Turn the lights down low, grab your lighters and your sweetie, and turn up the music. More specifically, turn up the power ballads. Yes, it is time I give proper verbiage to the power ballad. I’m not here to neither criticize nor praise, I’m here to do both, probably with a bit of humour on the side.
I grew up in a decade that provided the world with a many a power ballad. Now, the bands of the 80s didn’t invent them, far from it, and I am speaking very tongue-in-cheek when I say they perfected them, because in all honesty, the power ballad is a form of music that should be forgotten rather than perfected.
I will admit that there have been a few gems, a few hidden marvels among all the hair spray and acid wash. There have been a few nuggets of goodness tucked away in the leopard print spandex and cut off t-shirts. And there have been some stinkers too. Trust me. Having been to many a school dance in the 80s, when you just waited for one of these songs to come on so you could hold that girl just a little closer, I am an expert on this. Well, you started real close, pelvis to pelvis, but if she had any kind of rhythm you’d soon find yourself shoulder to shoulder but you’d have to bend at the hips to make sure the little Penguin wasn’t poking her since he woke up from his 14 year slumber. Or something like that. You took this opportunity to see just how far down her back your hand could slide before she said something. If you were lucky, or she was sufficiently drunk enough, your hand could slide all the way down onto her high school fit bum. Ah, those were the days.
I must preface this by saying most of the dances I went to in this era ended with the same song, a nearly 8 minute slow dance masterpiece by a little quartet out of England called Led Zeppelin. Although the song is highly overplayed and overrated, any song that let me plant my hands firmly on firm cheeks is okay by me. Stairway to Heaven was the song. I wonder if it is still being used today? I don’t classify Stairway as a power ballad though as I don’t think Zeppelin was what I would term a heavy metal band. For the time they were loud, yes, but Stairway is not a power ballad in my opinion. And this blog is all about my opinion. You are welcome to leave yours in the comments section below, but I might not read them. (Actually I read them all, but I’m playing the tough guy here).
Exactly when the power ballad started I do not know. I believe that Henry VIII had a band, along with a jester, and although big Hank like to rock out with his cock out, he did prefer a quiet tune every once in a while. It is rumoured that Anne Boleyn liked the heavy stuff so much Henry threatened that “she’d lose her head” with all that thrashing she did. But these are just rumours.
Now, the Rolling Stones had a few slower, quieter tunes but I don’t classify those as power ballads either. The first one I can think of, and it definitely qualifies as a power ballad, even though it will never feature at any kind of high school dance, unless there really is a Rock and Roll High School like the Ramones promised, is Changes by Black Sabbath. Early Black Sabbath, featuring a young Ozzy Osbourne, before many of the chemicals that led to his wonderful grasp of the English language that he has today, was a hard band. They rocked out. Changes opened with piano. Their other songs opened with a series of power chords on a turbo charged guitar. Changes, in my opinion, is a must have power ballad for your collection. Ozzy’s painful, heartfelt lyrics almost bring a tear to my eye. Almost, but then I remember his daughter released an album as well and then I really cry. A bit of foreshadowing here, but Ozzy will be back.
We’ll jump straight into the 80s and the early 90s, when women were women and men had feathered hair and skinny leather ties. The 80s burst onto the scene with the end of punk, which later resurfaced in a very fabricated way in the mid-90s. Heavy metal was soon capturing the imagination of youths throughout the world and heavy metal had a kid sister. Now, I’m calling it sister because of the make-up and hair products used by the members of these bands. Hair metal, as it was called, probably provided us with the most, and worst, power ballads of all time.
I’m going to backtrack a little bit here and say that one man has basically kept himself on the music scene for over 30 years based on his power ballad chops alone. I won’t give him any credit for imaginative album titles, but with Bat out of Hell, Bat out of Hell 2, and more recently, Bat out of Hell 3, Meatloaf has taken his simple formula of being a fat ugly guy, putting a super-hot chick in a video, sing about never-ending love and what he would do to find it and keep it, and he’s sold millions. I don’t own a Meatloaf album, but I won’t turn him off when he’s on the radio. I find his power ballads credible. I find his wooing of said hot chicks in the video laughable; but that is another story.
Enter Motley Crue, Poison, Ratt, Warrant, White Lion, the list goes on and on and on. Every single one of these bands hit the charts with a power ballad, when their normal tracks wouldn’t get near the charts. Some of these “classics” have me scratching my head, some are more than passable as good songs. Even Bon Jovi gave us “Wanted Dead or Alive”, a psuedo cowboy/rocker song in which Jon and the boys compare themselves to gunslingers on the Wild West. Nothing taps into American folklore like tales of the Wild West, and if you couple that with sex and rock and roll, it’s a sure fire winner. I loathe Bon Jovi, don’t like them one bit, but I won’t turn off this song. Score one for them.
Some wannabe hard rockers released power ballads that were their only claim to musical triviality. I wish I could go back through the anals of music and wipe Mr. Big from the face of it but I can’t. Ever since they released To be With You, one of the worst songs and videos in history, they have been immortalized. I wish they would have been pulverized, but I don’t get my wish. The song is too cheesy, too contrite, and there is more hair in the video than on the East German female weightlifting team in the 70s and 80s combined. I’m not just talking about armpits either. And there are no women in the video at all.
At least Motley Crue had the decency to have a “live” video for their power ballad Home Sweet Home. This way, we could concentrate on the women who frequented Motley Crue concerts, probably seeking make-up and hair advice, and spend less time getting the image of Tommy Lee’s appendage out of our heads. Although at the time the video was made, his video with Pam Anderson hadn’t been.
The sister of one of my friend’s growing up even had a power ballad as her wedding song. The band was Skid Row, the song I Remember You. I for one found it refreshing not to hear Bryan Adams or Peabo Bryson (Yeah, I pulled that name out of my ass, got a problem with that?) or Air Supply as a wedding song. I can listen to that Skid Row song every day if I wanted to. Maybe it is because of the memories that go with it, but I don’t mind the song. It’s not pretentious, I’ve never seen the video, and Skid Row disappeared shortly after.
Not to be outdone, Ozzy came back in the 80s, complete with puffy hair and make-up of his own, and teamed up with fellow hard rocker, Lita Ford (a woman as good with a guitar as she was in the sack, allegedly) for the eerily creepy Close my Eyes Forever. The beautiful thing about this song is that, at times, you have no idea which one of them is singing. This makes it a classic, an undisputable classic. And Ozzy’s hair is way better than hers.
If any of you rockers are planning on releasing a power ballad, here are my sure fire tips to release one that is successful. First, don’t be too cheesy with it. Don’t spout on about a love that will last forever because in this day and age, your love will last as long as your bank account, or your Vidal Sassoon contract. Secondly, if you are a good-looking guy, hire a not-so-pretty, overweight, slightly awkward guy to play you in the video. Then, hire a super-model or Natalie Portman to be the girl you woo in the video. I guarantee fame and fortune this way.
Third, don’t forget that your band has guitar players. Throw in some timely string work for added musical depth. And whatever you do, do not layer your vocals. Leave the intricate and crap vocal techniques to the boy bands. If you are the singer, sing, all others can keep their traps shut until it is their moment to scream out a few words in the background.
And so, that wraps up this little entry about the power ballad. I no longer need the power ballad to grab an ass. All I need is someone flirty beside me willing to have said ass grabbed. But in a respectful, appreciative way. And please don’t let the power ballad destroy your faith in music. Leave that duty to Justin Bieber.