1980s rock ballads? Now that’s one hell of a topic, isn’t it! Where do we even begin talking? There is just so much to say, so many names to mention, so many breath-taking songs to sing!
That softer, much gentler side of rock turned into an essential component of pretty much every record, released in the ‘80s. All hard rock acts jumped on that well-established bandwagon which would certainly take them on a journey to success and fan recognition. Labels demanded it too – if you wanted to hit it big in the ‘80s, you just had to write a killer ballad! Hard rock aside, blues, pop and even heavy metal musicians were also participants of the phenomenon. Don’t get me wrong, ballads have always been important and they will continue to be, however, the amount of ballads, as well as their importance and wall-to-wall presence was way heavier than it is now, for example. Artists were simply putting more effort and emphasis on crafting that perfect soul-soothing sound which I think turned into one of the reasons why we love ‘80s rock music so much!
The formula for (power) ballads was perfected by the mid-80s. Around that time, some of the staples of the flow were released. From Whitesnake to Def Leppard, from Cinderella to Scorpions – all of these great bands left a great number of strong, unforgettable ballads with an everlasting impact. These classic ballads of the ‘80s are still relevant and loved by every music enthusiast around the world. With this in mind, along with my immense adoration for ballads, I decided to ask my readers and followers on which song do they think is the greatest (power) rock ballad of the ‘80s. For about one month, everyone was able to vote and participate in the poll. The results are in and we can now enjoy this exceptional playlist, you guys created! Also, this might be a good chance for us to get in touch with our emotional side! Let’s listen…
10.Skid Row – I Remember You
Skid Row’s 1989 debut spawned an incredible ballad, titled “I Remember You”. This gorgeous tune, written by Rachel Bolan and Dave “the Snake” Sabo, turned into one of Skid Row’s most instantly recognizable and beloved songs of all time. No surprises there! With Sebastian Bach’s near-perfect vocal delivery and that haunting melody, the tune was destined for success. There’s no self-respecting rock fan out there that doesn’t know what follows after “Woke up to the sound of pouring rain…”
Interestingly, the song played a huge part in American popular culture in the year of 1990 – “I Remember You” came to be the most essential component of every prom dance, creating special memories in the hearts of millions.
9. Cheap Trick – The Flame
The highlight of Cheap Trick’s 1988 album “Lap of Luxury” is most certainly the emotional ballad, “The Flame”. The ballad was written by British songwriters Bob Mitchell and Nick Graham and it was first offered to another artist, before Cheap Trick cashed in. “The Flame” is probably one of the most widely-known and profitable rock ballads of all time. Achievements like topping the charts in the USA, Australia and Canada is merely the start of its long legacy. Most importantly, “The Flame” became the life vest of Cheap Trick as they were struggling to stay afloat after the commercial failure of their previous album.
“The band was very skeptical about performing this song live, because we only liked to perform songs written by us. However, a young man from, oh, I don’t know, somewhere, confirmed to us after a show in Florida about a week after the song was released that the song was great and, get this, would be a #1 single. As we joked about the guy’s prediction, we later realized whoa! This guy was right. I thank him for that,” said vocalist Robin Zander.
(quote retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Flame_(Cheap_Trick_song) )
8. Mötley Crüe – Home Sweet Home
According to some sources, the power ballad “Home Sweet Home” by Mötley Crüe is arguably one of the first of its kind. Nevertheless, the iconic tune held tons of personal relevance to the band and they had to fight with all they got for it to be included in their 1985 album “Theatre of Pain”. Mötley Crüe got the big “no” but still bet everything they had on the song, even funded the music video with their own money. Despite never making it that big commercially, “Home Sweet Home” turned into Mötley Crüe’s signature concert finishing track. Moreover, the iconic music video, featuring pre-concert and stage performing scenes is notable for being one of the most requested MVs on MTV back in the day.
“Bands didn’t have a power ballad and MTV as a vehicle to have a hit. That just wasn’t the way it was. After ‘Home Sweet Home’, every band had the one ballad that came as their second or third single….I think the reason we did it was because it was so anti-Mötley Crüe and it was funny, because it threw us into the mainstream….
Trust me, none of us had the foresight to see that,” said Nikki Sixx for In The Studio: The Stories Behind History’s Greatest Rock Bands.
7. Journey – Faithfully
Journey’s 1983 album, “Frontiers” has tons of brilliant surprises inside and “Faithfully” is certainly one of the highlights. The power ballad, written by Jonathan Cain and portraying the hardships and endless struggles of being married while constantly on the road, became one of Journey’s most beloved and respected songs of all time. Not only that but “Faithfully” ended up conquering charts and influencing a generation of artists, including Bryan Adams whose hit single “Heaven” was inspired by “Faithfully”.
The “on the road” music video created quite the fuss as well and was one of the first of a long line of similar-concept videos, adopted by bands like Genesis, Motley Crue and Bon Jovi. Journey started making music videos with the release of “Frontiers” even though they truly disliked it. Nevertheless, thanks to that iconic music video and the exposure on MTV, along with of course the great attributes of the song, “Faithfully” was immortalized.
6. Def Leppard – Bringin’ On the Heartbreak
Arguably, the finest moment of Def Leppard’s sophomore 1981 album “High ‘N’ Dry” has to be the ballad, “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”. With this song, not only did they set the standard for power ballads, but challenged the perception that these types of songs could only be performed by female artists, such as Bonnie Tyler for instance. Initially titled “A Certain Heartache”, the track, produced by A-class producer Robert “Mutt” Lange, was quickly picked up by the recently launched MTV station where the music video received a heavy rotation and led to the revival of album sales. 2 million copies later, it was more than safe to say that Leppard were the next big and worthy thing on the horizon.
In 1984, “High ‘N’ Dry” was re-issued, featuring a remixed version of “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”. This time, the song finally made it to the charts, peaking at a top70 position. The song got a brand new music video as well! Check it out!
5. Cinderella – Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)
Right in the middle of our top10 (power) ballad song playlist, we have Cinderella‘s “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” which surprisingly is not in the top3, despite its immense popularity. Written by singer-songwriter and co-founder of Cinderella, Tom Keifer and released as a single from their second album “Long Cold Winter” (1988), “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” remains the band’s highest charting single and most successful track of all time. The emotional and highly intense power ballad got a beautiful MV, filmed nearby Mono Lake in California. MTV did justice to it by playing it every couple of minutes on a daily basis (which was totally fine by everyone).
Tom Keifer is an outstanding vocalist and if you question this statement, you most probably haven’t listened to this song yet. This gorgeous human being wrote the most sincere and soul-crushing rock ballad of all time and if it was up to me, it would’ve been in an even higher position.
4. Dokken – Alone Again
Written by vocalist Don Dokken and bass guitarist Jeff Pilson, the power ballad “Alone Again” was released as a single from Dokken’s 1984 album “Tooth and Nail”. After a highly unsuccessful debut album, it was do or die for Dokken. The label barely agreed to give them a second chance but thank God they did, otherwise brilliant songs such as “Alone Again” would’ve remained on a paper, rotting somewhere under a pile of music notebooks. The track didn’t really hit it that big in terms of chart success, which in my books makes it one of the greatest unappreciated power ballads of the ‘80s ever!
Interestingly, Don Dokken wrote the words of “Alone Again” in the ‘70s when he was barely 25 years old. We can’t but be thankful that the song resurfaced in mid-80s and ended up being an irreplaceable component of “Tooth and Nail”.
3. Scorpions – Still Loving You
Not surprised to see Scorpions’ “Still Loving You” in a top 3 position on our rock ballad playlist. The 1984 album, “Love at First String” defined their career like no other album did, spawning immortal hit singles like “Rock You like a Hurricane” and of course, “Still Loving You”. The European rockers made quite the statement on the US charts, hitting a top 10 position with the album and a top 70 position with the song. The French gave it the #1, though!
“Still Loving You” is one of the most emotional rock ballads of all time, telling us a story about a broken romance and longing for a second chance.
“…It’s a story about a love affair where they recognized it may be over, but let’s try again. It’s the old story; always the old story. I mean, what can we use? We can’t reinvent the wheel. What we always do, is say something which has already been said many times, in our own way,” said Scorpions guitarist Rudolf Schenker.
2. Whitesnake – Is This Love
Whitesnake’s “Is This Love” comes at number two with just a couple of votes behind the number one. When we talk about universal appeal and strength of impact, no other ballad had it as big as this one. Everyone knows it, everyone sings it and is everyone’s favorite Whitesnake song. Written by vocalist David Coverdale and guitarist John Sykes, the idea for “Is This Love” was initially born after they were asked to come up with some good material for a new Tina Turner song.
Whitesnake‘s enormous 1987 album gave birth to a number of hit singles but no other song can actually compete with the legacy of this mind-blowing tune. Just like in our little playlist, “Is This Love” peaked at #2 in the US singles chart. The song, of course, got the music video makeover where Coverdale’s then-girlfriend Tawny Kitaen could be seen, along with a band, playing on a misty stage. Coverdale is the only Whitesnake member to be featured on the video. Now is not the time to explain why, though! Enjoy the classic!
1. Def Leppard – Love Bites
Number 1 on our ‘80s hard rock ballad playlist is Def Leppard’s “Love Bites”. Coincidentally, this track is also Def Leppard’s only #1 hit so far!
The year is 1987 and the album is “Hysteria” – do I have to say more? It turned out to be the perfect marriage between pop and hard rock that can easily be felt as we go from one song to another. To make the sound of “Hysteria” so unique and essential, producer Mutt Lange went above and beyond by using a variety of technology, vocal and sound layering and adopting numerous other effects to give the tracks a “stadium rock vibe” and “extra solid sound” that pierce your heart and gives you chills the moment you play them.
Joe Elliott’s gentle but rather extreme vocal delivery techniques crate a beautiful tension which I believe is the reason why “Love Bites” grabbed the attention of so many people. Moreover, the simple, yet painfully truthful lyrics made it universally relatable.
Interestingly, producer Mutt Lange was the one who brought the song to the band. Initially it was a country-style ballad that eventually got the Def Leppard hard rock treatment and turned into this gorgeous power ballad.
“It was just a standard rock ballad but it had something else going for it. Lyrically, it kind of painted a picture, and in a song you always want to do that, paint a picture. ‘On a dark desert highway,’ the first line of ‘Hotel California,’ great song, it just paints an image for you straight off the bat and that’s the sign of a really good song. It takes you right there. ‘Love Bites’ did that as well,” said Joe Elliott.
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