “If you don’t love me, lie to me / Because you’re the one thing I believe / Let it all fall down around us, if that’s what meant to be / Right now, if you don’t love me, baby, lie to me.” Absolutely heart breaking.

#6 – Bed of Roses (album Keep the Faith)

I am a high school English teacher – I love it, but it is not a life based on adrenaline. I think because of this I have always liked songs about being on the road and a rock star’s life (i.e. “Turn the Page”, “Faithfully”, “Wanted Dead or Alive”) and this one. Here Bon Jovi takes life on the road and turns it into a love song lamenting the necessary touring that make relationships difficult. I love the sense of loneliness that oozes from this song. My favorite lines that captures this feeling are, “I’m so far away, each step that I take is on my way home / A king’s ransom in dimes I’d give each night to see through this pay phone / Still I run out of time or it’s hard to get through / ‘Til the bird on the wire flies me back to you.” Occasionally, Sambora begins a song with a killer intro that makes the song instantly recognizable – this is one of those songs. This song captures the way it feels to be away from the one you love for an extended period of time; it is hard and lonely – yet somehow we can get through it.

#5 – I’ll Be There for You (album New Jersey)

Speaking of Sambora’s signature beginnings! His excellent riff frames this gorgeous love song that depicts the pleading of a man who now understands he has done wrong. It seems that the woman in this song has had enough and is taking off, “I guess this time you’re really leaving, I heard your suitcase say goodbye” (this great personification for you English geeks out there). She is leaving for good reasons – he has not held up his end of the bargain. What I like about this song (and other lyrically similar Bon Jovi songs) is that he is now admitting he is wrong- letting go of his foolish, manly pride and pleading with her not to leave. Here it is, “I wasn’t there when you were happy / I wasn’t there when you were down / I didn’t mean to miss your birthday, baby / I wish I’d seen you blow those candles out.” As we move down this list, you can hear just how tight this band is; they have an absolutely perfect blending of all the instruments, not to mention the fantastic vocals – high note an all. Not a complicated song, but definitely a great song. I never tire of this one.

#4 – (You Want to) Make a Memory (album Lost Highway)

I started listening to Bon Jovi in 1984 as a sophomore in high school; I still do, almost everyday. One of my favorite things about the band is that I have literally grown up with them. As they have matured, so have their lyrics, matching my own aging process. A clear evolution of these maturing lyrics can be seen in this song. This song examines this question: what might it be like to have a chance encounter with a former lover? I think many of us have wondered what this would be like – Bon Jovi gives of an answer. The speaker in this song is clearly older and runs into someone from his past, “Hello again, it’s you and me / Kinda always like it used to be . . . How’s your life / It’s been a while.” The listener can feel the awkwardness of this meeting, “I dug up this old photograph / Look at all that hair we had / It’s bittersweet to hear you laugh / Your phone is ringing, I don’t want to ask.” As we age, things change – we change – we move on. This song shows a matured band who, like the rest of us, struggle with these changes – “I see you reaching for your keys / Looking for a reason not to leave.”

#3 – Never Say Goodbye (album Slippery When Wet)

– This is the song that started this whole thing. For years I have loved this song, believing that is was about the desire to never fully grow up and to hold on tight to the friends we have in high school. On that lonely drive home in the dark, these lines jumped out at me, causing me to question my earlier interpretation: “As I sit in this smoky room / The night about to end / I pass my time with strangers / This bottle is my only friend.” What I once thought was a song about a typical teen desire to stop the whirlwind changes that life brings, has now becomes a song about regret. The speaker is thinking about those high school days, “Remember when we used to park on Butler Street out in the dark / Remember when we lost the keys and you lost more than that in my backseat.” Those days are gone – the friends are gone – the girl is gone – and the connections have not been maintained. The reality of moving on is setting in and the speaker is telling us to do our best to not let this happen, knowing at the same time that it is going to happen. A song that I have always loved has transformed itself into an even better song that I will never stop listening to, always trying to remember those days, but understanding that I can never get them back.

#2 – This Ain’t a Love Song (album These Days)

– I consider these last two songs absolutely perfect ballads. English teacher comment: I love the verbal irony in this song – clearly this IS a love song- a sad one. Here is a relationship that burned bright – they both lived it and enjoyed it. As with many of these “summer” loves, it was not meant to last. The singer talks about the end with a sense of disbelief, “I thought you and me would stand the test of time / Like we got away with the perfect crime / But you were just a legend in my mind / I guess that I was blind.” Being in love gives us a sense of invincible eternity. We never consider the end because we never believe that it will end. The speaker is looking back with a sense of disbelief, “It makes me so mad because I wanted it bad for us, baby / Now, it’s so sad that whatever who had ain’t worth saving.” I think he wants her back, hence this song, but he cannot admit to her that he is still in love with her, “If the love that I got for you is gone / If the river I cried ain’t that long / Then I’m wrong, this ain’t a love song.” Of all of the songs on this list, this one has my favorite Sambora solo – powerful and mournful at the same time.

#1 – Always (album Crossroads)

– When I was compiling my list of Bon Jovi Ballads, there was no doubt that this one would be on top. It may be my all time favorite song by this band. The song was originally intended for the soundtrack to the film Romeo is Bleeding (hence the first line of the song), but I think they recognized the potential for this song. The producer of many of Bon Jovi’s music videoes, Mark Isham, wrote the musical score for this movie, so the connection is clear. It would go on to become one of their best selling singles at six million copies (and 182.5 millions hits on Youtube)! I do not feel that I am exaggerating when I say that this song is nothing short of perfect. The lyrics, the keyboards, the guitar, the drums, the bass, the vocals – I think you see what I mean – are all perfect. Here is another song about the regret of losing a love. The woman has clearly left and has moved on to someone else. The speaker is torturing himself with old pictures, memories, and remembering the way it felt running his fingers through her hair. He is absolutely begging her for another chance, “ Well, there ain’t no luck in these loaded dice / But, baby, if you give me just one more try / We can pack up our old dreams and our old lives / And find a place where the sun still shines.” I love the desperation and realization in this song. I can think of few songs that capture both as effectively. Every year on my wedding anniversary, I take this song out of context and write these lyrics on my wife’s mirror: “I’ll be there till the stars don’t shine / ‘Til the heavens burst and the words don’t rhyme / I know when I die you’ll be on my mind / And I’ll love you, always.” Sappy? Yes, but it works.

Full disclosure: I am a huge Bon Jovi fan. I listen to their music all of the time – I watch the DVDs of their concerts all of the time – I make my friends listen to them all of the time – all of my students come to me for all Bon Jovi questions – I use their songs in my class – I think you get the picture. This idea was borne out of rethinking a song that I love and thought I had figured out. Just like the band’s songs evolve, so does the way I see them. I am sure I left a few great songs out but I only gave myself eleven slots – but what an eleven songs!

One thought on “Bon Jovi’s Beauteous Ballads”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s