Before 1986, pop culture was already redefining and bringing rock to the forefront again with bands such as Aerosmith, Van Halen, and AC/DC. Guitar solos became a common occurrence and more groups emerged emulating a rock n’ roll style with a twist. Not all rock groups can be categorized under one heading, influences for artists coming from blues, pop, and electronic music.
However 1986 marks a turning point, where the majority of the rock music playing on the radio transitioned to hard rock, having headed in that direction for the past decade. Although different for everyone, the classics for me have become songs like “Paint It, Black”, “Hotel California”, and “Panama”. And without blinking an eye, I can say that Bon Jovi is at the top of my list. Their breakthrough album Slippery When Wet spawned multiple chart toppers and brilliant music and has gone down as one of the classic albums.
When tuning in to my local classic rock station, I can almost always hear a Bon Jovi song if I listen long enough. The legacy of this album is undeniable, as it produced so many recognizable tunes. This was helped in part by singles played before the release date, August 18th, with this year being the 30th anniversary. It’s left an impact on modern music, which says a lot considering music styles change so rapidly and the amount of time that has passed. Since the ’80s, Bon Jovi has transformed to become adult contemporary and even country, becoming flexible in the genre they represent-but their music has still come to be influential, showing to me how they can reach all different types of audiences, a consistent characteristic since the beginning.
“Livin’ On A Prayer” is undoubtedly the most famous track on the album. The catchy chorus and relatable lyrics have caused it to be not only one of my favorite 80’s tunes, but so many today-next to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”, It’s a hugely recognizable classic rock song and it tends to be one of the top songs played at weddings, dances, and all large events alike (it’s upbeat and catchy, right?). Opening with the lyrics, “Once upon a time not so long ago/Tommy used to work on the docks, union’s been on strike/He’s down on his luck, it’s tough, so tough”, it tells a story of love with the message of getting through tough times together. With it’s addictive guitar riffs and liberal use of “woah”s and “oh”s, it has been made a track that defined the mixing of hard rock and pop.
Lead singer Jon Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora, wrote or co-wrote all of the songs on the album. Band members writing songs is something many Top 40 artists tend to forget about and struggle with, very few being the exception. The days of band songwriting were remarkable; Queen and the Eagles are just a few comparable bands. Classic rock and songwriting put together has allowed for individuality and freedom. “Social Disease” and “Without Love” are a few examples, the obvious one being “You Give Love A Bad Name”. The song’s opening – the lyrics sung without backing followed by a guitar solo gives an intensity seen throughout this album, as this style of playing is seen multiple times.
However, an often overlooked track is “I’d Die For You”. It follows similar themes, but it is the best love song on Slippery When Wet. The balance between guitar and drums helps you follow along with an upbeat tempo, but intense lyrics and the stylistic choices of when to emphasize each instrument help bring variety. There is almost no room for mixing up tunes on this album; each song has its own distinct sound and it’s difficult to mix up “Wanted Dead Or Alive” with another. It stands out with the utilization of acoustic guitar and dramatic introduction. It is another one of the most popular tracks that has made this album immortalized.
Bon Jovi will forever live in my heart as classic rock icons, and Slippery When Wet was their breakthrough album. With it came three memorable songs and helped the transition of a world in classic rock.