It’s the birthday of Richie Sambora, founding member and longtime guitarist of Bon Jovi. He’s 64 today, and although he’s not part of the band’s current lineup, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as part of the group in 2019.
Pierre Robert has had many conversations with the band over the years, and it brought to mind this special MMaRchive Session that the station hosted in October of 2002. During the interview, Pierre brought up to Richie how he was a self-described “sonic painter” and asked him to elaborate. Here’s what Richie had to say:
“Well, I think every guitar has a different sound, you know? And every amplifier has a different sound too. So I mean, if you wanted to say, okay, give me a sound that sounds silver, it’s gonna have a lot of high end, it’s gonna have a lot of cut. You know what I mean? If you’re looking for a brown sound, it’s gonna be a little bit more low end and not, not have as much as the high end. So that’s the way I look at it, as a sonic painting.”
When asked how many watercolors – or rather, guitars – Richie had to work with in his collection, he said, “110,” and that includes a ’63 Strat that’s signed by Eric Clapton. Wow! “I’m a complete guitar nut,” he admitted.
Bon Jovi performed a few songs in our studios during that session. Pierre played “Wanted Dead or Alive” in the Workforce Blocks today, and you can stream a flashback from the archives below.
Note: this episode originally aired in May 2018.
Will an on-stage reunion of Richie Sambora and Bon Jovi happen one day? We’d love to see it, although it’s unlikely – but never say never.
Bon Jovi: Their 35 Best Songs, Ranked
Bon Jovi has been active for nearly four decades, and they aren’t showing signs of slowing down.
Their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame career has netted them over 130 million albums sold worldwide and legions of fans spanning generations.
Narrowing down their catalog to a select number of songs and ranking them is a daunting task, but here are Bon Jovi’s 35 best songs, ranked.
‘Burning Bridges’ is an interesting record because it was an LP released to fulfill the band’s contractual agreement to Mercury records after being signed to the label for over three decades. Jon Bon Jovi told ‘Billboard,’ “It's the end of an era. I've stayed at that label my entire life -- 32 years. I am the longest-tenured artist on Mercury, or whatever they are called this week. But my deal was up, and that's that.” The title track was biting, and it showed the label split was not amicable as evident by its second verse: “Ah, check the box, yeah, mark this day/There's nothing more to say/After 30 years of loyalty, they let you dig a grave/Now, maybe you could learn to sing/Or even strum along/But I'll give you half the publishing/You're why I wrote this song.”
Inspired by the coronavirus pandemic, “Do What You Can” also features fan-submitted lyrics that help showcase the many struggles everyday Americans faced during the early days of the global pandemic. (“The chicken farm from Arkansas bought workers PPE/Not before five hundred more had succumbed to this disease/Honest men and honest women workin' for an honest wage/I got a hundred point one fever, and we still got bills to pay.”)
The follow-up to their debut single “Runaway,” “She Don’t Know Me” is interesting to look back on in retrospect. It’s undoubtedly a great pop-rock tune. Clearly, there was massive potential with Bon Jovi, but they were still a work in progress. Also, its music video is cheese-tastic in the most ‘80s way possible.
It’s easy to think of “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night” as the *other* new song from Bon Jovi’s 1994 greatest hits album ‘Cross Road’ because it wasn’t the massive hit that “Always” was. However, “Someday…” definitely showed Bon Jovi could tackle serious themes all while still being defiant in the face of adversity.
“The Radio Saved My Life Tonight” was the lone single from ‘100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can't Be Wrong,’ a box set made up of a bunch of unreleased b-sides and demos celebrating Bon Jovi’s 20th anniversary. It was recorded in 1992, so it presumably comes from the recording sessions for ‘Keep The Faith,’ but it’s a mystery how the track didn’t make the album.
Maybe “The Radio Saved My Life Tonight” didn’t appear on ‘Keep The Faith’ because “Dry County” was nearly ten minutes long and there just wasn’t enough room. (Kidding, of course.) One of Bon Jovi’s most epic songs just on sheer length alone, “Dry County” is a tale about towns in the United States whose economy is based on the oil industry, but then the industry ends up leaving town. (“Now the oil's gone/And the money's gone/All the jobs are gone/Still we're hanging on.) “Dry County” may have been inspired by the oil industry, but its overarching themes are relatable for any town whose economy is based around one industry.
Richie Sambora is obviously an incredible guitar player, but one of his best contributions to Bon Jovi was his backing vocals and how they created an outstanding harmony with Jon Bon Jovi. “This Ain’t A Love Song” is a great example of that and his guitar playing, of course. This is also the first of eight Bon Jovi songs featured on this list that were co-written by Desmond Child, who was undoubtedly influential to the band’s success.
Sometimes, you just step in it and say the wrong things at the absolute wrong time, but if you and your significant other just talk things out, you’ll make it through. That’s the essence of “Misunderstood” in all its pop-rock glory.
Unlike “Misunderstood,” sometimes things just fall apart and you find out your significant other is fooling around with someone else. Does it suck? Yes, but Bon Jovi sure does find a way of turning heartbreak into one hell of an earworm.
Speaking of earworms, ‘Crush’ was Bon Jovi’s big “comeback” album, if you will, and it featured some absolute gems, like this *ridiculously* catchy love song that also boasts one of the coolest song titles in the entire Bon Jovi catalog. If you haven’t listened to “Captain Crash & The Beauty Queen From Mars” lately, do so right now, but be prepared to have the track stuck in your head for about a week. You’ve been warned.
Bon Jovi took a massive risk by releasing “American Reckoning,” which was inspired by the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent police brutality protests that took place across the United States in the summer of 2020. While Jon Bon Jovi was active politically, Bon Jovi’s music wasn’t overtly political. Simply put, “American Reckoning” didn’t pull any punches. (“God damn those 8 long minutes/Lying face down in cuffs on the ground/Bystanders pleaded for mercy/As one, cop shoved a kid in the crowd/When did a judge and a jury/Become a badge and a knee/On these streets?”)
Inspired by the events of 9/11, “Undivided” is a driving arena rocker that almost feels quaint today. Remember when tragedy and adversity brought the country together? Maybe one day, we all can figure out how to stand united and “Undivided” again.
While ‘Burning Bridges’ was primarily made up of unreleased and unfinished songs, “We Don’t Run” was one of the very few songs that was actually written for the contractually obligated album. Jon Bon Jovi co-wrote the song with producer John Shanks who played lead guitar on the album following the exit of Richie Sambora. Due to the underlining tension surrounding the LP’s release, “We Don’t Run” perhaps didn’t get a fair enough shake as a single, but it’s one hell of a driving anthem with an outstanding rhythm track from Tico Torres and Hugh McDonald.
Bon Jovi goes country and hits number 1! To say this duet with Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles was a success is an understatement. Not only did “Who Says You Can’t Go Home” top Billboard’s U.S. Hot Country Songs chart, it also won the Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals, which remains Bon Jovi’s lone Grammy in their decades-long career.
It’s no secret that Bon Jovi had a tough go following up their self-titled debut album with Jon Bon Jovi even saying of ‘7800° Fahrenheit,’ “I always overlook the second album. Always have, always will.” Despite this, “In and Out of Love” is still a really great rock song and is another example of Tico Torres really being a damn good drummer.
Bon Jovi are no strangers to the power ballad, and they definitely aren’t afraid to really lay it on thick when they want to. You can look no further than “Bed Of Roses” for proof. “With an ironclad fist, I wake up and French kiss the morning.” JBJ might be the only singer that could get away with penning lyrics like that. Schmaltzy? Yes, but you better believe you’ll find yourself belting out that chorus if you’re alone in your car.
Similar to power ballads, Bon Jovi are no strangers to big arena anthems, and one of their most underrated anthems might just be the title track to their 2002 studio album. “I been knocked down so many times/Counted out 6, 7, 8, 9/Written off like some bad deal/If you're breathing you know how it feels/Call it karma, call it luck/Me, I just don't give a f-f-f-f-f-f-f-f.” Seriously, what’s not to love about that?
“Just Older” is kind of like the anti-”Glory Days”; it acknowledges the past, but it’s all about looking forward. (“After all these years and miles of memories/I’m still chasing dreams/But I ain’t looking over my shoulder.”) The second verse is clearly about Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora’s friendship, so that is definitely bittersweet since Sambora’s exit. But the song is basically an anthem about being middle-aged, which is brilliant and really there should be more of those!
Remember that whole thing about Bon Jovi really laying it on thick with their power ballads? Yeah, this tasty tune about high school romance is just a prime example of that. Could it have been inspired by Jon Bon Jovi’s high school sweetheart Dorothea Hurley who he married in 1989? Perhaps, and good for them for finding a way to stay married all these years later.
After the success of ‘Crush,’ Bon Jovi didn’t waste any time working on a new album and would release ‘Bounce,’ their eighth studio album, two years later. The lead single was the uplifting fist-pumper “Everyday,” which had a little bit more of a hard rock edge than expected but didn’t lack the band’s pop-rock sensibilities. It’s another song of Bon Jovi’s from the aughts you ought to revisit. It’s aged incredibly well.
Even when grunge was booming, Bon Jovi was still churning out killer pop-rock songs. “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead” may have barely cracked the Billboard Hot 100, but the single faired much better overseas, which could explain why its music video chronicled the band touring Europe and even feature a nice homage to The Beatles film ‘A Hard Day’s Night.’
Closing out ‘Slippery When Wet,’ “Wild In The Streets” ends one hell of an album with a bang. Many might think of it as Bon Jovi’s definitive party song, and it’s certainly in the running. However, a decade and a half later, they’d release another contender that this author feels is the superior party song. (If you want to skip ahead to see what it is, it’s ranked #10.)
Who can resist a “Na-na-na-na-na” hook? Not Bon Jovi and certainly not their fans, who would help “Born To Be My Baby” become the band’s fifth top-ten hit in the span of two years.
“Lay Your Hands On Me” opens up ‘New Jersey’ with a cheeky, sexy bang, which is very funny considering Dolly Parton would then turn the tune into a gospel song on her 2014 album ‘Blue Smoke.’ “Laying your hands” does have religious connotations, but that is definitely not what Bon Jovi exactly had in mind.
From New York to Chicago, from New Jersey to Tokyo, it’s damn near impossible to not...well...raise your hands to this song. It packs a big pre-chorus and an even bigger chorus. No wonder Bon Jovi has played the song 668 times live!
The original “One Wild Night” was featured on ‘Crush,’ but a new remixed version was released less than a year later as the lead single from the band’s live album 'One Wild Night Live 1985-2001.' To be frank, the second version is leaps and bounds better, and the original was already good! It is an instant party, and even though it’s ranked at number ten, too many people sleep on this song.
If power ballads are an art, then Bon Jovi is Picasso or Van Gogh or whichever *really* famous artist you prefer. This is a roundabout way of saying they are just *so* good at power ballads it’s absurd. One of two new songs on their 1994 greatest hits LP ‘Cross Road,’ “Always” was a smash hit all around the world. How could it not, really, with dreamy lyrics like, “When he holds you close, when he pulls you near/When he says the words you've been needing to hear/I'll wish I was him 'cause those words are mine/To say to you 'till the end of time/Yeah, I will love you, baby, always/And I'll be there forever and a day, always.” The song is so over-the-top delightful, it allows you to forgive the band for its weird music video with the plotline that makes no sense! (Seriously, go and watch it so you can judge for yourself.)
The one that started it all. If you’re reading this list you likely know the story, but if you don’t, here’s the short version: Jon Bon Jovi went to then-new rock station WAPP and took a copy of “Runaway” with him. He befriended DJ Chip Hobart, who thought the song was a hit. The song would gain traction on WAPP, which led to JBJ to form Bon Jovi, and the rest is history.
Bon Jovi has a lot of power ballads in their catalog, and many of them are very good, but “I’ll Be There For You” is in another league. Jon Bon Jovi sings his ass off and Richie Sambora’s backing vocals compliment him perfectly. It’s a big song without sounding bloated, and even though some might find the lyrics to be sappy, they don’t come off that way. Bon Jovi has the magical ability to make pretty much anything sound sincere. Maybe that’s what helped set them apart from most of their competition in the ‘80s and why they’re still a live draw to this day.
In 1992, Bon Jovi probably had no business being successful at the height of grunge, but they stuck to their guns and just continued to put out great music as evident with “Keep The Faith,” which was co-written by frequent collaborator Desmond Child. It was their first piece of new music since 1988’s ‘New Jersey,’ and while the band clearly grew up during their hiatus, they clearly didn’t lose their touch. It remains a setlist favorite and a live highlight nearly three decades later.
Much like “Keep The Faith,” “It’s My Life” was the first piece of new music following a lengthy hiatus. This time around, however, Bon Jovi had no business being successful at the height of nu metal, but they once again stuck to their guns. “It’s My Life” both sounded like a Bon Jovi song but *didn’t* sound like a Bon Jovi song. Not quite sure how they crafted that voodoo, but Max Martin, one of the biggest songwriters of all time and co-writer on this track, might have something to do with that. It was the perfect song released at the perfect time and introduced Bon Jovi to a new generation. Also, it was nice to hear that Tommy and Gina were still hanging in there.
It was make or break time for Bon Jovi on their third studio album. They needed something big, and they got that and then some with “You Give Love A Bad Name.” The track was the lead single from ‘Slippery When Wet’ and was one of four songs Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora co-wrote with Desmond Child. The song would become Bon Jovi’s first number one hit and help skyrocket them to rock superstardom.
When you’re a band that’s released a massively successful album and are tasked with recording a follow-up, what are you supposed to do? Well, if you’re Bon Jovi, you proceed to put out *another* massively successful album and have the lead single top the Billboard Hot 100. The pressure on Bon Jovi had to have been intense, but the fact that they came back with a banger like “Bad Medicine” is a feat that really should get more credit.
At some point in our lives, we’re *all* Tommy and Gina, aren’t we? “Livin’ On A Prayer” is an epic sing-a-long, it’s an anthem and it’s additional proof that when used just right, the talk box is a game-changer. Another Bon Jovi/Sambora/Child collaboration, “Livin’ On A Prayer” would become Bon Jovi’s second number one hit and is tied with “You Give Love A Bad Name” for being the song Bon Jovi has performed the most live, according to Setlist.fm.
Evoking wild west symbolism about grueling road life, “Wanted Dead or Alive” is a unique power ballad in Bon Jovi’s arsenal, because it isn’t about love. It’s basically the ‘80s answer to Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band’s “Turn The Page.” It’s cool and tough, but also poignant. Bon Jovi understandably attracted a lot of women to their shows, but “Wanted Dead or Alive” was a song dudes could dig, too. While a number of songs (especially in those in the top ten) could be argued as being *the* best Bon Jovi song, “Wanted Dead or Alive” is just so quintessentially Bon Jovi that you can’t imagine anyone else singing it and it almost feels wrong even doing so. The exact count of faces Bon Jovi has seen in their career is unknown, but thanks to “Wanted Dead or Alive,” we know that *all* of those faces were rocked.