I’ll admit it, I’m an unashamed and unabashed fan of that most majestic of musical genres – the power ballad. This may not be a particularly cutting-edge passion of mine, but I urge you, nay I dare you, to listen to some of the tunes listed below and not feel at least a smidgen of the awesomeness contained therein.
For the uninitiated, Wikipedia defines a power ballad simply as “a ballad performed in a rock music style,” while elsewhere noting that “power ballads came into existence in the early 1970s, when rock stars attempted to convey profound messages to audiences.” These definitions are clearly only scratching the surface of the emotional power of these titanic songs. Urbandictionary.com is only slightly more helpful, stating that it is “a form of heavy metal music in which the listener is tempted to pump their fist into the air repeatedly synchronized with the emotional impact said song inflicts upon the listener.” (I also refer you to the 3rd definition on that page, which I’m too prudish to quote here.) While I find the heavy metal description inaccurate, this does at least get more to the way in which these totems of tunecraft can stir the emotions and move you to increasingly unfashionable dance moves.
For me, a power ballad is a song, most commonly from the 80s, that combines the standard elements of a rock song (electric guitars, drums, charismatic lead vocalist) with lyrics that tell a story that stirs the emotions, often accompanied by a soaring chorus, epic guitar solos and key changes that take your breath away, evoking images of gravity-defying mullets and fashion-defying shoulder pads. Other than that, it’s hard to pin it down further than to say that when know a power ballad when you hear one (which doesn’t make it highly contestable at all!). My own love of power ballads blossomed at university, dancing along to some Bon Jovi in the Union, brooding angstfully in my room in halls and, in an unforgettable moment, duetting to ‘(Everything I Do), I Do It For You‘ with Mr Steve Causley in a karaoke bar in Beijing. ‘Epic’ doesn’t even come close.
You can listen to my painstakingly-crafted Power Ballads playlist on Spotify here. (It’s not exhaustive, but nonetheless hits most of my personal favourite specimens of songsmithery.)
But enough of all this faff! Let’s get down to this ridiculously tricky and highly contentious business of my top 10 Power Ballads of all time. Happy to field outraged disagreements in the comments, but let’s keep this civil shall we?