Ah, the power ballad: 80s radio – and most of our love lives – would have been a lot less colorful without it. This list of the 45 best power ballads is drawn mainly from that era, but we’ve also included a few earlier songs that laid the groundwork. If you put these all on a playlist, you’ve got the best two hours of slow dancing you’ll ever enjoy.
45: Cutting Crew: I Just Died In Your Arms Tonight
With its unmistakable intro of pulsing staccato synths and vocal grandiosity, the Cutting Crew’s anguished ballad was more about succumbing to a regretful tryst with an ex, than a sweeping romance. Landing somewhere at the crossroads of 80s synth-rock, adult contemporary, and hard rock, this power ballad was the band’s debut single, but they would never reach such chart (and emotional) heights again.
44: Tina Turner: We Don’t Need Another Hero
Recorded at the height of Tina Turner’s 80s comeback, this was a beautifully atmospheric record that transcended its Mad Max movie-theme origins. Even though the songwriters dutifully get the word “Thunderdome” into the chorus, its sense of existential dread proves timeless. And Turner characteristically sings the hell out of it, building up to the big mid-song outburst.
43: Cheap Trick: The Flame
Cheap Trick were no strangers to power ballads by the time of this megahit, having already scored minor hits with two Rick Nielsen originals (“Tonight It’s You” and “If You Want My Love”). But this outside tune had the magic touch, and even if you didn’t love the song, it left no doubt about Robin Zander’s status as one of the great voices in rock.
42: Phil Collins: Against All Odds
The backstory on this is just too perfect to believe: Taylor Hackford needed a theme for his new film, and Phil Collins just happened to have a discarded song with the words “against all odds” in the lyric. Boggles the mind that he would have considered throwing one this good away; it’s a torch ballad with a heartfelt lyric and the graceful melodic turns of his usual band Genesis at their pop-era best.
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41: The Bangles: Eternal Flame
The Bangles managed to make a classic 80s power ballad without completely letting go of their love for 60s pop; you can still hear hints of the Left Banke and the Mamas & The Papas between the lines. Susanna Hoffs’ vocal is full of yearning; on a song about wanting love to last forever while realizing that may be a dream. But don’t forget that the Bangles had more than one singer, and the Peterson sisters’ harmony parts are the secret weapons here.
40: The Smithereens: Too Much Passion
A nod to the 60s from a band of true believers, this was the Smithereens doing Motown complete with a string arrangement. It was their biggest chart hit and might have been a bigger one if they hadn’t released a ballad during the height of the grunge era. Still, this stands as one of Pat DiNizio’s most charming tunes, and they even got some Byrdsy 12-string into it.
39: The Scorpions: Wind of Change
An inspiring record in its time, this tune took an almost hymnlike approach to celebrate the rise of glasnost and the end of Cold War tensions. But the plot thickened in recent years, as a few researchers floated the idea that the song may have been written by someone in the CIA. We’ll just say that whoever wrote it knew their Scorpions pretty well (the feel isn’t too far from that of the earlier hit “Still Loving You”) and clearly belonged in rock’n’roll full-time.
38: Starship: Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now
Coming two years after “We Built This City,” this chart-topper brought plenty of derision from fans who still associated the Airplane/Starship with their radical origins. But really: When you’ve got Grace Slick, why not give her a surefire hit to sing? All the late-80s trademarks were here: glossy synths, a movie tie-in (Mannequin), and Diane Warren writing credit. But it’s lifted higher by the romantic chemistry generated by Slick and co-singer Mickey Thomas, who were never a couple in real life.
37:Mötley Crüe: Home Sweet Home
The great irony of 80s hair metal is that the most decadent bands also had to have the sweetest ballads. Often credited with igniting the 80s power-ballad trend, this track is the complete antithesis of Mötley Crüe’s hell-raising image: The lyrics swear they want nothing more than to leave the parties behind and cuddle with their loved ones. If this was the only track you knew, you’d swear that Vince Neil was a perfect choirboy.
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36: Ozzy Osbourne: Mama I’m Coming Home
A double-edged ballad if there ever was one, this isn’t quite a sweet reunion song: Lines like:” “Here I come, but I ain’t the same” and “You could have been a better friend to me” both suggest that all’s not well between the singer and his mama. In any case, the song proved that Ozzy could lay down an emotive vocal without fully dropping his guard. It was one of the biggest US hits both for him and for Motörhead’s Lemmy, who wrote the lyrics.
35: Metallica: Nothing Else Matters
This song proved to be the turning point in Metallica’s career. Before “The Black Album,” a ballad with a heartfelt relationship-themed lyric would have been unthinkable. But they carried it off so well that the album became Metallica’s biggest hit, and led to follow-ups that fans were less keen on. But meanwhile, James Hetfield showed how tough a real love song could sound.
34: L.A. Guns: Ballad of Jayne
Hollywood’s tragic heroines always did well in the rock-ballad world: Elton John had Marilyn Monroe covered in “Candle in the Wind,” and L.A. Guns make an equally loving homage to Jayne Mansfield in this tune. But while Elton’s song is very specific, the Guns song is more universally about a lover’s loss – in this case, the singer is Mansfield’s husband rather than a fan. It’s certainly a better memorial than the other song allegedly about Mansfield, Flipper’s “Sex Bomb.”
33: Europe: The Final Countdown
It doesn’t get more grandiose than this floor-shaking power ballad that splits the difference between arena rock and prog. True to their name, Europe was pretty close sonically to Asia. Lyrically it’s something else again: The song never says why we’re leaving the planet, only that we’re headed straight to Venus. The band claimed they were inspired by Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” but it harks back more clearly to another space-prog epic, Styx’s “Come Sail Away.”
32: Bonnie Tyler: Total Eclipse of the Heart
This 1983 smash was one of Jim Steinman’s masterstrokes, turning romantic desire into something downright apocalyptic. Meat Loaf always claimed it was originally written for him, but even he couldn’t have given it more drama than Tyler manages here, with help from a dream team including two E Streeters and guitarist Rick Derringer. Like many Steinman songs, it was theoretically too long for airplay, but most stations went with the full seven-minute epic.
31: Tesla: Love Song
An accurately titled song if ever there was one, “Love Song” stands apart from the hair-metal pack by virtue of its grit. You can tell that Tesla lead singer Jeff Keith knew his Paul Rodgers and his Rod Stewart inside and out (the original single was actually backed with Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Ain’t Superstitious,” which Stewart had done with the Jeff Beck Group). The guitar break is likewise tougher than the norm.
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30: Berlin: Take My Break Away
Even though it was written by a hot German synth-pop producer (Giorgio Moroder) and performed by a Los Angeles new wave band, Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” stands as a classic bit of romantic pop that, with a few tweaks, could have hit in just about any decade. The song almost went to the Motels, whose own version (released on their Anthologyland compilation) was no slouch. But Berlin’s Terri Nunn grabbed the song and secured her place in pop history.
29: Warrant: Heaven
Another case of bad boys going all sweet on their ballad hit, “Heaven” goes for the inspiring angle. The singer is out there struggling to get ahead, but gets home to his lady love and knows he’s got everything he needs. With its acoustic-to-electric build and Jani Lane’s heartfelt vocal, Warrant’s “Heaven” is one of the last classic 80s power ballads, released in June 1989.
28: Mr. Mister: Broken Wings
Inspired by a Kahlil Gibran novel, “Broken Wings” is one of the more ambitious songs on this list – akin less to 80s arena rock than to the moody, rhythm loop-driven ballads of Peter Gabriel. The prog connections continue with a guitar solo that seems King Crimson-inspired; no surprise that drummer Pat Mastelotto later joined that band.
27: Lita Ford & Ozzy Osbourne: Close My Eyes Forever
Two worlds collided when the ex-Runaways guitarist’s manager Sharon Osbourne, brought her famous husband in for a duet. The PMRC promptly freaked out over the death-pact suggestions in the lyrics, but both parties later admitted they wrote it while drunk and didn’t know what the heck it was about. Lita Ford’s and Ozzy Osbourne’s vocal tradeoffs however are suitably dark and romantic.
26: Slaughter: Fly to the Angels
While this list of power ballads includes plenty of tearjerkers, none of the songs are tearier than “Fly to the Angels,” which Mark Slaughter wrote after attending the funeral of his high school girlfriend. It didn’t hurt that Slaughter had that gravelly Axl Rose style of vocalizing down pat.
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25: Styx: Lady
Styx’s first hit sounds like The Hollies with delusions of grandeur – and we mean that as a compliment. Far more majestic than their later ballad hits, even if Dennis DeYoung does manage to turn “all” (as in “all-a-lll your love”) into a three-syllable word.
24: Motörhead: I Ain’t No Nice Guy
Ozzy Osbourne turns up on this duet with Motörhead’s Lemmy, a tongue-in-cheek confessional song that’s by far the funniest power ballad on this list. Both sing of their heartfelt desire to be known as nice guys, before realizing they had zero chance of pulling it off. Kinda gets you right here.
23: Ozzy Osbourne: Goodbye To Romance
This power ballad was a key track on Ozzy’s solo debut album, Blizzard Of Ozz, and was light years away from Black Sabbath. More than anything else, it sounds like Ozzy getting The Beatles out of his system, since he never made a secret of his love for the Fab Four. While the song was reportedly about Ozzy bidding goodbye to his band, you better believe it’s been drunkenly serenaded to many a past lover.
22: Whitesnake: Here I Go Again
‘Here I Go Again’ just edges in as one of the best power ballads, since it rocks pretty well once the band kicks in. But David Coverdale gets to emote for a full minute before that happens, and this tune did a lot to launch the power ballads trend. After all, if a guy who once sang for Deep Purple could have a ballad hit, anybody could. Just hearing the chorus conjures up images of Tawny Kitaen doing car-top cartwheels.
21: Poison: Every Rose Has Its Thorn
One of the great ironies of the Los Angeles metal heyday was that the most hellraising bands had to have the most sensitive power ballads. And it’s doubly ironic that Poison, a band whose bad-boy image could give Mötley Crüe a run for its money, is now remembered largely for this surprising bit of gentleness.
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20: Bon Jovi: Never Say Goodbye
Few songs have ever tried so hard to be that last slow dance you play at your high-school graduation party. ‘Never Say Goodbye’ sounds like an outlier on the otherwise hard rock fare of Slippery When Wet; the lyrics get all the coming-of-age references just right and, when he’s emoting like this, Jon Bon Jovi is just the guy you want to take it home.
19: Night Ranger: Sister Christian
This one-shot hit did everything the best power ballads should do: it made everyday struggles sound huge and heroic. At its heart, this is a song that Night Ranger drummer Kelly Keagy wrote about his younger sister’s coming of age, so its support for a female character is unique in this genre. Her name was actually Christy, but making it Christian added to the song’s mythos. If her name was Gladys it surely wouldn’t have been the same.
18: Asia: The Smile Has Left Your Eyes
Commercial though they were, Asia still marked the late John Wetton’s peak as a singer and songwriter, and it was ultimately his vocals that made their breakthrough. Their one ballad hit is a bit of an oddity, however, since Wetton sounds like he’s doing his best to be Greg Lake. So it makes perfect sense that Lake really did sing the song, when he briefly took Wetton’s place in the band in 1983.
17: Meat Loaf: I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)
At over 12 minutes, this is as “over the top” as it gets, with the grandiosity and wordplay that’s a trademark collaboration between Meat Loaf and songwriter Jim Steinman. The song from the 16-times platinum-selling Bat Out Of Hell II, and its accompanying video (directed by Michael Bay, no less!), prompted an unseemly amount of speculation over what Meat Loaf wouldn’t do, even though the answer is right there in the lyric.
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16: The Moody Blues: Your Wildest Dreams and I Know You’re Out There Somewhere
The Moodies arguably helped create the power ballad with ‘Nights In White Satin’ back in1967, but they mastered the 80s trend on these two tracks, which made a romantic lead out of the frontman Justin Hayward. Though originally released on different albums, the songs are forever linked thanks to their connected videos. Together they created the MTV era’s greatest romantic tearjerkers.
15: KISS: Beth
When in doubt, write what you know: KISS’ first sensitive moment came from the need to explain to one’s girlfriend that an all-night rehearsal wasn’t winding down anytime soon. For all the sighing strings, you know they were having more fun than the lyrics lets on.
14: Journey: Faithfully
Yes, there are some far more obvious Journey songs we could pick, but ‘Faithfully’ has one of Steve Perry’s most effective vocals, plus a touching lyric about trying to keep love alive when you’re a rocker on the road. Extra points for writer Jonathan Cain’s oft-told story that Prince asked him permission to use the same chord progression in ‘Purple Rain’.
13: The Cars: Drive
True to form, The Cars added a bit of cerebral intrigue to their classic power ballad; this one’s really about the singer’s attraction to a self-destructive woman. The lush soundscape (thanks to co-producer Mutt Lange) is darkly seductive, while the song proves what a great singer Ben Orr was – and what the best power ballads are made of.
12: Def Leppard: Love Bites
Since Def Leppard’s ‘Love Bites’ (with producer Mutt Lange again) embodied all the grand excess of 80s production and notched them their only No.1 on the Billboard Hot 100, it’s surprising that they didn’t do more power ballads. Or maybe they just got it right on this six-minute track off their seminal album Hysteria, which doesn’t shy away from the innuendo of the title.
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11: Boston: Amanda
From the nearly-lost classic that is Boston’s Third Stage album, ‘Amanda’ manages to use the words “I love you” in the chorus without sounding trite. The key line from the lyric is “I’m gonna say it like a man,” so it’s about growing into a relationship, summing up the whole theme of the album it opens.
10: Nazareth: Love Hurts
Plenty of classic songs have been reinvented as power ballads, but this is one of the rare cases where the grandiose arena-rock version gets to the heart of the song better than the understated original (by no less than The Everly Brothers, in this case).
9: Yes: If Only You Knew
It took most of their career for the prog kings to get around to a classic-model power ballad, but they nailed it on this one, with Jon Anderson’s unusually straightforward lyrics getting an assist from some of the loveliest late-period Yes harmonies.
8: Genesis: Throwing It All Away
Genesis’ most commercial hits were never all that far from their prog roots. One of the best power ballads the group wrote, ‘Throwing It All Away’ has a sublime melody (courtesy of Mike Rutherford) that stands with their best, while Phil Collins’ vocal is more understated than his norm at that time.
7: Aerosmith: Dream On
‘Dream On’ is the song that started Aerosmith’s career and, to some extent, birthed the power-ballad genre. It goes beyond the usual romantic themes to touch on youthful dreams and angst. Their many later power-ballad efforts don’t even get close to the triumph of this one.
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6: Humble Pie: Live With Me
This soulful gem might have topped our list if only it had become a monster hit, which is usually a requisite for the best power ballads. But no rock frontman ever sang better than Humble Pie’s Steve Marriott on these eight minutes of intensity: a song that builds to an ecstatic peak not once but three times.
5: Chicago: You’re The Inspiration
Yes, even Chicago’s best power ballads can get formulaic, but this one transcends the formula. The gospel feel helps, but the song’s secret weapon is that brilliant chord change at “wanna have you near me”.
4: Foreigner: I Want To Know What Love Is
Foreigner’s 1984 hit is as close a pop ballad ever get to gospel testifying, with a soul-tearing vocal from Lou Gramm. The song doesn’t even need its great chorus, that “change this looonely life” delivery is enough of a payoff.
3: Prince: Purple Rain
Prince, of course, wouldn’t settle for a simple love-song lyric: his epic ballad is mythic, cathartic, and otherworldly… and that’s just the guitar solo. Too bad that it’s running the risk of becoming the only Prince song that classic rock radio is willing to play.
2: Heart: Alone
Heart’s more commercial period gets relatively little love, but ‘Alone’ may be the definitive power ballad, not to mention the performance of Ann Wilson’s life. Over-the-top emotive? Check. Unforgettable hook? Check. Responsible for hundreds of impulsive hook-ups? Undoubtedly.
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1: Guns N’ Roses: November Rain
In the middle of two albums full of outlaw rock, Axl Rose tapped into his sensitive side. During the Use Your Illusion era, Guns N’ Roses were the most ambitious band in rock, and here they set out to create the ultimate power ballad – and succeeded. Hear the original piano and vocal demo from 1986, when Axl was still cooking up one of the best power ballads of all time.
Bryan Adams – Heaven
REO Speedwagon – Keep on Loving You
Journey – Open Arms
Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes – Up Where We Belong
Motley Crue – Home Sweet Home
Bad English – Price of Love
Guns N’ Roses – Patience