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by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

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Top 10 Power Ballads

I didn’t become familiar with the term power ballad until college, when my roommate introduced it to me. Whenever one of her favorite power ballads came on the radio, she would turn it up and passionately belt out the lyrics. Her enthusiasm helped teach me that there’s no shame in liking power ballads, and that it’s great fun to shout along with them. And I do mean shout.

Anyway, the other day I came across an essay on the pop culture site Badass Digest making the case for Guns N’ Roses’ “November Rain” as the greatest power ballad of all time. “That’s a pretty good choice,” I thought. I’ve always loved “November Rain,” especially all that crashing piano at the end.

But then I got to wondering whether I agreed with this assessment. Sure, “November Rain” is a great song. But is it the best power ballad OF ALL TIME?

Now, the definition of power ballad is a bit nebulous.

According to the Badass Digest writer, Henri Mazza, “There are several definitions, usually used to help sell different compilation albums and Time Life CD collections, but for the most part a power ballad is what happens any time a hard rock band slows it down a little bit and shows their soft underbelly so they can sing about love, heartache and emotions.”

This is actually a pretty helpful definition, as it helps distinguish power ballads from ballads, and explains why songs such as George Michael’s “Father Figure” and Bette Midler’s “The Rose” are generally left off power ballad compilations and lists — they’re too soft rock-y for inclusion. Of course, there are exceptions to the basic rules of power balladry: Many people consider Tina Turner’s “We Don’t Need Another Hero” a classic power ballad, even though Tina Turner is hardly known for fronting a hair metal band, or singing hard rock.

In any case, I’ve put together my own list of favorite power ballads — a mix of songs I think are actually good, and songs that function more as guilty pleasures. All of them share one excellent quality: They are fun to shout along to when you’re driving in the car. Here they are:

10. “I’ll Be There For You” by Bon Jovi — I won’t lie: I think this song is hilarious. The refrain — “I’ll be there for you/ These five words I swear to you/ When you breathe I want to be the air for you” — never fails to make me smile. Did Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora write this song in junior high and dust it off for their best-selling “New Jersey” album? It sure sounds like it. Naturally, everybody loved it and it was played at every middle school dance I ever attended.

9. “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica — I was never a big Metallica fan, but they earned my respect with “Enter Sandman” and this song, which showed that even the most uncompromising metal bands can sing a tear-jerking power ballad.

8. “Can’t Fight This Feeling” by REO Speedwagon — Most people don’t understand my affection for this song. I can totally see why. I grew to love it in high school, when it was the most-played song on the jukebox at the bowling alley. At first I would play this song and smirk along with it, but my appreciation gradually evolved into something more sincere and genuine.

7. “Purple Rain” by Prince — Prince is a genius who excels at anything he tries his hand at, so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that he wrote one of the greatest power ballads ever.

6. “What’s Love Got to Do With It” by Tina Turner — This song just gets better with age.

5. “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey — Like many, I became aware of the greatness of this song somewhat late in life. And whenever I hear it, I’m totally transfixed. I’m pretty wishy-washy on the rest of Journey’s oeuvre, but this song makes it impossible for me to disrespect them as a band.

4. “Love Bites” by Def Leppard — Is there a more cynical power ballad out there? This song makes love sound like the worst thing you could possibly experience.

3. “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses — Yes, this is a really good song.

2. “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper — Best known for the rollicking “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” Lauper could slow it down and emote as well as anyone. I have a really fond memory of shouting along to this song in the campus newspaper office with my friend Dave. Some accused us of being obnoxious, but I think they were really amused, deep down inside.

1. “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS — Not just my favorite power ballad, but one of my favorite songs ever. It doesn’t usually get mentioned on power ballad lists, perhaps because INXS is more of an alt-rock band than an ’80s hair metal band. But I’d argue that “Never Tear Us Apart” definitely merits inclusion on any power ballad playlist. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve shouted along to this song. My favorite lyrics: “I told you/ That we could fly/ ’Cause we all have wings/ But some of us don’t know why.” There’s so much heartache and anguish here. I’m emotionally overwhelmed every time I hear this song!

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February 20, 2014
7:03 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

Sara, If you go back a few more decades, I'm sure you could find a few more, maybe just not power ballads in the strict sense; then again, Great White with 'Save All Your Love', Poison with 'Something To Believe In', and Def Lepperd with 'Too Late For Love' rank high in my book. Again, not in the power ballad sense, but two of my favorites have always been Cheap Trick, with 'The Flame', and The Rolling Stones with 'Blinded By Rainbows'. Hell, I guess we all have our lists of 'great' music, but I probably have a longer one, since I am quite a bit more 'weathered' (read old!) than you!

February 21, 2014
12:49 p.m.

[ Flag Post ]

I almost included The Flame. Great song. The Poison power ballad I once liked, but can no longer stand, is "Every Rose Has Its Thorn." It popped up on a lot of the lists I looked at. I guess everybody has their favorite power ballads!

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