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

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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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19 comments
Steve Rogers 7420
Steve Rogers 7420

You are really funny sir, you are the first one I ever heard saying that a band sucks cos their songs made you feel like a loser LOL, if you are a loser please don't blame someone else....

Ed Kollin
Ed Kollin

I liked WABC pop rock at the end of the 60s then graduated to FM album rock. That is what pretty much what everybody did. Everything was not analyzed ten ways to Sunday back then, things just were.  Rock was so much better then my parents Sinatra and it appealed to the base normal instinct of the hetro teen male which I was so it was good for me. But I was not your typical stoner teen. That lifestyle stereo seemed dumb and made people dumb. That attitude did not win you friends of either gender however.  Disco was the first true alternative music that arrived. I can say that now but at the time Disco seemed worse, the incessant 4/4 beat drove me up the wall and people going to Studio 54 seemed so overdressed and vapid that it made the stoners look brilliant. And worse they seemed to be winning. When New Wave came it was the perfect antidote to all my musical and cultural ills. It was still rock at first, Guys that looked geeky like David Byrne and  Joe Jackson were having success. It brought back the 60's creativity I thought I was born to late for.  "it's the end of the 70's" and "London Calling" were anthems". With the Second British invasion I was now actually listing to stuff that was cool and actually massively  popular. Yeah it was pop(and yes disco) not rock anymore but it was and is in my view right up there with the 60's as far as pop.   My New Wave self did not mind the beginning of Hair Metal  if the music was a bit dated and formatted the Van Halen, Twisted Sister videos were funny and clever.  But as noted it took over and and to suddenly it was 1974 again after I thought I would never have to think about that decade.  Time does put a different prospective on it. Hair metal was inevitable. "New Wave" offered little to your average hetro working to middle class teen.  Hair Metal  succeed in 1986 for the same reasons as "classic rock" did  in 1974  because it was pretty much pulling the same plugs. While it was much less innovative sonically then it's older brother the video and pop flourishes brought the other gender in to rock in a way it had not been since the first British Invasion. And it did by not only not tuning out the original fans but with video improving upon the experience. So Hair Metal nostalgia is here in full force. Yes there is a pang of sadness that the idea that "New Wave" was the 80's music that counted is done. But New Wave fans we got 15 years out of that falsehood.  Heavy Metal was by far the most popular music of the 1980's in the US. That was true in the Second British Invasion year of 1983 when the "Heavy Metal" day at the US festival outdrew the "New Wave" day  by 2 to 1.   So after rocking out to a certain movie on the 4th of July weekend  toast the 30th anniversary of the Human League starting the 2nd invasion when "Don't You Want Me " hit number 1. And then get your butt back to 2012!!!!

burning_plastic
burning_plastic

 Europe's "The Final Countdown" was worse than any Bon Jovi song but they didn't last long enough to inspire the same kind of hatred. Remember James Hetfield had a guitar he'd scrawled "Kill Bon Jovi" on the headstock. Whitesnake was just as bad and way more hilarious so I guess they actually were entertaining. I can live with Bon Jovi being called the worst.

Epac
Epac

"Pop radio existed so I wouldn't have to hear crap like Bon Jovi"...huh???? I hate hair metal as much as anyone, but anyone who turns (turned?) on top-40 radio to hear "good" music is in need of a good shrink. Or q-tips.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

If you're not a pop fan, that's fine. I admit Top 40 radio is tiresome—I now ingest it in small doses. My point in the offending sentence above was simply that Top 40 radio as of the second half of 1986 played other kinds of music than shouty hair-metal (the "crap"). FWIW, at that time I still liked about 60–70% of what was on pop radio (excepting not just Bon Jovi but also sleepy ballads by the likes of Peter Cetera); if we're talking the Top 40 radio of 1983–84. I liked/loved at least 80–90% of that. Not to be all you-kids-get-off-my-lawn, but Top 40 radio was just better back then, with a lower burnout ratio and less narrow demographic targeting by age and gender.

Nathan
Nathan

I like Bon Jovi, although I get your opinion I'd probably hate them if I were around at the time they became big, born in 91 I missed their hair metal days by a while and liking them without the hordes of screaming teens for them means I don't eventually start to hate them. But the bit about Poison? Come on, really? Poison were what was wrong with hair metal, Bon Jovi started it fine, but Poison drove it into the ground and kicked it whilst it was down.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

Your opinions are totally defensible and make sense. For me, Poison had the right attitude, and they were coming out of a tradition of frilly '70s glam and pomp-rock a la The Sweet or even the Bay City Rollers. But Bon Jovi wanted to be taken seriously, and they weren't fun enough to make their idiotic lyrics tolerable. I always felt like Bret Michaels et al. were in on the joke, notwithstanding "Every Rose..." (and for a "serious" song, it's a far better ballad than anything Jon Bon ever managed).

Guest
Guest

lol this article sucks

Pinky Colection
Pinky Colection

For those of you who believe that this is "just part of growing up" and that bullying "builds character," I'd challenge you to help co-fund longterm longitudinal studies to show how bullied kids fare versus their non-bullied peers, and we can see what turns up. Because I'm willing to bet they'll tell you what I already know instinctually: kids who are severely bullied, for any reason, suffer from its effects for their entire lives. Multinivel

Charlie81
Charlie81

I will reply with the words of Luciano Pavarotti:"Those who can do, those who can less teach,  and those who can even less criticize.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

You know, that's a good point you're making—Jon Bon should've been a critic! He can't sing or write a decent song at all!

It has also been said: Those who don't know how to Google, attribute that saying to Pavarotti.

Evan
Evan

Honestly, Chris I see no purpose to this article other than you are letting us know how certain Bon Jovi songs make your stomach turn. Join the crowd. I was cheesed out by YGLABN too. If I were you, I'd be more concerned about your love for Poison songs more than anything else. Why not write about that? That would be really interesting.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

You might not want to read the rest of the "First Worsts" series, then, because it's all going to be like this. I'm sure I'll strenuously disagree with some of what my fellow writers under this banner profess hatred for.

When it comes to Poison, mostly I love "Fallen Angel," I think "Talk Dirty to Me" is totally fun, and I have karaoked "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." There—that wasn't all that interesting, was it?

Ricky_dry_county
Ricky_dry_county

You try so hard to act cool in the 3 pages.You fail.

Matt Carlson
Matt Carlson

Really? I didn't know that expressing a fondness for Phil Collins and early-era Whitney Houston was considered cool these days, unless your name is Patrick Bateman...

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

I am attempting many things on these three pages, but believe me, acting cool is not one of them.

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