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Power Ballads

The romantic side of rock and roll!
Image source: Columbia Records.

The musical history of the twentieth century is incomplete without the bands that made rock and roll central to popular music, from Elvis and Buddy Holly, through the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd, and their successors.

You may ask, however: what does this have to do with Valentine’s Day?

Well, there was a time when rock and roll became romantic: the eighties. It was the time of long permed hair, Michael Jackson racking up hits, and UFO abductions. It was also the time of a specific kind of rock song: the power ballad!

What’s a “power ballad?”

What makes a power ballad, you ask? Well, I’ll tell you. To begin, you must have a slow tempo. You must also have heavy percussion: drums would be the standard, but we’ll see that at least one song on this list goes further. It must begin calmly, and get more intense during the choruses, perhaps building to a key change. The song must be lyrically about desire and love.

Now let us examine—and rank—some power ballads.

VIII: “Keep on Loving You” (REO Speedwagon)

REO Speedwagon wrote a lot of songs during the eighties, many of which power ballads. Of these, the most famous is “Keep on Loving You.” It begins with a nice piano introduction at a steady tempo, before introducing the instruments. It has heavy drums and the chorus is passionate. It ends the same way it begins, with the piano on its own. This technique is often used in power ballads, especially Speedwagon ones. This song is a great example of a power ballad, but obviously not the best one.


VII: “You’re the Inspiration” (Chicago)

Chicago began as one of those seventies bands with hits like “25 or 6 to 4,” or “Saturday in the Park.” They later entered a different “phase” in the eighties with the emergence of the power ballad, where their most famous contribution was “You’re the Inspiration.” It also begins with a piano introduction. It introduces the instruments, then quiets down during Cetera’s lyrics. It has heavy drums, and features an electric piano, which gives it an especially eighties touch. Surprisingly, it does not have a guitar solo.


VI: “Love Walks In” (Van Halen)

Van Halen actually began as a completely different band with David Lee Roth. After their hit album 1984, which contains their famous song “Jump,” Roth left [Ed. Notemight say he jumped ship] and was replaced by Sammy Hagar, around whose vocals the band changed their style from playful to passionate. And, of course, this means that Van Halen crafted a power ballad. The song actually begins with a synth intro, and while it has the required heavy drums, it oddly doesn’t use a rhythm guitar. It does have two solos from the master himself, Eddie Van Halen, both of which are incredible and surprisingly warm. His solos are usually showing off from the Roth days.


V: “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler

It is very likely that you have heard this song before, as it is a very famous song. If you have somehow avoided learning its name, well, it is the song that literally has a cannon solo. Yes, I kid you not, a cannon solo! It does, however, begin with a piano introduction and very heavy drums. Tyler’s voice, slightly raspy, ranges from soft verses to an overwhelming chorus. It ends with the piano, just as it’s only falling apart.


IV: “I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner

Foreigner began as a late-seventies band with an arena rock sound. In the eighties they made this song, which is regarded as one of the greatest power ballads of all time. Rochester’s own [Ed. Notethere it is] Lou Gramm sings lyrics full of longing and desire. It begins with a synth solo. The lyrics begin calmly, then become more intense as each instrument is introduced. It, of course, has heavy drums. There is a huge ensemble that sings backup for the chorus.


III: “Open Arms” by Journey

Like Foreigner, Journey began with the arena rock sound of the late seventies. In the eighties, they became the power ballad “kings” with numerous hits in this subgenre. Steve Perry sings, naturally, about wanting a new start with an existing partner. As you might expect, it opens with piano, rising lyrical intensity as the instruments are introduced, and very loud drums. It does, however, have a very warm solo.


II: “Alone” by Heart

This song may be one of the greatest power ballads I have heard. From the excellent vocals, to the incredible guitar solo, this song deserves to be this close to the top. It begins with a piano. As the instruments are introduced, the vocals become more and more intense in perfect proportion. The guitar solo in this song is incredible—both taunting and warm.


I: “Is This Love” by Whitesnake

Though Whitesnake has not made many good songs, this song in particular makes up for all their blunders, simply because it is possibly the best power ballad I have ever heard. It begins in a very different way from most power ballads. David Coverdale’s lyrics become more intense as the song introduces instruments. The drums are very heavy. The guitar solo is different from a lot of solos. This song is perfectly written. This song deserves, without a doubt, number one on this ranking. Though the solo isn’t incredible, it is perfect for the song. Not having an incredible solo allows you to appreciate the composition of the song.


What exactly can I say to sum this up? Next time when you think of love songs, think of power ballads and their contribution to not just rock and roll, but music itself.

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    Mr. RosedaleFeb 14, 2024 at 8:07 am

    Um……. Home Sweet Home by Motley Crue?