The Rockstar Ramblings: The Power Ballads
Band Photo: Motley Crue (?)
Ever since Led Zeppelin released Stairway To Heaven, hard rock bands have showcased their sensitive spot through the power ballad. No genre exploited this format more than the eighties hair bands. A formula that started early: Release a heavy song, maybe two, and then release a ballad was a staple for the glam and spandex bands. This week we pay tribute to these songs. Despite a self imposed limit of one song per band, whittling down the list was a challenging. Let’s face it, no two top ten lists of this nature are ever the same. To assist, a sealed scorecard using lyrics, video presence, and longevity was used to determine the top ten power ballads.
10. Love Bites (Def Leppard) : Beginning with the narcissistic lyrics “When you make love…who do you think of…does he look like me”, Joe Elliot quickly establishes to all that self confidence is not an area he is lacking. Complimented with a video in which Elliot performs his staple move (in ballads) of moving slowly to the microphone before he sings; Joe and his band are in a dark room, most wearing sun glasses as well as jean jackets which were also not lacking for this band.
9. The Ballad of Jayne (L.A. Guns) : A cool band name, a video that includes a red carpet, and a song with the word ballad in the title is good for number nine on this list.
8. Fly To The Angels (Slaughter) : A sad song about death with a video shot in an airplane hanger (get it?) tells the story of loss and also a lot about their fan base, mostly women whom Slaughter apparently didn’t think could handle a serious video. Random shots of airplanes from the sixties give a bizarre take on a song that over the radio hit notes so high car windshields would shatter, at least we think it was the notes and not the overall song.
7. Heaven (Warrant) : Overall this is a pretty weak song, a forgettable video (except of course for the Jani Lane thrusts to his knees), and may not even be their best ballad. However, Jani and the boys have had a tough few years so I’m putting them at number seven, plus, it seems like every compilation album named Rock Ballads, Super Ballads, or Super Rock Ballads has this as one of the top songs so I’ll bite and throw Lane and company a bone. You’re welcome.
6. 18 and Life (Skid Row) : The classic ballad off the self titled debut from Skid Row is accompanied by an incredible video that thrills me to this day. The video begins with a “young adult” in prison. We know he has done something bad because he has long hair and is smoking. The video takes us back to the start of the story, a setting that is a trailer/meth lab where we meet the father of the boy; the father is a badass not because he has long hair or is smoking, but because he has a disheveled beard and throws his son through the front door. This life changing event in the “young adult” characters life leads him to wearing his flannel shirt around his waist and a weathered jean jacket – the exact outfit the John Bender character wore in The Breakfast Club. The jaw dropping part of the video comes NOT when a drunk, “young adult” shoots his friend, but rather the length of time a very large fire burns in the background before the Fire Department showed up. Had they had a better response time couldn’t the whole murder have been avoided? If I was the father from the trailer/meth lab I would have gotten a lawyer and fought this.
5. Wanted Dead or Alive (Bon Jovi) : This is the song where Jon Bon Jovi shows the world how hard it is to be a rock star. Sitting in restaurants, countless interviews, airplanes, and even crowded elevators leave the pain you can feel in his voice. Each time I hear about this band I think about how much they have persevered, fighting through crowds of fans and finding time to sleep on beds of cash. Seriously Jon, it’s not our fault you can’t sleep on an airplane, be a man, and take a Xanax like the rest of us.
4. Here I Go Again (Whitesnake) : Let’s not even get into the whole Tawny Kitaen part of this. This song has been sung by more strippers and alcoholics than all other ballads combined. Using three keyboards the lyrics start soft, but head only one way…THE ONLY WAY I”VE EVER KNOWN…it’s hard not to get caught up in this one. Okay, screw it, what is the favorite Tawny Kitaen position in the video? 1. Spread eagle on the hood? 2. Hanging out the passenger window, legs inside? 3. Next to Coverdale in the Jaguar? I go with #2 (close finish with #1).
3. Sweet Child O’ Mine (Guns N Roses) : November Rain may be the definitive ballad for this band, but this was the song that opened up GNR to the masses. This is the video where Axl breaks out the snake move and the aviators over the bandana look. One interesting side note is watching Izzy Stradlin and Slash both smoke their cigarettes without using their hands, some sort of no-hands smoking competition that never really took off after the eighties.
2. Every Rose Has It’s Thorn (Poison) : The break-up ballad of the eighties pulls the number two spot on my list. Non-complicated lyrics that tell the story of the pains and suffering that comes with relationships and a video that delivered the comedy we expected from Poison. First, why is Bret so pissed in this live concert footage? It looks like each time he walks back stage he is throwing a temper tantrum by throwing a towel or plastic cup at a chalkboard. Secondly, when the lyrics have the word “pain” you may not want the video shot to be Bret Michaels getting his ankle wrapped. Seriously? This is major pain? Finally, the fashion diva C.C. Deville was clearly ahead of the times, breaking out the fedora many years before it was an acceptable fashion statement. Note that had a no-hands smoking competition been sanctioned and flourished into the next decade, Bobby Dall could have challenged Izzy and Slash.
1. Home Sweet Home (Motley Crue) : The song that made it okay for the eighties hair bands to go soft now and then, the positive consequences of course being that you will double your fan base, as radio listeners and women begin following. There is no challenging the popularity of a song featured in the cinematic event of the summer, Hot Tub Time Machine, right? Anyway, there is a video that has twice dominated MTV (a new video was created after the release of Decade of Decadence). The classic video started by characterizing the band members of Motley Crue so distinctly it was as if they had already been typecast (it reminded me of watching an episode of My Two Dads: one was uptight and you knew this because he wore a suit and had a job, the other had long hair and wore colorful shirts, he was the free spirit dad). First Vince Neil plays the beach bum role, complete with a visor, next Mick Mars is apparently living like The Adams Family, then Nikki gets a call at a bar where it is assumed he is waiting for his dealer, and finally Tommy Lee gets the call, Lee is at either a really fun party with plenty of young girls, or the set for a Dateline special and Chris Hansen is going to be showing up soon, this is still not clear to me. Eventually THEY ARE ALL ON THEIR WAY and we get to the song with bitter sweet lyrics that make you want to reach into your pocket, pull out your lighter, and then hold it up until it is too hot to hold any longer. Did this song make girls like hair bands? Maybe, maybe not. What we can conclude from the video is that Motley, or at least Vince Neil, has no problem going for the slightly overweight version of the females, even letting them help sing the chorus. Vince has always been a giver. An interesting side note is that this was Sixx’s brief jumpsuit phase. In the video he is wearing a red jumpsuit, similar to the one Elvis used to wear when he put on a few pounds. Nikki was wearing his jumpsuit for an entirely different reason. So there you have it, if it’s good enough for Hot Tub Time Machine its good enough for me. Wait, the guy from Hot Tub Time Machine allegedly tried committing suicide listening to this song? Oh wait, SPOILER ALERT, oh wait, too late…
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