Published on November 13th, 2014 | by Andy Sedlak
‘Slippery When Wet’ – Bon Jovi 
Summary: Sometimes good sequencing produces an album greater than the sum of its parts. This smash from Bon Jovi will never be mistaken for Shakespeare, but it’s still a ride worth taking.
Released: August 18, 1986
Producer: Bruce Fairbairn
Peak position on Billboard Album Chart: 1
U.S. Top 40 singles: 3
The art of sequencing an album may an outdated concept. Nowadays, the entire system encourages the listener to slice up a new release in a hundred different ways. Personalized playlists. Shuffle modes. Á la carte music sales. Online streaming. When it comes to sequencing, perhaps we should let it go. It’s as outdated as album art.
Psych. That’s called a set up.
Sequencing still works. It creates the overarching drama that ties together our favorite albums. Look at Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Or the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. People characterize Bruce Springsteen’s work as “cinematic” because he labored over the way his albums were sequenced.
I always thought Matchbox Twenty’s More than You Think You Are was sequenced well. Sometimes a well-prepared song sequence can produce an album that’s more enjoyable than its individual tunes would lead you to believe. It produces a feeling of completeness.
And that brings me to Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet.
A 1987 interview with Jon Bon Jovi, by this time a bonafide rock star.
Released in August 1986, Bon Jovi’s third album spent eight weeks atop the Billboard album chart. It spawned four hit singles now regarded as classics. Producer Bruce Fairbairn – also responsible for AC/DC’s The Razor’s Edge and some of Aerosmith’s best sellers – disguised cheese in ambiance and crushing majesty. The members of Bon Jovi aren’t interesting guys. I mean, hearing drummer Tico Torres interviewed about his own artwork is as unexciting and self-serving as anything you’ll ever listen to. Fairbairn put the band’s best intentions out front, and we’re forever in his debt.
But the sequencing of Slippery When Wet is particularly enjoyable. While listening back to it recently, I was pleasantly transported to the brinks of outer New Jersey. Where love and hate collide. Where good guys win because they believe hard enough. And where records felt like theme park attractions.
My point? The album is fun. Don’t forget that’s an essential – and overlooked – component of rock music.
Although generic, the opener, “Let It Rock,” puts us right in the prize fighter’s ring. Complete with a lyric ripped off from The Doors, this ode to loud rock & roll feels like the first drink that goes down a little too well. You just have to have another. Lyrically, it ain’t Shakespeare. But sometimes you don’t need old Bill. You just need to… let it rock.
We blast out into the open with “You Give Love a Bad Name,” which became the band’s first Number One single. Choruses shouted at the top of one’s lungs are always good. The band got a lot of mileage out of a great title.
Before “You Give Love a Bad Name,” Bon Jovi toured as the opener for .38 Special. The hit meant they no longer had to work as an opening band for anyone.
From “You Give Love a Bad Name:”
Paint your smile on your lips
Blood red nails on your fingertips
A school boy’s dream, you act so shy
Your first kiss was your first kiss goodbye
The video for “You Give Love a Bad Name,” Bon Jovi’s first chart-topper.
We waste no time with deep cuts. “Livin’ on a Prayer” comes next. The song was reportedly a clunker at first. JBJ was about to give up on it. It was guitarist Richie Sambora who reworked it, adding the signature bass line and talk box. Credit Sambora for his persistence. And yet another shout-along chorus.
Now we’re cooking, people.
When people think of Bon Jovi, they think of the women that populate Ellen audiences. I guess they think of songs like “Social Disease,” which follows “Livin’ On a Prayer” on Slippery When Wet. More forgettable than its processors, it steals a line made astronomically famous by Springsteen, a fellow Garden Stater, only two years earlier – “you can’t start a fire without a spark.”
And this is why Bon Jovi’s credit is tempered by rock historians. They take shortcuts when putting the pen to paper. Frankly, this is why they’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, despite being consistently popular for 30 years.
That said, I must admit the historical nature of the band had eluded me. Bon Jovi was the first hard rock band to notch two consecutive Number One songs on the Billboard Hot 100. Their debut album was released 30 years ago this year. Bon Jovi has been around every bit as long as U2. Think about that. And like U2, they’ve notched pop hits in every decade of their existence.
History will save a place for Bon Jovi. But it probably won’t be in the Hall of Fame.
“Wanted Dead or Alive” follows “Social Disease” on Slippery When Wet. It sort of serves as the album’s first ballad. The cowboy gimmick was schlocky enough to work with ’80s metal fans and their girlfriends. Again, sometimes it’s just fun to take the ride.
“Raise Your Hands” gives us a blast of unifying highway rock before the best non-single on the album, “Without Love.” Bon Jovi’s fascination with ’50s rock shows here, both in sentiment and melodic structure. With its “Oh, oh” backing tracks and twinkling keyboards, it creates the perfect excuse to pull your baby close and pretend you’re starring in a John Hughes movie.
From “Without Love:”
I see my life
There’s some things I took for granted
Love’s passed me by
So many second chances
I was afraid
But I won’t be afraid no more
“I’d Die for You” keeps the pedal to the floor while delivering one overblown lovelorn statement after another. “Never Say Goodbye” – the truest lighter ballad of the set – is sly in both delivery and sentiment.
From “Never Say Goodbye:”
Remember how we used to park?
On Butler Street out in the dark?
Remember when we lost the keys?
You lost more than that in my back seat, baby
Later, the song delves into one bittersweet suburban memory after another.
Remember at prom that night?
You and me, we had a fight
But the band played our favorite song
And I held you in my arms so strong
The clip for “Never Say Goodbye,” the album’s fourth and final single.
The album ends with the epilogue that is “Wild in the Streets.” When the entire Slippery When Wet album is about getting “wild in the streets,” this summation of the nine tracks that preceded it feels appropriate. With its ode to “the backbeat” and youthful nostalgia, this track completes the arc. And if you’re listening on a CD, it bleeds back into the lead track perfectly.
It’s the encore at the end of a full set. Thematically unified, the album benefitted from peeling back at the right times and shouting on cue. The sequence takes us through the summer night that you haven’t lived through in quite a while.
This year the Recording Industry Association of America certified this 1986 smash 12 times platinum. Slippery When Wet has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. This was a big one, people.
No, it ain’t Shakespeare. It ain’t even Mellencamp. But that doesn’t mean you can’t crank the volume and drop the windows. Sometimes the pieces just fall together perfectly.