Jon Bon Jovi’s Disagreement With Richie Sambora Over ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’
New rock bands that entered the rock scene in the ’80s often struggled to find the courage to believe they would make it. With so many talented musicians vying for attention in the competitive music industry, it seemed difficult for a new band to stand out and make a name for themselves. In fact, some of the now-successful acts failed to foresee they would unexpectedly attract the spotlight and which hit would enable that.
Guns N’ Roses, for instance, experienced similar struggles during their rise to fame. Their single ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ was not considered a hit at first, but after a slow start, it became the band’s most well-known song. Similarly, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ became a hit, to Nirvana’s surprise, but Kurt Cobain was unhappy with how its popularity surpassed the tracks he considered better.
The case was somewhat similar for Bon Jovi. The band had achieved some level of success in the early days of their career, but it wasn’t until the release of the singles ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’ and ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ in 1986 that they truly hit the mainstream. These two tracks brought them international fame and solidified their place in rock history.
‘Livin’ on a Prayer,’ in particular, was a game-changer for the band. It was like a key that unlocked the door to success for them, introducing them to a wider audience and propelling their career to new heights. It’s hard not to think about the iconic opening lines ‘Tommy used to work on the docks/union’s been on strike’ without singing along, and millions would agree.
‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ became Bon Jovi’s biggest hit, but it was a total surprise to the band. “That song, God bless it. But my God, who knew? Not us, I can assure you,” Jon said in an interview with the Guardian in 2021. “It was created on a day when none of us had any ideas, we just had a conversation, and it came out of that. I’m sure happy my name’s on it!”
It’s not just the band that didn’t see it coming; when he first played it for his bandmate, Richie Sambora, Jon had mixed feelings about it. “I remember walking out of the room with Richie, and I said: ‘Eh, it’s okay. Maybe we should just put it on a movie soundtrack.’”
Jon’s approach to the track in fact led to a disagreement. He recalled, “Richie looked at me and said, ‘You’re an idiot – it’s really good.’ I said, ‘I just don’t know where it’s going.’ But it didn’t have that boom boom boom bassline yet, so it sounded more like the Clash.” This story actually also shows how a song can change and evolve over time before it reaches its final form.
It’s funny that the lead singer failed to foresee its success when we think about it now, but it just goes to show that you never know which song will become a hit. But one thing is for sure, ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ is definitely not a ‘Bad Name’ for a hit song. And in this case, Richie Sambora was right, ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ has become a classic and is considered one of the most iconic songs in rock history.
Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora have a long history of creative disagreements, with ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’ being just one example. Despite their differences, the two were able to put their egos aside and create some of the biggest hits in rock history, at least for a while. Unfortunately, their disagreements eventually led to Sambora’s departure from the band in 2013, but Bon Jovi continues to tour and perform to this day.