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Thursday, May 06, 2004

Best Power Ballads

There's been discussion over here about what makes a good power ballad.

Which led me to thinking about what actually constitutes a "power ballad."

So I thought about it, and came up with this ersatz definition:

* It's a ballad (in the collquial sense), namely a song in a slow tempo that, at least at first, is played and sung softly.
* The volume and/or intensity (and sometimes the tempo) of the song is ramped up significantly, either between the verse/bridge and bridge/chorus (most common), or from one verse to the next.
* Power ballads are usually love songs, but need not be; they only need refrain from connoting aggression or menace. If you have one of those emotional elements in a song, you have something other than a power ballad. (e.g. AC/DC's "Hells Bells" and Nirvana's "Heart Shaped Box" aren't power ballads, despite their slow tempos and relatively soft starts.)

The acid test for a power ballad at a rock concert:
It makes you want to get out the lighter, but at some point in the song put it away.

Dirges (e.g. Pink Floyd's "Hey You," or Aerosmith's "Kings And Queens") and slow burners (e.g. Soundgarden's "Outshined" or Van Halen's "And The Cradle Will Rock")don't bring the lighters; straight-ahead ballads keep them on the entire song.

There are always two main areas of ambiguity when it comes to defining the term "power ballad."
1. Could the song be considered a "power ballad" if it were made before the term was invented, sometime in the 80s? We associate power ballads with hair metal bands of course, but they were taking a page from earlier rockers in crafting tunes of this variety, most notably the Rolling Stones and The Who.
2. Does it have to be by an artist or group that is known for being "rockers" who "take it down a notch," at least for some of the song in question? Or can pop artists produce them as well?

In the realm of 70s proto-power ballads, we have:
The Who, "Love, Reign O'er Me"
Aerosmith, "Dream On"
Derek & The Dominoes, "Bell Bottom Blues"

More traditionally, my own personal list:
Def Leppard, "Love Bites"
Queensyrche, "Silent Lucidity"
Night Ranger, "Sister Christian"
Motley Crue, "Home Sweet Home"
Aerosmith, "What It Takes"
Metallica, "Fade To Black"

I'd have Guns n' Roses' "November Rain" on the list, but it's at least 3 minutes too long, and the only really good part is the ending.


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