The Eighties were the pinnacle of the power ballad. While the concept originally gestated in the Seventies when hard-edged stadium rockers lightened things up a bit — for example, Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and UFO’s “Love To Love” — it was during the decade of decadence that the style was perfected by groups with big hooks, big hair and big studio sounds. It was a way for hard rock and metal bands to show their sensitive, romantic side and sell more records, and it gave fans a good reason to raise their lighters in salute.
Yet some of the most revered power ballads are, in my frank opinion, terrible. Motley Crue’s insipid “Home Sweet Home” and Night Ranger’s bland “Sister Christian” are among them. Poison’s dreadful “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” is the worst offender and features one of the most boring vocal performances ever. Yet many people inexplicably love it. (And hasn’t Bret Michaels learned anything about falling for strippers since? Evidently not. Nor vice versa.)
With that in mind, let’s look back at some great songs you may have missed and that deserve far more attention than they ever got. And remember, not every power ballad needs to be about love to be effective, as many of the following tunes prove. Nearly all of these entries have YouTube links to allow you to check out the songs and decide for yourself. I think you’ll agree that there are some real gems here.
CRIMSON GLORY “Burning Bridges”
Served up by a pioneering progressive metal unit from Florida, “Burning Bridges” emphasizes the power in power ballad, deceiving us with a couple of gentle acoustic sections before bludgeoning us with monster riffs, heavy synth brass and a blistering guitar solo. You can feel the agony in Midnight’s vocals as he wrenches out every last scream. Sadly, he passed away this year from kidney and liver failure at the young age of 47. In my opinion, this performance will always be his masterpiece.
GREAT WHITE “Hold On” (at 27:41)
Great White (1984), reissued as Stick It (1999)
Before they decided to become Zeppelin imitators, Great White were a bruising SoCal metal quartet that explored the dark, seedy side of Hollywood life with tracks like “Bad Boys,” “No Better Than Hell” and “Dead End”. During this electric ballad, rather than pine for an old girlfriend or bemoan being alone, the group addresses living on the edge of despair, with little to live for but hope itself. It’s not an uplifting song but certainly a compelling one.
JUDAS PRIEST “Out In The Cold”
While it came from the oft-maligned pop-metal of Turbo, this six-and-a-half minute rocker is a true classic. It is grandiose and gripping with an icy synth intro, impassioned vocals and some eternally memorable melodies and guitar solos. Thanks to Tom Allom’s brilliant sound design, the song makes you feel like its title.
KICK AXE “Welcome To The Club”
Welcome To The Club (1985)
This Canadian quintet offered a great combination of powerhouse riffs, grooving rhythms, sumptuous vocal harmonies and George Criston’s jazz-inflected singing. The opening track to their second album, this semi-acoustic number offers consolation to those struggling to break free from their addictions. These are wise words from those who lived life to the fullest back in the day.
KING KOBRA “Dancing With Desire”
Ready To Strike (1984)
Yeah, smirk all you want at these bleach-blonde boys rockin’ out with raven-haired drum legend Carmine Appice, but these guys cranked out some cool ‘80s metal on their debut album, especially this smoldering ballad driven by acoustic guitars, some electric axework and a steady kick drum that gives the song its lustful heartbeat. It’s an ode to desire for a sweltering summer night that will have you crooning along to its rich vocal harmonies.
MANOWAR “Heart Of Steel”
Kings Of Metal (1988)
These guys may be known for their brief loincloth phase and displaying more machismo than a bad Schwarzenegger movie, but this epic song about finding one’s inner strength and following one’s own path will actually move you. Starting as a sedate piano and vocal number, it soon develops into a slow-moving metal ballad complete with a searing guitar solo, ear-shattering scream and majestic choral vocals. You’ll be ready to take on the world after listening to “Heart of Steel”.
QUEENSRYCHE “I Will Remember”
Rage For Order (1986)
This one’s a little less over-the-top than some other entries on the list, but it’s still a winner. From an intense, frenetic album came this gentle, haunting song that hints at the loss of privacy in the face of technology; namely, a newly orbiting spy satellite. In a sense, it’s also about the death of the natural in an increasingly unnatural world. When Geoff Tate sings, “You will remember the star that came tonight,” it’s a warning, not romantic sentiment. The whistling and acoustic soloing are nice touches.
URIAH HEEP “Poor Little Rich Girl”
The idea of a manipulative socialite playing games with people’s hearts may be a clichéd sentiment, but damn if these guys didn’t make it sound like life or death with lush acoustic guitar work, dramatic choruses and a beautiful, symphonic keyboard break at its center. This is the kind of wonderfully over-the-top rock opus that no one seems to make anymore.
Queued up on full album here.
WHITESNAKE “Crying In The Rain”
Saints and Sinners (1982)
Yes, you’ve heard it before, but not like this. The Snake’s original bluesy ode to solitude and lost love blows away the bland pop version on their self-titled sell-out album from 1987. (Ditto for “Here I Go Again,” also originally recorded on this 1982 release.) David Coverdale sings his heart out here, and the opulent keyboards of Jon Lord and the gritty guitars of Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody just can’t be beat. Don’t argue, just luxuriate in the sorrow.
Y&T “This Time”
In Rock We Trust (1984)
His band may have been known for its loose and lethal brand of hard rock, but when frontman Dave Meniketti’s bandmates penned this affectionate number for him and his future wife, they conjured up an instant classic. There’s no drama, heartache or tension here – it’s a pure love song that very few rock bands have ever captured without sounding schmaltzy. Y&T also score extra points by performing a delicate ballad without any acoustic guitar!