Bon Jovi is one of the most enduring bands of their era and one of the best-selling American rock bands of all-time. It’s not terribly hard to see why, with those massive choruses they slam into your head, even on quieter numbers. Their gift for the hook has won them the attention of Max Martin, who co-wrote their comeback hit “It’s My Life” and gave it a club-shaking riff akin to Britney Spears’ “You Drive Me Crazy.”
But the long-running Jerseyans’ classic sound has always split the difference between hair metal and the E Street Band, resulting in some of the steeliest heartland rock ever recorded, and plenty of camp, too (what, you didn’t know their 1984 debut had a song called “Shot Through the Heart” that’s completely different from “You Give Love a Bad Name” entirely?). With arena monsters like this, their best anthems tend to be their biggest ones, so these 10 best Bon Jovi songs shouldn’t be terribly shocking for the most part.
10. Bon Jovi - “Just Older”
In which Jon Bon Jovi beats Jay-Z to “30 Something” by six years or so. Crush was the perfect definition of a comeback album, and Bon Jovi’s world-weary, Springsteen-esque self-consciousness couldn’t allow him to avoid including a track defending why they’re still here. So “I like the bed I’m sleeping in / It’s just like me, it’s broken in” implores fans to relate to the perception that their idols grow up with them. Fittingly, Jon compares himself to a pair of torn blue jeans, even if the kind his band conjures up is a pre-ripped $100 pair from Urban Outfitters. Here’s an expensive-sounding ode to celebrating one’s haggardness, and, of course, it comes with a hook.
9. Bon Jovi - “In These Arms”
“Baby I want you, like the roses want the rain!” Jon Bon Jovi shrieks, for what won’t be the last instance of rose imagery on 1992’s Keep the Faith, and he follows it with an even more emo killer: “You know I need you / Like a poet needs the pain!” And if you thought it couldn’t get even more skyward from there, in crashes the chorus built on the same chord progression as “Don’t Stop Believin’” (to which Bon Jovi winks, maybe unknowingly, “I still believe” at one point). And someone better call Dashboard Confessional about the bridge: “Your clothes are still scattered all over our room / This whole place still smells like your cheap perfume.”
8. Bon Jovi - “Have a Nice Day”
Released in 2008, Accelerate was R.E.M.’s most aggressive album in years, and it was nice to hear one of the best rock bands of all-time so furious and amped-up again, but not a ton of its songs stuck beyond the rush of the sound itself. Maybe they were deflated by the fact Bon Jovi of all people perfected its jangle-metal sound a few years earlier with the Gin Blossoms-on-steroids anthem “Have a Nice Day,” which doesn’t sound crazily different from “It’s My Life” and features a far less memorable chorus, but may be more satisfying in its overall power and groundswell. And what a riff, one of the rare instances of Bon Jovi verses trumping the refrain. Definitive proof that Bon Jovi listens to Bob Mould? We may never know, but the tune’s Exhibit A.
7. Bon Jovi - “I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”
Unlike most of their brethren, 1992 was a good year for Bon Jovi because the super-long Keep the Faith (which may be their best record) showed how much they had to offer beyond a quickly-dating formula. There’s the completely ridiculous ten-minute epic “Dry County” that at long last allows them to get all their most pretentious Bruce-inspired ideas out, and doesn’t turn out half-bad in its class-conscious Mellencamp theater. But on the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got this far lighter Stones-ian chugger that would’ve fit right onto the Black Crowes’ Shake Your Money Maker.
6. Bon Jovi - “It’s My Life”
The biggest Bon Jovi hit since 1986 sounds like someone else entirely: Max Martin, its co-writer, whose sonic template here follows Britney Spears’ “…Baby One More Time” and his other minor-key smashes. Just replace the piano dun-dun with a reunion from the talk box from “Livin’ on a Prayer,” and you have the first Peter Frampton-influenced thing in years to take the charts hostage, in addition to the heaviest and most industrial(!) this band has ever sounded. But it’s one of the most memorable Bon Jovi songs, period, tighter and louder than 1988 banger “Bad Medicine” and 1984’s relatively prog “Runaway” combined. Britney fans even took to it; “I just wanna live while I’m alive,” who doesn’t want that?
5. Bon Jovi - “This Ain’t a Love Song”
Somehow, Bon Jovi’s power ballads really hit their stride in the ‘90s, and this 1995 epic took a page from Aerosmith’s majestic Get a Grip and its own mini-melodramas like “Crazy” and “Cryin’,” with a monolithic chorus that pulls out and stretches like taffy, while Richie Sambora erects blues licks around the scene of the heart-crime like yellow police tape. This band’s great talent was molding ‘80s largesse and excess into grungy ‘90s AOR so effortlessly that it’s shocking none of their hairsprayed peers managed to do the same thing.
4. Bon Jovi - “Wild in the Streets”
As with other moments on this list, it can be startling to admit what you hear when you strip the gang vocals and wizardly keyboards: namely, INXS’s “Don’t Change” if it were slotted on the Replacements’ Pleased to Meet Me somewhere between “Alex Chilton” and “Can’t Hardly Wait.” Hearing is believing; for that reason alone this may be the ultimate ‘80s song. Being Bon Jovi, you still have to inflate that description to scale by about 300 decibels with 40 other vocal layers, so just imagine a cathedral belting the title a ton over Paul Westerberg chords.
3. Bon Jovi - “Wanted Dead or Alive”
This one gets the edge over “You Give Love a Bad Name” because that arena classic peaks in its first 15 seconds, while this cowboy candy resists instant gratification for a slice of campy Americana with a chorus that’s much, much more fun to sing karaoke, underrated synth strings, and its positively haywire solo breakdown thanks to Sambora, who burns slow like a candle down to a mandolin outro that makes “Losing My Religion” sound just the slightest bit late.
2. Bon Jovi - “Livin’ on a Prayer”
Every ‘80s megastar has that one song that even haters can’t deny; for Phil Collins, it’s the desolate “In the Air Tonight,” for Guns ‘N Roses, it’s “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” And Bon Jovi’s got this soap opera, with dockworker Tommy’s hands tied by a union strike and waitress Gina supporting him, in a for-better-or-worse time capsule of America’s Reagan-era perception of blue-collar gender roles, that nonetheless winds up into the actually heartwarming plea for them to hold onto each other (even if it would be nice if Tommy got some under-the-table work or something). Every raised octave, sudden key change, fire-in-the-hole guitar blast is earned, because this is where Bon Jovi’s craft rose to the height of their ambition.
1. Bon Jovi - “Bed of Roses”
Bon Jovi’s finest song and loveliest melody isn’t the world’s favorite because seismic force tends to sweep all over attributes of this band away. And it’s hard to call this thing delicate to be precise; it’s just as window-shattering as any of their other sonic brick houses. But it’s got a homesick yearning and hungover poetry to it; the tune is actually quite gorgeous. Listen to Jon belt out that “bed of nails” line in the chorus and you may be convinced “Bed of Roses” is his greatest vocal performance as well. They’re sentimentalists who can melt steel, and Richie Sambora’s lonely-mountain Slash solo may be a little too locked-in and generic, but that honors what this band can and can’t do. Still, their greatest power ballad was a welcome surprise in freakin’ 1992, when they were supposed to be over. Instead, “Bed of Roses” gave them new life, long before “It’s My Life” cemented them as a band who’s never going away. They had nothing to prove at the time, so they did this instead. As usual with Bon Jovi, what a chorus. But, really this time: what a chorus.