Over-Analyzing Bon Jovi’s “Livin on a Prayer”

Bon Jovi Livin on a Prayer

by Jason Gross @SockofFleagulls

in Music, Songs Overanalyzed

Time now to ferociously and unnecessarily over-analyze the lyrics to another beloved popular song, Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. To browse our entire category of over-analyzed songs, click here.

The signature hit of America’s favorite band from Sayerville, New Jersey tells the timeless tale of a working class couple trying to make it in the real world.

Livin’ on a Prayer stood atop the Billboard charts for 4 straight weeks in early 1987 and sold over 800,000 copies in the US alone. The song has since been downloaded over 3 million times (legally) and even re-entered the charts at #25 in November 2013 thanks to this viral video.

It’s safe to say the world agrees that Livin’ on a Prayer deserves a place in the Aquanet-sponsored ’80s rock hall of fame. But do we really know the true story of Tommy and Gina? After listening to the song a couple times during a recent road trip, I decided the lyrics deserved to be over-analyzed to find the true cause behind this heralded Reaganomic struggle:

Once upon a time, not so long ago 

Our acid-washed narrator begins by whispering to us softly. The fairy tale begins shortly before the 1986 release of the Slippery When Wet album, when you could still complain about New Coke and tangled telephone cords.

Tommy used to work on the docks
Union’s been on strike, he’s down on his luck
It’s tough, so tough 

Tommy, a dock worker that joined a labor union, is now on strike and not receiving any pay. My first question: Why didn’t he just pick up a second job? This whole heart-wreching story probably could’ve been avoided if he would’ve stopped moping that “it’s tough” and did a little career planning! Union strikes don’t happen overnight, right? Instead of using that last $5 on a six-pack, Tom should’ve just picked up a Billy Ocean cassette for a little motivation (you’ll get that one in a minute).

Gina works the diner all day
Working for her man, she brings home her pay
For love, for love 

Tommy’s girl Gina knows the true meaning of work. She works long hours as a waitress, not for herself, but so she and her man can live comfortably. She works hard for her money and I bet she expects Tommy to treat her right. In fact, I bet there was a sh*tstorm when she came home that night to her man sitting on the couch playing NES, aggressively not receiving a paycheck.

She says we’ve got to hold on to what we’ve got
it doesn’t make a difference if we make it or not
We’ve got each other and that’s a lot for love
We’ll give it a shot 

Gina took that news a lot better than I thought she would. Tommy must look like a real stud in his Member’s Only jacket if she’s willing to single-handedly fund his clever new no-work, all-Nintendo lifestyle. I’ve got a feeling though, that Tommy better find that second Warp Zone before the electricity gets shut off.


Whooaaaaaa! We’re half way there
Whooaaaaaa! Livin’ on a prayer
Take my hand, We’ll make it I swear
Whooaaaaaa! Livin’ on a prayer 

Okay, so first Gina says “it doesn’t make a difference, if we make it or not”. Now she says “we’ll make it I swear”. Which is it, Dollface? One minute you don’t care and the next minute your mouth is writing checks your underpaid, overworked ass can’t cash!  Indecision sinks ships, Gina. (Conversely, science has proven ‘loose lips’ are actually a strong flotation device.)

Tommy got his six string in hock
Now he’s holding in what he used to make it talk
So tough, it’s tough 

Sounds like Tommy saw the writing on the wall. But keeping the NES and deciding to pawn his guitar instead was probably a wise choice. He’ll need all that stored-up creative energy to figure out Bowser’s castle in world’s 7-4 and 8-4 with Nintendo Power magazine a good 2 years away.

Gina dreams of running away
When she cries in the night
Tommy whispers: Baby it’s okay, someday 

Subliminal messages in the night. Tommy really must be holding out that the union strike will end soon. Gina probably told him about that opening in the kitchen at her diner and is now threatening to leave unless he takes the job. Instead of “manning-up” though, it sounds like Tommy’s trying to use a little low-grade inception to convince her that finding the Princess is more important than assembling Patty Melts for minimum wage.

We’ve got to hold on ready or not
You live for the fight when that’s all that you’ve got 

A great message: “Live for the fight” and never give in to the struggle…unless you have a sweet video game console to take your mind off all the important stuff like making rent and paying for that VCR you have on layaway at KMart. “Living for the fight” is a noble strategy to reach for the American dream, but as evidenced in this case, it’s easier to have a hardworking sugar mama with limited options.

Chorus x 3

Jason Gross (@SockOfFleagulls) is the creator of Rediscover the 80s and loves to subject his two sons to 80s pop culture. Currently promoting Agents of M.A.S.K. (co-writer), he enjoys freelance writing about 80s music & nostalgia.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

bmorin54 July 10, 2014 at 12:58 am

“Loose lips are actually a strong flotation device” I’ll be sure to pick some up for lounging in the pool this summer. Great over-analysis!


Jason G July 11, 2014 at 2:18 pm

You can thank Mr. Decker for that line…


Vizator July 12, 2014 at 9:53 am

Great over analysis. Now back to Skyrim.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: