13 studio albums, three compilations, two live albums, and a box set. More importantly, Bon Jovi sold “more than 130 million records worldwide.” Not bad for a group of guys constantly playing second fiddle to Bruce Springsteen. As a huge Bon Jovi fan, I’ve always wanted to rank their discography.
But I didn’t just want to focus on studio albums. I stretched to compilations. And solo albums from frontman Jon Bon Jovi, keyboardist David Bryan, and former guitarist Richie Sambora. What isn’t included is digital-only live album Inside Out and the lesser-known compilations and EPs.
So forgettable that Bon Jovi themselves didn’t include a single song from 7800* Fahrenheit on their 2010 Greatest Hits compilation. Middle-of-the-road ’80s pop/metal album lacking a single standout track.
Not only is “Runaway” the best song on this self-titled debut album, but it’s the reason why Bon Jovi exists at all. Written by a young John Bongiovi, the song garnered enough attention to allow Jon the opportunity to create a full album. The result is a batch of decent ’80s pop/metal tracks, although nothing spectacular outside of the aforementioned “Runaway”. Trivia: “She Don’t Know Me” is the only song on a Bon Jovi studio album not written by a member of Bon Jovi. Instead, the credits belong to Mark Avsec of Donnie Iris & the Cruisers.
Richie Sambora’s final album as a member of Bon Jovi is also among the band’s worse, with almost anything good buried beneath horrible mixing. Even the acoustic ballad “The Fighter” sounds wrong, a pity because that track is lyrically the best thing on the album. It doesn’t help that What About Now starts with “Because We Can”, peddling the same platitudes that we’ve heard in every Bon Jovi album since Crush and “It’s My Life”.
Otherwise known as Bon Jovi plus a steel guitar, Lost Highway was conceived after the duet with Jennifer Nettles (of Sugarland) for “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” reached number one on the Billboard’s Hot Country Songs chart. I wouldn’t call it a compliment to say that it sounds like something you’d hear on popular country radio. Maybe that’s reflective of my personal feelings towards country/pop, but some songs on Lost Highway are good, like “Any Other Day”. That said, the album feels overproduced, a common criticism with Bon Jovi albums since producer John Shanks got involved. It’s also worth mentioning that “We Got It Going On” contains the dumbest lyrics ever put onto a Bon Jovi album.
Bon Jovi tossed the steel guitar for The Circle, instead creating an album seemingly inspired by U2. The problem is that nobody can make a U2 album except U2, so The Circle just comes off as strange, almost foreign. That feeling is accentuated by “Working for the Working Man” since it’s delivered by men with more money than I’ll ever have. There’s good material here, especially in the second half, but these songs could’ve been better. The Circle is from a veteran rock band trying something a bit different, but not pulling it off.
Although the weakest of the four, the second disk from the 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong box set (only time I’ll use the full title, I promise) still contains some of the strongest songs, including “The Fire Inside” and “Good Guys Don’t Always Wear White”. Unfortunately, they’re nestled around decent-to-forgettable tracks, more so than the other three disks.
Bounce doesn’t have a good reputation, not even with the more hardcore Bon Jovi fans, but I’m a fan. Bounce is easily among the band’s heaviest albums, especially compared to their more recent efforts, and that goes double for the opening track “Undivided”. Special mention goes to the title track, featuring an almost punk/rock energy rare for Bon Jovi. Meanwhile, keyboardist David Bryan makes his presence felt for the last time in over a decade with “Joey” and “Right Side of Wrong”, along with a handful of ballads. Later albums pushed the keyboard into the background, drowned out almost entirely, which is a damn shame.
The first disk of the Bon Jovi Fans box set is lighter on forgettable tracks than the second as the wonderfully tongue-in-cheek “Why Aren’t You Dead?” leads into the excellent “The Radio Saved My Life Tonight”. The alternate version of “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night”, although quite similar to the released song, is a highlight, while “Thief of Hearts” sounds almost like an unreleased Tom Petty track. I do like the slower version of “Last Man Standing”, but still prefer the faster version on the album Have A Nice Day. And I can’t stop without saying how much I love the ballad “Miss Fourth of July”.
Although described as a “fan record“, Burning Bridges is actually a contractually-obligated creation composed mostly of unreleased songs. It’s also the first album without Richie Sambora (although he’s credited with co-writing “Saturday Night Gave Me Sunday Morning”). Maybe it’s because I disliked the previous album so much (see What About Now), but I quite liked Burning Bridges. The production is surprisingly decent with only the aforementioned “Saturday Night/Sunday Morning” being my only complaint. Then there’s the titular track, a folk-ish song that takes aim at Jon’s dissatisfaction towards Mercury Records with his most (enjoyably) abrasive lyrics in years.
For once, Jon isn’t the only person at the microphone. Richie Sambora sings the ballad “If I Can’t Have Your Love” and David Bryan brings his voice to the titular track from the musical Memphis, which he co-wrote the music for, but the most surprising vocal contributor is drummer Tico Torres with “Only in My Dreams”. Despite the competition Jon still takes the cake (barely) with “Lonely at the Top”, created following Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Written as a message to Kurt’s daughter Frances Bean Cobain, “Lonely at the Top” is easily one of Bon Jovi’s most poignant songs.
The fourth disk of the box set is getting top honors thanks to the hidden demo of “Livin’ on a Prayer”, along with the song that precedes it: “Nobody’s Hero”. The disk starts strong with two versions of “Love Ain’t Nothing But a Four Letter Word”, a rally against abusive relationships. They’re both good, and I like hearing the differences between the early demo and the full-band take. Disappointingly, the demo for “Always” isn’t as interesting, but the trio of ballads “River Runs Dry”, “Kidnap an Angel”, and “Letter to a Friend” help. A final shout to “Temptation”, which I bet came from Jon’s solo album Destination Anywhere.
Wait, Slippery When Wet doesn’t make the top five? I like the album, but it’s Bon Jovi still coming into their own. I mean, consider how “Social Disease” starts. Having a woman moaning sounds like something from an entirely different band. The album itself is decent with enjoyable but unspectacular tracks like “Without Love” and “I’d Die for You”. “Raise Your Hands” is fun (and obviously written for concerts), while “Wild in the Streets” is my favorite song off the album. Wait, aren’t I forgetting a few songs?
Love ’em or not, “You Give Love a Bad Name”, “Livin’ on a Prayer”, and “Wanted Dead or Alive” are easily Bon Jovi’s most popular songs. That said, they’re not my favorite songs songs from this band. Not anywhere near the top.
Following a five-year break, Bon Jovi reintroduced themselves to the world with the chart-topping “It’s My Life”. The rest of Crush isn’t too shabby, but the second half is more hit-or-miss thanks to the forgettable “Mystery Train” and “She’s a Mystery”. Fortunately, they’re offset by “Captain Crash & The Beauty Queen from Mars” and “One Wild Night”. The first half, however, is solid. I’d argue that “Say It Isn’t So” is one of Bon Jovi’s most under-appreciated songs, while “Just Older” becomes more relevant the older I get. It’s a shame that Crush ends a bit mushy, but it succeeded in bringing the band to a newer generation.
As indicated from the smirking face on the album’s cover, “Have a Nice Day” is a brash declaration independence. It also features the same message as “It’s My Life” and “Everyday”, but this is my favorite of them. | With this song (and a handful of others in this album), producer John Shank’s wall of sound is appropriate. This is also the appearance of “Who Says You Can’t Go Home,” a hit with the country crowds and the genesis for the Lost Highway album.
The best song on the album is one song that Bon Jovi, for whatever reason, never released as a single. “Last Man Standing,” originally appearing on the Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong box set, was recreated as a faster rock anthem, created in tribute to the late Johnny Cash. It’s lyrically the best song on the album, and the most energy, too. Why “Last Man Standing” isn’t a staple of their concerts is mind-boggling.
Reflecting the end of the ’80s and the rise of grunge, Keep the Faith is appropriately more hard-edged than Slippery When Wet and New Jersey, but that doesn’t mean Bon Jovi dropped their penchant for made-for-stadium rock anthems. Despite an undercurrent of cynicism, the title track’s chorus is made for singing along to. And then there’s “Dry County,” a nearly ten-minute-long epic about people impacted by the decline of the oil industry. It gradually builds into an extended guitar solo, one of Richie’s best. It’s a hell of a song, and one of Bon Jovi’s best.
Keep the Faith also includes one of their best rock ballads: “Bed of Roses.” Written during the band’s break between New Jersey and Keep the Faith, “Bed of Roses” features somewhat autobiographical lyrics about one of Jon’s nights at a hotel, and is still one of my favorite of their songs. Finally, this album also includes another ballad, “In These Arms,” but I prefer the version that David Bryan recorded for his Lunar Eclipse album.
Created after Slippery When Wet to prove that Bon Jovi wasn’t one-album-wonders, New Jersey features the band at their best. The only clunker is “Homebound Train,” but that’s easily overlooked when compared to “Lay Your Hands on Me,” “Blood on Blood,” and “I’ll Be There for You.” “Living in Sin” starts slowly, but builds into a strong song before long. Even if none of the songs made the same impact as, say, “Livin’ on a Prayer,” New Jersey is a better overall album than Slippery When Wet. It featured a far more confident group of musicians.
New Jersey was meant to be a two-disk album supposedly called “Sons of Beaches” (a horrible title) before the label got involved. Demos for songs left off the finished album were released on 2014’s deluxe version of New Jersey. I can’t say whether these songs would’ve hurt New Jersey had they remained (mostly because I haven’t listened to them enough to comment), but it does feature a much better version of “Homebound Train.”
Continuing down the same path started with Keep the Faith, These Days is a melancholy album lacking the same pop appeal as earlier materials. It’s also Bon Jovi at their most artistic, and as such popular with the more hardcore fans.
An undercurrent of cynicism worms through the album, starting with the rockin’, desperate “Hey God,” a song just as topical today as 1995, to the title track. “Something to Believe In” pleas for reasons to continue in this world, while “Damned” features two cheating people attempting to conceal their infidelities with avoidance. “If That’s What It Takes” has a person standing on the ledge, literally or figuratively. Needless to say, everyone on These Days is a far cry from the blindly optimistic “Because We Can.” This isn’t a group of rich guys espousing platitudes for the “common man.”
And it’s a damn shame Bon Jovi reached that point.
Cross Road compiles Bon Jovi’s biggest hits at that point in their career, meaning that everything they created after the new millennium is absent. So anyone wanting just the Slippery When Wet and New Jersey hits will be happy, but this lacks “It’s My Life.” Beyond the older songs, Cross Road comes with “Always” and “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night,” two excellent songs. The biggest disappointment is easily “Prayer ’94,” a reworked version of “Livin’ on a Prayer” that comes out as lifeless.
As the name implies, This Left Feels Right is no simple compilation, but instead takes their most popular songs and recreates them as slower ballads. The main problem is that none of these new interpretations are anywhere as good as the original versions. Most of them are at least decent, but that just doesn’t compare to the songs that launched Bon Jovi to stardom. The band deserves credit for taking this route instead of releasing a straight greatest hits album, though.
Bon Jovi’s only live album (excluding the digital-only Inside Out) gets a fair amount of criticism from the more cynical folk who argue that these songs have been performed better elsewhere, but most probably won’t care. Outside the obvious hits, One Wild Night features a cover of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ in the Free World,” along with “I Don’t Like Mondays” with Bob Geldof on lead vocals. The album ends with “One Wild Night (2001),” a hurried take on a fairly new (at the time) Bon Jovi song, and the only song on the album not performed live.
The number of songs varies on whether Greatest Hits or Greatest Hits: The Ultimate Collection was purchased. The former comes with a single disk containing the band’s biggest hits (and “We Weren’t Born to Follow”), but they used the radio edit for “Lay Your Hands on Me,” which cuts the extended intro. Meanwhile, the second disk that comes with The Ultimate Collection features more fan-favorites. Notably, no songs from 7800* Fahrenheit or Bounce made the compilation.
Each disk also contains two new songs, but they’re so uninspired and overproduced that I wonder why they were included at all. Didn’t Bon Jovi have anything better? As far as compilations go, The Ultimate Collection is the best that Bon Jovi has, but don’t bother with the new stuff.
In the years before this album, Richie lost his father, saw his marriage with Heather Locklear crumbled away, and found himself in rehab. So it’s not surprising that these events inspired most of the songs on Aftermath of the Lowdown. “I’ll Always Walk Beside You” and “Seven Years Gone” references his late father’s absence. His alcohol addiction comes up in “You Can Only Get So High”, which speaks to the unglamorous life we don’t see. The topics are heavier than Richie’s past solo content, but it’s a good album somewhat marred by overproduction.
Fluff is the main problem with Richie’s second solo album. Undiscovered Soul starts strong with the first four songs and ends strong with “Undiscovered Soul,” but everything between is varying degrees of forgettable. That’s not to say they’re bad; I recall enjoying, for instance, “Harlem Rain,” but I don’t actually remember anything about how the song sounds. I’d probably put this album on equal footing as his later album Aftermath of the Lowdown, but Undiscovered Soul gets the higher position just for better production.
As a pianist, David Bryan is criminally underused in later Bon Jovi albums, but his second solo album Lunar Eclipse showcases his musical talents. The album is mostly just him behind a piano, playing a variety of instrumental pieces. It’s only the last song that he opens his mouth and reveals a fairly strong singing voice. He’s not Jon or Richie, but David’s version of “In Your Arms,” a song from Keep the Faith that he co-wrote with his two aforementioned band mates, is easily the best song on the album.
Previously, David Bryan released On a Full Moon. The difference between that album and Lunar Eclipse is two songs from the former album were replaced by two new songs and “In Your Arms.”
The soundtrack to the film Young Guns II is also Jon’s first album away from the rest of Bon Jovi. Without his usual companions, Jon brought together a collection of big names to perform, including Jeff Beck, Randy Jackson, and Elton John, but considering the people Jon roped in, Blaze of Glory still sounds like something that Bon Jovi, the band, could’ve released. Despite the ignored potential, Blaze of Glory is a good album. The song “Blaze of Glory” became a hit, eventually making its way into Bon Jovi’s compilations and live performances.
With Jon off making Blaze of Glory, Richie brought in the rest of Bon Jovi and a few other friends to create something decidedly not Bon Jovi. Stranger In This Town is a blues/rock album in which Richie gets to show off a great singing voice, arguably better than Jon’s, and his guitar playing. The production is atmospheric, making this better suited for the headphones instead of blasting out the car’s stereo. Of note, Eric Clapton recorded the guitar solo for “Mr. Bluesman,” while “Rosie” is the only song with a writing credit from Jon. It was intended to make Bon Jovi’s New Jersey album.
After Blaze of Glory, a solo album easily confused for a regular Bon Jovi album, Jon crafted something a bit different for his second solo outing. Destination Anywhere is a more subdued album, starting with Jon singing at a lower tone. The second half isn’t as strong as the first, but “August 7, 4:15,” about a true unsolved murder of a young girl, brings it home. Also, it’s unfortunate that the bonus track “I Talk to Jesus” didn’t make the regular album as it’s a fun song with amusing lyrics, something that Jon doesn’t often write.
Reuters (2007). Bon Jovi courts Nashville again with new album. Retrieved from http://www.reuters.com/article/us-bonjovi-idUSN1524683520070415
May 27, 2017: Rewrote the descriptions for the albums Bon Jovi, Bounce, Burning Bridges, The Circle, Crush, (a part of) Have A Nice Day, Lost Highway, Slippery When Wet, What About Now, 7800* Fahrenheit, and the four disks from the 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong box set.