What Was Bon Jovi’s First Hit Song?

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Runaway Song: Runaway (1984)

Artist: Bon Jovi

Album: Bon Jovi (Mercury)

Writers: Jon Bon Jovi, George Karak

The first major US hit for Bon Jovi was Runaway, from their self-titled debut album, in 1984. It reached no. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in April 1984, spending 13 weeks on the chart. Although the album was released in January 1984, the song was actually written in 1981 and played on the radio in 1983, broadcast from a local station in Lake Success, New York, before the formation of the band.

Bon Jovi wrote Runaway with George Karak, whom he met after seeing him play at the Fast Lane in Ashbury Park. After Karak’s set, opening for Mink DeVille, a young Bongiovi walked up to him as said, “I really like the way you write original music. Do you want to write some songs together?” Karak said, “Sure, why not?” Runaway was subsequently written at John’s house in Sayreville, New Jersey. Other songs were written by the duo as well, but Runaway was the only one that ever appeared on a Bon Jovi album.

The members that came to make up the official Bon Jovi band lineup did not actually participate in this first hit song. Instead, Runaway was part of a demo that John Bon Jovi (born John Bongiovi) made at Power Station Studios where he worked for his cousin, Tony Bongiovi, who was co-owner. Bon Jovi wrote Runaway with George Karak and used musicians who happened to be recording in the studio at the time. Bon Jovi called them the All Star Revue. They consisted of:

  • Hugh McDonald – Bass (now current bass player)
  • Tim Pierce – guitar
  • Frankie LaRocka – drums
  • Roy Bittan – keyboards (Springsteen keyboardist)

The demo, for the most part, did not garner much interest but was played as part of a radio contest on WAPP to find the best unsigned band. The song was played as part of a radio station compilation album featuring local talent. This album also featured a demo by Twisted Sister, Shoot ‘Em Down.

After Runaway became a local radio hit, John Bon Jovi wanted to put together a band and did so on the fly about two months before being signed. The song became the first single for Bon Jovi’s self-titled first album, released on January 21, 1984.

As for the song’s co-writer, George Karak enjoyed royalties from Runaway through the years and this ongoing revenue allowed him to keep writing songs. His other contributions can also be heard on John Bon Jovi’s The Power Station Years 1980-1983. He currently writes and records in Nashville, having recently co-written the songs Angel and I Will Break Your Fall for Fernando Saunders’ album. Saunders was the long-time bass player for Lou Reed but has also worked with many others, including Jeff Back, Pat Benatar, and Heart.