Livin' on a Prayer

"Livin' on a Prayer" is Bon Jovi's third single from their Slippery When Wet album. Written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora with 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 Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The single also became Bon Jovi's second consecutive #1 Hot 100 pop hit[1] and has become the band's signature song, topping fan-voted lists and re-charting around the world decades after its release.

The album version of the song fades out at the end, with a song length of 4:10. However, the version playable on the music video games Guitar Hero World Tour & Rock Band 2 retains the original studio ending of the song, where the band revisit the intro riff and end with a talkbox solo. This version of the song ends at 4:53.


Song history

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. Richie Sambora convinced him the song was good, and they reworked it with a new bass line, different drum fills and the use of a talk box to include it on their Slippery When Wet album. The songs verse melody closely resembles the verse melody of the song "Venus" by the band Shocking Blue. It spent two weeks at number one on the Mainstream Rock Tracks, from January 31–February 14, 1987, and four weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100, from February 14–March 7. It also hit number four on the UK singles chart.

After the attacks of September 11th, 2001—in which New Jersey was the second-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 The Concert for New York City. Bon Jovi performed a similar version as part of the special America: A Tribute to Heroes.

Enduring success

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 show's "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 number 24, over twenty years after the initial release.[2]

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 number-one spot on the UK Rock Chart.

In 2010 the song was chosen in an online vote on the website over the group's more recent hits "Always" and "It's My Life" to be played live by the band on the 52nd Grammy Awards telecast.[3][4]

In the Billboard Hot 100 Anniversary 50, "Livin' on a Prayer" was named as 46 in the All time rock songs.[5]

Lyrical interpretation

The song is about a fictional working class couple, Tommy and Gina, who struggle to make ends meet and maintain their relationship. Tommy "used to work on the docks" because "union's been on strike, he's down on his luck". Gina works at a diner, "workin' for her man".

While some have loosely interpreted the lyrics to be anti-labor, inferring that the striking labor union are the catalyst for the troubled chain of events for Tommy and Gina, others have pointed out that the song does not clarify the circumstances behind the strike, and the lone, vague reference does not equate with an anti-union political message. In fact, Jon Bon Jovi explained that he "wrote that song during the Reagan era and the trickle-down economics are really inspirational to writing songs".[6]

Music video

The video for the song features shots of the band rehearsing, then playing in front of a crowd. The first half of the video, featuring the rehearsal footage, is black and white, and the second half of the video, performing to the arena audience, is in color.

In the beginning of the video, Jon Bon Jovi has a harness attached, and later in the music video he soars over the crowd via overhead wires.

The music video was recorded at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, California and was directed by Wayne Isham.[7]

References in other songs

Bon Jovi made several references to lyrics in "Livin' on a Prayer" in subsequent songs.

  • In the 1988 song "99 in the Shade" from New Jersey, Jon Bon Jovi sings "Somebody tells me even Tommy's comin' down tonight, if Gina says it's all right," referring to the characters of "Livin' on a Prayer"
  • In the 1992 song "Fear" from Keep the Faith, Jon Bon Jovi sings "take my hand, I know we'll make it", similar to the line from "Livin' on a Prayer", "take my hand, we'll make it, I swear." The two songs share similar themes.
  • The 2000 hit single "It's My Life", from Crush, mentions the fictional characters in the line "this is for the ones who stood their ground, for Tommy and Gina, who never backed down". The lead male character in the song's music video is revealed to be named "Tommy" when his mother calls him to take out the trash. The Dave Bascombe remix of "It's My Life" also uses the talkbox riff from "Livin' on a Prayer" in the chorus.
  • In the 2005 song "Novocaine" from Have a Nice Day, "Livin' on a Prayer" is referenced in the line "there's a different kind of meaning now to 'livin' on a prayer.'"

Some other bands referenced Tommy and Gina in their songs, too.

  • Bowling for Soup's "Punk Rock 101" includes the lyric "Like Tommy and Gina/They're livin' on a prayer". Also "when she cried 'cause she thought Bon Jovi broke up."
  • In another Bowling for Soup song, "Luckiest Loser", part of the chorus of "Livin' on a Prayer" can be heard after the words, "We saw Bon Jovi, we sat in the front row."
  • Blink-182's "The Rock Show" includes the lyrics "She's the one, she'll always be there/She took my hand and that made it, I swear", similar to "Livin' on a Prayer"'s "Take my hand and we'll make it - I swear"
  • The Blue Scholars song "New People" (from the OOF! EP) includes the line "Let me make the signal clear, We livin on a prayer, / So take my hand, and we'll make it, I swear."


Bon Jovi have themselves reworked the song several times, including an acoustic live version that served as a precursor to the MTV Unplugged series and a re-recorded version of the song, "Prayer '94", which appeared on U.S. versions of their Cross Road hits collection. But the song has had a life of its own beyond the band, particularly in several dance music incarnations. The Audition recorded a version for Kerrang!'s CD Higher Voltage (June 7).

Chart performance

Chart (1986-) Peak
Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks 1
UK Rock Chart 1
New Zealand RIANZ 24
Sing-a-long Classics List 1
Billboard Hot 100 1
Rock Songs: Top 100 18
U Choose 40 1
Billboard Hot 100 46

Succession and progression

Preceded by
"My Baby" by The Pretenders
Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks number-one single
January 31, 1987 – February 13, 1987 (2 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Midnight Blue" by Lou Gramm
Preceded by
"Open Your Heart" by Madonna
Billboard Hot 100 number-one single
February 14, 1987 – March 7, 1987 (4 Weeks)
Succeeded by
"Jacob's Ladder" by Huey Lewis and the News
Preceded by
"Desolation Row" by My Chemical Romance
"Destabilise" by Enter Shikari
"Christmas Time (Don't Let the Bells End)" by Darkness
UK Rock Chart number-one single
February 22, 2009 – March 22, 2009
November 6, 2010 - November 13, 2010
January 2, 2011 - January 9, 2011
Succeeded by
"I'd Come For You" by Nickelback
"Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na)" by My Chemical Romance
"Feeling Good" by Muse