The Reagan Revolution was on, and the Evil Empire was living on borrowed time. MTV had splashed down into the collective consciousness, and most hard rocking bands had a power ballad or two in their repertoire. For 1980s head-banging baby boomers, Cupid’s bow was a beat-to-hell Gibson Les Paul.
Raise your cigarette lighters now and recall a time when the Valentine’s Day soundtrack was delivered via a Marshall amplifier, and Spandex-clad rockers brought the love.
5. “Alone” — Heart
The Wilson sisters emerged from Seattle bar-band obscurity with gritty rockers like “Magic Man” and “Barracuda.” At a career midpoint, they separated from their bandmate boyfriends and embarked on a glam-rock power-ballad journey that almost immediately earned them mega-platinum status. “Alone” was the breakout hit, and all these years later it’s easy to see why.
In place of Heart’s usual guitar intro comes a plaintiff keyboard riff, followed by the inimitable voice of Ann Wilson. Sister Nancy’s power chords are in evidence as the song achieves heaviosity, yet so layered in wall-of-sound gorgeousness that young hearts can’t help but turn to true–and considerably steamy–love.
4. “Still Loving You” — Scorpions
This stunning recording by Germany’s biggest rock stars features an abundance of heavy guitar, while capturing the sadness and vulnerability of heartbreak.
The track appeared on the band’s biggest-selling U.S. album, 1984’s Love at First Sting, a record most notable for the anthemic and soon-to-be classic single, “Rock You like a Hurricane.”
With six-string dynamics alternating between quiet leitmotif and slabs of Teutonic crunch, “Still Loving You” is an ode to how love endures after the passions of Valentine’s Days past become bittersweet memories.
3. “Close My Eyes Forever”— Ozzy Osbourne and Lita Ford
Wow, just wow. That was the reaction of many when the Prince of Darkness joined former Runaways guitarist Lita Ford in 1988 to record this monster ballad. The song reached #8 on the Billboard Hot 100, Ford’s highest-charting track.
As the lyrical narrative unfolds, it’s clear that Ozzy and Lita have reached a wrenching crisis in their relationship. The title’s death-metaphor is all the more convincing with this male beast, and his sultry, ax-slinging beauty.
Coming out of Ford’s guitar solo, the arrangement shifts into a hushed, orchestral mode. As the drums keep inexorable time, a star-crossed affair moves toward its unsettling denouement.
2. “Is This Love?”— Whitesnake
Released in the glory days of MTV’s big hair, hard rock and metal, “Is This Love” became the gold standard for heavy-ballad fans.
Whitesnake’s upbeat entry is all about found love; that moment when two people first realize they’re in for more than a superficial attachment. The song’s breathy texture and surefire hook caught on quickly with the romantically involved.
Lead vocalist David Coverdale’s involvement with future wife and actress Tawny Kitaen was unforgettably depicted in videos that accompanied the release of Whitesnake, the 8x platinum album on which “Is This Love” appears.
Kitaen’s reported drug problems led to a quick divorce for the couple, but if “Is This Love?” is any indication, the relationship was white-hot while it lasted.
1. “High Enough”— Damn Yankees
When gonzo guitarist Ted Nugent teamed with Tommy Shaw from Styx and Jack Blades from Night Ranger to form Damn Yankees in 1990, no one knew exactly what to expect. What emerged from the collaboration was a power ballad for the ages, a song that marked the Nugent’s only appearance on Billboard’s Hot 100 Top Ten, rising to #3. (Ted’s hard rock classic “Cat Scratch Fever” topped out at #30.)
“High Enough” begins the way most hard rock ballads begin, with an evocative melody. Synthesized keyboards and Blades’ excellent tenor set the stage for the chorus’s rising crescendo. Nugent erupts into the mix with a signature solo.
The nineties had arrived; classic hard rock and metal were facing stiff competition from newer musical forms. The hard rock power ballad was living on borrowed time.