Meaning Behind Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name”: Why It’s a Timeless Tale

Navigating the ins and outs of romantic relationships can be one of the most daunting adventures to embark on. The vulnerability of the experience is necessary, but often equally frightening. Today, in addition to the difficulties of simply putting our hearts on the line, we can easily become inundated with dating apps and social media platforms that try to measure our success.

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Fortunately, love and heartbreak are music’s bread and butter. So, we can turn to music for a comforting reminder that we’re not the only ones making a leap into love. One band, in particular, Bon Jovi, recorded a song that we can both relate to and learn from. Enter “You Give Love a Bad Name.”

Where did “You Give Love a Bad Name” come from? 

The song was written by Jon Bon Jovi, Richie Sambora, and Desmond Child in Sambora’s basement, and later released in 1986. Child remembers walking down into that basement, which he recalls giving off a Silence of the Lambs vibe, with the song title already at the forefront of his mind: “You Give Love a Bad Name.” Bon Jovi riffed off of that title with a song from his previous album, “Shot Through the Heart,” and sang Shot through the heart and you’re to blame.

According to Child, the song just made sense after that. 

What is the true meaning of “You Give Love a Bad Name”?

It’s a cautionary tale of love gone wrong. The narrator of the song has been fooled by his lover’s looks and commits to a relationship that doesn’t fit him. He fell for her angel’s smile, then she put [him] through hell. Yet, our rock ‘n’ roll narrator isn’t completely innocent, either. He acknowledges that he played his part in her game.

Ultimately, “You Give Love a Bad Name” is one of the hardest rocking reinventions of the idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover.” This Bon Jovi song recounts the damage done when looks drive decisions in love. 

Here’s what the band had to say:

While there were rumors floating around that the song was about Jon Bon Jovi’s breakup with actress Diane Lane, the idea for “You Give Love a Bad Name” started before Bon Jovi put his spin on it. Child wrote the song first for Bonnie Tyler with a different title, but he later re-wrote the song with Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora about a more universal feeling. All three of them say that, for this version of the song, the chemistry between them was undeniable. 

How can “You Give Love a Bad Name” comment on today’s dating scene?

Dating apps and social media thrive on first impressions and appearances. It can be a toxic way to pursue love if you aren’t ready to dig a little deeper. So take a page from “You Give Love a Bad Name,” and be aware that someone’s looks aren’t the whole story. After all, all that glitters is not gold. 

Photo Credit: Island Records

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