Bon Jovi’s self-titled debut album was released in January, and the band’s first single, “Runaway,” cracked the top 40 in February in spite of a music video that ranks as one of the most WTF moments of the early MTV era.
?“It’s absolutely awful,” says frontman Jon Bon Jovi, 52, who’s now able to laugh at the awkward performance footage of his band interspersed with shots of a young girl with a thousand-yard stare shooting fire from her eyes — an homage to the Stephen King novel-turned-film Firestarter. “We had no input as to what it would be about or who would be in it. They had people give us clothes to wear; we were just dumbfounded,” he says. “Fortunately, the song had some roots, so we were saved.”
?The video aside, “Runaway” helped vault the young band into the major league. “I used to dream about the day when Casey Kasem would talk about [us] on American Top 40,” says Bon Jovi, who was 21 at the time. “And there it was, on Sunday morning, hearing that voice, ‘No. 39, a brand-new band from New Jersey.’ I was just so happy,” he says.
?As the single gained momentum, then-manager Doc McGhee put together a global assault for the band. Bon Jovi nailed down the opening slot on a North American arena tour by Scorpions and that fall toured Europe with Kiss, followed by Japan with Whitesnake, Scorpions and the Michael Schenker Group.
?The band’s early efforts to break internationally continue to pay off. It is now one of the most successful live acts on the road. Last year, Bon Jovi’s Because We Can Tour played some two dozen countries and finished as the highest-grossing tour of 2013 with a gross of more than $247 million, according to Billboard Boxscore.
“Thirty-one years later, I give Doc McGhee credit for our international success,” says Bon Jovi, “because right from record one, he said, ‘You have to go anywhere where there is electricity, and if they don’t have electricity, we’ll bring our own.’ That was one of his adages. We went ?everywhere.”
An edited version of this story first appeared in the Nov. 1 issue of Billboard.