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Technique

"Livin' On A Prayer" epitomizes the pop-metal sound that pushed Bon Jovi to the top of the rock universe in the mid-1980s. The production is both slick and loud, with the sharp edge of distorted guitars blunted by melodic hooks and rich keyboards.

Beyond that, the song is distinctive in a couple of additional ways. First and foremost, it's famous for Richie Sambora's use of an unusual talkbox effect in the song's primary guitar riff. A talkbox is an electronic device—essentially a tube plugged into an amp and speaker—that allows a guitarist to "speak" notes through his mouth. In the opening bars of "Livin' On A Prayer," when Sambora's guitar almost seems to be saying "a whoa whoa, a whoa whoa"… that's actually Richie Sambora shaping his guitar's notes into "whoa" sounds using his mouth. "Livin' On A Prayer" was the first song on which Sambora ever used the device, which previously had been regarded mostly as a musical gimmick, not very widely adopted by other rock artists after its prominent use on Peter Frampton's 1976 album Frampton Comes Alive! (Frampton later began selling his own custom-designed version of the device, called… naturally… "the Framptone.") Sambora's play on the talkbox on "Livin' On A Prayer" may well have been its most successful use ever.

Aside from the song's unique talking guitar, the wall of sound upon which "Livin' On A Prayer" starts with a hard-driving rhythm section—Tico Torres's crashing drums and Alec John Such's pounding bassline. David Bryan opens the song with a long (15 seconds!), atmospheric keyboard note, which then gives way to tempo-driving short tones on the backbeat through the rest of the song. In the second half of the song, Sambora mostly abandons the talkbox in favor of more traditional, acrobatic electric guitar solos. And Jon Bon Jovi's vocals—multi-tracked in the chorus to sound like a roaring choir—fill out the mix in fine form.
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