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.