Wanted Dead Or Alive

Album: Slippery When Wet (1986)
Charted: 13 7
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Songfacts®:

  • This song uses Old West cowboy imagery to describe the lonely life of a rock star. At the time, starting with their debut album in 1984, Bon Jovi played about 300 shows a year, using the remaining time to work on albums. When it came time to write for their third album, Slippery When Wet, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora wrote this song about what they knew: performing to lots of people who all blended together after a while.
  • This was the song that kickstarted the "Unplugged" craze. At the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora performed this with just their acoustic guitars, giving the network the idea for the "Unplugged" series.
  • The video was directed by Wayne Isham, who did most of the band's early videos. Shot in black-and-white (they didn't have color TV in the Old West), the band is shown not just performing, but going through the process of traveling from city to city.

    With lots of sweaty, slow motion shots showing the band laying it out there for the fans, the video's forebear was Paul Young's "Everytime You Go Away," which had a similar look and theme. That video was directed by Nick Morris, who told us that Jon Bon Jovi asked him to submit a treatment for the "Wanted Dead Or Alive" video. "He said, 'We've got a song called 'Wanted' on our album, and that's going to be how we do the video: We're going to do it in slow motion, we're going to show how rock and roll is as exciting as it's exhausting,'" Morris said.

    Unfortunately, Bon Jovi's label convinced Morris that the band was looking for a more jovial video with the band larking about, and that's the treatment he submitted, which was rejected. Said Morris: "I learnt to my cost as I watched the Bon Jovi video that what they wanted was something a bit more like Jon had originally discussed. That taught me a lesson to go with your instincts and not necessarily the advice you get."
  • The producers of Young Guns II (1990) wanted to use this in the movie, but Jon Bon Jovi didn't think it fit lyrically, since the song is not about a literal cowboy. He met with the movie executives and played some songs on acoustic guitar, one of them being "Blaze Of Glory," which was used in the film and released as his first single as a solo artist.
  • Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora wrote this in the basement of Sambora's mother's house. They wrote it in one day - it came easily because it was about their actual experiences touring.
  • The music is based on the acoustic guitar riff Sambora came up with. Many guitarists try to play it when they are starting out.
  • Sambora was trying to write something acoustic because there was very little acoustic guitar on the radio at the time.
  • The album was going to be titled Wanted in homage to this song, and cover was set to have a cowboy theme. Photographer Mark Weiss did photo shoot with the band dressed in Old West garb, but it looked ridiculous - their '80s hair belied the look.

    "They needed a stronger image, so another photo was taken of a single lady wearing a cut-up shirt doused in water with the album title on it," Weiss told Songfacts.

    With the new title Slippery When Wet, Weiss did a new photo shoot at Bradley Beach in New Jersey with Angela Chidnese, a girl they found nearby, as the cover girl. That artwork was ready to go, but Bon Jovi's record company nixed it when retailers told them they might not stock it because of the cover. Weiss did a third shoot, this one of a garbage bag.

    "I got a call from Jon saying, 'I'm coming over to your studio, and we're going to do a new cover. Just have a black plastic bag there for me," he said. "He walks in the door, and says, 'Hang up the bag, throw some water on it.' I sprayed some water on it so you saw droplets on the bag, and he just wrote 'SLIPPERY WHEN WET.' And he walked out! He didn't even stick around for the Polaroid. I sent it in, and that was it."
  • "Six string on my back" refers to the guitar; "steel horse" is the tour bus. This song was written during a time when Jon had just broken up with his longtime girlfriend, Dorothea Hurley. Good news - they got back together and got married. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    John - Cleveland, OH
  • The band was having trouble recording this in the studio, so their producer had them take a break and enjoy some wine at a nearby restaurant. When they returned, they nailed it on their first take.

Comments: 24

  • Penton Silverwheel from Birmingham, UkIt just has this epic, cinematic feel. I guess that happens when you play with magic. Just as kick ass in 2021! Jon BJ is the guy. Although I have heard rumours it was originally a Colin Dent composition before ol' BJ slipped in when wet.
  • Unspecified from MarsThis is one of the best songs of the 80s easily!!! Also I was reading another one of the comments and teenagers just can be mean. He is REALLY nice now though, BELIEVE ME!!!!!
  • Shy G from Colorado@Helena Im surprised you know supernatural, im wrighting abt it and thats why im on here!
  • Helena from United KingdomI see the Supernatural fan girls are all over the place...lol..this song actually reminds me of an 80s movie of the same name "Wanted Dead or Alive" starring Rutger Hauer, who I'm kind of a fan girl for! i love that movie and Rutger, and I like Jon Bon Jovi and he was cute back in the day. Shame if he actually IS a dick IRL but I guess a lot of big stars are :(
  • Kaye Mosley from San AntonioMet the band during December 1989 when Jon was single. My bestie and I saw them in San Antonio and got invited to Houston to party with them! Boy was I Naive back then. Doc Magee was with them at the time and Jon's dad was on tour also-- ate supper at the Four Seasons with the band and entourage and then to Ricks Cabaret. Jon was more than nice--even commented that he must have rescued a bus load of Girl Scouts with how lucky he was.
  • Ivy from Springfield, NeI hate Jon Bon Jovi. My dad went to high school with him, and says he was a real dick. I can't help loving the music . . . I just don't like the guy personally from what I've heard. @ Caitlin down there- Did Chris Daughtry really do this? It must've been good. You know what's funny, the bands Daughtry and Bon Jovi are both named after their lead singers. (panda) i just realized that!
  • Jeffrey from Vancouver, WaThe "guitar part sounding like Led Zepplin" comment makes considerable sense, as Richie Sambora absolutely idolized Jimmy Page (Zep's Lead Guitarist) trying to emulate and even improve on riffs JP taught him.
  • Jesse from Dalhart, TxThe Discovery Channels' hit show "Deadliest Catch" brought back this 80's hit and continues to spread to generations of fans of both the show and the group!
  • Kassi from Rosenberg, TxIt sounded amazing when Dean Sangit on Supernatual (my favorite Tv show!)!!!
  • Jessica from Raleigh, NcI love this song, it's one of my favorites. But everytime I hear it, I think of the TV show Supernatural where on the finale for season 3 the two main characters, Sam and Dean Winchester, sing along with this song while driving. it's so hilarious and just made me love this song that much more!
  • Lee-ann from Perth, AustraliaThe "steel horse" in this song is definitely a tour bus. Jon has said so himself.
  • Hunter from Cincinnati, Oha steel horse is def. a reference to a motorcycle
  • Jessica from Oxford, United KingdomI love the guitar solo in this, almost as good as the dry county solo
  • Sarah from La, CaLOVE THIS SONG ( Jensen Ackles playing Dean Winchester on Supernatural Sings it way better. He sang it on the episode "No Rest For The Wicked" the season ending of the third season. His brother on the show Sam sang backup.) Bon sings it good too though
  • Camille from Toronto, OhMy husband said the "steel horse" is a motorcycle, not a tour bus.
  • Andrew from Birmingham, United StatesThis song sounds so easy and fun to play on my guitar. I'd like to learn how to play it. If I had a band, all of us members would probably be "Wanted Dead or Alive". Ha-ha.
  • Kevin from Pittsburgh, Pain the music video, a lot of the senses are from the city of Pittsburgh. like the inside the tunnel, coming out of the tunnel, when a bunch of people are behind glass door that was the mellon arena. thay are all fomr the city of Pittsburgh
  • Kelsi from I-town(ionia, Mithis is the theme song for "Deadlest Catch"
  • Caitlin from A City, NcAmerican Idol 5 contestant Chris Daughtry performed and recorded a version of Wanted Dead or Alive. His version can be found on the season's album.
  • Jennifer from Scarsdale, NyI Love Bon Jovi, This is probarly their song ever
  • Joe Bobson from Madrid, Spaingreat song witha great guitar solo. if only all songs were like this
  • Oscar from Stockholm, SwedenActually, Jon gained inspiration from Thin Lizzy's "Cowboy Song" when writing this song.
  • Magnus from Selfoss, IcelandThis is awesome solo in wanted or alive
  • Matt H. from Niantic, CtDoesn't the guitar part during the verses sound like Led Zeppelin's Thank you?
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