Bon Jovi is one of the few hair bands from the ’80s to still be around and attracting huge crowds in stadiums. Their new album is titled 2020 and it tackles current events head-on, from mass shootings (“Lower the Flag”) to disinformation (“Blood in the Water”) to police violence (“American Reckoning”) and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic (“Do What You Can”).
Jon Bon Jovi speaks with Fresh Air’s David Bianculli.
Jon Bon Jovi sits in his Manhattan office, the New York skyline visible in the window behind him. He’s a few days away from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, and he’s also about to launch his fifteenth studio album. The LP is called 2020, and it’s a bold departure for a band that was once identified with party anthems and power ballads. This is the first Bon Jovi album without the creative input of guitarist Richie Sambora, who left the group in 2013.
In a time when many MTV favorites like Poison and Ratt have faded into obscurity, the New Jersey band has continued to thrive. They’re the most successful rock band to ever reach 130 million records sold, and their songs like “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “Bad Medicine” remain staples of pop culture. And while their macho image may have shifted with the times, they’re still one of the biggest acts to tour the world and sell out arenas.
Back in the ’80s, Bon Jovi was just getting started. Jon had been playing in bands since he was 13, plugging away on the New Jersey club scene. But he was having a tough time breaking into the mainstream. And so he put in a call to keyboard player David Bryan, who had played with him in another band before, and to drummer Tico Torres. He also invited bassist Alec John Such to join and they formed the Bon Jovi trio. They signed with mega-manager Doc McGhee, who had previously worked with Kiss, Motley Crue and Skid Row.
The band recorded their eponymous debut album in 1984, and it included the hit single “Runaway.” It peaked at number forty-three on the Billboard 200 album chart. They followed it up with 7800deg Fahrenheit the year after and a string of top 40 hits.
But it wasn’t until 1986 and the release of Slippery When Wet that they really took off. It was their breakout record, and it topped the charts in several countries.
From there, the band kept on going, releasing more hit albums and hitting the road worldwide. They even branched out into movies, and Jon became a television star with a series of guest appearances on shows like Ally McBeal.
But in the early ’90s, Bon Jovi began to lose some of their luster and their sales declined. They went on hiatus, and Jon began to pursue solo projects. But they’re back now with a strong lineup and a new album to mark their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Saturday night.