Had Bon Jovi been killed in a horrific, fiery airplane crash in 1985, we would remember them much differently than we do today. Had they experienced a painful, flesh-melting demise prior to recording 1986â€™s monster Slippery When Wet album, we would recognize the bandâ€™s name strictly as a hair metal afterthought, a tragic rock and roll footnote. They would have been seen as the perennial opening band, having done the warm-up honors for the Scorpions, KISS, Ratt, and others before their plane exploded in midair and crashed, leaving a trail of flaming debris scattered somewhere in the hinterlands, far from civilization.
Granted, the power ballad arts would have been denied a number of genre classics, had the bandâ€™s still-smoking corpses been strewn across a wide swath of land, in and around the crash site. We, of course, would know not of “Always,” “Bed of Roses,” “Never Say Goodbye,” “This Ainâ€™t a Love Song,” or “Iâ€™ll Be There for You,” just as surely as the deceased Richie Sambora would never know the touch of Heather Locklear, or taste the sweet nectar of her kisses, sweat, and other exquisite excretions one cannot experience from oneâ€™s future beloved when oneâ€™s tongue is reduced to ash by gallons of exploding jet fuel before one even meets said beloved.
“Never Say Goodbye” would have been a particularly egregious omission, since many people my age became enamored of the genre as a result of that particular entry in the pantheon. But, in a world denied that particular balladâ€”due to the fickle finger of fate and the inability of humans (even New Jerseyans) to remain alive when blown out of the sky in a hellish midair infernoâ€”we would have had to make do.
Nay, the ballad for which Bon Jovi would be best remembered would have been “Silent Night,” the languid, keyboard-driven standout from the bandâ€™s sophomore disc, 7800Â° Fahrenheit. You remember that albumâ€”with the cover that featured Jon-Bon and his sprayed coiffure surrounded by what appear to be flames (ironic, because with all that Aqua-Net, Jon-Bon’s hair would have likely been the first thing to catch fire in the plane). “In and Out of Love,” “Only Lonely” (still one of his best songs), “Toyko Road”â€”the choruses still rang in your head long after the headliner took the stage.
“Silent Night” starts with a piddly keyboard, a crash of guitars, and a grammatical error. David “Curlicue” Bryan discovers the “Horns and Echo” setting on his Casio and plinks a little riff, which only pisses off Sambora, who responds by pounding his distortion pedal and slamming out a couple fierce power chords in an attempt to drown out Bryan. Jon-Bon hears enough of this, and sets the scene:
After the smoke clears
When it’s down to you and I
When the sun appears
And there’s nothing left but goodbyes
Ugh â€¦ the incorrect pronoun usage in the second line (it should be “you and me”) is disappointing, but there’s little time to reflect upon the situation, because Sambora rears back and slams out another couple of power chords, goosing Jon-Bon to finish the verse and get to the bridge already:
It’s too late
Now you’re out and on the run
It’s too late
Held up in love without a gun
She’s “out and on the run?” What the hell for? What the hell did Jon-Bon do to her? Or is she just playing her last clichÃ© card, having already been under the wire, with her desire catching fire, up then down, lost then found, dancing and romancing with lovelight in her eyes? Christ, and she’s “held up in love without a gun?” Does she realize she’s making a direct reference to the B-side of Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart?” Did Jon-Bon realize at that time that, barring any fiery plane crashes, he would one day make a career of both clichÃ©s and sub-Springsteenisms?
Like most great power ballads, however, the chorus is where it all comes togetherâ€”the dÃ©nouement, the moment of catharsis, where, in this case, Bryan and Sambora play nice and serve the song’s emotional dynamics, encapsulated in the towering scene Jon-Bon paints for us:
We hold up our candle light
The night our love died
No words to say
And we’re both too tired to fight
Just hold me close and don’t let go
While I’m not sure why one would “hold up our candle light” (save for a rousing chorus of “This Little Light of Mine [I’m Gonna Let It Shine],” which doesn’t seem appropriate here), I can report with fair certainty that many slow dances were consummated with the line “Just hold me close and don’t let go.” If you could only hear me sigh right now â€¦
Anyway, the song goes on from that point, and we find that Jon-Bon and his lovely lass were to be king and queen (probably news to the Reagans, who were in power when this came out), but wound up “victims of the night,” which sounds really cool, but means very littleâ€”a trademark of many Bon Jovi songs. And Sambora uncorks one of the silliest whammy bar-abusing guitar solos this side of C.C. DeVille, who was still three years from being known by anyone, but who would have made a great passenger on that plane.
Yes, this is what we would have remembered Bon Jovi by, had Slippery never happened. Hold up your candle light and sniff the air for embers.
Wanna see the video? Â Universal Music Group won’t let me embed it here (I dated their daughter once and it ended badly), so you’ll have to visit YouTube at this link to check it out.