Gimme Five: 1980s ‘Hair Ballads’ That Don’t, You Know, Suck

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It started with a recent discussion among some friends of mine who weren’t happy with the treatment that Wendy’s gave Mr. Big’s “To Be With You” in a recent commercial. I wasn’t quite as offended as they were, though I have to admit that song is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me.

Then came Justin Moore’s mauling of Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home,” with Vince Neil complicit in the heinous act. Both drew their share of jeers online from folks my age, which in turn drew some withering responses from people making fun of 1980s ballads and music in general.

I find myself a bit on the fence in that argument because I have to admit there were a lot of really, really bad ballads in the 1980s and early 1990s. (I’m looking at you “Every Rose Has Its Thorn.”) The bands had to have the standard G-C-D love song to get radio airplay and draw in the female audience, perhaps because so much of the rest of their material was about sex. Most of those were the songs that I skipped every time I listened to those albums.

On the other hand, I bristle at the folks who dismiss everything from that era as garbage. So, I started thinking about the handful of songs that I would consider the good ballads, and frankly, came up with a list longer than I would have thought.

To help trim the list a bit and try to stay out of the deeper weeds, I decided to put a few parameters on it. First, the song had to have been released during the “hair” period of the 1980s or early 1990s. Second, the song had to be by a band that would fall into the category of what most people would consider a “hair band.”

I tossed out heavier metal acts, like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, and bands like Aerosmith who embraced the ’80s excess, but really weren’t of it. That eliminates songs like Bruce Dickinson’s “Tears of the Dragon” (which would have otherwise topped the list) or something like Metallica’s “Fade to Black.” I also tossed the Night Rangers and Journeys of the world (so no “Sister Christian,” even though it holds a fond place in my memory). Though some often include those acts in that group, they were really a different thing, at least in my mind.

Finally, there’s no justifiable or quantifiable reason that any of them made my list, other than I like them. So, here we go …

“WORLD STOPPED TURNING,” by LILLIAN AXE (LOVE + WAR, 1989): Because Lillian Axe, that’s why. I debated between “Nobody Knows,” “Ghost of Winter” and this song, but eventually chose “World Stopped Turning,” just because it’s my favorite of the three. Like many of Lillian’s ballads, this one is a bit darker than your standard ballad of the time, and I think it has a little more depth musically. Of course, everyone knows that I’m a Lillian Axe fanboy, anyway.

“CALL IT WHAT YOU WANT,” by TESLA (PSYCHOTIC SUPPER, 1991): Tesla is one of those acts that I’ve always been hesitant to lump into the “hair band” category. They never really went in for the glam image and makeup, and were always more of a jeans and roots hard rock band. But, majority rules, I guess. Everyone knows their hit “Love Song,” but this cut from their 1991 record is a far better tune. It shows more of that blues rock side of the band, and the lyrics always connected with me. It’s not only my favorite Tesla ballad, it might be my favorite Tesla song, period.

“DON’T KNOW WHAT YOU GOT (‘TILL IT’S GONE),” by CINDERELLA (LONG, COLD WINTER, 1988): With this album, Cinderella started to separate from their peers a bit, by bringing in a more 1970s blues-rock influence. Tom Keifer was also a much better songwriter than some of the other acts had, though, as this title illustrates, grammar may not have been his strong point. “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” is a classic rock ballad, and the bombastic live performances of it were phenomenal. Also check out “Nobody’s Fool” and “Heartbreak Station” for more really good Cinderella ballads.

“QUICKSAND JESUS,” by SKID ROW (SLAVE TO THE GRIND, 1991): I make no secret that Slave to the Grind is one of my absolute favorite hard rock records, and two of the three ballads were among the finest examples of what the genre had to offer. I went back and forth between this one and “In a Darkened Room” for that huge, weeping lead guitar lick. In the end, I chose “Quicksand Jesus” because it’s not a love song. It manages to be simultaneously reflective and angry, and Sebastian Bach is in fine form.

“HOME SWEET HOME,” by MOTLEY CRUE (THEATRE OF PAIN, 1985): I suppose you could blame this song for launching the whole ballad trend of the late 1980s. It was the first one that I remember being a really big hit for a metal band, and aside from Quiet Riot’s “Love’s a Bitch,” which I’ve never completely counted as a ballad, the first one that I actually remember liking. That simple piano riff and quiet approach to the first verse went so against what I expected from Motley Crue at the time. I was, at first, resistant, but quickly came around. Then there’s that piercing guitar solo by Mick Mars, again with some pretty simple, but impactful licks. So maybe it did launch a thousand bad ballads, but to me it stands as the most memorable of the era.

Other songs that received strong consideration: “The Ballad of Jayne” by L.A. Guns, “Close My Eyes Forever” by Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne, “The Secret of the Bottle” by Jackyl, “Alone Again” by Dokken, “Fly High Michelle” by Enuff Z’Nuff, “House of Pain” by Faster Pussycat, “Fly to the Angels” by Slaughter, “Don’t Close Your Eyes” by Kix, “Best of Friends” by Dangerous Toys.

Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips

Fred Phillips is a veteran entertainment writer with a love of hard rock and heavy metal. He has written music reviews, columns and feature stories for several newspapers, Web sites and a national wire service, while running a stand-alone site called Hall of the Mountain King in various places and incarnations since 1997. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelse reviews.com.
Fred Phillips
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  • Marc Vinci

    Call It What You Want and to a lesser extent The World Stopped Turning are not ballads

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