Single-most important anthem of ‘80s - maybe - turns 30 years old today
What is the best song of the ‘80s? Is that a question that can even remotely be answered? Oh, people have tried. NME.com says it’s New Order’s Blue Monday. For Rolling Stone magazine, it’s Prince’s When Doves Cry, which ranked No. 52 on their list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time (which was the highest rank for any ‘80s tune).
But for VH1, one other song towers of the rest: Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer, which was released 30 years ago today. The cable network long ago named this tune as its pick for best song in the decade, thus spawning fights among the '80s generation that won't be resolved soon. Anyway, back to today's story...
Written by Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, and Desmond Child, Livin’ on a Prayer wasn’t an instant hit for the band after its Oct. 31, 1986, release. Rather it took until end of January 1987 for it finally to reach the No. 1 spot on the rock charts and February for it to reach No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In fact, it wasn’t even a song that Jon Bon Jovi even wanted included on the album Slippery When Wet. According to urban legend, Sambora had to rework the bass lines and drum fills and add the signature sound of a talk box to get the song into proper shape.
As for the song’s characters - Tommy and Gina - the genesis of that couple is up for debate. Co-writer Desmond Child says they’re based on himself and then-girlfriend Maria and their life in the late ‘70s. Sambora, meanwhile, insists they’re based on his own parents.
But the debate is also sort of the point: The appeal of Tommy and Gina is universal.
“It could've been Jon and I in that particular part of time,” he told Fuse TV in an interview. “It could've been anything, but what that did, they became everybody across the world. Because at a time, every couple, no matter what, is going through that hardship where they're trying to make ends meet and it's not coming easy. They gotta get over that hurdle. So that was a very inspirational song, and it's morphed and transformed throughout the years."