Five Good Covers presents five cross-genre reinterpretations of an oft-covered song.
“Once upon a time, not so long ago,” Bon Jovi followed up their first Billboard Hot 100 single, the #1 smash “You Give Love a Bad Name,” with another number one hit: “Livin’ On a Prayer.” The second single off of Slippery When Wet , Bon Jovi’s breakthrough third album, “Prayer” is number one in many people’s hearts, including voters for VH1’s 2006 list of the Greatest Songs of the ’80s and readers of this blog.
Bon Jovi has evolved over time, continuing to produce music consistently since the ’80s and unafraid to tour through different genres, even going country and teaming up with Jennifer Nettles and LeAnn Rimes (though, to be fair, Jon Bon Jovi has been a cowboy from early on). The band just doesn’t quit; they even released a thank-you song to veterans earlier this month.
But “Livin’ On A Prayer” remains a classic. You’ve belted it at karaoke; you’ve pumped your fist to it at a wedding reception. The song speaks to the masses, and we need the song’s message just as much now as we did when it was released in 1986. A good cover of this song will channel the original’s spirited perseverance, hope in the face of adversity, and faith in the power of love to overcome all. It’s a tall order, but these five artists “give it a shot.”
PelleK and Cole – Livin’ on a Prayer (Bon Jovi cover)
We’ll start with a cover that is closest to the original’s genre. It’s fun to see the “talk box” in action, and it is extra prominent in this cover. That distinctive sound pairs well with the electric guitar riffs while the singer holds his own, not getting overpowered by the intense instrumentation. You can tell the singer really feels the lyrics. This is how I think I sound when I’m rocking out to this song. The guitar solos are incredible feats, and when the singer occasionally surprises us by reaching up an octave, his control is impressive.
Tori Amos – Livin’ on a Prayer (Bon Jovi cover)
Let’s dial it back a notch and hear a more laid-back cover. Tori Amos brings her classical piano expertise to a stripped version of this song. She effortlessly adjusts the melody at times to make the song her own. The lightness of the piano accompaniment contrasts Amos’s rich voice, and the slower pace emphasizes Tommy and Gina’s struggles. The acoustic version could lend itself to an abundance of melancholy, but this version calms the angst yet still maintains a sense of fervent hope. Plus, I have a feeling Gina wasn’t a cornflake girl either.
Janet Devlin – Livin’ on a Prayer (Bon Jovi cover)
“We’re halfway there.” Janet Devlin is an Irish singer-songwriter taking on many covers on her YouTube channel along with her originals. While you are in the rock mood (and out of respect for the t-shirt of the first cover’s guitarist) check out her cover of Linkin Park’s “Numb.” Here she is accompanied by a simple piano that induces an almost hymn-like quality to song. This song is challenging due to its wide range, but Devlin reaches both the high and low notes without strain. She has a vocal timbre that adds a little something extra without being too distracting, allowing her cover to gleam, unrushed and full of emotion.
Hayseed Dixie – Livin’ on a Prayer (Bon Jovi cover)
Genre-bending time! Country folks face hard times too. Hayseed Dixie takes rock songs and converts them to bluegrass, referring to their sound as “rockgrass.” You have to respect that clever branding. Replacing the “talk box” with banjo, the intro to the song maintains its sense of drama. Throughout, the accompanying banjo adds a sense of urgency. The strum pattern moves the song along, making it seem a bit faster than the original. Hayseed Dixie doesn’t let the listener get too beaten down, though; the banjo solo towards the end injects the cover with a boost of pep. “We’ll make it, I swear.” If you like this cover, check out their cover of “Don’t Stop Believin‘.” The banjo in it is wild!
Lynsay Ryan – Livin’ on a Prayer (Bon Jovi cover)
If you’ve ever wanted “Livin’ On a Prayer” to be “beautified,” Lynsay Ryan has your back. Ryan also has a strong YouTube cover presence. Another personal favorite is the spunky “No Tears Left to Cry.” We’ve heard other covers where the piano accompanies the singer, but here the piano doesn’t just play a supporting role. The piano provides meaty transition between sections of the song. In fact, Ryan even takes a substantial pause in the middle of the song, preparing herself and the listener for the ensuing powerful chorus.
The true test of a rock song’s staying power is whether it resonates even without the hard core instrumentals. “Livin’ On a Prayer” easily passes.
Bonus: Rihanna joins Bon Jovi to sing the song live. She nails it, performing a passionate rendition and handling the iconic key change like a champ.