If I had to pick one album that 80s rock made its bones on the back of, it has to be this one. Released in August of 1986, Slippery When Wet became an instant success, spending eight weeks at the top of Billboard’s Top 200. In the 31 years since its release, it has totaled an estimated 29 million albums sold. Not bad for a bunch of kids from New Jersey.
With some albums, you see astronomical sales, and looking over the songs you have to wonder how it ever happened. That’s not the case here. With this one, all you have to do is look at the first three singles, and no matter how many albums it sold, you wonder how it didn’t sell more.
”You Give Love a Bad Name” to “Wanted Dead or Alive” to “Livin’ on a Prayer.” You’d be hard pressed to find three straight singles by any band–say post-1980–as big as those. The first two were huge #1 hits, and the third one, “Wanted,” while only making it to number seven on the charts, was actually the song that put the band over the top famous. “Wanted” and the video for the song, is where the band’s mystique is born. Prior to it, they were just a hair band and the jury was out on whether or not hard guys could like them. “Wanted” told the hard guys it was OK.
And the video brought us all into the go of it for them. Think about 1980s music videos, especially the early hair metal and Euro-pop stuff, and what do you think of? You think of cheesy espionage vignettes and mini movies with heroes and villains, Indiana Jones hats and ripped white dresses. The video for “Wanted: Dead or Alive” might not have been the first video to break that mold and focus on the rigors of the road for the band, but it was the first time it was done by the biggest band in the world, and it struck a chord.
Bon Jovi was not just another bunch of prissy dudes with guitars and Aqua-net; they could go hard when they wanted to. (Yes, it probably did leave a few metal heads miffed when they released “Never Say Goodbye” as their fourth single*, but wha’ya gonna do? It’s about the chicks.)
Still, here we once again come up against the truth that sometimes an album’s greatness doesn’t lie in how great it is at its best, but how great it is at its worst. You give me a day, and I can give you 50 albums that have two to four great songs and then six or eight pieces of crap.
For me, one of the strongest criteria for great albums is how strong it is up and down the playlist. This one is pretty solid. Is it a great album? It might not be. It’s an awfully good album, and it’s definitely a great Bon Jovi album, but I just have to think that most Bon Jovi albums have too many ballads and love songs for me to find them great. It’s a great album in that it might be the single most important album of pop metal in the 1980s, but I’m not sure if the ten songs together make what I consider a great album. (For what it’s worth, I do think that 7800 Fahrenheit, the band’s previous release, was a great album.)
Still, Slippery is an awfully good album; it couldn’t have sold 29 million copies world wide if it was one of those disks that have a few standout tracks and then just sucky filler.
It begins with a song called “Let it Rock,” and let me tell you something about this song. You know how it is when you have an album you like really well and your favorite song changes from day to day. Well, I’ve owned a copy of Slippery When Wet for more than 31 years now, and “Let it Rock” has been my favorite song every day of that time. This song is just rock and roll for me, and to open an album with it was simply genius. It’s like they were saying “All right,” let’s go straight out there and hit ’em in the face with it.” (Making moves like that gives you a bit of a reprieve when you put out songs like “Never Say Goodbye” and “Without Love.”)
So, those four singles, that ballad, and that rocker makes six. The other four offerings are all rock numbers that are brought along pretty well. “Social Disease” and “Raise Your Hand” are fairly strong numbers, while “I’d Die For You” holds its own. The album’s final track, “Wild in the Streets,” might be my least favorite of the rock songs here, but I might just think that because I think it’s sad they didn’t have a stronger song to fit in that, so important, last song slot. “Wild in the Streets,” to me, sounds like an attempt to do something they’d done much more naturally on songs like 7800‘s “Tokyo Road” and the aforementioned “Wanted.” With those songs, you could feel the grit of the tour, smell the diesel and the booze; with “Wild,” it’s not like they’re being bad boys; rather, it’s like they’re wanting to show what bad boys they are. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear them say something like, “That’s that dude that read Pinoko; look at them shoes.”
If you don’t know what that means, then you weren’t there. You’re here now, though, and I thank you for it. That’s all I’ve got on that. Hope you took something from it. Be well.
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* “Never Say Goodbye” was never actually released as a single in the US, but it still got to #28 on the radio airplay charts.