Everyone has that one album that they can credit with changing the way they listened to music. Some are fortunate enough to have experienced this great awakening to Are You Experienced or The Doors. For others it was London Calling, Ramones, or even Black Sabbath. For me it was Slippery When Wet. That’s right, Bon Jovi changed my life. I realize on some level that I should probably be embarrassed about that little fact, but the truth is I love this album every bit as much now as I did two decades ago.
I still remember like it was yesterday. I was 11 at the time, and didn’t really care about music one way or another. I did however think that Transformers were quite awesome, but I digress. I was flipping channels and came across the video for Livin’ on a Prayer. I wish I could accurately describe the impact that silly, you and me against the world love song had on me. It was like all of the tumblers of a combination lock sliding into place inside my head. I knew I had to hear more, but that wasn’t going to be easy. My mama didn’t dance and my daddy didn’t rock & roll, so to speak, so I had to track down the cassette through a friend. If Livin’ on a Prayer grabbed my interest, You Give Love a Bad Name and Wanted Dead or Alive sealed the deal. After that I moved on to Poison, Europe, Stryper, and dozens of other hairspray laden bands that I naively thought of as “metal”, but Bon Jovi was the first.
I sometimes wonder if I would have reacted the same way to any other album. Somehow I doubt it. Bon Jovi was at the top of their game with this album. You could argue that their follow-up album New Jersey is the band’s best, but I’ll put the songs on Slippery When Wet up against that Bad Medicine stuff any day! With Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi built on the sound they developed with their two previous efforts and added hitmakers like Desmond Child to take the songwriting to a whole new level. I can hear you snickering at the thought of You Give Love a Bad Name and Never Say Goodbye as examples of quality songwriting, but it’s hard to argue with the results. I believe that the lessons Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora learned while recording this album are a big reason why they are still big stars to this day, when so many of their peers have been relegated to the bar & grill circuit.
Slippery When Wet was the perfect fusion of Bruce Springsteen’s American rock & roll, Van Halen’s party rock image, and an impeccable pop sensibility. It didn’t hurt that Jon and the boys were easy on the eyes and could represent the new face of “metal” in a totally unthreatening way. I can’t help but wonder how many other kids made their way to Iron Maiden and Metallica by first discovering a band like Bon Jovi.
Say what you will about this era or this style of music. I firmly believe that Slippery When Wet is a great example of rock & roll in the 80’s, and it will always have a special place in my heart.
NOTE: Slippery When Wet was reissued in 1998 with digitally remastered sound. Serious collectors may also want to check out the import version with the original cover art that the band nixed, not because of the racy image, but because of the pink border. Go figure.