“Livin’ on a Prayer” is a song by the American rock band Bon Jovi, and is the band’s 2nd chart-topping single from their 3rd album Slippery When Wet. Written by Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora and Desmond Child, the single, released in late 1986, was well received at both rock and pop radio and its music video was given heavy rotation at MTV, giving the band their first #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart and their 2nd consecutive #1 Billboard Hot 100 hit.
“Livin’ on a Prayer” is the band’s signature song, topping fan-voted lists and re-charting around the world decades after its release. The original 45-RPM single release sold 800,000 copies in the US, and in 2013 was certified triple platinum for over 3 million digital downloads. The official music video has over 887 million views on YouTube as of March 2022.
Jon Bon Jovi did not like the original recording of this song, which can be found as a hidden track on 100,000,000 Bon Jovi Fans Can’t Be Wrong. Lead guitarist Richie Sambora, however, convinced him the song was good, and they reworked it with a new bassline, different drum fills and the use of a talk box to include it on Slippery When Wet. The song spent 2 weeks at #1 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, from January 31 to February 14, 1987, and four weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, from February 14 to March 14. It also hit #4 on the UK Singles Chart.
The album version of the song, timed around 4:10, fades out at the end. However, the music video game Guitar Hero World Tour features the song’s original studio ending, where the band revisit the intro riff and end with a talk box solo; this version ends at 4:53.
After the September 11, 2001 attacks – in which New Jersey was the 2nd-hardest hit state after New York, suffering hundreds of casualties among both WTC workers and first responders – the band performed an acoustic version of this song for New York. Bon Jovi performed a similar version as part of the special America: A Tribute to Heroes.
In 2006, online voters rated “Livin’ on a Prayer” #1 on VH1’s list of The 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s. More recently, in New Zealand, “Livin’ on a Prayer” was #1 on the C4 music channel’s show U Choose 40, on the 80’s Icons list. It was also #1 on the “Sing-a-long Classics List”. After Bon Jovi performed in New Zealand on January 28, 2008 while on their Lost Highway Tour, the song re-entered the official New Zealand RIANZ singles chart at #24, over twenty years after the initial release.
Australian music TV channel MAX placed this song at #18 on their 2008 countdown “Rock Songs: Top 100”. In 2009, the song returned to the charts in the UK, notably hitting the #1 spot on the UK Rock Chart.
In the Billboard Hot 100 Anniversary 50, “Livin’ on a Prayer” was named as #46 in the All time rock songs.
The song, including its original ending, is also playable on the music video games Guitar Hero World Tour and Rock Band 2. The song was re-worked and made available to download on November 9, 2010 for use in the Rock Band 3 music gaming platform to take advantage of PRO mode which allows use of a real guitar / bass guitar, and standard MIDI-compatible electronic drum kits / keyboards in addition to up to three-part harmony or backup vocals.
In 2017, ShortList’s Dave Fawbert listed the song as containing “one of the greatest key changes in music history”.
“Livin’ on a Prayer” reveals two characters, Tommy and Gina, a working-class couple who struggle to make ends meet. Tommy loses his job as a dockworker due to a strike while Gina works as a diner waitress. The storyline was inspired by real-life events that Jon Bon Jovi and songwriter Desmond Child experienced in the 1970s. Jon Bon Jovi had an acquaintance who was a star baseball player in his school and wanted to be a professional baseball player only for his girlfriend to inform him of her pregnancy wherein he gave up the ambition and took up a job in a factory. Desmond Child was a taxi driver in New York while his then-girlfriend, singer-songwriter Maria Vidal, worked as a waitress in a diner named “Once Upon A Stove”, similar to Gina in the song. The owner, manager, and other employees of the diner nicknamed Vidal “Gina”, due to her slight physical resemblance to Italian actress and photographer Gina Lollobrigida.
“It deals with the way that two kids – Tommy and Gina – face life’s struggles,” noted Bon Jovi, “and how their love and ambitions get them through the hard times. It’s working class and it’s real… I wanted to incorporate the movie element, and tell a story about people I knew. So instead of doing what I did on ‘Runaway’, where the girl didn’t have a name, I gave them names, which gave them an identity… Tommy and Gina aren’t two specific people; they represent a lifestyle.” Tommy and Gina are also referred to in Bon Jovi‘s 2000 single “It’s My Life”.
Jon Bon Jovi explained that he “wrote [“Livin’ on a Prayer”] during the Reagan Era and the trickle-down economics are really inspirational to writing songs”.
The music video was filmed on September 17, 1986, at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, California and was directed by Wayne Isham. It all starts with a silhouette of the band walking down the hall and it features shots of the band rehearsing, filmed in black and white, then playing in front of a crowd, in color.
In the beginning of the video, Jon Bon Jovi has a harness attached by professional stunt coordinators and stunt spotters, and during the final chorus, he soars over the crowd via overhead wires attached to the harness.