Moroccan Role's Top 10 Power Ballads in the World...Ever
I got the idea for this post upon encountering the June 1st, Top 5 Hair Metal Songs, entry on Ryan Adams' MySpace blog. While there's precious little to celebrate about 80s hair metal, the sheer majesty of the power ballad is undeniable. This glorious art form is often maligned due to its cheesy, out-the-top sentimentality, but every one of us has a soft spot for these tunes. The fail-safe formula for 80s hard rock success was brilliant in its simplicity: a rocking first single, followed by the requisite power ballad. There were countless bands that followed this blueprint and hordes of power ballads were released, but here we are concerned with the best of the best, the crème de la crème. As a preliminary matter, we should clearly define a true power ballad. I'm of the opinion that a power ballad is characterized by the following formula: a hard rock or metal band utilizing (a) soft/loud or clean/distorted guitar dynamics, (b) shameless sentimentality and/or unabashedly romantic lyrical themes, and, of course, (c) obligatory air guitar-worthy solos. As such, some fine tunes had to be eliminated for not quite fitting the niche. Noteworthy eliminations include: "Beth" by Kiss, "Patience" by Guns 'n Roses, and "More Than Words" by Extreme [all violative of (a)]; "Fade To Black" by Metallica, "Mama I'm Coming Home" by Ozzy, "Novemeber Rain" by GnR, and "Winds of Change" by Scorpions [violative of (b)]; and Prince's "Purple Rain" because as a non-hard rock or metal artist, he's without standing for inclusion. Without further ado, here's the list...
10. Styx - "Lady"
“Lady” is the grandfather of them all. Styx is often credited with creating the power ballad genre with "Lady" in 1973. They are arguably the cheesiest band of all time due to frontman Dennis DeYoung's tendency to craft the most un-rocking rock songs imaginable and flair for the theatrical-- see, i.e., the laughable concept album Kilroy Was Here and its subsequent tour. However, as a pioneer and one of the earliest examples of this brilliant musical style, "Lady" definitely merits a spot in the top 10.
9. Europe - "Carrie"
From the moment the incredibly schmaltzy, lite-rock keyboard enters, you know you are in for some serious, grade-A power balladry. This song illustrates the most effective use of a single, solitary word in hair metal history. The tune is almost completely uneventful and rather drab aside from the chorus, which utilizes the brilliant hook, "Care-air-air-rie, Care-air-air-rie". I'll be damned if hearing Joey Tempest longingly sing that lovely name doesn't nearly bring a tear to my eye every time...
8. Def Leppard - "Love Bites"
Straight off, singer Joe Elliot, never one for subtlety, implores whether his love interest looks in the mirror when she's doin' it. I'm not exactly sure what he's getting at there and it's still jarring every time I hear that opening line. But, it matters not. The powerful and melodic chorus is so strong it renders everything he says completely inconsequential. He could discussing the finer points of String Theory or reading from the back of a cereal box, it would still be a great tune.
7. Journey - "Faithfully"
Lately, I've had a bit of a problem with Journey. This has nothing to do with their music, it relates to the would-be ironic sheik-ness attributed to it by the undergrad (predominately frat) set. I live near the University of Cincinnati and you cannot spend a night in a college bar without hearing "Don't Stop Believing" (with 15 drunk dudes singing along, no less) at least twice. It used to be the very same way for Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline", and it took years for me to hear that song without puking in my mouth a little. Oh, about this song...it's admittedly a bit soft for the list and "Don't Stop Believing" will probably replace it when the the above-mentioned phenomenon fades away, but Steve Perry's got a huge and versatile voice and this is arguably his best vocal performance ever.
6. Foreigner - "I Wanna Know What Love Is"
I'm pretty much a Foreigner fan. Of course, I disclose this only when appropriate, but these guys have a lot of solid tunes. I mean, "Feels Like the First Time", "Dirty White Boy", "Jukebox Hero", "Hot Blooded", "Cold as Ice"...c'mon now. Did you happen to see that episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force when the Mooninites acquire the magical Foreigner belt? That episode was awesome.
5. Whitesnake - "Here I Go Again"
This song utilizes the soft/loud dynamic better than perhaps any other power ballad on this list. When those first two power chords come in, it's nearly impossible to resist pumping your first in appreciation or jamming along on your imaginary guitar. Although all of these tunes are excellent karaoke fodder, this one works especially well in that venue. Plus, that Dave Coverdale really had some great hair-- he could give Jon Bon Jovi a run for his money.
4. Poison - "Every Rose Has Its Thorn"
"Every Rose" is the archetypal hair metal power ballad. A rocker showcasing his sensitive side while gently strumming an acoustic-- Check. A memorable melody and impossibly catchy chorus-- Check. An obligatory and air guitar-worthy solo-- Check. It's more or less a perfectly constructed pop tune and this genre classic is, by far and away, the best thing the band ever created.
3. Night Ranger - "Sister Christian"
Like a number of tunes on this list, it begins with a contemplative piano figure and slowly builds from there. This song hit #2 on US charts back in 1984, but enjoyed quite a resurgence upon being prominently featured in 97's Boogie Nights. If you've yet to see the movie or don't remember the scene, check it out. As the song is supposedly about Night Ranger drummer, Kelly Keagy's sister coming of age and "motoring" (driving around) with their friends, it has a truly unique (perhaps a bit creepy) theme for power ballad. Regardless, it still fits the within my definition under the totality of the circumstances.
2. Mötley Crüe - "Home Sweet Home"
Released in 1985, this was one of the biggest hits of the hair metal era and MTV's most requested video for four months(!) straight. "Home Sweet Home" was a rare example of the Crüe showing off their softer side, but it isn't too soft. This was always a crucial element in the artistry of crafting a power ballad, as the goal was to appeal to a wider audience without alienating your established fans. The success of this song propelled countless other bands to follow in Mötley Crüe's footsteps and craft a power ballad of their own. This was probably the single most important song in shaping the genre in the 80s.
1. Skid Row - "I Remember You"
Skid Row arrived right near the tail end of the hair metal party and had plenty of time to study the craft of writing a killer power ballad prior to releasing their debut. In many ways, this gave them and other Johnny-come-latelies an almost unfair advantage. By the late 80s, the power ballad blueprint was firmly in place. "I Remember You" is the perfect power ballad-- perfect song structure, glossy production, and Sebastian Bach sings with technical precision. It's probably too perfect, in fact. In many ways, the single is emblematic of the end of hair metal's heyday and why its demise was inevitable. By the time "I Remember You" surfaced in 1989, hair metal was extremely bloated and had become too predictable, too easily emulated, and way too homogenous.