Essential Seven ’80s Power Ballads

There’s just something about summer that makes me go back to those great (and not so great) power ballads of the 1980s. It may be that I spent most of my summers in the 1980s watching Mtv and riding around the neighborhood on my bike with a boom box blasting Motley Crue and Poison songs. Whatever it is, I do love a good power ballad on a hot summer day. Several summers ago, just as YouTube started up, I revisited many power ballad videos that I hadn’t seen in nearly 15 years and came to love the goofy world contained within them. In fact, after watching several of the videos on this list, I remember walking out to my car and wishing that I could stop in the middle of the road and shred a really awesome solo while wearing a leather duster without a shirt on underneath (the uniform required for a power ballad to assert one’s masculinity).

So, I thought it might be fun to compile my Essential Seven Power Ballads. Please note, I prefer to use the term “power ballad,” as opposed to “hair ballads,” as I would not call all of the bands on this list hair bands. Oh, and don’t tell me that I forgot Damn Yankees’ “High Enough.” It was released in 1990.

7) “The Ballad of Jayne” (1989)- L. A. Guns

This is a solid power ballad, supposedly about the death of actress Jayne Mansfield.

6) “Angel” (1988)- Aerosmith

Admittedly, the cheese is pretty thick on this one. However, the video for this song was the first music video that I ever watched, and I was captivated. The singer was weird looking, but the song was catchy. Steven Tyler was dressed like a 30s gumshoe and was haunted by a hot ghost, Joe Perry wore the requisite uniform while shredding a sweet and subdued solo, and the drummer had a curly mullet and just stood around clapping his hands. This is the song/video that pulled me in.

5) “Love Song” (1989)- Tesla

Despite the generic title, this is actually a pretty unique power ballad for the time. It avoids the static verse/chorus/versus structure and builds gradually from a very elegant extended guitar intro to an explosive, soaring chorus of “Love will find a way!”

4) “Home Sweet Home” (1985)-Motley Crue

By most accounts this is the one that opened the flood gates. After the Crue put away their Mad Max costumes and started wearing lace and spandex during the Theatre of Pain years, all of the hair bands began to show their soft sides. Some Crue fans will claim that “Without You” is the better ballad, but I have to disagree. This one, comparatively speaking, has got teeth, thanks to some great heavy shredding by Mick Mars, the oldest looking guitarist in the world. However, in the video, the sight of a shirtless Tommy Lee playing the piano like he’s some kind of prodigy makes it difficult to take this song seriously.

3) “I Remember You” (1989)-Skid Row

Skid Row didn’t create the template for writing and marketing power ballads, but they were quite skilled in utilizing that template. They knew that a band couldn’t just sling a syrupy ballad out there and maintain any street cred. They always released a rocker first to reel in the guys and then, with the second single, they released the ballad for the ladies. This was an effective plan, as I know many guys who are still adamant that Skid Row was NOT a hair band. “I Remember You” is a tremendously catchy song that gives Sebastian Bach a chance to really cut loose and show off his pipes. The dude can really wail.

2) “Hysteria” (1987)- Def Leppard

This might be the only song on my burned copy of Monster Ballads that I sincerely love and enjoy without a single trace of irony. The opening riff just glides so smoothly, wrapping around me until I’m completely engulfed. Every time I hear Joe Elliott’s scratchy voice croon over top of the gliding riff, I flashback to beautiful summer nights in the 80s, looking for girls at the local amusement park. Unfortunately, other singles on the album tend to overshadow this tune, specifically, “Pour Some on Me” and “Love Bites.” While catchy, those songs seem too obvious and even a bit clumsy compared to “Hysteria.”

1) “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (1987)- Guns N Roses

Appetite for Destruction hit like a lightening bolt in 1987. It made everything else at the time sound silly or irrelevant. Axl, Slash, Duff, Izzy, and Steve (who answered the question: how many drugs do you have to do to get thrown out of GNR?) crashed through the blandness of 80s hair rock to show us how it’s done. Slash’s opening riff is immediately recognizable, and the chorus is surprisingly sweet. However, GNR did what the other guys couldn’t even think of doing in a ballad: they completely turned it on its head. The first part of the song sails by like a sweet love letter, praising the girl’s hair and eyes. Axl sounds confident and even optimistic. Picking up this vibe. Slash launches into sweet and sugary solo that hangs tight with melody. But then, all hell breaks loose, and he rips into one of the coolest and most dynamic rock solos that I have ever heard. The band is right there with him, crashing into a heated frenzy. When the smoke clears, Axl’s voice drops into a sinister low register, and he asks, “Where do we go now?” The tone is uncertain, less confident. As the song crashes to a bittersweet halt, the final note a ringing reminder of the uncertainty ahead, I’m left speechless even 22 years after the song was released.

The Essential Seven is a weekly list of seven items that we at believe needs to be identified. Want our opinion on a topic for a future list? Email Lando Da Pimp. Don’t agree with our list? Then leave a comment. We will try not to laugh at your dumb opinion! 😉

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