Until 1986, Bon Jovi was a promising young pop-metal band from New Jersey. Then the band released Slippery When Wet
, which spawned three top-ten singles and spent almost the entire winter of 1987 locked into the #1 spot on the Billboard albums chart. Suddenly Bon Jovi was the biggest band in the world.
Determined to satisfy their millions of new fans all around the world, the band toured relentlessly for the next four years. The only break in the frenetic touring schedule came to record New Jersey
, the multiplatinum 1988 follow-up record that many fans jokingly referred to as Slippery When Wet 2
. Then it was back onto the road, vagabonding from city to city, from hotel to hotel, from sold-out arena to sold-out arena, straight through to the end of the 1980s.
By 1990, the strains of this nonstop rockstar life were taking their toll on the band. The relationship between frontman Jon Bon Jovi and lead guitarist Richie Sambora had become frayed. Bon Jovi nearly blew out his vocal chords; the rest of the guys were simply exhausted. By the time the 232-show New Jersey
Tour finally reached its end, in Mexico in February 1990, everyone was ready for a break. Rumors swirled, however, that the break was on the verge of turning into a breakup; anxious fans worried that Bon Jovi, the band, was finished.
You might have expected Jon Bon Jovi to take advantage of his newfound free time by kicking back on the beach for a little R&R. Instead, he recorded Blaze of Glory
The project started almost by accident. The screenwriter of the 1988 Nouveau Western Young Guns
was a big fan of Bon Jovi's Western-themed song "Wanted Dead or Alive," and he asked Jon if it would be okay to play the song during the closing credits of the sequel Young Guns II
. Bon Jovi worried that the lyrics didn't quite fit and offered to write a new song, just for the movie, instead. That song was "Blaze of Glory," which would eventually become a #1 hit and Golden Globe Award winner. The filmmakers loved the song so much, they invited Jon to put together a full soundtrack; one track soon grew into ten, and Blaze of Glory
became both Jon Bon Jovi's first solo record and the bestselling soundtrack to a Western movie in generations. (Bon Jovi also got a chance to make a brief cameo in the movie itself, speaking no lines in an uncredited role as an escaping prisoner who gets blown away in a shotgun blast moments after first appearing on the screen.)
The Western-themed album was a bit of an oddball for a New Jersey pop-metal legend like Jon Bon Jovi. But the singer had fun with the project, taking advantage of his time away from his band to explore a new sound and collaborate with new artists. Bon Jovi asked several of his own music idols to work with him on the record, thrilling at the chance to work with legends like Elton John, Little Richard, and Jeff Beck. (He also employed several of the best session men in LA, including one—former Journey bassist Randy Jackson—who has since become much more famous as a judge on American Idol
. Jackson once declared on Idol
that his work on "Blaze" was the second-best performance of his entire career.)
The sound on Blaze of Glory
is unique—one part the hard-rocking essence of Bon Jovi, one part the dusty ambience of the Old West, one part the diverse stylistic influences of Bon Jovi's celebrity guest stars.
On the title track "Blaze of Glory," those three elements each have room to shine.
The soaring multi-tracked vocals of the chorus and thunderous drum fills are vintage Bon Jovi. So too is the key change in the song's last stanza—a trademark of stadium-rocking Bon Jovi hits like "Livin' on a Prayer" and "I'll Be There for You." When the full band reunited in 1992, "Blaze of Glory" easily and naturally slid into the Bon Jovi concert repertoire.
But while "Blaze of Glory" certainly works as a Bon Jovi song, it also does bear the marks of its development outside the structure of the full band. Most obviously, the song pays direct homage to the sounds of classic Western films—especially the influential scores Ennio Morricone produced for director Sergio Leone's "Spaghetti Westerns" in the 1960s. (The opening guitar riff on "Blaze of Glory" subtly echoes Morricone's famous theme
from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly
.) Like Morricone's cinematic soundscapes, "Blaze of Glory" features a variety of sounds designed to evoke the sparseness of the Old West—the howling of the wind, the ominous rattle of the diamondback, the rustic twang of the mouth harp, the solemn drumline of a military tattoo. "Blaze of Glory" is very much a "Western" record.
It's also a Jeff Beck record. The legendary English rock guitarist had been one of Jon Bon Jovi's idols while Bon Jovi was growing up in New Jersey; without his band to play on Blaze of Glory
, he worked up his nerve to ask Beck to take the lead on the album's guitar tracks. Somewhat to Bon Jovi's surprise, Beck—who had become a huge Bon Jovi fan in the late 1980s—eagerly agreed, flying out to Los Angeles from the UK to take part in the Blaze recording sessions. Beck's supple work on the slide guitar anchors the "Blaze of Glory" single; his bluesy solo gives the song a distinctly different feel from Wanted Dead or Alive
, where Richie Sambora uses his own solo to take that song (which is otherwise quite similar to "Blaze") in a more heavy-metal direction.