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Source Material: Bon Jovi, Slippery When Wet

by Chuck Eddy

Source Material: Bon Jovi, Slippery When Wet


A quarter-century after its release (feel old now?), it is somewhat amusing, amazing and perplexing to remember that, way back then, Bon Jovi's 1986 album Slippery When Wet was actually considered a metal album -- if not necessarily by metalheads themselves, then definitely by the rest of the rock world. Even in the realm of hair metal -- certainly compared to bands like Guns N' Roses and Motley Crue -- Bon Jovi just seem so doggone wholesome, at least in retrospect. Still, the power chords were there, and so, to some extent, were the visual trappings: on the backside of the cover, Bon Jovi the band may not look like they'd drowned in a vat of pink mascara and eyeliner, but their hair is pretty teased. Jon Bon himself has the obligatory-for-the-epoch scarf around his neck, and drummer Tico Torres is even wearing tight leopard-skin trousers.

Really, what a few fellas in the band almost look like -- given their rhinestone cowboy boots and pants -- is a modern regional Mexican group: all they need is fancy cowboy hats! On a steel horse they ride, don'cha know. And they still look Western-ish enough to have inspired Nashville country music since then; seriously, listen to Brantley Gilbert sometime. Heck, Chris Cagle and Montgomery Gentry have even covered "Wanted Dead or Alive" in the past decade. And of course there was also Bon Jovi's own 2006 No. 1 country duet with Jennifer Nettles, "Who Says You Can't Go Home." It all adds up now, right?

Anyway, back to metal. The cover of Slippery When Wet, as all fans know, was originally going to be a buxom lady with her topside stuffed into a drenched T-shirt with the album's title on it. Japan got that one, apparently, but in the U.S. the cover was much less brazen and more modest (and less metal): just the words on what is said to be a rain-soaked Hefty bag. Still, the inner sleeve did show the mostly shirtless band having a charity car wash with lots of skimpily clad models. Warrant were taking notes, no doubt.

The album, the New Jersey band's third, stayed in the Billboard 200 for 94 weeks (which, curiously, is 10 fewer than its 1985 predecessor, 7800º Fahrenheit), and was the U.S. top seller for eight of those weeks. It spawned four Top 30 singles, including the chart-toppers "You Give Love a Bad Name" and "Livin' on a Prayer" -- the latter of which, especially, has been warbled several trillion times in karaoke bars since. Slippery When Wet went on to sell 12 million copies in the U.S. and 28 million worldwide. And over time, Bon Jovi -- once a band not taken very seriously -- managed to not only stick around for a long career that still spawns No. 1 albums, but to accumulate a certain degree of respectability as dependable, even influential legacy artists, which few would have predicted at the time. So it seems only fair, at this 25-year juncture, to chart some of the earlier music that inspired Slippery to be so, well, slippery in the first place.