If we're being completely honest, power ballads are responsible for some of the most resonant music-listening experiences in the entire world. They're a beautiful blend of sentiment and obviousness, a band willfully becoming emotionally available. Everybody makes fun of the power ballad, because sometimes it's hard to admit we gave over our souls so easily. We've all made fun of a lot of the songs on this list, but we've also had private, don't-look-at-me emotional moments with each of them. This is the foundational argument against anyone who maintains that pop music makes evil people; this is proof to any aliens that the human race is not beyond salvation.
Photo by Helge Øverås via Wikimedia Commons
This is the top ten power ballads of all time.
10. The Antlers "Putting the Dog to Sleep" Yep. It's a deep cut from a mostly ignored indie-rock band that got a lot of flak for being a little too open-armed. But we don't care about any of that shit, because we will always happily sink into the scrapes of guitar that punctuate every one of Peter Silberman's ambiguous declarations of fate.The best songwriters know when to commiserate with their masses, even if they don't know what they're really saying.
9. Lynyrd Skynyrd - "Simple Man" "Simple Man" has long been the grownup's choice for best Skynyrd song, and unsurprisingly, it's the only one that my English dad could relate to. "Take your time, don't live too fast, troubles will come, they will pass" is very good advice, and it sounds even better when you're flatpicking a guitar.
8. U2 "With or Without You" The entirety of The Joshua Tree could've made this list, but "With or Without You" gets its shoulders above the pack for being romantic, and capturing Bono at his reediest, believing-his-own-bullshit poetic heights. The Edge chips in with an effortlessly plaintive version of his usual overbearing self, and all of a sudden you can't hate U2 anymore.
7. Vampire Weekend "Hannah Hunt" It can be taken as proof that the power ballad is alive and well that the highlight track from last year's Important Rock Album was a deep cut that tonally and textually has a lot in common with Coldplay's "Fix You." (More on that later.) "Hannah Hunt" is very quiet, then it gets very loud. It's simple alchemy, and proof that someone as millennially complex as Ezra Koenig might be at his best when working with the basics.
6. Guns 'N Roses "Knocking on Heaven's Door" Yes, Axl Rose is at his Muppet-voice worst on this song, but when you tell Slash to rip through "Knocking on Heaven's Door," you're gonna get something unstoppable. His guitar oozes with all the love, pain and sex that makes you simultaneously adore and despise the very concept of a "Knocking on Heaven's Door" cover. 5. Nazareth "Love Hurts" You probably didn't know who Nazareth was, but knew "Love Hurts" from Budweiser commercials. We hope you can admit that you were fucking up.
4. Sam Cooke "A Change Is Gonna Come" This song came out long before the term "power ballad" had been coined, but it's hard to categorize it as anything else. It's beautiful and painful and chock full of pregnant French horns. People are still trying to write "A Change Is Gonna Come" over 50 years later.
3. Coldplay "Fix You" It's hard to understand why people were supposed to hate this song. Sure it was the highlight on Coldplay's worst album, but man, does the certified Lamest Band in the World sound utterly prescient here. "Tears stream down your face, when you lose something you cannot replace"? That makes sense to all of us when we need it. You know exactly where "Fix You" is going from the first few beams of organ, and it still thrills the whole way through.
2. Led Zeppelin "Stairway to Heaven" Nobody wants to read what some millennial has to say about "Stairway to Heaven," so I'll make this quick: It's good for your body to remind yourself why this song is awesome every once in a while.
1. The Who "Baba O'Riley" There is exactly one thing you can sing after you string together a synth loop like that, and that thing is "OUT HERE IN THE FIELDS, I FOUGHT FOR MY MEALS." The perfect encapsulation of everything we love about big, bold, headstrong pop music. You wonder if they knew, but then you remember that it's the Who. There was a time when you wouldn't turn your nose up to something as brilliantly meaningless as "Teenage Wasteland," and this song is about those times. You were happier, and you didn't even know it.
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