The follow up to Bon Jovi's #1 hit "You Give Love A Bad Name," this song tells the story of Tommy and Gina, two kids working to make it on their own despite constant hardships. It struck a chord with America's youth, especially the ones from New Jersey. The characters in the song relate to the working class fans Bon Jovi played to. "Tommy" works on the docks, while "Gina" works in a diner.
Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora wrote this with Desmond Child, a prolific songwriter who was brought in by the record company to give them a more commercial sound like he did for Kiss on "I Was Made For Lovin' You."
The characters Tommy and Gina were based on a real life situation Desmond encountered in the late '70s with his then girlfriend, Maria Vidal, who he was living with. According to the notes in his Desmond Child & Rouge: Runners In The Night album, Desmond was a New York taxi cab driver and Maria was a waitress in a diner.
Suggestion credit: Gavin Radcliffe - Colchester, United Kingdom
Derek Shulman, who was the lead singer and multi-instrumentalist in the band Gentle Giant, signed Bon Jovi to Mercury Records. In our 2009 interview with Derek, he said: "Slippery When Wet was a really well-constructed pop album. When it was done, I knew in my gut that it was gonna be this big. Because it was the right time, the right place, the right artist. And I had learned some of the business side from being in the business that long, and also having a musical background, I knew that this was gonna be that big. And in fact I also put them together with a co-writer called Desmond Child, who could write great choruses. Here's me looking at Desmond Child and I'm thinking, Man, I wish I would have had choruses like they could write." (Check out the full Gentle Giant interview with Derek and his brother Ray Shulman)
At first, Jon Bon Jovi wanted to leave this off the Slippery When Wet album, thinking it wasn't good enough. According to Jon, a meeting with a group of teenagers changed his mind and it was added to the album.
Richie Sambora used a talkbox on this, which gave it a very distinctive sound. A talkbox is an electronic device that allows a guitar player to make distorted sounds with his mouth. Peter Frampton is famous for using one on his 1976 album Frampton Comes Alive, but the technique lost popularity a few years later. When Bon Jovi released this, it was the first time many young people heard a song featuring a talkbox. Peter Frampton builds all of Richie Sambora's talkboxes for him.
Jon Bon Jovi told Q magazine December 2009 about the difficulties of using a talkbox: "You know that thing is not very easy to play. Basically everything gets fed through a one-inch tube that goes in your mouth. Then you try to sing through it into a live mic. I tried it once. It will damn near take your face off. Your eyeballs are being dislodged from their sockets, man."
The album was going to be called "Wanted Dead Or Alive" (another song on the album) and show the band on the cover dressed as cowboys. After doing the photo shoot in a mine shaft, the band decided they were taking it too seriously, changed the title to "Slippery When Wet," and found a Jersey girl with big boobs to wear a wet T-shirt for the cover. When parents' groups protested the cover, they changed it to a wet trash bag with the title written on it.
This opens with a 14-second synthesizer note. You could get away with that in the '80s.
In a 2007 interview with Time magazine, Jon Bon Jovi was asked what song showed "The Real You." His response: "I think if there was only one, it would be a tough choice between 'Livin' On A Prayer' and 'Wanted Dead Or Alive.' Maybe because the themes of 'Wanted' are a little more universal, it makes 'Prayer' that much more unique. There is nothing that you can say is derivative about the song. It is its own entity." He went on to say: "I think I find more strength in faith than I do in organized religion. 'Livin' On A Prayer' is most certainly nondenominational."
In the 2000 Bon Jovi song "It's My Life," the two characters from this track are mentioned in the line, "This is for the ones who stood their ground, for Tommy and Gina who never backed down." Sambora used a talkbox on that song as well.
Bon Jovi played a slow version of this September 21, 2001 as part of the "Tribute To Heroes" telethon to benefit victims of the terrorist attacks on the US. Almost 60 million people watched the show, which included performances by U2, Sting, Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, and Neil Young. Celebrities answering phones included Selma Hayek, Jack Nicholson, and Brad Pitt. The slow version was also performed at the "Concert For New York" to honor the rescue workers at The World Trade Center.
Bon Jovi performed this, along with "It's My Life," at the closing ceremonies of the 2002 winter Olympics.
On VH1's The Greatest Songs of the '80s special, this was voted the best song of the decade.
Suggestion credit: Dawson - Draper, UT
In March 2008 this returned to the UK charts at #70, thanks to its use by Gareth Gates on the celebrity Ice Skating show Dancing On Ice. Despite the interest stirred up by the use of this track by Gates, the routine resulted in his elimination.
In an interview with The Guardian November 5, 2009, Jon Bon Jovi was asked whether the Tommy character was a strike-breaker. He replied: "No. He just lost his job - it wasn't that he crossed the [picket] line. The industry left the town and he didn't get the job back. It was a fictional character. The inspiration was a young couple who got pregnant and gave up everything they had, but that didn't read right, so we changed the story."
Jon Bon Jovi told The London Times in May 2010 that he never gets tired of singing this song: "Not when I see the jet with my name on it."
At the 2010 Grammy Awards, Bon Jovi performed this song as a result of a fan vote. As the show progressed, viewers were asked to choose which song the band would perform: "Livin' On A Prayer," "It's My Life" or "Always." Vote totals were not divulged, but it's likely that this fan-favorite won in a landslide. Richie Sambora talked about it after the show: "Jon came up with the idea of actually doing a three-song medley, and we opened up with 'We Weren't Born To Follow.' And then we went into the Grammy song with Jennifer Nettles that we won - 'Who Says You Can't Go Home.' And then we had - which I thought was the interesting part of it - a contest. So the fans actually voted on the song we would play. It was legit, man. We didn't know 'til the last minute what we were gonna to do. We had them all ready to go. We rehearsed them all and then at the last minute, that's what they told us - they said, 'Livin' On A Prayer' was the one."
Suggestion credit: DeeTheWriter - Saint Petersburg, Russia Federation
Classic songs often make their way back to the charts years later if they are used in commercials, movies or TV shows, or otherwise granted some fresh, high-profile attention. Thanks to a change in Billboard's method for tabulating the Hot 100, however, this song made it back to the chart thanks to a viral video.
In February 2013, YouTube views and other streams became a factor in the Hot 100, resulting in "Harlem Shake" hitting the top spot. In October, a video was posted of basketball fan Jeremy Fry dancing to "Livin' On A Prayer" during a stoppage in play at a Boston Celtics' home game from March 2009. The Celtics were the defending NBA champs and doing very well at the time; Fry's performance embodied the camaraderie and enthusiasm in the arena, as he spontaneously used his two minutes of glory to glide down an aisle, singing to delighted onlookers along the way.
Fry's dance routine drew millions of worldwide views, and on November 20, the song charted at #25, 26 years after if first appeared.
"I think the most interesting part of that song, it was the first time we ever used characters," Richie Sambora told Fuse TV. "And quite frankly it was because in our life at that point, in that juncture of time, we were 26 years old. I was. Jon was probably 24 at the time. And all we knew at that point was being on the road and women, so that's predominantly what we kind of sang about in those days. Then we decided to jump into the social lyric with 'Livin' on a Prayer,' and bring in two characters, Tommy and Gina, which essentially were some blue collar people trying to make ends meet through life, and essentially that was my parents. It could've been Jon and I in that particular part of time. It could've been anything, but what that did, they became everybody across the world. Because at a time, every couple, no matter what, is going through that hardship where they're trying to make ends meet and it's not coming easy. They gotta get over that hurdle. So that was a very inspirational song, and it's morphed and transformed throughout the years."
Sambora on resurrecting his old talkbox for the record: "I had put it down for many, many years, and for some reason in the studio that night, I just said, 'I'm just gonna try this whacked idea on you guys, and you're probably gonna think it's crazy but it might be really cool.' And as soon as it sounded everybody just went, Hit. Record."
According to Joe Lynn Turner, formerly of Rainbow and Deep Purple, Sambora borrowed the bass riff from Turner's "Get Tough" from his first solo album, Rescue You. Turner told Uber Rock: "Richie Sambora came up to me one night, and we were drinking pretty hard and he said, 'I'm gonna steal that riff,' and I went, 'yeah, go ahead!,' and he did!"
Gino from HoustonActually, I was the original Desmond Child. Richie Sambora and myself came up with the pseudonym. There was no Desmond Child before we came up with the pseudonym in the 80's. This John Barrett Jr. being Desmond Child and anything before the fact was fabricated by the government. Also, John Barrett Jr. is not his real name, and he introduced himself to me as John Bariskowski, and his friend was John Rouge. Rouge is not a girl. I cowrote some of the Livin on a Prayer lyrics. I originally was just scratching some lyrics on a paper, but yes it is about the american dream or just making it in the world of hard knocks. My original thought of the song came about a preacher always trying to sway me into priesthood, but I was swaying towards baseball and songwriting. I met Paul Stanley in the late 70's and Martha (vocal coach) in the early 80's. The word got out that I had songs. Martha was trying to train my vocals, and I sung many songs acappella. I wrote most of the songs at my home, but I sung them acappella at a small lounge built to accommodate models where many rockers also convened. Bon Jovi, Richie and myself had already written You Give Love a Bad Name at the store/ lounge, and he visited the store/lounge many times. I was back on the loading docks trying/practicing Livin on a Prayer. I wanted to move the song in another direction from the original choosing between priesthood to secular rock world song. Actually Tommy and Gina worked at the store. Finally it struck me, with all he commotion going on at the store, that this song will be about making it in America. I was trying to envision the road ahead. Bon Jovi had been waiting up at package pickup/store/lounge for about 30 minutes while I was in the back sorting through some merchandise and creating the song. There were many people up at package pick-up when I made it back up to package pickup. Gina walked through the entrance door, and I just sung most of the first verse and then Bon Jovi interrupted me saying enough. I then said let me sing the chorus, and I sung the chorus. Again he was amused, and he said that song was not for him but a Loverboy tune. He later finished writing the song, and he played the song in front of kids to see how they liked the song before placing the song on the album. The kids approved of the song. Oh, yeah where's my 2% handshake in front of people at the lounge/store.
Cyberpope from Richmond, CanadaThis would've been a good theme song for the 2011 sitcom "2 Broke Girls" but more so if the sitcom had a dockworker boyfriend as well as the struggling diner waitress
Samantha from Mohegan Lake, Nyto me the story this song tells is a very romantic one. it's kinda like forbidden love. they never give up a single chance to be together and never take a single second for granted. Gina's advice is very useful because everyone should hold onto what they have. before they know it, the things that they hold onto may be gone so enjoy it while it lasts. live your life to the fullest and treat every day like it's your last. that's kind of what Gina is saying when she says "we've got to hold on to what we've got cuz it doesn't make a difference if we make it or not." and that is true in most cases. as long as you have whats most important to you, which in this case is love, you'll never need anything else in life and therefore you've completed your purpose in life, making it not matter if you make it to see the next day or not.
Esskayess from Dallas, TxThis is by far my favorite song of theirs, but I find myself smiling every time a certain line is played, because it sounds a bit like they're singing:
"Doesn't make a difference if we're naked or not."
Camille from Toronto, OhSomething about a rock star singing "livin' on a prayer" makes this song the hit that it is; the juxtaposition, or contrast, of these two opposites. One does not normally associate rock stars and prayer with each other, but there he is, screaming melodiously that the only hope they got left is a prayer. Who hasn't been there at some point in time? Heck, it sounds like even members of a rock band understand that there are moments in life when all you got left is a prayer. Gotta love it.
Samantha from Mohegan Lake, Nyi love this song, along with a lot of other kids in my school. i even memorized all the lyrics to the song.
Jim from Long Beach, CaI am not a Bon Jovi fan at all but this song kicks ass!!
Jim from Ralston, Neslash does not use a talkbox. he uses a wah pedal, which a sh*t ton of other guitarists use. i know i know slash is a good guitarist but just because he was in guiutar hero does not make him god. there are many better guitarists out there stop trying to make every classic rock artist relate to slash, please.
Jesus from Alabama, DcJon has a niece and nephew in new jersey named Tommy and Gina, so he used those names for the song
Cody from Lawton, OkHey, just saying Slash does NOT use a talkbox... he uses Wah, its a pedal, definately not a talkbox though "/
Blane from Pocola, OkBON JOVI sucks only good song is Wanted Dead Or Alive
Blane from Pocola, OkGNR's SLASH uses talk boxes all the time
Dale from Santa Fe, NmWho doesn't try to imitate the talkbox guitar at the beginning? You're lying if you deny it. ;D
Michael from Morris County, NjGreatest hair metal song ever.
Nicola from London, EnglandThis song is great to and listen to. This song has some meaning to life, and the way we really relate to life. This is one of his best songs to date.
Calum from Edinburgh, Scotlandthis song is Def Leppard's #1 favourite rock song
Fer from Pacifica, CaBest rock song ever written by the best band ever. I even teach my 5th graders how to sing this song.
Bjorn from Amsterdam, Netherlandsalso before they called the album slippery when wet they wanted to call it guns and roses because Jon saw a picture of a barband (and they had a suitcase with the title guns and roses on it}in the newspaper. But that band became very succesfull(guns and roses)in a short time after that and then they came up wiht the title slippery when wet. Jon said this fact on the dvd 100.00.000 bon jovi fans can't be wrong
Amy from Dallas, Txnice song..thats interesting that the cover is a trash bag, lol it looks good..i guess
Nikki from Melbourne, AustraliaIn an interview with JBJ(2004), he actually says that they were going to title Slippery When Wet, Guns and Roses. But what with the "guns n roses" name already made popular by the band, they opted for Slippery instead.
Rob from Castaic, CaBowling For Soup mentioned Tommy and Gina in their song "Punk Rock 101." The line is "Like Tommy And Gina, They're Living On A Prayer."
Daryn from East London, South AfricaTommy and Gina were given another mention in "99 In The Shade" on New Jersey a couple of years later.
Julia from London, EnglandI love this song and i think this is the ultimate insparational song that sends out the message to hang on in there despite the difficulties that you are facing hence the line "it doesn't make a difference if we make or not" the song is pretty straightforward and does't reqiure a lot of pondering about what the lyrics mean- and that's a good thing. A lot of people can relate to this song and it sends out a message of hope that was very suited after sep 11
Nicalee from Oklahoma City, OkActually the girl with big boobs was left off the cover because Jon didnt like the pink border that matched the girls nails. He didnt think they would be taken seriously with a pink border. I believe Japan was the only country to receive the big boob booklet. Jon had little time to come up with a new cover or they were going to be sent out and thats when he found a black trash bag and sprayed it with water and wrote Slippery when Wet on it. This was from VH1s #1 albums or something like that