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Story Behind the Song: Bon Jovi’s ‘You Give Love a Bad Name’

By June 17, 2019No Comments

, Nashville Tennessean

Before they were rocking stadiums, Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora were writing future rock classics in Sambora’s parents’ basement — in a house that sat at the end of a cul-de-sac, next to a “brown, deadly looking marsh.”

That’s the scene songwriter Desmond Child walked into when he met up with Bon Jovi and Sambora to try to write a hit. He had a killer title in his back pocket: “You Give Love a Bad Name.”

Inspiration struck fast, and soon the three had created what would become the band’s first chart-topping hit in 1986. Child recalled the “Story Behind the Song” in a conversation with Bart Herbison of Nashville Songwriters Association International.

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Bart Herbison: We’ll talk about this song in just a second, but we did a previous episode of the “Story Behind the Song” with your first mega hit that you wrote with KISS from Paul Stanley, “I Was Made for Loving You.” Now, “You Give Love a Bad Name,” how did that happen? It had something to do with the other song.

Bon Jovi was opening for KISS, in Europe. They were a young band, and Paul (Stanley, KISS frontman) was very nice and suggested that Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora co-write with me. So, I get the call and I go out to New Jersey to Richie Sambora’s house where he lived with his parents.

BH: Yeah, his parents’ house in the basement.

DC: Well, that’s where the music was made, with the washing machine and the dryer. But I walk in, it’s a little wooden house and it’s the end of a cul de sac. The backyard was a marsh as far as the eye can see, this brown, deadly looking marsh. And then an oil refinery that looked like Emerald City popping up at the end, like the most toxic place on earth.

You can’t even make this up!

DC: So I walk in, and I make a left, and then there’s Richie’s little bedroom off the kitchen. There’s, you know, the Farrah Fawcett red bathing suit poster, and KISS posters, just like a typical teenage kids room, messy. Then I go into the kitchen and Jon is there, with this big giant hair like from Louis XIV, the jeans cut off at the knees and all kinds of bling. He’s on the phone, the wall phone in the kitchen, avocado green.

BH: We all had that phone man, with a long cord.

DC: He just, like, nods, and then Richie shows me downstairs to this forbidden kind of “Silence of the Lambs” basement. There’s this Formica table and a little electronic keyboard, kind of teetering, a space heater buzzing and some amps buzzing. … He finally comes down, and I had brought a title in my back pocket, “You Give Love a Bad Name,” because I love titles that have irony. … So that’s what sparks the interest, and he had had a song called “Shot Through the Heart” on his previous album, and that song sparked him to say “Shot through the heart and you’re to blame,” and then the three of us said, “You give love a bad name.”

BH: And then it was on!

DC: That was the first big, you know, high five. And that was the very first song we wrote.

BH: Did it happen pretty quickly?

DC: It happened very quickly, and I started playing a riff on the piano and then Richie said, “Well, that doesn’t sound like rock.” I said, “Just play the riff. But chug it with kind of, like, distorted guitars.”… It was just magic. One of the wonderful things that can happen, you walk into a room, and you have chemistry with people you’ve never met before. It just is instant. With me and Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, we had instant chemistry.

BH: So, maybe you told me this, maybe I read it as part of some urban legend on the internet, but at some point I heard you guys were talking about pitching this to Loverboy.

DC: Well, you know, one of the things that I heard Jon say in an interview was that he had no intention of writing a song with me for Bon Jovi. The idea was that because I’d had a hit with KISS, that maybe we could write a hit for someone else. But then the songs started coming out so good, he kept them for himself.

About the series

In partnership with Nashville Songwriters Association International, “Story Behind the Song” features Nashville-connected songwriters discussing one of their compositions.


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