It’s been 40 years since we were first introduced to this rock band with the searing guitar riffs and sky-high hairstyles. But Bon Jovi’s arena-ready anthems and heart-wrenching power ballads feel just as relevant today as they did back then — seriously, can anyone listen to “Livin’ on a Prayer” without pumping their fist in the air during the chorus? Bon Jovi has cemented their place in music history, selling more than 130 million albums and getting inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. (There’s even a Jon Bon Jovi rest stop on the Garden State Parkway, complete with a Jon Bon Jovi hologram!). To celebrate four decades of the boys from New Jersey, we’re looking back at 10 of our favorite Bon Jovi songs.
10 Bon Jovi songs that will take you back
If you find yourself singing at the top of your lungs and dancing around your office or living room, trust us, you’re not alone!
1. “Runaway” (1984)
This is the song that started it all. In 1980, then-unknown New Jersey songwriter Jon Bongiovi recorded a rough version of this song at his cousin’s studio in Manhattan. He recorded it again two years later for a radio station compilation, and the song started getting airplay. In 1983, he assembled a band for a short tour to support the song — and Bon Jovi as we know it was born. “Runaway” became the first single on the self-titled debut Bon Jovi and the band’s first Top 40 hit.
2. “You Give Love a Bad Name” (1986)
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Bon Jovi belting out this song, the melody was originally written for Bonnie Tyler! Listen to her 1986 single “If You Were a Woman (And I Was a Man)” and you’ll hear the similarities. But when that song only peaked at #77 on the Billboard charts, Child repurposed the tune for Bon Jovi. He told the band his idea for a song title, and Jon Bon Jovi combined that with a lyric inspired by a song off their first album called “Shot Through the Heart.”
The end result, of course, was the undeniably catchy opening lines: “Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame / Darling, you give love a bad name.” The song was the first single off the band’s breakthrough album Slippery When Wet and quickly shot (see what we did there?) to the top of the charts.
(See Bonnie Tyler in our roundup of the 20 best early 80s songs!)
3. “Livin’ on a Prayer” (1986)
It’s tough…so tough…to think of any Bon Jovi songs more iconic than this one. A working-class anthem about fictional couple Tommy and Gina, the song spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard Hot 100, making Bon Jovi the first hard rock band with back-to-back #1 singles.
Since then, it’s been certified triple platinum and has racked up over 1.3 billion streams on Spotify and 1.1 billion views on YouTube. But “Livin’ on a Prayer” almost didn’t make it onto the album at all — the original version of the song was more subdued, and Jon Bon Jovi didn’t feel like it fit with the stadium-rock sound the band was going for. But co-writer Desmond Child and guitarist Richie Sambora begged him to record it. With the addition of the pounding drums and that unmistakable talk-box effect, it was transformed into the classic we know, love, and still sing at karaoke today.
4. “Wanted Dead or Alive” (1987)
Inspired by Bob Seger’s road-weary hit “Turn the Page,” Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora wrote this power ballad that draws a parallel between life on tour and the Old West. Written in just a few hours in Sambora’s mom’s basement, the song reached the #7 spot on the Billboard Top 100 and was certified quadruple platinum, earning its place as one of the most beloved Bon Jovi songs ever written. It remains part of the pop culture fabric to this day, reminding us that Bon Jovi has “seen a million faces, and…rocked them all.”
5. “Bad Medicine” (1988)
After the success of Slippery When Wet, Bon Jovi wanted to keep the momentum going — and they delivered with “Bad Medicine,” which became the band’s third #1 single. With silly medical metaphors peppered throughout the lyrics (“Ain’t no paramedic gonna save this heart attack”) and a raucous fan-footage music video to go along with it, this song was feel-good glam-rock at its finest.
6. “Born to Be My Baby” (1988)
Peaking at #3 on the Billboard Hot 100, this unabashed love song was originally going to be an acoustic ballad, but album producer Bruce Fairbairn reportedly insisted the band re-record it with a hard rock edge. The song was a crowd-pleaser at concerts thanks to the catchy “na-na-na-na-na” sing-along, and the music video featured a sweet moment between Jon and then-girlfriend Dorothea. (They were married the following year, and recently celebrated their 34th wedding anniversary.) Jon Bon Jovi later said he believed “Born to Be My Baby” could’ve hit #1 if it had remained a ballad — and the song was noticeably missing from their 1994 greatest hits album, despite its success.
7. “I’ll Be There for You” (1989)
Clocking in at just under six minutes, this epic power ballad was a staple on early-90s breakup mixtapes. Written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, the heartfelt lyrics lament the end of a relationship and make a desperate plea for a second chance: “I’d live and I’d die for you / I’d steal the sun from the sky for you.” But the big guitar riffs and shout-along chorus made it a stadium favorite — and the band’s fourth and final single to top the Billboard Hot 100.
8. “Bed of Roses” (1993)
After touring in support of New Jersey, the band took a short hiatus while Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora pursued solo projects. They regrouped in 1992 and spent seven months in Vancouver recording a new album with Bob Rock, the super-producer behind Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood and Metallica’s Diamond-certified self-titled album.
Reportedly written while Jon Bon Jovi was hung over in a hotel room, the single “Bed of Roses” was a more mature ballad for the band. The song peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and marked a departure from the glam-metal Bon Jovi songs of the previous decade — and a departure from that iconic permed hair, too.
(Find Jon Bon Jovi in our sister site’s list of celebrity silver foxes who only get better with age)
9. “Always” (1994)
This emotional ballad was a self-fulfilling prophecy — released as a single from their greatest hits album, the song went on to become one of their greatest hits. Jon Bon Jovi originally wrote the song for the Romeo is Bleeding soundtrack, but changed his mind after seeing a preview of the movie. (He wasn’t alone in his critique; the movie has a 27% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.) He reportedly shelved the song until a record exec convinced him to release it. It ended up reaching #4 on the charts —their last song to crack the top 10 — and to this day, it’s the fourth most-streamed of all Bon Jovi songs on Spotify.
10. “It’s My Life” (2000)
The lead single from the band’s seventh album, “It’s My Life” catapulted Bon Jovi back into the limelight and introduced them to a new generation of fans. The empowering anthem was a throwback to “Livin’ on a Prayer” — it features a talk-box effect and even gives Tommy and Gina a shout-out in the lyrics — and the message instantly resonated with fans.
“I thought I was writing very self-indulgently about my own life,” Jon Bon Jovi told Metro in 2001. “I didn’t realize that the phrase ‘It’s my life’ would be taken as being about everyone — by teenagers, by older guys, mechanics, whatever.” Although the song only peaked at #33 on the Billboard charts, it’s the band’s third most-streamed single on Spotify and easily holds its own among the best Bon Jovi songs.
Read on for more classic 80s anthems!