Everybody Loves a Ballad

Ok. Hands up, I admit it – I’m a sucker for a big rock ballad. You can’t beat a bluesy riff, some heart-break lyrics, a soaring solo and a massive chorus. Sure they roll out cliché upon cliché, but who cares? What am I made of – stone? Hell no! Ever since I was a kid I’ve loved a good old soppy love song or a tragic melancholy slice of the break-up blues; I mean my favourite Elvis track as a kid was ‘I Just Can’t Help Believing’ and I loved ELO‘s ‘I Can’t Get It Out of My Head’; Doctor Hook‘s ‘Sylvia’s Mother’ was another that drifted up through the floor late at night that I couldn’t resist. So call me a sentimental old fool if you will but come on, we all love a good ballad really and here’s a few that have stood by me.

How do you end an album almost totally dedicated to shagging? Getting dumped that’s how. ‘What It Takes’ has to be one of the ultimate power ballads – it is Aerosmith at their heart aching best. Lyrically it is nothing short of superb, even with its cheeky references to other Aerosongs*, and musically it’s sublime, the subtle time shifts are pure genius. Throw in an astonishing vocal from Steven Tyler and you have one of their finest crying in your beer tunes ever, something they’ve tried hard to match multiple times since, failing repeatedly every damn time. Yes, even on ‘I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing’ – it was good, but pales in comparison. Pass the tissues.

Ah yes, I remember it well, one of my first musical epiphanies. Back in the days before the internet, before satellite TV and even before channel 5, entertainment back home in England fell way short of today’s multiplicity – we had four TV channels and a handful of radio stations, yet access to non-pop programming was available for a few precious hours here and there. Besides The Tube (Channel 4), The Old Grey Whistle Test (BBC 2) and of course the legendary John Peel on Radio One, we also had the Friday Rock Show with the gravel voiced Tommy Vance for the rock/metal crowd, of which I was an enthusiastic member. Anyway, there I was one Friday night, in the middle of winter, must’ve been January ’89, headphones plugged into my midi system, when Tommy announced the next song – “Top 40 record? Hmmmm” – followed by the heartbreak riff of ‘How Come It Never Rains’ pulling on the heartstrings of my lovelorn 15 year old self. Damn it, I almost cried! I fucking loved that song, still do, Tyla‘s raspy cracked voice, the hook laden chorus and all those bluesy notes bending out of shape – unbeatable.

‘Don’t Know What You Got (til it’s gone)’ is without doubt one of the cheesiest most cliché glam rock power ballads in the history of hair spray. Forget about that shit and check out the pure blues of the title track from the same album ‘Long Cold Winter’. Cinderella were somewhat unfairly lumped in with the whole 80s glam thing, Tom Keifer is actually a pretty badass singer and sure played a mean lick of guitar, especially on the weeping notes of this Zeppelinesque blues lament, man, the sky is crying, the guitars are crying, even Tom sounds like he’s crying and it’s gonna be a long cold winter without your love baby.

Jeff Buckley‘s ‘Grace’ is one of the finest albums ever committed to vinyl, bearing not even the vaguest hint of filler. Although ‘Last Goodbye is an absolutely incredible break up song, there is way too much groove to the bass line to call it a ballad; ‘Lover, You Should’ve Come Over’ on the other hand….slow acoustic strum, rainy funeral imagery and tonight you’re on my mind… we get soaring vocals in the hook, brooding Hammond underpinning the melody as the emotions stack up in the lyrical climax:
“It’s never over, my kingdom for a kiss upon her shoulder
It’s never over, all my riches for her smiles when i slept so soft against her
It’s never over, all my blood for the sweetness of her laughter
It’s never over, she’s the tear that hangs inside my soul forever”


Then there’s ‘Forget Her’ which features Jeff at his best, fuck it just listen to it – it’s awesome.

Tesla were so sure they’d written the ultimate love song that they called it ‘Love Song’. Ok, so it’s like mega cheesy but hey, it works. Medieval intro and classic break up lyric to kick off, but the twist here is that this song offers hope that we can all find love again. It’s corny, it’s lighters in the air time and on one level it totally sucks, but on another you can’t argue with it’s delivery, from every soaring guitar lick to the arm waving sing along parts – the extended five man acoustical jam version is unbeatable – it out clichés every glam rock cliché ballad ever – even ‘Every Rose..’.

You don’t get much more heart breaking than the warm bath, open vein agony of ‘Black’ by Pearl Jam. Man, that Eddie Vedder dude was really upset when he wrote those words and if you can’t identify with how the poor fella feels then you are either a cold unfeeling shell or you’ve never been dumped. There’s only one thing more emotional than Eddie singing that killer mid section and that’s thousands of people doing it for him. Check this out, the camera work is awful but the sound’s impeccable.

One of my all time favourite songs is so obscure you’ll be hard pushed to find it anywhere. On the UK version of Tones of Home by Blind Melon, ‘Wooh G.O.D.’, also known as ‘Whoa Dog’, is either a mispress on the vinyl 12″ or wrongly credited as ‘Soak The Sin’. Whatever the case may be, this melancholy lament by tragic vocalist Shannon Hoon to his dead dog** is just so damn raw…

Notes:
*) “Girl before I met you; I was F.I.N.E fine; but your love made me a prisoner; yeah my heart’s been doing time”
**) “Wooh” was the name of Shannon’s dog. It is spelled Wooh, but pronounced “whoa.” Shannon would always catch it tearing something up or raising hell and he always yelled “whoa!” to try to get him to stop so he named him that. Shannon got him in a pet store and really connected with the dog and felt bad that he was cooped up in a cage. The dog was expensive so Shannon went back to the pet store, slid the glass up on the cage and snuck Wooh out of the store under his coat. He died when he swallowed a pin cushion. He was undergoing surgery and was over-anethstized by the vet. Shannon and Rogers buried Wooh near the big “HOLLYWOOD” sign in California. From http://www.blindmelon.org

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