In their thirty-four years together, Bon Jovi has sold over 120 million albums and played more than 2,600 concerts around the world. They have a knack for enthralling arena audiences with well-crafted rock songs and power ballads that redefined the rock anthem for the ’80s. Their strategy was simple: Write and record well-crafted music with a deliberate pop sheen, play your heart out every time you take the stage, exceed the expectations of your fans, look good —and do all of this while staying true to your roots.
The Jersey-based quintet developed an ingratiatingly melodic and professional variation of hard rock that appealed as much to teenagers as housewives, redefining the genre for the decade. With the help of songwriters like Desmond Child, they gave their music an appropriately commercial sheen, opening a trend that dominated mainstream rock and metal for the next decade. They paired the ingratiating sound with simple performance videos that emphasized lead singer Jon Bongiovi’s photogenic good looks, further bolstering their popularity. This strategy spawned the band’s 1986 album, Slippery When Wet, and its 1988 follow-up New Jersey, both of which went multi-platinum globally.
Jon Bongiovi’s childhood was a musical one. His father was an organist and his mother a soprano who sang in local church choirs. By the time he was a teenager, Bongiovi was ditching school to play rock ‘n’ roll with friends such as guitarist David Rashbaum and drummer Tico Torres in local bands.
By the time he was 19, he had written Runaway, his first hit. As he and Rashbaum were still students, they eked by by playing small gigs. When the song became a hit, they decided to form a full-fledged band. Bongiovi reached out to fellow Jersey circuit players bassist Alec John Such and drummer Tico Torres to join the group, and he tapped neighbor Richie Sambora to play lead guitar.
They signed with Mercury Records and changed their name to Bon Jovi. Pamela Maher, an employee of the band’s manager Doc McGhee, suggested the name, influenced by other two-word bands such as Van Halen. They began recording a self-titled debut in 1984, which failed to catch fire with audiences, though it did place No. 43 on the Billboard 200 album chart.
With the release of 1986’s Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi stepped away from heavy metal and worked with songwriter extraordinaire Desmond Child to create a more commercially viable sound, resulting in classic hits such as You Give Love a Bad Name and Wanted Dead or Alive. The band also cultivated an image as a macho rock group with a six-percent female audience share, which further boosted their success.
After a brief hiatus, the band returned to the studio in 2003 for a career-spanning compilation, This Left Feels Right. In 2004 they followed it with a four-CD and one-DVD set of rarities, 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong. By 2008 Bon Jovi was ready to stretch its legs and took a two-week motorcycle trip across the country, which significantly influenced their next album, Have a Nice Day.