What made Slippery When Wet explode?
A lot of people credit Bruce Fairbairn for it. Others credit the influence of Desmond Child, while others would credit the sound engineering and mix by Bob Rock. Others put it down to Jon and Richie finally finding their niche as songwriters and finally others put it down to the Pizza Parlour Jury. Could it have been the labels release schedule and marketing plan? Could it have been that the scene needed a shake up and this album was right time, right place?
First let’s put into context where the band was at in 1985. They had just finished a nine-month world tour for 7800 Degrees Fahrenheit. The band was in debt to the record label for a couple of million bucks. The guys where living at their mom and dad’s, and wrote most of the songs for Slippery When Wet in Richie’s mom’s basement.
There is a common myth that once a band is signed, they are showered with untold riches and that they have money coming out of their arse. That is so far from the truth. Bon Jovi where in debt and they were lucky that the label gave them a third chance.
From the 90’s onwards, labels didn’t give bands three chances. One chance was all they had. If they failed they will get someone else. These days the labels are irrelevant. They need to compete on a playing field where the rules change at the same rate technology changes and to be honest, they are so out of touch, it’s almost laughable watching them trying to hold on to the old way of doing things.
Let’s start with Bruce Fairbairn. Before he started doing Slippery he was coming off a multi-platinum run of releases with Loverboy and Honeymoon Suite, plus a Gold release with Krokus. According to Paul Dean from Loverboy, Bruce is super organized. He charts everything out and every song is broken into parts.
Slippery would go on to multi – multi platinum sales and New Jersey (also produced by Bruce would do the same). From Slippery, Bruce would move on to Aerosmith. Permanent Vacation, Pump and Get A Grip all went multi – multi platinum. He resurrected AC/DC’s career with the 5x platinum The Razors Edge after a steady decline in sales after Back In Black. It is safe to say that Bruce had a certain knack for getting the best out of the artists he produced. His track record is envious to say the least.
Then you have Desmond Child.
Jon and Richie wanted to write with another song writer, so that other people can perform the songs. Jon heard Tina Turner singing a song that Bryan Adams had written and wanted to do the same. That is how Desmond Child came on the scene. However the plan got skewed, as the songs that came out of those sessions where that good, that it was decided they will be kept for Jovi instead.
The first song Jon and Richie wrote with Desmond in Richie’s mother’s basement was “The Edge Of A Broken Heart”. The second song they wrote was “You Give Love A Bad Name” by referencing a song he wrote for Bonnie Tyler called If You Were A Woman (And I Was A Man). The melodies and chord progressions are very similar.
He used the story of his 70’s girlfriend, Maria Vidal who used to work a diner and was called Gina, for Livin On A Prayer. In interviews, Richie has stated that Jon didn’t want the song on the album, while Richie was trying to convince him it was the best song they had.
I’d Die For You and Without Love where two other songs penned by Jon, Richie and Desmond. I’d Die For You even has a cult status as a fan favourite. Desmond brought the pop side to Bon Jovi’s form of hard rock, glam metal overtones.
The engineer and mixer Bob Rock
Jon heard Honeymoon Suite’s The Big Prize (another Bruce and Bob production) and that sealed the deal for Bon Jovi to also seek out Bob Rock.
The Pizza Parlour Jury
When Jon and Riche were making the demos in New Jersey, they would go across the street to the pizza parlour. They would ask a bunch of kids to hear some stuff. As Richie puts it, “It was like a marketing test . They came in and said, “Yeah, we like this one. This one gets through and that one doesn’t.”
They sure needed it as they wrote a truck load of songs. Apart from the 10 songs that ended up on the album, other songs that never made it include;
Never Enough For You, Borderline, Edge Of A Broken Heart, Heat Of The Night, Give My Heart, Lonely Is The Night, Too Much Too Soon, Game Of The Heart, Deep Cuts The Night, Stand Up, Walk Don’t Run, Out of Bounds, There Is No Answer, Promise, Take Me All.
Bouncing songs off different independent ears that are not related to the band, helped Bon Jovi focus on the songs that where stronger.
Doc McGhee the Bon Jovi manager at the time has stated that putting out a record at the right time is very important. He further mentioned that the label looked at what other labels where releasing and picked a window where there was nothing really there competing against it.
August was the month that was selected and competing against Slippery When Wet where other August releases from Motorhead – Orgasmatron, Vinnie Vincent – Invasion, Warlock – True As Steel and Great White – Shot In The Dark.
If it was released in July, it would have been up against DLR’s – Eat Em and Smile for listeners’ attention. If it was released in June, it would have had to compete against Queen – A Kind of Magic, Genesis – Invisible Touch, Rod Stewart – Every Beat of My Heart, Madonna – True Blue and Cinderella – Night Songs. If it was released in May as originally intended, it would have been up against AC/DC – Who Made Who, Journey – Raised on Radio and Europe – The Final Countdown.
Let It Rock kicks it off Side 1.
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
This song is written purely for the concert experience. That is foresight in itself. Apart from delivering a good album of songs, Jon and Richie are mindful of how they will go down live. The song is about rebellion, getting that fist pumping in the air, just to let your hair down on the weekend. Much like Loverboy’s Working for The Weekend. But in this case the rock is a fire that is burning out of control. Another analogy to melting rock temperatures (7800 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s funny where Let It Rock has that keyboard intro, Lay Your Hands On Me from New Jersey, is almost identical riff wise to Let It Rock and it has that long drum intro. It must be a Bruce thing, as even Turn Me Loose had a long keyboard intro. A good start by the Jon and Richie song writing team.
“Shot through the heart and you’re to blame, darling you give love a bad name.” The iconic a capella chorus. Then the band kicks in and Richie does his vocal melody lead until they start the strip bar sleazy verse riff.
I remember when I saw the clip, I was glued to my TV screen. I never got the name of the song and I thought it was called Shot Through The Heart, so I purchased the cassette album that had the song Shot Through The Heart. Of course that was the wrong song. Right band, but wrong song. The clincher for me was the chorus part after the guitar solo, where it’s just the voice and the drums (sort of reminded me of Queen’s We Will Rock You). You Give Love A Bad Name was the one that got the door opened and once the band unleashed Livin On A Prayer, the band started selling 700,000 records a month. It also featured the song writing talents of Desmond Child, who borrowed the vocal melody and chords from a song he wrote for Bonnie Tyler, called If You Were a Woman (And I Was a Man).
Livin On A Prayer was the song that Jon wasn’t even sure should be on the album.
Bob Lefsetz posted that Livin On A Prayer is where Bon Jovi got the girls and that is what has kept the band going. He aint wrong there and Jon knew that, hence the reason why he rewrote the song over and over again for each album that came after. New Jersey had Born To Be My Baby (again a co-write with Desmond Child). Keep The Faith had the title track (the chorus chord progression is identical, except in a different key and again a co-write with Desmond Child). These Days had Hey God, Crush had Its My Life (Max Martin comes into the fold now), Bounce and Have A Nice Day had the title tracks. The Circle had We Weren’t Born To Follow and the Greatest Hits had This is Love, This is Life. For What About Now, the whole album is following the themes from Livin On A Prayer. If you are on a winning formula, do it right again and you will hit pay dirt.
Tommy used to work on the docks
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
It’s a movie in words. Life is tough but as long as we love each other, we will be okay. A lot of people were not okay, but Livin On A Prayer made them feel that they were, as Tommy and Gina were also living the same life they were living.
Social Disease is the pure filler that needed to be written so that Bad Medicine could be written.
So you telephone your doctor
Just to see what pill to take
You know there’s no prescription
Gonna wipe this one away
In never should have ended up on Slippery. Edge of A Broken Heart is far superior. I know that Jon apologised for that omission. To be honest the song never had a chance with the listeners coming off three winners already. It was a poor song from the Jon and Richie team. At least they made up for it in the next song.
Wanted Dead or Alive was the 80’s version of Turn The Page which Jon more or less copied again for the Young Guns soundtrack and had another number one hit in Blaze of Glory with a cool Jeff Beck solo. Wanted was written by Jon and Richie. This song didn’t reach number one, but it is a number one song. A cult classic. A radio staple. When the song was released as a single, the multi-million fan base had already digested it. They didn’t need to buy the single to make it No. 1. It was already that in their hearts and minds.
Sometimes I sleep, sometimes it’s not for days
And the people I meet always go their separate ways
Life on the road is just that. I am just finishing off reading a Randy Rhoads bio, and it’s pretty clear that Randy started to hate the road. He wanted to quit Ozzy’s band and study classical music. He worked his whole life to achieve rock stardom and now that he had it, he was going to give it all up to follow his dream of classical music. Sadly he never got there. That is another thing that seems to be forgotten, the road also kills.
Raise Your Hands (Let It Rock part 2) kicks off side 2. Another Jon and Richie composition. The motto of this song is simply. Come to the show, raise your hands and get wild. It doesn’t repeat what Let It Rock started, it takes it into overdrive.
Raise your hands
When you want to let it go
Raise your hands
And you want to let a feeling show
Without Love is the second track after Raise Your Hands on side 2. This was a Jon, Richie and Des composition and is forgettable. The first side was pretty much spot on, that it was hard to get into Side 2.
I saw a man down on lonely street
A broken man who looked like me
And no one knows the pain that he’s been living
He lost his love and still hasn’t forgiven
I’d Die for You is another Jon, Richie and Des composition. It has become a cult classic for Bon Jovi, with fans hoping that it gets played each night, like Runaway.
I might not be a savior
And I’ll never be a king
I might not send you roses
Or buy you diamond rings
We are not perfect in relationships, however we try our best. A lot of the times our best is not good enough and it all ends bad.
Never Say Goodbye doesn’t get out of second gear
As I sit in this smokey room
The night about to end
I pass my time with strangers
But this bottle’s my only friend
And Wild in the Street is a song that could have ended up on a Bruce Springsteen B sides album.
In here we got this code of honor
Nobody’s going down
As Bob Lefsetz puts “if you want to relive 1986, if you want to know what it was like way back then… You play “Slippery When Wet.”