On October 11, 1994, New Jersey’s most successful rock band Bon Jovi regained artistic ground while plumbing their past on a thoughtful and ambitious greatest hits collection called Cross Road.
At the start of the decade, Bon Jovi were feeling burned out from their incessant touring and the internal struggles caused by a lack of control over their musical destiny. They decided to fire their management and began to call the shots for themselves. “We wanted to get back to having fun and not just working for somebody else,” said lead singer Jon Bon Jovi in a 1994 interview on Dutch television.
Guitarist Richie Sambora agreed: “We just have more control over our pacing of our lives and it just got out of hand when we weren’t in control, and now, we are.”
A more mature sound
That control was prevalent on 1992’s Keep The Faith, on which Bon Jovi retired the arena drums and face-melting guitar solos to work up a more mature sound. This change in musical direction was matched by a change in fashion: gone were the days of ripped acid-washed jeans, leather vests, and rock-star hair so teased out one would think the band owned shares in Aquanet (CNN actually reported on Jon Bon Jovi changing his signature hair metal mane as “breaking news”).
To celebrate this newfound freedom, and to promote the new album, the band went back to their roots, playing small club gigs in their native New Jersey before heading out on an extensive world tour that spanned 37 countries, 177 shows, and over 2.5 million fans.
Just a year later, the stress of extensive touring exacerbated previously existing tensions in the band, leading to founding bassist Alec John Such leaving the group. It would be Bon Jovi’s first line-up change since their inception in 1983. Session bassist Hugh MacDonald, who played on Jon Bon Jovi’s 1982’s solo single, “Runaway,” was unofficially hired to fill in. MacDonald, who’d cut his teeth playing with another famous sideman, David Bromberg, had dabbled in the hard rock world, but was coming from the folk and roots-rock scene.
Time to reflect
By the middle of the 90s, Bon Jovi had reached rarified heights of fame and fortune. Finding themselves at a metaphorical crossroads, the group reflected on the past decade, consolidating their position with their first greatest-hits album, Cross Road. (Taking the “crossroads” theme even further, the album cover shows the band at the Roadside Diner in Wall Township, New Jersey, near the crossroads of Route 33 and Route 34.)
The 14-track collection was a testament to the impressive catalogue of hits Bon Jovi had amassed over the years, from the albums Slippery When Wet (1986), New Jersey and Keep The Faith (1998), plus Jon Bon Jovi’s debut solo album, 1990’s Blaze Of Glory soundtrack.
Cross Road also featured two newly written tracks, the power ballad “Always” and the countrified pop song “Someday I’ll Be Saturday Night,” plus a more laid-back, synth-led reimagining of “Livin’ On A Prayer,” titled “Prayer ’94” and replacing “In These Arms” on the US edition of the album. Plans to record an updated, full-band version of the Jon Bon Jovi solo hit “Runaway,” were, however, scrapped during the lead up to Cross Road’s release.
Keeping things fresh
Cross Road is enough to please any die-hard Bon Jovi fan, but it also represents a wide swathe of the band’s musical output in order to draw in new fans as well. The stadium singalong classics such as “Bad Medicine” and “Lay Your Hands On Me” compliment heartfelt and contemplative songs like “Bed Of Roses” and “I’ll Be There For You.” A lone track from 1985’s 7800° Fahrenheit, “In And Out Of Love,” is a reminder of Bon Jovi’s down’n’dirty Jersey Shore roots.
Cross Road reached No. 8 on the Billboard 200 the week of November 5, 1994, selling 84,000 copies, and it remained on the charts for 57 weeks. In the UK, the collection topped the UK chart for a total of five non-consecutive weeks, later becoming the best-selling album of 1994. Eventually certified six-times platinum, by 2002 Cross Road had sold over eight million copies across Europe and nabbed the band their first No.1 album in Japan.
At such a monumental turning point in their career, Bon Jovi learned that the real trick of fame and success is keeping things fresh – not just for the fans, but for the artists as well, giving themselves the room to evolve and grow. In accepting their past, Bon Jovi were also being mindful of the present, while looking hopeful for the future.