Some might consider the power ballad to be a guilty pleasure. Not so at Classic Rock.
On February 14 – Valentine’s Day, of course – we presented the definitive list of The 40 Greatest Power Ballads. But now, we’re going deeper… this time, it’s not about the monster hits.
For the dedicated expert in melodic rock, some of the songs included here will be long established as cult classics. Some were recorded by megastars, others by those poor sods whose big break never came. But in every case, the story is the same: a great song that ended up a lost classic…
20. Eyes – Don’t Turn Around (1990)
The song is well known as a hit for reggae band Aswad in 1988. It was co-written by Diane Warren – author of hits by Cher, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper and many more – and was originally recorded by Tina Turner. But the best version of Don’t Turn Around was by a little known and short-lived rock band named Eyes, led by powerhouse singer Jeff Scott Soto. In a varied career – including stints with Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey, and melodic rock supergroup W.E.T. – the first Eyes album is one of the best that Soto has made. And on Don’t Turn Around, reworked as a melodramatic ballad, he transformed a sweet little pop song into an AOR juggernaut.
19. Night Ranger – Time Of Our Lives (2011)
In 1984, Night Ranger had the biggest hit of their career with Sister Christian, one of the all-time great power ballads, which reached number five in the US. This was no fluke: the band’s mastery of the art was evident on subsequent hits such as Sentimental Street and Goodbye. And they’ve still got it. On the 2011 album Somewhere In California is Time Of Our Lives – a modern classic.
18. Danger Danger – I Still Think About You (1991)
Classic Rock writer and power ballad enthusiast Jon Hotten has a theory based on the monkey-and–typewriter principle: that every two-bit hair metal band had at least one great song in them. Danger Danger had plenty of big, dumb party anthems, such as Naughty Naughty and Monkey Business. But their great song was I Still Think About You, an acoustic ballad with a killer chorus. They even had the perfect video for it: a black-and-white on-the-road piece, styled on Bon Jovi’s Wanted Dead Or Alive. But for Danger Danger, it was too late. In 1991, when this song was released as a single, alternative rock was on the rise.
17. John Waite – Welcome To Paradise (1985)
No British singer has a finer AOR pedigree than John Waite, a Jedi master of the power ballad. As a solo artist he had a US number one in 1984 with Missing You, his signature song. And five years later, as frontman for melodic rock supergroup Bad English, he repeated the trick with When I See You Smile. By contrast, Welcome To Paradise was a complete stiff, peaking at number 85 on the US chart in 1985. But it’s a wonderful song, sung as only he can, with a lyric expressing the loneliness of an Englishman in New York.
16. Spys – Younger Days (1983)
A relaxed attitude to spelling was not the only unconventional feature of Spys. Strangely for a band that was led by two ex-members of Foreigner – bassist Ed Gagliardi and keyboard player Al Greenwood – their music was a mix of melodic hard rock and a left-of-centre new wave sensibility. This was not a winning formula: the band’s two albums flopped. But was good stuff on both records, and on the second, Behind Enemy Lines, the poignant and richly atmospheric synth-rock ballad Younger Days.
15. Strangeways – Goodnight L.A. (1986)
In the late 80s there were three great AOR bands in the UK: FM, Dare and Strangeways. None of them made it big, but all made brilliant records. Strangeways, formed by Scottish brothers Ian and David Stewart, hit their peak in 1986 with their second album Native Sons, on which their new American singer Terry Brock elevated their music to a whole new level. Brock was the next best thing to Steve Perry, and showed it on Goodnight L.A., the killer track on a near-flawless album.
14. Bryan Adams – Native Son (1987)
Never mind Smells Like Teen Spirit – the biggest song of 1991 was not a grunge anthem but the mother of all power ballads. Bryan Adams broke all records with (Everything I Do) I Do It For You. It topped the charts in 18 countries, and in the UK it still holds the record for the longest running number one in history – a whopping 16 weeks. But Adams’ greatest ballad was not a hit, or even a single. Native Son was an album track on 1987’s Into The Fire. With a lyric that addressed the struggles of North American Indians, this song revealed a more serious side to the Groover from Vancouver. And he put everything he had into it.
13. FM – Every Time I Think Of You (1989)
They were hyped as Britain’s answer to Bon Jovi, and with their second album Tough It Out it seemed as if FM couldn’t fail. They even had a couple of songs co-written by Desmond Child, the so-called ‘hit doctor’ who had applied his Midas touch to hits for Bon Jovi, Aerosmith and Cher. In the end, Tough It Out didn’t do the business for FM. But it is, arguably, the best British AOR album ever recorded. And among the many tracks that coulda woulda shoulda been hits is Every Time I Think Of You, a perfectly crafted song, brilliantly sung by Steve Overland.
12. Tyketto – End Of The Summer Days (1993)
The debut album by Tyketto was aptly named. Don’t Come Easy was a great melodic rock record, but when it was released in 1991, the band’s record company Geffen had other priorities – chiefly, Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana. As a result, Tyketto got lost in the shuffle and were dropped by the label while recording their second album Strength In Numbers. That album was eventually released in the UK by indie label Music For Nations, and its highlight was End Of The Summer Days – a classic song built on acoustic guitars, with a wonderfully evocative lyric and vocal from Danny Vaughn, a guy whose talent has always deserved a bigger stage.
11. From The Fire – Tears Cried In The Rain (1992)
This was not a band blessed with star quality. AOR guru Derek Oliver once said of From The Fire: “They looked like a bad shipping accident.” What’s more, the New Yorkers’ debut album – cheekily titled Thirty Days And Dirty Nights – was doomed to failure when it was released in 1992, at the height of grunge mania. But the album is a cult classic – with the majestic ballad Tears Cried In The Rain its crowning glory.
10. Dan Reed Network – The Salt Of Joy (1991)
Rock’n’roll can be a cruel game. On the three albums that the Dan Reed Network made between 1988 and 1991 there were so many great songs that should have been hits, and none of them were – not even Rainbow Child, a hippy-style love song that sounded like Prince. So too did The Salt Of Joy, the standout track from the Network’s third album, The Heat. It was, in essence, Dan Reed’s Purple Rain. Except that the title wasn’t so catchy – a little too highbrow, perhaps. And when the album slipped under the radar, another great song went with it.
9. Diving For Pearls – New Moon (1989)
They were so close, and yet so far. In 1989, the debut album by New York group Diving For Pearls sold more than 200,000 copies in the US, and yet still it wasn’t enough to save them from being dropped. In 2011, the album was reissued by Rock Candy Records, who described it as “quite possibly one of the most overlooked works of a time when great hooks, savage guitars, enthralling song structures and expressive vocals ruled the world with a rod of (velvet-coated) iron.” And so it was. There were amazing songs throughout the album, and in New Moon, a classy ballad in the style of Def Leppard’s Hysteria.
8. Mr. Mister – The Border (1987)
On their 1985 album Welcome To The Real World, Mr. Mister created a perfect hybrid of AOR and new wave, and ended up with two number one hits in America – Kyrie and Broken Wings. But it was a completely different story with the follow-up, Go On… With that record, Mr. Mister couldn’t buy a hit. There was, however, one great song on it: The Border, a quasi-spiritual anthem in which singer Richard Page delivered a message of peace and love to the world. Only nobody was listening…
7. Dare – King Of Spades (1988)
Darren Wharton, frontman for Dare, had been the keyboard player in Thin Lizzy for a few years before they split in 1983. And so, on Dare’s debut album Out Of The Silence, he wrote a memorial for Lizzy’s leader Phil Lynott, who had died in 1986. The irony in title King Of Spades was lost on Wharton, but the song was an emotional tour de force with echoes of Lizzy in the guitar playing of Vinny Burns. Also featured on Out Of The Silence: future celebrity boffin Brian Cox!
6. Michael Bolton – Call My Name (1985)
It’s a fine line between AOR and MOR, and nobody knows that better than Michael Bolton. In the early 80s he was a cult hero making great melodic hard rock records. By the end of that decade he’d reinvented himself as a soul balladeer, and was a major star. The 1985 album Everybody’s Crazy was the last that he made before selling out. For many AOR fans, it’s his masterpiece. And although he later got rich with a series of hit power ballads, he never topped the one he recorded for Everybody’s Crazy. A monument to self-pity, Call My Name is proof that ‘Sir Michael’ really was one of the greatest rock singers of his generation.
5. Steve Perry – Captured By The Moment (1984)
On the Journey singer’s solo debut Street Talk there was one mega-hit, Oh Sherrie. Among the album’s deep cuts was a power ballad with a difference. Captured By The Moment was not a love song but a eulogy for heroes of a lost age – including Martin Luther King, JFK, The Beatles, and legendary soul singer Sam Cooke. Steve Perry always put a lot of emotion into his songs, and never more so than here.
4. Boston – Livin’ For You (1994)
Brad Delp was the best singer that Boston ever had – the voice of More Than A Feeling and so many other signature songs. But on the band’s fourth album Walk On, Delp was absent, and in his place was Fran Cosmo, who had previously worked with ex-Boston guitarist Barry Goudreau. And the performance by Cosmo on this album was astonishing. He was almost – almost – as good as Delp, and he proved it on Livin’ For You. Boston’s leader Tom Scholz wrote other great ballads, including the US number one hit Amanda, but this one was on an altogether deeper level.
3. Survivor – Ever Since The World Began (1982)
In the summer of 1982, Survivor ruled the world with Eye Of The Tiger, which hit number one in America, the UK and elsewhere. But the follow-up single, piano-led ballad Ever Since The World Began, was an unmitigated disaster. It didn’t even chart in the US. And it was only with a third single from the Eye Of The Tiger album – American Heartbeat – that the band proved they were no one-hit wonders. For all that, Ever Since The World Began still stands as one of Survivor’s finest songs, with a career-best performance from singer Dave Bickler, the beret-wearing Che Guevara of AOR.
2. Journey – Loved By You (2000)
No band in rock history has more classic power ballads than Journey – the best of them, sung by Steve Perry, including the US mega-hits Open Arms and Faithfully. But then there is the band’s lost classic, Loved By You. It wasn’t a hit, and Perry didn’t sing it. Instead, it was recorded with Steve Augeri, who joined Journey after Perry walked out for good in 1998 – or rather hobbled out, with a bad hip that had left him unable to tour. Loved By You was the best song on the 2000 album Arrival, and Augeri sang it beautifully. Just like Perry, in fact. Sadly for Augeri, this was as good as it got. Out on tour, that wonderful voice started failing him. He never made another album with Journey.
1. Valentine – Never Said It Was Gonna Be Easy (1990)
When the debut album by Valentine arrived in 1990, fans of melodic rock couldn’t quite believe what they were hearing. The singer in this New York-based band – named simply, and enigmatically, Hugo – sounded uncannily like Steve Perry. He looked just like Perry too, with long straight hair and a big hooter. And while the Valentine album wasn’t in the same league as Journey’s landmark albums – the holy trinity of Escape, Frontiers and Raised On Radio – Valentine had one song that would go down in history as one of the definitive and classic power ballads. Never Said It Was Gonna Be Easy is epic stuff, almost seven minutes long, heroically overblown and overwrought. The lyrics are pure AOR: “The days were long and the nights were never ending.” And in every word that Hugo sang was an emotional depth that really only Perry himself could match. Tragically, the Valentine album died a quiet death. But in the hearts of a few, this magical song lives on.