Smashed Hits: Livin' On A Prayer

Taylor Swift, Jon Bon Jovi and Prince William

Prince William has joined in a rendition of Livin' On A Prayer with Taylor Swift and the man whose band made it a hit in 1986, Jon Bon Jovi. It's a hair metal classic, writes Ben Milne.

Shiny, brash, over-produced and built to boom out at the back of a stadium, Livin' On A Prayer is an archetypal 80s anthem. But like another hit of the era, Bruce Springsteen's Born In The USA, the uplifting melody hides a surprisingly downbeat and gritty lyric about people who were apparently losing out in Ronald Reagan's America.

It's the story of Tommy and Gina who are going through hard times - Tommy's out of work because "the union's been on strike". Meanwhile, Gina "works the diner all the day" to keep the money coming in. But throughout it all, their love keeps them going: "We've got to hold on to what we've got/ It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not/ We've got each other, and that's a lot..."

Bon Jovi played on their blue collar background - and were proudly unfashionable. They tempered heavy metal with chart-friendly melodies and a touch of fellow New Jersey boy Springsteen's social comment. However, Livin' On A Prayer was about as political as they ever got. Although a Democrat, Jon Bon Jovi later denied that it was a protest song. "I wrote that song during the Reagan era and the trickle-down economics are really inspirational to writing songs," he said in 2002.

Livin' On A Prayer also marks a point where "hair metal" began its takeover of US rock music. Before the mid-80s, heavy rock was dominated by metal bands such as Motorhead and Iron Maiden, and its fans were characterised as spotty male youths in double denim (with denim patches on them), who were by and large strangers to the shampoo counter.

After the appearance of Bon Jovi, with their big hair and tight trousers, metalheads had to up their game on the personal grooming front. In fact, looking at Jon and the boys on the single cover, one starts to suspect that the chemical being most abused in 1980s showbiz was not - as commonly supposed - cocaine. It was hairspray.

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