As much as I love 80s Metal, there was a gender divide. And what do I mean by that? Some bands naturally attracted loads of female fans. And some bands…didn’t. If ever there existed a handbook for attracting girls to your live shows and selling albums to the screaming masses, the best tactic on the planet fell under the chapter heading: “Write a Power Ballad.”
But there were a handful of decidedly masculine metal bands who didn’t bother with such fluff; they chose to spend time cultivating hordes of male followers who wore spiked metal fingerless gloves and black t-shirts and white leather sneakers with jeans. Such fans wore their hair in mullet-fashion and joined their heroes to scoff at the lined eyes and glossy lips of those glammy 80s groups. And these heavy metal guitar gods got on stage with live reptiles and ate raw meat and threw dead bats into the crowds and didn’t worry about how many women might be waiting for them backstage (or so it appeared).
But then….what could be more attractive to an 80s Metal female than finally hearing the sensitive lyrics and slower-tempo’d beat of a power ballad from a band you’d given up on because, quite frankly – they were sort of gross?
Here are a handful of power ballads from unlikely sources; beautiful songs with thoughtful lyrics sung by men who were too cool to care. And that’s exactly what makes these all-star classics.
# 6 – W.A.S.P. – “Forever Free”
Blackie Lawless was not a Metal Edge face you’d see plastered on the walls of many teenage girls’ bedrooms. W.A.S.P. was scary-looking, and they sang songs that couldn’t be played on the radio. An early target of the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC), W.A.S.P.’s live shows featured tied-up, half-nude women and circular saws and organized “meat shows” for fans. But then came the album The Headless Children. The first without any overtly sexual songs or lyrics, the album became their biggest selling title of all time, and featured the gorgeous power ballad “Forever Free.” A tragic tale of a woman killed in a motorcycle accident, the song’s video even included the band playing in the rain, a Harlequin novel vibe that made ladies everywhere take another look at Blackie Lawless (or, at least, another look at Chris Holmes).
# 5 – Judas Priest – “Night Comes Down”
Judas Priest definitely had a very masculine presence in the heavy-metal-verse. They weren’t a Sunset Strip-based band, they were from the UK, and by the time the 80s rolled around, they’d been at it for over 10 years. “Night Comes Down” was from the band’s 1984 album Defenders of the Faith, and the song was really the only tune from the 80s that could even possibly be considered part of the power ballad category (other Judas Priest candidates came either before or after that decade). Although the powerful instrumentality of the song delighted the hard core Priest fan, the more poignant lyrics and softer approach helped make the band feel more accessible to the masses.
# 4 – Twisted Sister – “The Price”
This song was a real diversion for Dee Snider & Co. Released as the third single from the 1984 album Stay Hungry, following up “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock,” “The Price” was a melodic ballad about the price of following your dreams. The video was a diversion, too. After fans had gotten used to seeing the band in their heavy make-up and costume-y wardrobe, this was stripped down rehearsal footage in street clothes, merged with live shots of the band’s more dolled-up stage performances. The song is a poetic reflection about sacrifices made, and whether “the price” is worth the reward.
# 3 – Iron Maiden – “Wasting Love”
Iron Maiden: not a band known for love songs. “Wasting Love” came to us in 1992 from the album Fear of the Dark. While the chorus is still strong and loud, the majority of the song has an acoustic feel, and the shadowy cinematography of the video makes us feel like perhaps Bruce Dickinson is…romantic? While I can’t be sure such a thing is true, “Wasting Love” certainly gave non-Maiden fans a peek at sentimentality (where before only Eddie the Head existed).
# 2 – Quiet Riot – “Twilight Hotel”
In 1986, Quiet Riot released the album QRIII, and though it didn’t have much commercial success, it did feature a single called “Twilight Hotel.” A keyboard-heavy tune that feels like Journey’s second cousin, it’s perhaps not a pure ballad. But it vacillates tempo and is a song you’d like to hear Kevin DuBrow sing only to you at your high school prom. For a band best known for straight jackets and metal face masks, “Twilight Hotel” is a lovely diversion.
# 1 – Alice Cooper – “You and Me”
OK – this one is an extra. It’s technically not from the 80s (or even early 90s). But it is from the legendary Alice Cooper, and IMO, it’s the most beautiful song he ever performed. “You and Me” was released as a single off of the Lace and Whiskey album in 1977. It’s simple, it’s honest, it’s a heart-felt devotion to the authenticity of relationships. The reality of day-in/day-out routine; love between two monogamous partners; the most perfect account of commitment. Nothing flashy. It’s so NOT Alice Cooper, and yet – it so IS. If this is not a song you’re familiar with, it should be.
Power ballads will always have our hearts. But even more so when they come from unlikely sources.
6 Power Ballads From Unlikely Sources article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023
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