Music Monday: New Jersey

Welcome to another Music Monday post and a first for the series: I’m not just talking about one song (or two!), I’m talking 12 of them. An entire album’s worth of material. What’s more, this is the first of three such posts so, strap in…!

I said last week that my middle teens were dominated by listening to the same three albums (more or less) and this is the first of those. It’s by Bon Jovi and was originally released in 1988, though my introduction to it came a few years later. It wasn’t the first Bon Jovi album I knew, it certainly wasn’t the last, but it was the one that made me sit up and go “This is awesome!” It was the first album I’d ever listened to where there wasn’t one single track I wanted to skip (not that skipping tracks was a readily available option when listening on cassette!) and I just utterly fell in love.

Looking dispassionately, the music isn’t ground breaking – there were quite a few bands with a similar sort of sound (though Bon Jovi win the competition by the sheer virtue of still selling out stadia and selling albums thirty five years later!). The lyrics aren’t cutting edge or poetic – they’re about early adulthood and girls and partying and navigating relationships. There are no epic 10 minute tracks of sonic experimentation…and yet, to me, even now, it’s a perfect hour of listening because while it’s not complicated or ground breaking or any of that stuff, the songs are still really good and the whole thing is a really good way to spend that hour.

And while I say there is no poetry and nothing earth shattering, there are touches in there that kicked off my love of complexity and well-observed lyrics. There’s Living In Sin, a song that leans into the tension between modern (at the time) life and Catholic expectations. There’s Homebound Train, a treatise on the subject of perpetual touring (the irony here is the tour to promote this album pretty much broke the band for two years) and dear god I love the relentless nature of the music and, particularly, the harmonica/organ/guitar solo on this track. Blood on Blood is a great take on the all-in nature of some friendships. Born to be my Baby is a similarly great take on a more romantic relationship (it’s also the song that taught me how to really dig into music and hear the different parts – though that may just be me being weird…). Stick to Your Guns is not particularly subtle (!) but a song urging you to stand up for what you believe in is some surprisingly solid advice from a rock song and it features perhaps the one real bit of experimentation on the album as an intro: Ride Cowboy Ride was recorded in mono, which gives it a bit of an old-timy feel, and it’s just two guitars and two guys singing. Short and simple. I’ll Be There For You is a vast improvement on one of their earlier songs and if Lay Your Hands on Me, Bad Medicine, 99 In The Shade and Love for Sale aren’t particularly profound, they’re FUN.

Then there’s my favourite track: Wild is the Wind. This is the song that cemented this album as one I utterly and completely and unreservedly love and that’s for two things. The first of these is the use of non-rock instruments on a definite rock track. Something about using classical instruments on a rock track (or, for that matter, using rock instruments on a classical track) tickles me enormously, and this is the track, with its use of cellos, that set me off on that path. It’s subtle. I didn’t hear them at first (in fact, I only knew they were there because the liner notes said they were!), but then I did hear them and my rather rigid little thirteen year old mind was blown wide open. Surely you couldn’t use stringed instruments like cellos on rock music?!! Sure, I’d seen rock music performed by and with orchestras, but this was different. This wasn’t synths pretending to be violins, this was two folk with cellos, performing with a rock band.

It sounds stupid, I will admit, but up to that point, I’d assumed that there were RULES about that sort of thing. This was the album that showed me there were no such thing as rules, and it’s a very short hop from learning that to getting a taste for progressive rock and certain sorts of trance and dance music.

The second thing that cemented this song’s place in my heart is the introduction. It starts quietly. Just a single guitar playing a flamenco-style piece that then leads in bass, those cellos I mentioned and drums. Each note is crisp and clear and echoes in a way that always makes me think of a lonely, open space at dusk and it leads into a song whose lyrical imagry supports that idea. It’s incredibly simple and it gives me a tiny bit of a chill every time I hear it.

It also added another guitarist to my list of “I could listen to these guys play the equivalent of reading the phone book”…

…but more on THAT, next week!

Overall, it’s an album that’s aged gracefully. Sure, some of the demos and outtakes haven’t (dear god have they not *shudder*), but the album as released in 1988 is still as good a listen now as it was thirty five years ago and if I don’t listen to it QUITE as often now as I did as a teen, well that’s just because this album (though I didn’t know it back then) was the start of my tastes broadening out.

That’s all for now.

Happy reading and listening!

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