For the first era of its existence, critics' darlings pretty much had the run of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — but as time's worn on, a growing group of fan favorites have taken their place among the inductees. This year's list of Rock Hall nominees includes a repeat appearance by Bon Jovi, and although they've been denied entry in the past — and even their presence on the ballot would have seemed outlandish at one point — this could be their year.
From their earliest days as shaggy-haired AOR also-rans to their meteoric, multi-platinum rise in the '80s and decades beyond, Jon Bon Jovi and his bandmates have continually kept their finger on the rock 'n' roll zeitgeist, and they've got the sales receipts to prove it. The pundits have always given the band a bad name, but the secret to gaining critical acceptance can often boil down to simply sticking around long enough; nearly 35 years after they started, it may finally be time to give these New Jersey hitmakers the final stamp of approval.
With all that in mind, we're looking back over their long career with an eye toward what makes this band worthy of making the cut among this year's nominees. Whether you're a longtime fan or just a rock 'n' roll lover willing to play devil's advocate, here are our 5 Reasons Bon Jovi Should Be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Some acts rocket to overnight success, break out with a classic first album, then spend the rest of their career trying to work out from under its shadow. Not these guys. Frontman Jon Bon Jovi labored at the margins of the music business for years — even the fact that his cousin held a stake in New York's famed Power Station studio was only enough to get him in the door for odd jobs, and his first demos prompted a round of rejection letters. Even after scoring a medium-sized hit with "Runaway" off their self-titled debut, they spent years hovering at the lower reaches of the Top 40, only clawing their way into the big time by virtue of relentless touring and a ruthlessly commercial approach to their songcraft.
Their first couple of records sold respectably, but the guys in Bon Jovi were determined to score an undisputed mainstream hit — and they pulled it off in a big way with 1986's Slippery When Wet. Jon Bon Jovi and his songwriting partner, Bon Jovi guitarist Richie Sambora, worked with producer Bruce Fairbairn and co-writer Desmond Child to distill their sound into its most radio-friendly essence, and the end result was an album that launched the band into arenas, cemented their spot in heavy MTV rotation for years and helped solidify the template for Top 40 rock 'n' roll for the remainder of the decade. It wasn't groundbreaking, but there was a massive audience waiting for it — and millions of them would continue to follow the group for decades.
The early '90s were an extinction level event for many of the most popular rock acts of the previous decade, but Bon Jovi kept right on scoring hits through a savvy combination of knowing when to go away — they took a five-year hiatus between 1995's These Days and 2000's Crush — and identifying how to tinker with their sound in order to remain radio relevant. They were hardly alone among their peers in trying to keep up with the times, but they always seemed to pull it off better than most; from rattling around the '90s buzz bin to working with pop hitmaker Max Martin or breaking into the country market, Bon Jovi spent an impressively long stretch making creative and stylistic detours at just the right time.
Sales and airplay aren't everything, and while taste is definitely subjective, there's clearly something to be said for an artist who pushes boundaries while delivering consistently satisfying work. Bon Jovi's biggest strengths don't necessarily lie in those areas, but a funny thing happened as they were spending the past three decades in the middle of the road: They assembled a discography studded with songs that entire generations know by heart. While we can debate the strict artistic merits of their records — and to be honest, we'll probably go back to doing just that as soon as we're finished here — their music is loved by millions. Rock has always been the people's music, and when it comes to Bon Jovi, they've spoken pretty clearly.
At a time when many of their contemporaries have resorted to coasting on their greatest hits, Bon Jovi continue to put out new music — and work it into their crowded set lists — on a regular basis. At this point, the odds of the band ever scoring a hit that comes anywhere near the glory days of Slippery When Wet or New Jersey are close to zero, but that isn't the point. What's more rock 'n' roll than continually pressing ahead even after everyone in authority has told you to knock it off?