First Worsts: Remembering When Bon Jovi Gave "Hair Metal" A Bad Name

Categories: Bon Jovi

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This month, to celebrate the Internet's unbridled love for wallowing in nostalgia and even greater relishing of talking about why certain cultural artifacts are horrible, Sound of the City presents First Worsts, a series in which our writers remember the first time... they ever hated a song enough to call it The Worst. (And to be fair, we're also going to see how these songs have stood the test of time.)

THE SONG(S): Bon Jovi, "You Give Love a Bad Name"/"Livin' on a Prayer."
THE YEAR: 1986.
THE REASONS: A love of British new wave, a lack of girlie action.

Sophomore year of high school, 1986-87, was the worst. I received the first of several rejections by girls I had crushes on. Two Sony Discmen broke on me—they were crazy-fragile back then. Oh, yeah, and my dad lost his job.

As if adding insult to injury, the radio picked that year to turn on me. There are several culprits, but I blame it mostly on Mr. Big Hair and Shit-Eating Grin, my pop-music white whale and fellow half-Italian, Mr. Jon Bongiovi.


Bon Jovi, "You Give Love A Bad Name"

As I once described in an edition of my "100 & Single" column, you can break down decades of pop-music history into halves. For example, the '70s can be divided into the rock-plus-singer/songwriters half and the disco half. Or consider the last decade, the '00s, which can be divided into a hip-hop half and a dance-pop half. There's usually a big hit song that signals the new half has begun, the moment when the culture is pivoting from one style to the other.

What I didn't mention in that column was that the pivot song is, for some music fans, not welcome—especially if you're the one whose favorite music is being made passé. Imagine you're a rock fan in 1974, accustomed to your AM station pumping songs from Grand Funk Railroad or Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and then one day your radio blares the Hues Corporation's "Rock the Boat," widely considered the first disco No. 1 hit. It might make you dance, but more likely, it might piss you off.

As a teenager in the 1980s, I really enjoyed the new-wave British pop and electro-dance from MTV's early years. Duran Duran, Prince, Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, Phil Collins and Tears for Fears were all in heavy rotation in my room. I wasn't a big hard-rock fan, but I did like a lot of early '80s pop-metal—Def Leppard's "Photograph" remains a karaoke favorite to this day (to the detriment of my friends' ears). I didn't mind when Van Halen scored their first and only chart-topper in early '84 with "Jump"—not only because it was a decent pop song, but also because, to reach the Hot 100's penthouse, they had Eddie momentarily drop his axe for a super-wussy, Kajagoogoo-worthy keyboard.

Things started to turn about a year later, though. There were two strains of big-haired pop in the late '80s, and I didn't care for either one. The first was the melismatic, rafter-raising diva, led by Whitney Houston. She scored her first No. 1 hit in late '85, "Saving All My Love for You." I liked that song well enough, and its followup, "How Will I Know" (I have since decided that the latter was the very best of her uptempo songs); but by spring '86 and "Greatest Love of All," she was beginning to grate on me. Still, in the spring and summer of '86, we were still getting No. 1 hits like Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" and Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer." Clearly the big-voiced, big-haired diva wasn't going to kill Brit-accented pop by herself, and my beloved music wasn't going down without a fight.

But then the other strain of big-haired, late-'80s pop came crashing in, into my little world. Hair-metal finally killed off Second British Invasion pop on the U.S. charts. I've never really forgiven Bon Jovi for it.



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