I started out thinking, “Okay, what are just some great songs that reduce me to tears?” to “What are songs I would consider absolutely beautiful to listen to?” to finally, “The power ballad. Come on.” You really can’t go wrong with the power ballad because it’s kick-ass music from larger-than-life bands with the intimacy and lyrical potency of an independent band. If I made a mistake in classifying something as a “power ballad” when you don’t think it’s applicable; well, I’m sure I’ll be corrected on that. Anyhow, as usual with my lists, there are quite a few great ones I’m leaving off, but as is, here is my Top Ten Favorite Power Ballads:
10. One – Metallica
This is one (ha) from Metallica offers their usual head-banging guitar with a story about a man – a soldier specifically – who loses his limbs in war and becomes trapped inside his own body. “I cannot live; I cannot die, trapped in myself.” At about the four or so minute mark, you get a really cool guitar solo that just amps up the teeth-gritting music. Also, I didn’t link it here, but if you get a chance, I would recommend the music video, as it is pretty bad-ass.
9. The Show Must Go On – Queen
Man, what an absolutely beautiful song this is. Freddie Mercury was in the last stages of his life after battling AIDs, but he was still performing. This powerful song from one of the greatest vocalists of all time was the result. Mercury’s vocals here compounded by lines like, “Inside my heart is breaking, my make-up may be flaking, but my smile still stays on,” lend the song a very tangible weightiness. He certainly didn’t let his life-threatening disease slow him down.
8. Wonderful Tonight – Eric Clapton
Clapton brings one of my all-time favorite romance songs; his voice is soothing, the music as romantic as ever and I think it’s the simplicity of it that attracts me to it, “You look wonderful tonight.” That’s it, but it conveys such beauty.
7. Total Ellipse of the Heart – Bonnie Tyler
When I first discovered music as recently-turned teenager, I was unbelievably obsessed with this song. It was just, well, powerful, as this whole list signifies. Bonnie Tyler sings her heart out and when she really gets into it with that raspy, guttural vocal, “Love is like a shadow on me all of the time, I don’t know what to do, I’m always in the dark; I really need you tonight.” It was like she was reaching the glass ceiling of her vocal ability, but damn it works here.
6. With or Without You – U2
How can you not love U2? They are timeless and put out timeless songs decade after decade; their consistency is scary good. For my money, this one is among their absolute best. Bono kills it here with the slow-build to an emotional range most artists don’t possess. You can’t help but hang on his every word. When an artist repeats himself over and over in a song, I find it creates a great deal of potency. So, when he kicks it up and says, “And you give and you give and you giiiiive yourself away,” I thought it added a lot to the song. Also, how cool does Bono look in the music video? I want to be Bono.
5. Who Wants to Live Forever – Queen
If you thought the last Queen song on this list was beautiful, moving and touching, then try this one out for size; my goodness. I don’t think there is another Queen song that captures just what was so magical and unique about Mercury’s vocal ability.
4. Civil War – Guns N’ Roses
No doubt about it, Axel Rose is in top form here with his vocals and delivery and the band informs it therein with great guitar and drum moments, but the reason this song makes my list is because the lyrics are awesome. Come on, it’s a protest song about war; of course I’m going to love it. The song goes, “You can’t trust freedom when it ain’t in your hands; when everybody’s fightin’ for their promised land.” Then he ends it with one of my favorite sign-off lines in music, “What’s so civil about war, anyway?” I can’t tell you how many times I sat in my car extending my time before something (more important) in order to hear that on the radio.
3. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
Usually, Floyd has more of a psychedelic vibe to them and there’s some residual bit of that here, but this style is more, “Okay, we’re going to slow it down and just sing; let’s let the words and music stand alone.” And this song has one of my favorite lyrics in all of music, “We’re just two lost bowls swimming in a fish bowl year after year.” Damn, that kinda poetry speaks to me.
2. Dream On – Aerosmith
If you haven’t heard this song, then where have you been? It’s the quintessential power ballad. Granted, yes, it does not sit pretty at the top of my list, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing. The guitar solos and Tyler’s truly jaw-dropping build into his classic solo where he’s belting out the lyrics at the top of his range, is simply astounding. It’s endlessly listenable and enjoyable. Every time I hear this one, I try to do it with Tyler and well, let’s just say, there is a reason I’m writing and not singing…
1. One – U2
One of my all-time favorite songs, much less just within the power ballad category, is this song from U2. Again, Bono is simply amazing here. He manages to bring a fascinating dichotomy to this song (and others) with a certain subdued singing, but power and range; it’s hard to even put my finger on it. Also, again, within this song is one of all-time favorite lyrical lines. He’s talking about how love is a temple and then he says, “You ask me to enter, but then you make me crawl.” Holy shit, this song speaks to me. Did I mention I want to be Bono?