For The Love (And Hate) Of Power Ballads!

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

On the plus side, you could still turn on MTV and see actual music videos. The downside, of course, was within five minutes of doing so, you were bound to see the video for Guns n' Roses' "Sweet Child O' Mine" quickly followed by Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" followed by Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home" followed by Skid Row's "I Remember You" followed by Aerosmith's "Angel" followed by Heart's "Alone" followed by Bon Jovi's "I'll Be There For You" followed by Kix's "Don't Close your Eyes" followed by Ozzy and Lita Ford's "Close My Eyes Forever", and on and on.

"This song will one day lead to me fronting AC/DC, I just know it.!
Now, if you were a teenage girl with pics of blonde bombshells Jani Lane (Warrant) and Mike Tramp (White Lion) taped to the inside of your locker or an Oakley-wearing owner of several pairs of pre-ripped acid wash jeans and a three -shades-of-primer Camaro Z-28 with a tape deck worth more than the car itself, chances are that power ballads such as these featured heavily in the soundtrack of your life.

For the rest of us, however, power ballads as a genre represented an ominous trend wherein otherwise dependable hard rock acts began embracing such songs for the sole purpose of increasing radio and MTV airplay, and, in turn, bumping up record sales.

The only problem was that not every band was capable of writing power ballads. Sure, the members of Poison are solely-responsible for the creation of "Every Rose", but Aerosmith's "Angel", by comparison, was penned by singer Steven Tyler and Desmond Child, who can best be described as a "song doctor".

What's a song doctor, you ask?

Back in the '80s, when bands themselves proved incapable of capitalizing on whatever trend happened to be dominating radio playlists at the time, they brought in someone who could provide the necessary schlock factor.

Remember when Kiss went disco with "I Was Made For Loving You"? 

While many consider the song a low-point for the otherwise dependable hard rock act, the song was written by Desmond Child and brought to the band for inclusion on their Dynasty album. As is common when an outside song is brought to a huge band, Paul Stanley and the band's producer added their two cents to the song's lyrics and arrangement, taking their cut of the writing credits (and royalties) in the process.

While "I Was Made For Lovin' You" would peak at #11 on the singles chart, it would be Kiss's last hit single for more than ten years until Stanley collaborated with the ultimate power balladeer of all-time, Michael Bolton, on "Forever".

While this writer has no recollection of the song (thankfully), it was the band's final Top 10 hit in 1990.

So, are all power ballads inherently evil in their intent to score maximum chart success by shamelessly manipulating one's emotions with dead-simple platitudes such as

I'll be there for you
These five words I swear to you
When you breathe I want to be the air for you
I'll be there for you

Or are they simply harmless love songs delivered in a bombastic fashion for those who enjoy their "soft rock" with thundering drums and guitar solos?

Perhaps the person to ask would be song doctor extraordinaire Diane Warren, whose career as an artist amounted to little more than a gnat's burp on the Richter scale, but, as a writer of power ballads, has led to more worldwide smash hits than any ten acts put together.

For all of that success, however, there is no more heartbreaking a moment than when the words "Diane Warren" appear in the credits of an album by a band that, in the past, would have thumbed their nose at such an idea.

Case in point, Cheap Trick, whose guitarist Rick Nielsen has proven many times over the course of the band's career to be more than capable of writing great songs, much less ballads capable of reducing you to a teary-eyed emotional mess.

Never mind that Nielsen has written at least two stirring ballads in "Voices" (from Dream Police) and "World's Greatest Lover" (from All Shook Up) and that Epic Records proved incapable of doing promotional justice to either one, the fact that the label would even suggest to the band that they strongly consider cutting a Diane Warren song should have led them to cut all ties to the label at once.

Ever eager to "play ball" with the label nitwits, though, Nielsen countered by suggesting that he and Warren collaborate on a song together instead. The result of that writing session was "Ghost Town", a song shoehorned onto an album already featuring four outside contributions, that fizzled at #33 on the charts after the Top 5 success of "The Flame" and "Don't Be Cruel".

For their next album, the band would record Warren's "Wherever Would I Be", but it would only reach #50, proving yet again that not all Warren touched turned to platinum.

While this writer would never besmirch Warren her success, there is something to be said for generating so much activity and income for an entire industry without ever creating anything with the least bit of substance to it.

Of course, some bands were capable of accomplishing this feat without the need for a Diane Warren or Desmond Child.

In the case of Kix, a veteran Maryland hard rock band whose previous three efforts for Atlantic Records had failed to turn them into household names, the writing was on the wall: either play ball with Atlantic or get dropped from the label. Playing ball, of course, meant giving the label songs they could work at Top 40 radio and MTV.

To do this, the band's bassist and main songwriter Donnie Purnell sat down with outside writers John Palumbo (Crack The Sky) and Bob Halloran Jr. to write a power ballad called "Don't Close Your Eyes". After three previous rock-based singles from the album Blow My Fuse failed to ignite, the label issued "Don't Close Your Eyes" in a last bid to kick-start sales.

It worked.

MTV immediately added the video to medium rotation, radio followed suit, and by the time all was said and done, Kix were sitting pretty at #11 on the Billboard singles chart.

But, like many other bands whose greatest commercial success came via a power ballad, Kix quickly realized that their newfound popularity did not translate to interest in the harder-edged material upon which the band's sound is based.

Whereas Kix doubled-down on the hard rock for their ill-fated 1991 follow-up. Hot Wire, up-and-coming metal band Firehouse would greet the success of their first power ballad "Love of A Lifetime" by making further power ballads the centerpiece of their albums and live shows.

Perhaps the one band to do the power ballad right is Motley Crue, whose "Home Sweet Home" appears on the band's 1985 Theatre Of Pain and routinely pops up lists of the greatest power ballads ever recorded, yet was never actually released as a single (although the band did film a concert video for the song that garnered heavy rotation on MTV). Its success, therefore, is not able to overshadow the band's hard edged sound while, at the same time, remaining a fan favorite.

Much the same can be said for Bon Jovi's "Never Say Goodbye", which enjoyed widespread radio and video airplay despite not being released as a single in the States.

The trick, it seems, is to release a power ballad without making it the focal point of an album's marketing strategy; a mistake that's easy to make once radio request hotlines start lighting up and record company execs start handing you tapes of unrecorded Diane Warren Hallmark cards set to music..  

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