Home > Music > Let's rock out, Air Supply style

Let's rock out, Air Supply style

In the annals of popular music (huh huh, I said annals), one of the most interesting and disturbing trends was the advent — and then explosion — of the power ballad. By the late 80s, every metal/hair band worth its weight in mascara and White Rain was cranking out a power ballad on each and every album. It was truly bizarre. These big-haired chord-crunchers would suddenly be belting out lyrics that would make Paul Anka blush. And the public ate it up.

These songs served a number of purposes. A) They were commercially viable and received lots of airplay, meaning mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money. B) They allowed the rockers to take a virtual break during concerts … I mean, if you’re Poison and you’re playing that unique brand of mindless, high-energy rock-like music for an hour or so, you need to bring the room down for a second. C) Chicks dug them, meaning they could expand their carnal opportunities even more than before. D) They allowed the token sensitive band member to express his emotions through song.

Whatever the reason, it was a phenomenon to behold. It even begat groups like Firehouse, whose entire catalog of popular songs (both of them) were power ballads. Hell, they were like Air Supply in spandex. Man, that’s a bad image. And I’m sorry for putting it in your head. But, like all things popular, once groups like Firehouse showed up, the bubble burst, adding fuel to the Behind the Music series about a decade later.

Anyway, I saw a compilation on TV the other day — I’m sure you’ve seen it — called Monster Ballads. As the skinny, hirsuite rockers warbled the tunes one after another, I typed in as many of them as I could. Here are the ones I came up with, complete with my lasting impressions of these works of art.

“Don’t Know What You Got ‘Til It’s Gone” by Cinderella
A truly craptacular power ballad. It had it all… a winsome song about a fella that lost his groupie… a lead singer hitting the mid-to-upper falsetto range… a rockin’ ass video. Even my friend T-Mak (a large, black gentleman – going against type) would sing this occasionally at work. Bear in mind, T-Mak and I worked together in the 1998-2000 timeframe. That song had legs.

“Love Song” by Tesla
Remember Tesla? They were a huge band for about two… maybe two-and-a-half weeks. I’ll admit that somewhere in my archives of tapes I actually have Tesla’s “Five Man Acoustical Jam” album. Because the first step of any 12-step program is admittting you have a problem. “Love Song” was a great little ditty. The main point is that love is all around you. Love is, in fact, knocking. Outside your door, even. Kinda like a stalker. Don’t EVER break up with a guy from Tesla. That’s a life lesson right there.

“Heaven” by Warrant
At some point I’ll have to write about my theory that Warrant’s “Cherry Pie” single-handedly brought about the whole MC Hammer/Vanilla Ice debacle. What can I say about “Heaven” that hasn’t been said about amebic dysentery. Moving on…

“When the Children Cry” by White Lion
Now we’re talking. White Lion (as opposed to Great White or Whitesnake) decided to use the power of power ballads for the good of all humanity. ‘cuz these guys, when they weren’t having foursomes in hot tubs with drug-addled underage girls, were thinking about the crimes that mankind commits. And they wanted us to think about the young’uns. I can’t talk more about it. I’m getting a little verklempt.

“High Enough” Damn Yankees
Damn, this was a good idea. Let’s take a bunch of has-beens and second-bananas from other groups (Styx, Night Ranger… Ted Nugent), put them together, record a few tunes, and see what happens. Why didn’t they get Oates, Mussina and The Captain involved? Luckily, the guys kept it together long enough to record “High Enough,” a song that just asked an important question of their loved one. Can you take me high enough… to fly me over… yesterday? Ahhh… ok. How can anyone answer that? Is that a rhetorical question?

PS – Why didn’t the Red Sox play this after beating the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS? Think about it.

“Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison
This song has a special memory for me. I was at a five-week summer academic camp (feel free to laugh amongst yourselves), and at the final assembly, we had a talent show. Well, one guy decided to sing this song to his girlfriend — the one he had known for four weeks and six days. I remember thinking at the time, “Some day, he will think back on this and visibly wretch.” Chances are, I’m right. I shudder thinking about it, and I just watched the spectacle.

Unfortunately, power ballads gave way to the “unplugged” trend of the 90s, where the rock bands of the time — grunge and otherwise — would show their softer side by either remaking up-tempo numbers sans electricity or by penning more sensitive songs. Not power ballads. Whiny ballads. Just not the same.

Let me know if you have any good power ballad memories. There has to be… one or so out there.

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Categories: Music
  1. January 7, 2006 at 3:34 pm

    I first touched a boobie while dancing to Warrant’s “Heaven” at a school dance. It was an accident, and primarily involved my elbow, but I’m counting it. Sorry about the bruise, Mary Beth.

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