Top 10 ’80s Rock Ballads – The Readers’ List
Ah, the '80s rock ballad. There's nothing quite as glorious as a sold-out arena illuminated by a sea of Bic lighters held aloft during one of your favorite band's slow, sweet jams. The following picks were based on comments made by you, our faithful readers, at the end of our first Top 10 '80s Rock Ballads list, which was topped by Motley Crue's 'Home Sweet Home.' We thought that list was pretty sweet, but it's hard to limit these things to only 10 songs, and you guys brought up so many more gems that we couldn't help but try it again:
Say the phrase “'80s power ballads” to any random stranger on the street and the name Whitesnake likely won't be far behind, thanks to massive hits such as 'Here I Go Again' and this one. David Coverdale and company were great at penning the kind of tune that got stuck in your head before it was over, and 'Is This Love' is so catchy it likely remains there to this day. The song's memorable video, which featured singer David Coverdale's then-girlfriend Tawny Kitaen, certainly didn't hurt.
It's hard to fight the feeling delivered by this classic ballad, a massive No. 1 hit by arena-rock kings REO Speedwagon just before their fame finally flickered out in the mid-'80s. Pairing elegant piano and lovely guitars with singer Kevin Cronin's earnest, hold-nothing-back delivery, it's the type of love song that touches on a universal theme yet still means many different things to many different people.
A Texas-fried trio of long-bearded, sharp-dressed men may be one of the last you'd expect to pen a moving power balled, but ZZ Top have always been big on challenging expectations. A slinky, sexy and soft love ballad, 'Boy' finds the boys brushing aside their typical sexual innuendo in favor of a more direct approach: “I'll shoot it to you straight and look you in the eye / So gimme just a minute and I'll tell you why,” sings Billy Gibbons.
A karaoke classic years before karaoke was classic, this song distills the essence of the power ballad into five words to swear by. The last of four No. 1 hits Bon Jovi scored in the '80s, 'You' gained some notoriety for what some listeners believed was a striking melodic similarity to the Beatles track 'Don't Let Me Down.' On the surface the song is about someone expressing loyalty to a lover, but it can just as easily be seen as a way for the band to reaffirm its strong commitment to its rabid fans.
There's only one way to properly deliver the chorus to 'I Want To Know What Love Is': with both fists clenched, arms held in front of chest, back arched and head tilted back slightly, singing to the heavens. Lou Gramm has the pipes of an angel, and heaven was where he aimed his emotionally-charged vocals — with beautiful backing harmonies from the New Jersey Mass Choir, 'Dreamgirls' star Jennifer Holliday and '80s pop act the Thompson Twins.
Known more for their upbeat, guitar-driven New Wave synth-pop, the Cars scored the biggest hit of their career with this gorgeous ballad. Penned by Ric Ocasek, the song features a multi-textured bed of synths and programmed beats, with the soothing vocals of bassist Benjamin Orr bringing just enough emotional resonance to humanize it all. The stylish video, directed by actor Timothy Hutton and starring model (and future wife of Ocasek) Paulina Porizkova, was an MTV staple.
“Come and save me tonight,” Steven Tyler sings in 'Angel' — and the song did just that, helping fuel their return to form with 'Permanent Vacation' after years of debilitating addiction, band infighting and declining sales. The song was Aerosmith's second-highest charting single of all time, but Tyler himself has said it became so overplayed that the band has performed it just once in the last decade: “At this point I'm so sick of it I never want to hear that song again.”
A one-band hit-making factory in the '80s, Journey scored their highest-charting song in 1982 with 'Open Arms,' which expresses the pleas of a spurned lover looking for forgiveness after some sort of wrongdoing. The song is a timeless classic that's been covered by everybody from Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men to an endless stream of 'American Idol' contestants. But Journey, of course, do Journey better than anybody, and their version is often considered one of the greatest love songs of all time.
Def Leppard brought themselves not heartbreak but heaps of love with this tune, which failed to chart when released as a single off 1981's 'High 'n' Dry' but snuck on there when a synth-heavy remix dropped a few years later. Pop princess Mariah Carey (obviously a closet rocker) covered it in 2002, turning in a version that Leppard guitarist Phil Collen called “genuine” but inspired a backlash from many of the band's biggest backers. “The fans really get it wrong sometimes,” Collen responded — possibly while cashing a royalty check.
There are definitely bigger '80s ballads — better selling, higher charting — but somehow 'Sister Christian' still sticks out like a stray curl rising above an Aqua Netted mane, if only for the thousands of wedding first dances it's soundtracked and proms it's themed. Or maybe it's simply the mysterious aura that surrounds the lyrics; they were penned by drummer Kelly Keagy as a coming-of-age tribute to his little sister, Christy (singer Jack Blades thought he said “Christian” and the name stuck), but they've been interpreted a million different ways. “The song's about not giving it up before you have to, not letting go of innocence,” says Keagy, “but people can read into it whatever they want.”