10. Bon Jovi - Never Say Goodbye (1986)
Ah, the memories. Grown men in spandex and scarves, with ratty hair, crooning about lost loves and busted hearts. That might sound cringe-worthy now, but when Bon Jovi released Slippery When Wet in ’86 they could do no wrong. With Never Say Goodbye and its album sibling Without Love, BJ had the power ballad thing down to an art as fine as the jet-spray from a can of Cossack (or whatever it was they used to sculpt their barnets back in the days). Jon’s vocals teeter just on the right side of twee – he actually gets surprisingly intense on the mid-section passage – and Richie Sambora’s ringing guitar work prevents it from becoming too slushy. The triumphant refrain ‘Together – forever!’ guarantees a Top 10 position.
Choice lyric: ‘Holdin’ on – we got to try/ Holdin’ on to never say goodbye’
9. Def Leppard - Love Bites (1987)
Originally on Def Leppard’s all-conquering Hysteria album, this song emerged in the same year as Whitesnake’s Is This Love. Both songs were plainly tailored for the US market, where power ballads have the greatest resonance. The gambit paid off: Love Bites made it all the way to the top spot in the States when it was released as a single in summer 1988. Producer Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange coaxes a remarkably fine vocal performance out of Joe Elliott on Love Bites. The paranoia in the opening lines is palpable: ‘When you make love, do you look in the mirror? Who do you think of? Does he look like me?’ The call-and- response chorus is impeccable. And, ingeniously and unusually, the song ends on a low spot: when love bites, warns Elliott, ‘it will be hell’. Tell us about it. We’ve still got the teeth marks.
Choice lyric: see above
8. Reo Speedwagon - Can’t Fight This Feeling (1984)
In truth we could have included any one of several contenders from REO Speedwagon. Like Keep On Loving You ad infinitum, Can’t Fight This Feeling presses all the right buttons on the power ballad beverage machine… and delivers a hot chocolate with six sugars and a Cadbury’s Flake on top. As sweet and sticky as you like. Singer Kevin Cronin sounds somewhat sappy but so what – we’re not talking extreme-metal deathcore here.
Choice lyric: ‘My life has been such a whirlwind since I saw you/I’ve been running round in circles in my mind’
7. Whitesnake - Is This Love (1987)
Power balladry with added ham. This monster from Whitesnake’s 1987 album begins slowly and throbbingly, and David Coverdale’s vibrato (‘I should have known better/ Than to let you go al-o-O-O-O-o-ne’) is weirdly compulsive. Like the bulge in Dave’s underpants, this song just grows and grows. By the end he’s got an erection tall enough to ride one of the scariest rides at Alton Towers without a parent. That said, Is This Love is more sentimental than sleazy. And that tinkle-tinkle repeat phrase on the keyboard is genius.
Choice lyric: ‘I need you by my side/To tell me it’s alright/Cos I don’t think I can take any more’
6. Heart - Alone (1987)
This song was written by Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly, who would go on to write Eternal Flame, The Bangles’ balladic blockbuster. For Heart, the songwriting duo made a key lyrical change from their original version of Alone. They altered the line in the chorus ‘I always fared well on my own’ to ‘Til now, I always got by on my own’ – massively more emotive. This giant of a song reached No.1 in the States and No.3 in the UK. Ann Wilson’s voice goes stratospheric as she relates the tale of a confirmed singleton who suddenly finds true love. But there’s a twist: ‘The secret is still my own’. (In other words, whoever-he-is is oblivious to her affections). Giving a double meaning to the title, Ann later asks: ‘How do I get you alone?’ What fantastic songwriting.
Choice lyric: ‘I never really cared until I met you/ And now it chills me to the bone’
5. Meat Loaf - Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad (1978)
Most of Meat Loaf’s output is too histrionic for consideration here. In this genre, misty-eyed restraint is just as important as brazen outpourings of emotion. But the Loaf rises to the occasion on Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad. His tremulous voice sounds 100 per cent genuine, and he delivers Jim Steinman’s flamboyant lyrics like someone who has a gun to his head. But again, there’s a neat twist: despite all his whimpering about wanting her and needing her, Meat says there’s no way he’s ever going to love her. Hence the song title.
Choice lyric: ‘You’ve been cold to me for so long/I’m cryin’ icicles instead of tears’
4. Guns N’ Roses - November Rain (1991)
Guns achieved a delicate balance with November Rain: it’s beautiful without being sappy, tormented without being wrist-slashing. Away from urging his enemies to get in the fucking ring, Axl Rose was adept at writing some melting romantic poetry. With the rest of GN’R for once in synch with his vision, and with one of those guitar solos from Slash, Axl’s song ebbs and flows, bobs and weaves, ducks and dives… It’s as sad and brittle as holding a dead bird in your hand. (And remember the accompanying video depicting Stephanie Seymour’s funeral? Blub!)
Choice lyric: ‘It’s hard to hold a candle/In the cold November rain’
3. Journey - Open Arms (1982)
In the US, Journey were the undisputed sultans of the surge-athon (this song reached No.2 over there). But with typical British reserve we found it difficult to embrace a band that advocated plenty of lovin’, touchin’ ’n’ squeezin’ among their fans. Open Arms has a theme in common with the top two in our chart: its schmaltz is offset by blistering, bleeding-heart vocals (in this case by the incomparable Steve Perry).
Choice lyric: ‘We sailed on together/We drifted apart/And here you are by my side’
2. Poison - Every Rose Has Its Thorn (1989)
Poison had previously shown few signs of having a soft centre (Talk Dirty To Me, anyone?) so when they released the fragile EveryRose Has Its Thorn it shocked the hell out of people. A suitably barbed composition, this is singer Bret Michaels’s finest hour. His semi-tearful display (and especially his pronunciation of ‘cowboy’ as ‘kee-arh-b-hoy’) elevates this sad, sad song into the fluffiest echelons of power ballad-dom. Even bad boys with big hair get the blues.
Choice lyric: ‘Instead of making love… we both made our separate ways’
1. Aerosmith - I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing (1998)
Aerosmith toyed with the power ballad formula as early as 1973 with the floaty Dream On. 25 years later, with the help of composer Diane Warren and exposure in the film Armageddon, I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing hit No1. in the US and No.4 in the UK. It’s a poignant epic characterised by one of Steven Tyler’s most impassioned performances. He takes an essentially wimpy song and transforms it into one of soul-searing grandeur via some feral vocal pyrotechnics (‘Forever, forever… and E-E-E-EVER!’). Ms Warren – more at home with the likes of Celine Dion and Whitney Houston – must’ve been awestruck by this interpretation of her song. In literary terms, the Boys From Boston transformed a chaste romantic novel into a steamy bodice-ripper.
Choice lyric: ‘Cos even when I dream of you/ The sweetest dream will never do’
Bonus: The whole lot, as a single playlist.