A staple of wedding gigs, bar gigs and karaoke nights, ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ is possibly Bon Jovi’s best known (and most overplayed) 80’s hair rock anthem. Taken from 1986’s dubiously titled Slippery When Wet, ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ gave the band their first US chart No.1 and as of 2013 the song has had over 3 million digital downloads.
The original pre-production demo of ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ had a different feel to the finished article:
Allegedly Jon Bon Jovi didn’t like the song and wasn’t keen on having it as part of the album until Richie Sambora re-worked the arrangement, adding the now-classic bass line and talk box guitar parts – sadly, the ‘hang tough’ lyric of the demo version was scrapped in the process.
Speaking of the bass line, Bon Jovi studio bassist Hugh McDonald (who also became Alec John Such’s replacement for gigs as of 1994) got to record not one but TWO massive bass hooks in a single song. The pounding E minor bass line of the intro sets the anthemic tone even before that drum fill kicks in and the talk box begins while the chorus features one of the most melodic bass parts in hair rock history, a combination of scalar approach notes and chord tones that forms a sub-hook underneath the shout-along chorus. The melody is so good that Richie Sambora even quotes it in his guitar solo.
Livin’ On A Prayer’s prechorus section also features a simple but effective fill, creating a brief harmony line with the vocal in the fourth bar (when Jon sings ‘ready or not’).
The climax of the song is the throat-ripping key change for the last chorus, modulating up a minor 3rd from E minor to G minor; this section always seems to be out of reach for most singers, in spite of how tight their leather trousers might be. If you have to gig this song then PLEASE make sure you sort the ending first (or, keep your ears open) – every band I’ve played this with seems to want to resolve to a different chord.