Members of Bon Jovi were supposed to be taking it easy this winter, basking in adulation and just letting the money roll in.
They had a flattering documentary of their last tour airing on Showtime — called "When We Were Beautiful" — and a companion book of photos and reminiscences. They also had a greatest-hits album planned, which would be virtually like printing money.
It seemed time to kick back and recharge those rock 'n' roll batteries.
Lead singer Jon Bon Jovi and guitarist Richie Sambora, who had pulled himself together after addiction and a tabloid divorce from Heather Locklear, sat down in September 2008 to knock out a new tunes for the greatest-hits CD to follow-up 2007's "Lost Highway," the band's flirtation with country.
It turned out to not be that simple.
"So we're writing boy-girl songs and rehab songs — Richie having gotten it together — and then suddenly the world changes," says Jon Bon Jovi by phone from London.
While they wrote, the economy tanked — foreclosures swept the nation, unemployment soared. It seemed like everyone was livin' on a prayer.
The New Jersey-bred songwriters got swept up in the moment. A few new socially conscious songs led to a few more. Nine months later they had too many.
"We went to the record company and said, 'Well, we've got good news and bad news,'" recalls Sambora, 50, also by phone from London. "'The bad news is you're not getting a greatest hits. The good news is you're going to have a great studio album.'"
The result is "The Circle," an album with plenty of get-off-your-knees, reach-for-the-sky rock anthems begging for arena screams. It's a CD that should be shipped with its own lighter.
Songs like "We Weren't Born To Follow," "Work For the Working Man," "Live Before You Die" show the band is ready to again challenge Bruce Springsteen for blue-collar adulation. As always, it's a hope-filled collection of tunes.
"I've always thought of the world as that optimistic place where people could see the glass is half full. I always was that guy," says Jon Bon Jovi, 47.
"U2 grew up with Northern Ireland in their front yard and the Protestant marches. We didn't have that in New Jersey. It was an easy, middle-class, American optimistic upbringing and so ... you wrote from what you knew."
What's funny is that just as their fans face unemployment and job shortages, Bon Jovi — which also includes keyboardist David Bryan and drummer Tico Torres — are now working more.
Instead of that year off, the band will be hard to miss. They're hitting the road again well into 2011 to support the new CD, and if you watch NBC and its affiliated channels, Bon Jovi will be everywhere: They've scored a special deal to put them and their music on the "Today" show, in USA promos, on Bravo's "Inside the Actors' Studio," on NBC's "Nightly News" and even in those "The More You Know" public service spots. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture between NBC and Microsoft.)
Jon Bon Jovi and Sambora insist they still identify with their blue-collar roots despite selling 120 million albums over 26 years. Sambora says while growing up he saw his dad get laid off from factory jobs, while Jon Bon Jovi connects with regular folks through his philanthropy, which has so far built 217 houses in the Philadelphia area.
"Look, I can afford to pick up the bar bill, that's true. I've got some money now and I've had successes and that's true," he says. "But I get more pleasure out of my foundation work than getting paid at night."