The follow up to Bon Jovi's #1 hit "You Give Love A Bad Name," this song tells the story of Tommy and Gina, two kids working to make it on their own despite constant hardships. It struck a chord with America's youth, especially the ones from New Jersey. The characters in the song relate to the working class fans Bon Jovi played to. "Tommy" works on the docks, while "Gina" works in a diner.
Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora wrote this with help from Desmond Child, a prolific songwriter who was brought in by the record company to give them a more commercial sound. Child has also written hits for Kiss, Aerosmith, Michael Bolton, and Ricky Martin.
The characters of Tommy and Gina were based upon a real life situation Desmond encountered in the late '70s with his then girlfriend, Maria Vidal, who he was living with. According to the notes in his Desmond Child & Rouge: Runners In The Night album, Desmond was a New York taxi cab driver and Maria was a waitress in a diner. (thanks, Gavin Radcliffe - Colchester, United Kingdom)
Derek Shulman, who was the lead singer and multi-instrumentalist in the band Gentle Giant, signed Bon Jovi to Mercury Records. In our 2009 interview with Derek, he said: "Slippery When Wet was a really well-constructed pop album. When it was done, I knew in my gut that it was gonna be this big. Because it was the right time, the right place, the right artist. And I had learned some of the business side from being in the business that long, and also having a musical background, I knew that this was gonna be that big. And in fact I also put them together with a co-writer called Desmond Child, who could write great choruses. Here's me looking at Desmond Child and I'm thinking, Man, I wish I would have had choruses like they could write." (Check out the full Gentle Giant interview with Derek and his brother Ray Shulman)
Jon Bon Jovi wanted to leave this off the Slippery When Wet album, thinking it wasn't good enough. According to Jon, a meeting with a group of teenagers changed his mind and it was added to the album.
Sambora used a talkbox on this, which gave it a very distinctive sound. A talkbox is an electronic device that allows a guitar player to make distorted sounds with his mouth. Peter Frampton is famous for using one on his 1976 album Frampton Comes Alive, but the technique lost popularity a few years later. When Bon Jovi released this, it was the first time many young people heard a song featuring a talkbox. Peter Frampton builds all of Richie Sambora's talkboxes for him.
Jon Bon Jovi told Q magazine December 2009 about the difficulties of using a talkbox: "You know that thing is not very easy to play. Basically everything gets fed through a one-inch tube that goes in your mouth. Then you try to sing through it into a live mic. I tried it once. It will damn near take your face off. Your eyeballs are being dislodged from their sockets, man."
The album was going to be called "Wanted Dead Or Alive" (another song on the album) and show the band on the cover dressed as cowboys. After doing the photo shoot in a mine shaft, the band decided they were taking it too seriously, changed the title to "Slippery When Wet," and found a Jersey girl with big boobs to wear a wet T-shirt for the cover. When parents' groups protested the cover, they changed it to a wet trash bag with the title written on it.
In a 2007 interview with Time magazine, Jon Bon Jovi was asked what song showed "The Real You." His response: "I think if there was only one, it would be a tough choice between 'Livin' On A Prayer' and 'Wanted Dead Or Alive.' Maybe because the themes of 'Wanted' are a little more universal, it makes 'Prayer' that much more unique. There is nothing that you can say is derivative about the song. It is its own entity." He went on to say: "I think I find more strength in faith than I do in organized religion. 'Livin' On A Prayer' is most certainly nondenominational."
In the 2000 Bon Jovi song "It's My Life," the 2 characters from this are mentioned in the line "This is for the ones who stood their ground, for Tommy and Gina who never backed down." Sambora used a talkbox on that song as well.
Bon Jovi played a slow version of this September 21, 2001 as part of the "Tribute To Heroes" telethon to benefit victims of the terrorist attacks on the US. Almost 60 million people watched the show, which included performances by U2, Sting, Billy Joel, Mariah Carey, and Neil Young. Celebrities answering phones included Selma Hayek, Jack Nicholson, and Brad Pitt. The slow version was also performed at the "Concert For New York" to honor the rescue workers at The World Trade Center.
Bon Jovi performed this, along with "It's My Life," at the closing ceremonies of the 2002 winter Olympics.
On VH1's The Greatest Songs of the '80s special, this was voted the best song of the decade. (thanks, Dawson - Draper, UT)
In March 2008 this returned to the UK charts at #70, thanks to its use by Gareth Gates on the celebrity Ice Skating show Dancing On Ice. Despite the interest stirred up by the use of this track by Gates, the routine resulted in his elimination.
In an interview with The Guardian November 5, 2009, Jon Bon Jovi was asked whether the Tommy character was a strike-breaker. He replied: "No. He just lost his job – it wasn't that he crossed the [picket] line. The industry left the town and he didn't get the job back. It was a fictional character. The inspiration was a young couple who got pregnant and gave up everything they had, but that didn't read right, so we changed the story."