Have you ever wondered how and when I decide to do installments of The Worst Songs I Have Ever Heard? I didn’t think you did, but I’ll tell you anyway. There are some songs I just know I’m gonna write about eventually (a perhaps unsurprising amount of them are by Kid Rock and John Mayer) but if, over the course of a week out in the world, I hear a song and can’t stop thinking about how awful it is, I start thinking about all the fun ways I could tell you how awful it is and that song ends up officially being one of The Worst Songs I Have Ever Heard. Given that rubric, it’s actually pretty surprising to me that I haven’t done a Bon Jovi song before now.
We’re talking about “You Give Love a Bad Name” today because I was at a play last weekend (a series of short plays actually, called “Love Bites”, put on by the Elephant Theatre Company here in Los Angeles. I think the show runs two more weeks, so you should maybe see it if you can) and this song played at the end, perhaps to encourage people to leave the theater a little faster. My cousin-in-law is in the show and we were chatting with her afterwards, so “You Give Love a Bad Song” had time to worm its way into my brain and, luckily for you, I’ve spent the intervening four days thinking about how bloody terrible it is.
Trust me, it’s plenty terrible. With a lot of the songs I talk about in this feature, I have serious beef with the lyrics (because a lot of these songs have really stupid lyrics) but “You Give Love a Bad Name”, perhaps more than any of the other songs I’ve profiled so far, actually musically sounds like shit. The prominently featured bass drum sounds muffled and terrible (I also think I hear some kind of weird effect on the drums toward the end of the song), the guitar sounds almost electronic and fake (I’m not saying it was electronic and fake, Richie Sambora fanboys. I’m just saying it sounds that way), and though the video (also terrible, which is saying something because most hair metal videos were crap) shows a guy playing myriad keyboards, I don’t hear keyboards in the song (which, in all honesty, is a win for keyboards). It’s like Bon Jovi’s keyboardist was their manager’s nephew or something.
It might surprise you to discover that I don’t think the lyrics to “You Give Love a Bad Name” are offensively terrible. They’re not good or anything, but they’re by far the best part of the song. If you can’t guess what it’s about, let the good people at Ask.com tell you. I’m linking to their entry because it’s so clinical and hilarious. If your boss is blocking Ask.com, I’ll just tell you that, according to them, the song is “about a woman who has jilted her lover.” You should really read the whole entry when you get a chance, though – it’s all written in that mechanical tone and it’s full of information that can only properly be described as minutiae (spoiler alert: “You Give Love a Bad Name” went all the way to numero uno on the Polish singles chart in 1986. This article lists the Polish chart ahead of both the Billboard Hot 100 chart and the German Singles Chart. Which is as it should be; 9/1/39. Never forget!). Anyway, for a song that’s about what every other song in the 1980s was about, there’s not much here lyrically to piss me off. It’s all pretty standard; “You Give Love a Bad Name” sucks almost entirely based on its presentation. Though I meant it when I said I had no beef with the lyrics, I can’t stand the way Jon Bon Jovi sings them. His pronunciation of “fingertips” alone causes the blood vessels in my eyes to burst. The background vocals (especially the chorus-ending repetition of the phrase “bad name”) are uniformly awful, but they would become the trademark of a bunch of Bon Jovi tunes in the 80s, including “Livin’ On a Prayer” and “Bad Medicine” (two more BJ tunes destined to be featured on this list someday).
If I was feeling charitable, I’d let “You Give Love a Bad Name” represent every other Bon Jovi song among the Worst Songs I Have Ever Heard, because it does so adequately exemplify their musical modus operandi. They wrote some of the most sterile music to ever be lumped in with the hair metal of clearly heavier bands like Guns ‘n’ Roses and Motley Crue; looking at the artwork from the “You Give Love a Bad Name” single, it’s hard to imagine Bon Jovi doing anything but getting their lunch money forcibly removed from their pockets throughout much of the 80s. But it was a weird time and these guys managed to survive until the 90s when they could cut their hair and, following in Aerosmith’s cheesy footsteps, start selling power ballads like Scientology sells crazy.
Near as I can tell, there are two kinds of people who like “You Give Love a Bad Name” – people who enjoy it ironically, like they hear it at bars and laugh and say stupid stuff like, “It’s so bad it’s good” or “It’s cheesy but I love it” and people who actually honestly really fucking love Bon Jovi. Those people exist. I think a lot of them live in Bon Jovi’s native New Jersey (and hey, as awful as I think Bon Jovi is, I bet they’re a lot less embarrassing to the Garden State than Jersey Shore). The top-rated YouTube comment for the official “You Give Love a Bad Name” video (linked above. Warning: reading comments on YouTube videos is like lodging a shit-covered beehive directly in your brain. You really shouldn’t do it. I wore goggles and welding gloves) says, “95% of teens these days listen to the same crappy pop songs over and over. if [sic] your [still sic] one of the 5% left who still listen to real music, thunb [sic for a third time] this up, then copy and paste it to least 5 video’s [and sic a fourth time even]. DONT [damn, that’s sic number five] LET THE SPIRIT OF ROCK DIE.” That was posted by a user named billymasterofpuppets, presumably a teen himself, possibly from New Jersey. I certainly hope he’s still in school because his English is fuck-terrible. I can’t decide which is sadder – the kid’s grammar or his misguided belief that “You Give Love a Bad Name” somehow embodies the all-caps “SPIRIT OF ROCK.”