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Best Power Ballads: 20 Stadium-Shaking Anthems
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List & Guides

Best Power Ballads: 20 Stadium-Shaking Anthems

From soft-rock anthems to operatic feats of musicianship, the best power ballads sweep us off our feet and take us to the edge of paradise.

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Taking over jukeboxes and karaoke machines for decades, power ballads occupy a special place in all our hearts. In attempts to capture first swells of romance as they spill over into the all-consuming feeling of love, many musicians have tapped into the very best qualities of power balladry. From catchy choruses designed to have us raising our hands to the sky, to gut-wrenching melodies as unifying as church hymns, the best power ballads are the perfect vessel for cutting right to the heart of the human experience…

Listen to our Rock Classics playlist here, and check out our best power ballads, below.

20: Meat Loaf: I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) (1993)

Penned by his long-time collaborator and inimitable songwriter Jim Steinman, Meat Loaf’s 1993 single I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) stands tall among the best power ballads for the way it taps into a sense of neo-gothic romance that soars to near-operatic heights. With a music video inspired by The Phantom Of The Opera and Beauty And The Beast, the song peaked at No.1 in the UK and became the biggest-selling single of the year, later winning Meat Loaf a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance.

19: John Waite: Missing You (1984)

As a late addition to his 1984 album, No Brakes, Missing You is a power ballad par excellence that sees John Waite wrestle with self-denial as he tries to keep his romantic feelings for a loved one at bay (“I ain’t missing you/No matter what my friends say”). “It had that effect on people from the word go,” Waite said. “It was one of those songs that defined a decade, really. It was one of the biggest.” Reaching No.1 in the US and No.9 in the UK, it’s hard to argue with that.

18: Tina Turner: The Best (1988)

Though it was originally recorded by Bonnie Tyler, Tina Turner’s rendition of The Best, recorded for her Foreign Affair album, became a signature hit for the “Queen Of Rock’n’Roll” when it peaked at No.5 in the UK in September 1989. As one of the best power ballads of the 80s, the song features a scorching saxophone solo from rock legend Edgar Winter, and was written by songwriters Mike Chapman and Holly Knight. “We had no clue what was going to happen to it,” Knight told Dig! in an exclusive interview. “It was just a writing session… But at this point, it’s like the song of a generation.”

17: Mr Mister: Broken Wings (1985)

Inspired by a poetic novel by Lebanese writer Kahlil Gibran, new wave group Mr Mister gifted us the US No.1 hit Broken Wings, which still endures as one of the best power ballads of any era. Written by lyricist John Lang with singer Richard Page and guitarist Steve George, Broken Wings reportedly took just 20 minutes to demo on a tape machine at Page’s California home. It would later be discovered by a new generation after being playlisted on the fictional radio station Emotion 98.3, as featured in the video game Grand Theft Auto: Vice City.

16: Chicago: Hard To Say I’m Sorry (1982)

No stranger to the power ballad, Chicago bassist and singer Peter Cetera made history with the No.1 hit Hard to Say I’m Sorry, which spent 12 weeks in the Top 5 of the US Hot 100 and peaked at No.7 in the UK. With Cetera delivering a master class in synth-bass, and co-songwriter David Foster playing piano, the song, whose lyrics reflect a doomed relationship, was given extra weight when it featured in the romantic comedy Summer Lovers, in which a pair of lovers engage in a threesome on the isle of Santorini, Greece (“Even lovers need a holiday far away from each other”).

15: Heart: Alone (1987)

The sister-fronted hard-rock act Heart scored the biggest hit of their career with Alone, which remains one of the best power ballads of the 80s. With a music video recalling the balcony scene in Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet, Alone was a cover version of a little-known song by US group i-Ten, and it topped the US Hot 100 in 1987. As well as reaching No.3 in the UK, the song sees Heart siblings Ann and Nancy Wilson soar with high harmonies in a blazing chorus that aches with loneliness (“’Till now I always got by on my own/I never really cared until I met you”).

14: Peter Cetera: Glory Of Love (1986)

After leaving his band, Chicago, in 1985, Peter Cetera went solo with his debut single, Glory Of Love, which was reportedly written for the movie Rocky IV. Eventually finding a home on the soundtrack to The Karate Kid Part II, Glory Of Love instantly became one of the best power ballads of the year, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song. A much-loved hit at prom parties and weddings, it peaked at No.1 in the US and No.3 in the UK, and sees Cetera present himself as a positively Herculean figure (“I am a man who will fight for your honour/I’ll be the hero you’re dreaming of”).

13: Alice Cooper: Poison (1989)

Detroit shock-rocker Alice Cooper made a big commercial comeback in 1989 with the power ballad Poison, which contains shades of glam and lashings of Meat Loaf producer Desmond Child’s pop-metal bombast. With a sinister vocal melody and winding guitar work from guitarist John McCurry, the song peaked at No.2 in the UK and No.7 in the US while successfully reintroducing Alice Cooper to the MTV generation. Making heads rush with an intoxicating chorus worthy of the best power ballads, Poison had a dark and sexy come-hither vibe that elevated its creator to the same league as Bon Jovi and Mötley Crüe. Regarded as one of the best Alice Cooper songs, “It was an immediate hit,” the singer later said. “It was one of the songs that just went through the roof all over the world, not just America.”

12: Alannah Myles: Black Velvet (1989)

Written about “The King” himself, Alannah Myles’ 1989 power ballad Black Velvet took its name from the hair dye used by Elvis Presley, and was crafted as a misty-eyed paean to rock’n’roll music (“A new religion that will bring you to your knees”). With multi-layered lyrics that told the story of Presley’s rise to messianic glory, the song peaked at No.1 in the US and No.2 in the UK, and went on to win Myles a Grammy Award for Best Female Rock Performance. A history lesson in one of the greatest rock icons of the 20th century, Black Velvet deserves its place among the best power ballads for its bluesy melody and cleverly poetic impetus.

11: Belinda Carlisle: Heaven Is A Place On Earth (1987)

Following her stint in new wave sensations The Go-Go’s, Belinda Carlisle’s solo career was given a boost thanks to Heaven Is A Place on Earth, one of the most uplifting and hook-filled power ballads of 1987. Reaching No.1 in both the US and the UK, the song rapidly became Carlisle’s signature tune, thanks to her captivating vocal performance and electrifying key changes that brought listeners to the edge of paradise. “I think it’s saying you can create your own piece of heaven on your own patch,” Carlisle said of the song. “It’s a song about peace of mind and it’s also partly a love song.”

10: Mr Big: To Be With You (1991)

Notably sparse, but no less impactful for it, To Be With You, the minimalist power ballad by Californian rock band Mr Big, boasts all the warmth of a campfire singalong, and crackles with almost Beatles-esque vocal harmonies. Released in 1991 and peaking at No.1 on the US Hot 100 and No.3 in the UK, it tells a time-worn tale of unrequited love, sung from the perspective of a man infatuated by his dream girl – someone plucked from Mr Big singer Eric Martin’s memory banks. “I was totally enamoured with this woman,” Martin said of the song’s muse. “I wrote it about how I would have done anything to just be more than a friend and a confidante.”

9: The Cars: Drive (1984)

Well-known for its association with Live Aid in 1985, Drive saw the new wave outfit The Cars create a synth-rock power ballad produced by Robert “Mutt” Lange which tugged on the audience’s heartstrings after it was used to soundtrack a video about Ethiopian famine. With its affecting melody and soothing air of electronic melancholy, the song sees bassist Benjamin Orr sing from the perspective of a concerned man watching a wayward ex-lover going off the rails as she courts with oblivion. Though Drive was originally released in 1984, its prominent place in the band’s Live Aid setlist saw it rocket back up the charts, reaching No.3 in the US and No.4 in the UK. Ocasek donated all sales from the single’s re-release to the Band Aid Trust, raising £160,000 for charity.

8: Cutting Crew: (I Just) Died In Your Arms (1986)

The debut single by pop-rock band Cutting Crew, (I Just) Died in Your Arms instantly thrust them into the limelight, peaking at No.1 in the US and No.4 in the UK. Easily one of the best power ballads of the 80s, the song was inspired by singer Nick Van Eede’s one-night stand with an ex-girlfriend. “We got back together for one night after a year apart and I guess there were some fireworks,” Van Eede told Songfacts, “but all the time tinged with a feeling of ‘should I really be doing this?’” An 80s pop-rock classic, (I Just) Died in Your Arms is a timeless track capturing post-coital tristesse and histrionic stirrings of regret.

7: Phil Collins: Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) (1984)

Recorded for the 1984 movie of the same name, Against All Odds was originally left on the cutting-room floor of Phil Collins’ debut album, Face Value, for consideration as a potential B-side. Upon offering the song to director Taylor Hackford, however, it became clear how wrong he was. Destined to become a jewel among the best Phil Collins songs, and continuing to find success by being covered by other artists (Mariah Carey, Westlife), Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now) is truly timeless. Not only did it give Collins both his first US No.1 and a Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, but, true to its name, it also defied the odd to score a nomination for Best Original Song at the 1985 Academy Awards.

6: Roxette: It Must Have Been Love (1987)

Swedish pop-rock group Roxette’s US No.1 hit It Must Have Been Love entered the ranks of the best power ballads after being included in the 1990 movie Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. The film’s director, Garry Marshall, was so fond of the track that he featured it prominently, creating lasting memories for cinema-goers and paving the way for the single to be re-released in May 1990. “Nobody expected the movie to become such a smash,” songwriter Per Gessle told SongwriterUniverse, “and for us it was, of course, a jackpot.” Boasting the late Maria Frederikson’s heart-wrenching vocal, It Must Have Been Love remains one of the best Roxette songs, and one of the reasons why the group can take their place among Sweden’s biggest pop acts.

5: Seal: Kiss From A Rose (1994)

It’s probably no coincidence that many of the best power ballads have had a starring role in Hollywood movie soundtracks. Produced by the legendary Trevor Horn, this is particularly true of Seal’s US No.1 hit, Kiss From A Rose, a wilfully enigmatic love song included in the 1995 superhero movie Batman Forever. Seal has been cagey about the song’s meaning, only offering that its mercurial lyrics, which defy clear interpretation, were inspired by “some kind of relationship”. When paired with the singer’s airy vocal hook and a deliciously flighty oboe solo, Kiss From A Rose – which was also a standout on Seal’s self-titled 1994 album – leaves you in little doubt over its credentials, and it has more than earned its status as one of the best film songs of the 90s. “It is your perception of what I’m saying rather than what I actually say,” Seal later said of the song. “That is the key.”

4: Prince: Purple Rain (1984)

Like a magenta explosion, Prince reached his purple patch with the Purple Rain song, which peaked at No.2 in the US and No.4 in the UK. An eight-minute-long soft-rock marvel infused with gospel-tinged emotion, the song mixes soul balladry with orchestral grandeur, before seeing Prince let rip with one of the best guitar solos of all time – captured in the moment during the song’s debut live performance, at Minneapolis’ First Avenue club, on 3 August 1983. “In some ways Purple Rain scared me,” Prince told The Observer. A true masterpiece among the best Prince songs, and the title track to his epochal Purple Rain album, it is an immortal classic imbued with a spiritual gravity that also places it among the best breakup songs ever written.

3: Bonnie Tyler: Total Eclipse Of The Heart (1983)

Sung by Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler, with Rory Dodd on occasional backing vocals (“Turn around, bright eyes”), Total Eclipse Of The Heart truly belongs on the Mount Rushmore of the best power ballads. Written and produced by Meat Loaf songwriter Jim Steinman, the song is one of the finest examples of his Wagnerian approach to rock music, and it went to No.1 in both the US and the UK in 1983. Though it was originally written for Meat Loaf, Steinman finished the tune with Bonnie Tyler in mind, after falling in love with her rasping voice. “It sounded so sensual but so ravaged,” he later said of Tyler’s vocal. “It sounded heroic that she could sing at all.” A much-cherished karaoke favourite, Total Eclipse Of The Heart lingers long in the memory as one of the best love songs of the era.

2: Journey: Don’t Stop Believin’ (1981)

A bona fide classic-rock anthem, Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ is the gift that keeps giving. Though it reached No.9 on the US Hot 100 in 1981, it wouldn’t be until 2006 that the song made a significant mark on the UK charts, peaking at No.6 after it was performed by a contestant on The X Factor. Following its inclusion on US TV shows such as The Sopranos and Glee, Don’t Stop Believin’ had successfully re-entered the zeitgeist and, thanks to the internet era, it has gone on to sell a million copies in the UK alone. With a catchy piano hook from Jonathan Cain, a gut-busting vocal from Steve Perry and a barnstorming guitar solo from guitarist Neal Schon, it’s obvious why Journey’s song still resonates as one of the most enduring power ballads of the early 80s. Without a doubt, it’s here to stay.

1: Foreigner: I Want To Know What Love Is (1984)

Believed by songwriter Mick Jones to have been “written entirely by a higher force”, I Want To Know What Love Is is a masterful power ballad that channelled the Foreigner guitarist’s yearning for love. With semi-religious undertones, it mixes gospel choirs with a gargantuan pop-rock chorus that remains awe-inspiring. “I’d written almost a spiritual song, almost a gospel song,” Jones later said. It’s been claimed that Ahmet Ertegun, the head of Atlantic Records, was moved to tears after hearing it for the first time. It’s likely he wasn’t the only one, since I Want To Know What Love Is struck such an emotional chord that it quickly became a No.1 hit on both sides of the Atlantic, immediately establishing itself as one of the best Foreigner songs to boot. It’s exceptionally rare for a power ballad to express an emotion seemingly by way of divine inspiration, and that’s why I Want To Know What Love Is tops our list of the best power ballads of all time.

You’ve heard the best power ballads, now check out the best rock songs of all time.

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