A while back I attended a Songwriters Hall Of Fame Masters Session @ NYU that featured songwriter Desmond Child being interviewed by Phil Galdston. Desmond has been one of the most successful writers of pop hits for the last 30 years.
He hasn’t just created hit songs, he’s co-written career-defining hit songs like Ricky Martin’s ‘La Vida Loca’, ‘Dude (Looks Like A Lady)’ and ‘Crazy’ for Aerosmith, and the song I want to discuss today, Bon Jovi’s ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’.
This is a song that virtually everyone is familiar with; its anthemic momentum is unstoppable. Great song, great recording.
When Desmond talked about co-writing ‘Livin’ On A Prayer’ with Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, he said that, as they originally wrote it, what we now know as the Pre-Chorus was actually the Chorus. That is, the very hooky ‘We gotta hold on to what we got/We got each other and that’s a lot’ was the Chorus for a while… and it’s a good one.
But they decided it wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t an anthemic hit Chorus. A lot was at stake with Bon Jovi’s career at this point, and a monster hit was what they were shooting for.
So they decided to try to top ‘We gotta hold on…’, to come up with another section that would take the song to an even higher level. And they did, ending up with the famous ‘Oh-oh, we’re halfway there/Oh-oh, Livin’ On A Prayer’ etc.; probably one of the most famous Choruses of the last few decades (listen to it – below – it’s an amazing Chorus. And don’t miss the ballsy and stunningly effective dropping-a-beat-into- the-final-Chorus-in-a-new-key-moment).
I find their songwriting killer instinct to be really inspiring – the drive to go past what’s really good to something that’s great, that’s undeniable.
It’s so easy to just sit back and dig what I’ve written – especially when it is pretty good. Much harder to raise my standards, to keep pushing, to say, ‘It could be better’… and then put in the work to make that true.
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