The Comeback Anthem for a Band that Never Really Went Away: The Meaning Behind “It’s My Life” by Bon Jovi

Bon Jovi’s comeback anthem “It’s My Life” recalls their biggest hit from 14 years earlier.

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Following Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora’s solo albums, the New Jersey group returned in 2000 with Crush. Bon Jovi and Sambora collaborated with Max Martin, the Swedish hitmaker responsible for the sound of modern pop music.

Martin, too, once played in a glam metal band. Then, he became his generation’s most relevant pop songwriter and aided Bon Jovi’s return with “It’s My Life.”

But had Bon Jovi ever really gone away?

A Tommy and Gina Sequel

In “It’s My Life,” Jon Bon Jovi references his hero, fellow New Jersey-born star Frank Sinatra, acknowledging his success in both music and film. Sambora told Bon Jovi the line wouldn’t work because no one cares about Sinatra anymore. The singer said he still cared about Sinatra and kept the homage to “My Way.”

My heart is like an open highway
Like Frankie said, I did it my way
I just want to live while I’m alive
It’s my life

The song brings back Bon Jovi’s well-known characters from their colossal hit “Livin’ on a Prayer.” But Sambora also resurrected his iconic talk-box guitar part, laying further into the nostalgia. Like Peter Frampton before him, the talk box is a defining part of Sambora’s sound.

“Livin’ on a Prayer” appeared on the band’s 1986 breakthrough album Slippery When Wet. The album made Bon Jovi a superstar and became one of the decade’s best-selling releases. Bon Jovi and Sambora co-wrote “Livin’ on a Prayer” with Desmond Child, and it remains one of the biggest pop songs ever.

Yeah, this is for ones who stood their ground
For Tommy and Gina, who never backed down
Tomorrow’s getting harder make no mistake
Luck ain’t even lucky got to make your own breaks

Desmond Child and Max Martin

For Bon Jovi’s third album, they turned to Child, an established hitmaker who helped them craft their hits “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “You Give Love a Bad Name,” among others.

They repeated the formula with Martin, who is responsible for chart-topping songs by Britney Spears, the Backstreet Boys, NSYNC, Céline Dion, Katy Perry, and Taylor Swift. Martin is second only to Paul McCartney for writing the most No. 1 singles.

Though “It’s My Life” didn’t reach No. 1 in the U.S., it did top the charts in several countries, which expanded Bon Jovi’s international fame. The global surge of the band exploded during the ’90s when most hard rock and pop-metal bands were put out of business with the arrival of grunge.

Crush topped the UK album charts and reached No. 9 in the U.S. However, it also introduced Bon Jovi to a new generation of fans as they updated their sound. “It’s My Life” received a Grammy nomination for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal, and Crush was nominated for Best Rock Album.

A Comeback from a Band that Never Went Away

Following the success of artists like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, contemporary hard rock bands from the ’80s were no longer in fashion. Flannel and thrift store clothing replaced the hairspray and spandex of Mötley Crüe and Poison. Culture traded Hollywood’s sleazy good times for Seattle’s gray-sky gloom.

But Bon Jovi existed outside parochial music scenes. They had more in common with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Yes, they wrote party songs, too, but the everyman anthems like “Livin’ on a Prayer” and “It’s My Life” aged better than most songs from the glam metal era.

“Wanted Dead or Alive” was outlaw Americana in the age of “Talk Dirty to Me” and “Home Sweet Home.” You can pick up an acoustic guitar today and play Bon Jovi songs without irony. Try that with “Dude (Looks Like a Lady).” Not to say every Bon Jovi song ages well, but there’s a reason Bon Jovi and Sambora’s acoustic performance at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards kicked off another cultural flashpoint.

The unplugged performances of both Nirvana and Bon Jovi endure as iconic moments in MTV’s history. Bon Jovi was bigger than glam metal, pop metal, and grunge. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” may have ended the careers of Skid Row and Warrant, but Bon Jovi continued to pack stadiums.

Never Say Goodbye

Crush was Bon Jovi’s first new album in five years, and its success is due entirely to “It’s My Life.” The band borrowed from their biggest hit while evolving their sound. But it doesn’t sound like a band chasing the radio. It just sounds like Bon Jovi.

Jon Bon Jovi is not a man to run from clichés. But he has the instinct to turn well-worn phrases into timeless earworms. Meanwhile, “It’s My Life” is the band’s third most-streamed song, nearing the 1 billion mark.

When Jon Bon Jovi released Crush in 2000, he was almost 40. His band is now celebrating its 40th anniversary.

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Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images For The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

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