Bon Jovi released New Jersey in 1988. They had already had a smash with Slippery When Wet in 1986 which spawned ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’, ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’, ‘Wanted (Dead or Alive)’ and many more top-notch songs.
I was vaguely aware of those songs before New Jersey lead single ‘Bad Medicine’ was released, but when that came out I honestly thought it was the greatest song I’d ever heard. I was 13 – it was the greatest song I’d ever heard! I bought the 7” single and played it (and b-side ’99 In The Shade’) continuously, waiting impatiently for New Jersey to be released.
When the album came out I just loved it! It was all kinds of perfect in my mind, and it was here that my love affair with Bon Jovi started; this album, not Slippery When Wet like most others. Of course, I went on to buy the back catalogue and all later releases, however New Jersey is the album which is the bedrock of my love for the band.
Released this week as a Deluxe Edition the 2014 version of New Jersey includes the newly remastered album including a few extra tracks, a second disc which houses the famous Sons of Beaches demos, and a DVD with the original 88-minute Access All Areas documentary and the New Jersey : The Videos VHS release.
Disc 1 : New Jersey – I am going to skip reviewing the original album because all I’ll tell you is the songs are amazing. Legendary. Epic. Bubblegum. Pop. Cheesy. Rock. Classic. But, just to make sure you know to which songs I am referring, New Jersey has ‘Lay Your Hands On Me’, ‘Bad Medicine’, ‘Born To Be My Baby’, ‘Blood On Blood’, ‘I’ll Be There For You’ and a few others on it. Before moving off from the original album, it is worth noting that the 2014 remaster sounds crisp and full; exactly as I’d hoped it would.
At the end of the “album” disc there are three extra songs, the first of which is a cover of Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’. I remember this was originally released on Stairway To Heaven/Highway To Hell a compilation album, a who’s who of 80s hair metal (so long as you were managed by or friends with Doc McGhee) covering songs by artists who had died of overdose. The track is a faithful cover, but it was also the first time I’d properly heard Thin Lizzy. The band often played it live on the Jersey Syndicate Tour and since the recording is 1989, it fits the timeline perfectly.
The next track is ‘Love Is War’ which was the first song written for the New Jersey sessions, features Jon on harmonica, and was released as the b-side to ‘Living In Sin’. Written alongside Desmond Child (80’s rock hit maker extraordinaire) this song sounds pretty much exactly like Slippery When Wet. It even has the ‘You Give Love A Bad Name’ chord-progression; so desperate was Jon to make an album as good as the previous. Hell, it even features the line “Whatever happened to the boy who said ‘I’d die for you’?” The irony is, its a great little song with a punchy chorus which other bands would have had a hit with; classic Jovi.
Rounding off the disc is an acoustic version of ‘Born To Be My Baby’. Apparently this was the first recorded version before producer Bruce Fairbairn persuaded the band to record it again with electric instruments. To this day Jon claims he prefers this version and that he wished it had been released as a single, which he is sure would have went to number 1. I’m not so sure.
Disc 2 : The Sons of Beaches Demos – Originally New Jersey was to be a double-album called Sons of Beaches. 23, or 24 tracks were written and green-lighted for the album before the record label told them that the album was NOT going to be a double.
The track listing was whittled down by the band inviting 50 teenagers into the studios and playing them all the songs before taking their opinion on board. ‘Love Is War’ and the demos make up that original double-album.
So what of the tracks? Well bizarrely the disc starts off with a demo of ‘Homebound Train’ which actually made it on to New Jersey. There are some interesting moments in the demo which make it worth a listen, but the real interest starts with track 2, ‘Judgement Day’.
Starting with, what is essentially ‘Born To Be My Baby’s “Na na na na na na” intro, the song is a straight-forward rocker with lyrics of judgement, walking through the fire, those who walk the bad road, and other such lyrics. Come the chorus the “Na na na na”s return. Given that Jon wanted ‘Born To Be My Baby’ to be acoustic (Disc 1), this song is the source of that (now) infamous hook. Ultimately when this song was dropped and ‘Born…’ was re-recorded electrically, a good hook doesn’t die.
‘Full Moon High’ is next, and has a very familiar riff; that of ‘Born To Be My Baby’! There is nothing really wrong with the song, it’s just OK. The lyrics focus on that oh-so-80s-Bon Jovi-topic of disapproving parents, love, and pretending they are someone else (this time Valentino and a Beauty Queen) and not a poor couple. Funnily it could have replaced any of the non-single tracks on New Jersey and fitted just fine.
‘Growing Up The Hard Way’ starts with the, *cough*, ‘Born To Be My Baby’ intro! No seriously, the “Na na na na” and the guitar riff. I’ve listened to these songs four or five times now and I’m not imagining it. Again the lyrics are classic Jovi-fare, and in many ways the song structure is reminiscent of second album 7800 Fahrenheit.
‘Lets Make It Baby’ sounds like Jon is singing “lets make a baby”, it features Richie’s vox-talk-box guitar sound, and is a slow building track which I actually really like. The song lyrics are sexual, the guitar and music sensual (as sensual as Bon Jovi can be) but the end has a really cringe-worthy “I want to fuck you” from Richie on his vox-talk-box thing! No. Seriously.
‘Love Hurts’ is that classic lyric which Jon was so fond of, the struggle of working-class relationships; “I come home from work, the beds aren’t made. The honeymoon’s over, the bills aren’t paid…” And so we go on. These songs aren’t bad, it’s just that they are average, but then they are demos after all and the band dropped them (at the insistence of the record label). Mercury Records made a wise move there; could New Jersey have been Bon Jovi’s Use Your Illusions? Bloated, and so full of good ideas that there was no cohesion.
No – there are far too many songs which sound the same on here and are just filler. Use Your Illusions for all its failings isn’t that. What the Sons of Beaches demos let you hear is the recording process and thinking that goes on to forming an album. There are snippets of songs you know in the middle of other songs, ideas from here, merged with ideas from there.
However what it also does is highlight the subject obsessions, Jon trying almost-too-hard to be the man of the people, the younger generation’s Bruce Springsteen, the blue-collar singer-songwriter from New Jersey. It also makes me wonder are the songs which do make up New Jersey also as cheesy, crass, corny, and bereft of sincerity? I’d say “Yes!” and that’s what 13-year old me loved so much about it.
Disc 3 : DVD – Access All Areas is a documentary of the world tour which followed the release of the album. A fascinating insight into the 26 country tour, with lots of backstage happenings, live performances and the rest. It is great to have this on DVD and although interesting I doubt I’ll watch it often. The VHS Videos package is great too; mainly because I owned the original tape and almost wore it out! The DVD is the same package, tracks in same order and a wonderful trip down memory lane.
This package is beautifully put together with a 60-page glossy book which details the recording of the album, has full lyrics and loads of photos. It is definitely worth buying, but don’t expect too much from the demos; it reminds me of the 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans… box set of a few years ago – hit and miss. There are some great little songs on there, but those ended up being recorded on later albums or by Alice Cooper and Cher!
As a fan of the band, and of this album in particular it is definitely worth buying to get an insight into the recording of the album, hear how the songs came together and then reminisce by watching the DVD.