30 Years Ago: Bon Jovi Get Charitable at the Hammersmith Odeon
On Jan. 10, 1990, the band played the 3,500-seat Hammersmith Odeon in London for a charity show for Nordoff Robbins, a music-therapy foundation. The 24-song set was not only one of the band’s longest to date, it was its most ambitious. Only 10 songs, less than half the set, came from their four studio albums, with the majority of the set focusing on rarities, distinctive arrangements and a bevy of cover versions.
“We’re going to be doing a lot of things that influenced us in our writing," Jon Bon Jovi told the audience. "I guess it’s almost a way of telling you where we steal our tracks from.” The arc of the show was noteworthy for its acoustic and electric sets, which opened with Jon Bon Jovi performing Gerry Goffin and Carole King's '60s composition “Goin’ Back” solo.
“I’ve never been more nervous for a show in my whole life,“ he said upon the song's conclusion. He then brought out guitarist Richie Sambora to perform acoustic renditions of a trio of hits from Slippery When Wet: “Never Say Goodbye,” “Wanted Dead or Alive” and “Livin’ on a Prayer.” The duo replicated the bare-bones magic it brought to the MTV Video Music Awards the previous September. However, there was an added bonus of “Shooting Star,” a Bad Company cover that Jon used to see Sambora perform in clubs. Most of this song's performance is documented on the band’s 1990 documentary about the tour, Access All Areas: A Rock & Roll Odyssey.
Watch Bon Jovi Perform 'Shooting Star' in 1990
The rest of the band -- drummer Tico Torres, keyboardist David Bryan and bassist Alec John Such -- joined the duo onstage, but before they plugged in, Bon Jovi and Sambora delivered one final number: the bluesy stomp of “Love for Sale," the closing number on New Jersey.
The electric set opened with “We All Sleep Alone,” introduced by Bon Jovi as “a song Cher recorded for her last record, and no, she’s not here tonight,” referring to the relationship the singer had with Sambora during this period. Written and produced for Cher's eponymous 1987 album, the song marked the first major co-production credits for Bon Jovi and Sambora, along with Desmond Child. This would be the only time the band performed this song, though Sambora resurrected it in late 1991 for his first solo tour.
The show also featured the world premiere of a brand new song, “Cadillac Man." Written in November 1989 during the band's Australian tour, the cut was originally recorded for the Robin Williams movie of the same name. But aside from a handful of performances, the song disappeared until it emerged on French singer Johnny Hallyday’s 1991 album Ça ne Change Pas un Homme. Jon Bon Jovi even commented, “All you guys rolling your bootleg tapes, hold 'em up high.”
The mostly acoustic song features one of the band’s more sublime lyrics, about a man who knows his limitations in life but uses his street smarts to make something of himself. Even when the deck is stacked against him, he finds a way to look in the mirror and smile, knowing the next life adventure is right around the corner.
Listen to Bon Jovi Perform 'Cadillac Man' in 1990
The band tore through a handful of nightly tour staples like “Blood on Blood," “I’d Die for You,” “Wild in the Streets” and “Bad Medicine,” but it's a few choice rarities that stood out during the performance. Their last performance of 7800° Fahrenheit's “Silent Night” found the frontman reminiscing about the song’s inspiration.
“I wrote it in, I guess late ‘84 or early ‘85, when Tico and I were living at an apartment building in Philadelphia," he said. "We were sitting there being miserable, with no money and no one to care about nothing."
The song emerged from the breakups and divorces band members endured between the first and second albums. The ballad was pulled out of retirement for one last performance. The rarely performed “Social Disease” from Slippery When Wet also made its tour debut, with a horn section, no less, that turned an otherwise forgettable track into something glorious and gritty.
The cover versions included a broad spectrum of influences. The Animals were a titanic influence on Jon Bon Jovi, evident in a medley of their 1965 hits “It’s My Life" and "We Gotta Get Out of This Place." The band resurrected this arrangement in 1992 for its MTV special Keep the Faith: An Evening With Bon Jovi and again in September 1995, when Animals singer Eric Burdon joined the band for the concert celebrating the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. (The band nicked the title “It’s My Life” for its comeback single in 2000.)
Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town,” which they'd performed occasionally since 1986, kicked off the second set. A seven-minute take on “You Keep Me Hangin' On” owed more to Vanilla Fudge's slowed-down arrangement than the Supremes' original. A slashing cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's “Travelin' Band” was another high point, with Bon Jovi commenting, “This is one John Fogerty wrote. I think he wrote one of the chapters in the book of rock ‘n’ roll." The band previously performed the song at Wembley Arena in December 1988 with Elton John, Lita Ford, Queen’s Brian May and Def Leppard’s Rick Allen.
The pairing of Little Willie John’s “Fever” with Southside Johnny’s “The Fever” was also effective. The former was led mostly by the rhythm section of Such and Torres with vocals by Bon Jovi; the latter was a full-blown celebration of R&B music, with an auxiliary group of horn players that transported the band back to the New Jersey clubs it cut its teeth in.
In a show bursting with once-in-a-lifetime highlights, a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Seven Days” became one of the song’s definitive versions. This performance of the song pre-dates Dylan's official release of The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991 by 14 months, though Ron Wood and Joe Cocker had released versions by this point. The song also serves as the credits closer on Access All Areas: A Rock & Roll Odyssey.
If all of this wasn’t enough, the band had a special surprise in store near the end of the show, when they brought out Jimmy Page. They then drove headfirst into a frenzied and searing performance of "Train Kept A-Rollin'," with Sambora trading licks with Page. The band closed the show with Little Richard’s “Good Golly Miss Molly” and the Beatles' “With a Little Help From My Friends" that borrowed Cocker's famous arrangement.
Listen to Bon Jovie and Jimmy Page Play 'Train Kept A-Rollin''
The New Jersey tour closed five weeks later, with the special Hammersmith Odeon show marking a highlight. Footage of the performance can be seen in Access All Areas.
Throughout the next decade, Bon Jovi would reach new heights in the U.K. with multi-night performances at Wembley Arena, Wembley Stadium and Milton Keynes. They also achieved three straight No. 1 albums and 14 Top 20 singles, but it was a performance that started the decade with only 3,500 fans in attendance that helped define their legacy.