Power Ballads

I have to confess, I am a huge fan of power ballads. This genre is hard to pin down exactly, but mainly originated in the 80’s and found expression in many of the hair metal bands that grew to popularity. Consisting of clear and often melodious vocals, the song usually grows in power and whininess and usually culminates with outright yelling as well as climactic electric guitar.

Every major band from this period found this genre worth incorporating. Def Leppard has “Love Bites,” Poison has “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” and other bands ranging from epoch favorites such as Night Ranger, White Lion, Slaughter, Sheriff, Bad English, Warrant, and L.A. Guns to more stock classic rock bands such as Cheap Trick, Foreigner and Aerosmith got in on the action.

What’s the attraction? I think part of it was that the hard rock side of glam metal had really gotten too out of control. For these bands, the authenticity, and I think the skill had gone out of hard compositions (except maybe for Def Leppard) and the label of rock was really just a legitimator for these bands’ commercial success. Especially here I’m thinking of KISS, who, though they have some good songs, are in generally woefully inadequate from a purely artistic rock perspective. Their niche was wearing absurd stuff and blowing the stage up, not necessarily very good songs.

So, to compensate for this transparent and dying breed of hard rock, some artists felt compelled to overcompensate with saccharine and melodramatic power ballads. I don’t really know how to defend these songs on their artistic merits, other than to say that they really do pack a lot of emotion, and that they are very appropriate for moods of extreme anger or sadness.

I’ve seen several lists of best power ballads on the internet, and they roughly converge on a stable of about 20 songs, with some wildcards and variations thrown in. Here are my top 5, and I admit they aren’t that shocking for the genre at all.

1. Sheriff “When I’m With You”

2. Cheap Trick “The Flame”

3. Warrant “Heaven”

4. L.A. Guns “The Ballad of Jayne”

5. Heart “These Dreams” or “Alone” or “What About Love?” (They’re all the same pretty much, so I don’t think this tripartite answer is a cop out.)

I think it’s also interesting to think of Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “After the Love is Gone” as a proto power ballad.


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