According to that bastion of encyclopaedic culture, Wikipedia, power ballads can be spotted because they are “slow tempo songs often building to a loud emotive chorus backed by drums, electric guitars and sometimes choirs.”
So far so good, but what makes a great power ballad? Well, it’s two things really; the ability to make the listener clench their fist in true power ballad style, and the ability to make the listener get their lighters out of their pockets and sway.
While the well known power ballads continue to remain heard on countless compilations, here The Buzz Kill looks at 10 songs that are tragically overlooked.
Some scream ‘power ballad!’ like you can’t believe while others stretch the limits, but they all have vital factors they share with the best. Play it loud, or not at all.
10: Danger Danger – One Step From Paradise (from Danger Danger, 1988)
Ah, Danger Danger. They made one good album in 1988, then promptly disappeared from the face of the earth. This is the big power ballad from that same said good album, the eponymous debut. Again, something more obscure could have been chosen, but who aside from the hardcore glam metal community particularly remembers Danger Danger these days?
Oh, you do. Well this is still fantastic regardless. You’ve got the heavy guitar intro followed by solo piano (a classic hallmark), and a monster drum fill or two. The tempo is reassuringly lugubrious from the off, and the chorus is worth singing. Worth every penny, we’d say.
9: Toto – 99 (from Hydra, 1979)
Formerly-awesome-yet-now-quite-dull stadium rockers Toto were formed after the cream of LA’s session musicians had a singular thought – “sod this for a lark”. (See Mister Mister for comparison). This song, an ode to Flake chocolates, is an oft-looked gem from an oft-looked album, their sophomore, proggy Hydra, released in 1979. It maybe stretches the boundaries of ‘power balladry’ at parts where Jeff Porcaro tries to instil some life into proceedings with swift hi-hatting, but the piano, the intro and extended outro…as David Frost would say on Through the Keyhole, “the clues are there.”
Plus bask in the fact it’ll most probably never be played again, as guitarist Steve Lukather allegedly “hates” this song.
Trivia: 99 is of course not an ode to Flake chocolates. Moreover, the song’s theme was based around the cult 1971 George Lucas film THX 1138, where Lucas envisions a reality whereby people are known by number instead of name. This song is quite proggy after all, but we’re still picking it over material from Toto IV, because all the power ballads on that album suck. And don’t even mention ‘I’ll Be Over You’.
8: Symphonic Slam – Everytime (from Symphonic Slam, 1976)
Hands up if you know who Symphonic Slam are? Well, here’s a little history lesson. They (well, it was essentially a Timo Laine solo project – what do you mean ‘who’?) were pivotal in the development of the guitar synthesiser. Hell, his official website proclaims him as “godfather of the synth guitar.” What’s not to love there?
Well for a start, the one album he released under the Symphonic Slam banner is maddeningly inconsistent. But the good stuff is still good, even if it sounds a bit dated to modern ears. People didn’t care upon its release as it related closest to the progressive rock genre, but a lot of it isn’t even close to prog.
Everytime is just a damn good ballad, with many power ballad attributes – slow pace; anthemic refrain; synth guitar line in the background; and great lyrics “every time I ask my love if she’s going to stay/every time she says to me wait one more day”. Pump your fist to that one folks – don’t say you didn’t.
This is possibly the most obscure song in our list (so much so that The Buzz Kill editorial staff had to upload it to Youtube themselves – don’t say we don’t treat you well), but it’s still more than worthy of wasting our lighter fluid.
7: Quiet Riot – Don’t Wanna Be Your Fool (from Quiet Riot, 1988)
Trust us, even if you were a big Quiet Riot fan you’d be hard pushed to remember this one. This was the ballad from the band’s eponymous 1988 album, generally regarded as one of the weakest albums they put out and worthy of a pathetic one-star rating by the All Music Guide.
But meh, screw them. What makes Don’t Wanna Be Your Fool so obscure is that it comes from the only QR album not to feature leader Kevin Dubrow on lead vocals. Dubrow probably would have made this even better than it is now, sure, but his replacement Paul Shortino certainly gives enough gusto to pull it off.
Yes along with the rest of the album, Don’t Wanna Be Your Fool is faceless and hook-less, but the chorus is there to be sung, alongside a surprisingly good guitar solo. And if there’s a genre where one can get away with being faceless, it’s the power ballad. So even though the album sucks, get your lighter out and crank this one up to 11, right?
6: Europe – Carrie (from The Final Countdown, 1986)
Well yes, this isn’t very obscure of course, but part of the reason this was put up was to prove that Europe’s musical output didn’t solely consist of ‘The Final Countdown’. (Hypocrite alert: this is brilliant, by the way). Europe’s Greatest Hits collection features a few spectacular tracks, a few duff tracks, but overall you feel pleased after hearing it in its entirety. Problem is, of course, that Europe’s concerts are 90% full of fans who care not one jot for their other output, waiting for Final Countdown at the end (philistines – see Journey for another example).
This has a real feel of “album track promoted to single that did surprisingly well” about it, and yes it’s schlocky, but all the hallmarks are there. It’s a solid love song, Joey Tempest’s voice and lead guitar is wailing, and the block chords make the tune. “Can’t you see it in my eyes/this may be our last goodbye?” Sob. A box of tissues as well as a lighter this way please.
Do check out Part Two counting down the greatest obscure power ballads from 5-1, which will be on the website this Sunday.