Top 100 Rock Ballads of the '80s and '90s

Updated on March 7, 2018
Rock Ballads of the '80s and '90s!
Rock Ballads of the '80s and '90s!

There's nothing like a rock ballad from the '80s and '90s. Back then, they sure knew how to write and sing slow love songs and power ballads.

As Sammy Hagar (of Van Halen) said, "there were moments, like in some of the ballads, I put my heart and soul into those records. Those lyrics when I sang 'em, I gave myself goosebumps."

Welcome to my video list of top 100 rock ballads of the '80s and '90s. Although it was hard to decide which songs to include and what order to list them in, I have compiled my favorite songs here, limiting myself to the 100 songs I love the most.

I hope you like this list, and feel free to leave me a comment or a suggestion about a song I missed. Who knows, it may end up on the list!

My Top 10 Rock Ballads

  1. "With or Without You" U2
  2. "The Unforgiven" Mettalica
  3. "Father of Mine" Everclear
  4. "Keep on Loving You" REO Speedwagon
  5. "Love Song" The Cure
  6. "The Deeper the Love" Whitesnake
  7. "Wonderwall" Oasis
  8. "Promises in the Dark" Pat Benatar
  9. "Price of Love" Bad English
  10. "The Rose" Bette Midler

1. U2: With or Without You

2. Metallica: The Unforgiven

3. Everclear: Father of Mine

4. REO Speedwagon: Keep on Loving You

5. The Cure: Love Song

What Makes a Rock Song a Power Ballad?

A ballad is a song that tells a story about an emotional situation. More than other songs, a ballad's emotion is super pumped-up, maybe a little exaggerated, but the result is that you feel satisfied, like the song was therapeutic.

Rock ballads and power ballads are the same thing. A typical rock song, with its electric guitars, bass, drums, and intense vocals, becomes a power ballad when it gets all sentimental and gooey about love, or sadness, or any other big emotion. Music journalist Charles Aaron has said that the first rock ballad may be "Stairway to Heaven," which was released in 1971. Other early rock ballads include Aerosmith's "Dream On" and "Freebird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Simon Frith, the British sociomusicologist and former rock critic, has written that the power ballads of the '80s were also inspired by soul. Think "Sexual Healing" and "Midnight Train to Georgia." Singers like Ray Charles sang in a soulful way that influenced rockers like Joe Cocker to write slow songs with loud, emotional lyrics backed by electric bands.

In the '80s, big-haired (but macho) rockers started cranking out the slow-tempo, sentimental songs that—and here's the "power" part of power ballad—built up to the crazy, thrilling crescendo of electric guitar, bass, drums, and vocals that we all love.

6. Whitesnake: The Deeper the Love

7. Oasis: Wonderwall

8. Pat Benatar: Promises in the Dark

9. Bad English: Price of Love

10. Bette Midler: The Rose

That's Right. No Aerosmith or Queen.

It was hard to come up with just 100 of my favorite rock ballads. I know there are lots of you out there who will take me to the mat for leaving off Aerosmith's "What it Takes," and "Dream On," not to mention Queen's "Somebody to Love" and the ever-popular "Bohemian Rhapsody."

What can I say except that while I love these songs . . . they're not in my top 100?!? The hard part, but also the fun part, of making this list is that I know it'll stir up some debate.

11. John Mellencamp: Jack & Diane

12. INXS: Never Tear Us Apart

13. Roxette: It Must Have Been Love

14. Stevie Nicks: Edge of Seventeen

15. Lisa Loeb: Stay

"Judas," the First Ballad

Historians believe that one of the very ballads was written in the 13th century and was called "Judas." In that song Christ gives Judas 30 pieces of silver to buy food for the Apostles, but on his way to the market, Judas runs into his sister, who lulls him to sleep and steals the money. Unwilling to confess his loss, Judas sells Christ to the Romans for the same amount of money.

16. Heart: Alone

17. Loverboy: Heaven in Your Eyes

18. Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting: All for Love

19. Poison: Something to Believe in

20. U2: I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For

Best Rock Ballads for Karaoke

  1. "Alone" Heart
  2. "Love Song" The Cure
  3. "Jack & Diane" John Mellencamp
  4. "Wonderwall" Oasis
  5. "Keep on Loving You" REO Speedwagon
  6. "Every Breath You Take" The Police
  7. "I'll Stand By You" The Pretenders
  8. "Disarm" Smashing Pumpkins
  9. "Free Falling" Tom Petty
  10. "Only the Lonely" The Motels

21. Soul Asylum: Runaway Train

22. Eric Clapton: Tears in Heaven

Oh can't you see?

You belong to me.

How my poor heart aches

With every step you take.

— "Every Breath You Take" The Police

23. Foreigner: I Want to Know What Love Is

24. 3 Doors Down: Here Without You

25. Air Supply: The One That You Love

Best Power Ballads by Female Singers

  1. "The Rose" Bette Midler
  2. "Promises in the Dark" Pat Benatar
  3. "It Must Have Been Love" Roxette
  4. "Edge of Seventeen" Stevie Nicks
  5. "Alone" Heart
  6. "Stay" Lisa Loeb
  7. "I'll Stand by You" The Pretenders
  8. "Only the Lonely" The Motels
  9. "Take My Breath Away" Berlin
  10. "One of Us" Joan Osborne

26. Def Leppard: Stand up Kick Love into Motion

27. Bad English: When I See You Smile

28. Cheap Trick: The Flame

29. The Police: Every Breath You Take

30. Bryan Adams: Heaven

What Makes a Great Power Ballad Video?

Kevin Cronin of REO Speedwagon has said that power ballads are basically folk songs played on electric instruments, with the wattage turned way up.

  • Rock ballad videos feature footage from live performances, in huge venues, with the fans all holding their lighters up.
  • The story of the band is featured. We see them playing on stage and then another story is intercut—maybe a gorgeous woman in high heels who's waiting around for the band.
  • Members of the band have big hair and the singer delivers the lyrics like he's singing an anthem, microphone in one hand and his head back.
  • Look for lots of dry ice, too.

31. Pretenders: I'll Stand By You

We walked the loneliest mile.

We smile without any style.

We kiss all together wrong,

No intention.

— "Only the Lonely" The Motels

32. Chicago: You're the Inspiration

33. Bon Jovi: Always

34. The Motels: Only the Lonely

35. REO Speedwagon: Can't Fight This Feeling

36. Chicago: Look Away

37. Night Ranger: Sister Christian

38. White Lion: You're All I Need

39. Tom Petty: Free Falling

40. Collective Soul: Shine

41. Boston: Amanda

42. Warrant: Heaven

43. Bryan Adams: Please Forgive Me

And I would do anything for love.

I'd run right into hell and back.

I would do anything for love.

I'd never lie to you and that's a fact.

But I'll never forget the way you feel right now,

Oh no, no way.

— "I Would Do Anything for Love" Meatloaf

44. Guns N' Roses: Sweet Child O' Mine

45. Guns N' Roses: November Rain

46. Lita Ford & Ozzy Osborne: Close My Eyes Forever

47. Meatloaf: I Would Do Anything for Love

48. Richard Marx: Right Here Waiting

49. Def Leppard: Love Bites

50. Whitesnake: Here I Go Again

Best Rock Ballads for a Wedding

  1. "Take My Breath Away" Berlin
  2. "Up Where We Belong" Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes
  3. "Faithfully" Journey
  4. "Can't Stop Loving You" Van Halen
  5. "Glory of Love" Peter Cetera
  6. "Love of a Lifetime" Firehouse
  7. "Nothing Else Matters" Metallica
  8. "Avalon" Roxy Music

51. Skid Row: I Remember You

52. Slaughter: Fly to the Angels

53. Berlin: Take My Breath Away

54. Extreme: More Than Words

55. Queensryche: Anybody Listening?

56. Alias: More Than Words Can Say

57. Alphaville: Forever Young

58. Howard Jones: No One Is to Blame

59. Joe Cocker & Jennifer Warnes: Up Where We Belong

60. Creed: Higher

61. Soundgarten: Black Hole Sun

62. Soundgarten: Fell on Black Days

63. Nirvana: Come As You Are

64. Goo Goo Dolls: Iris

When your day is long

And the night

The night is yours alone.

When you're sure you've had enough

Of this life,

Well hang on.

Don't let yourself go.

'Cause everybody cries

And everybody hurts sometimes.

— "Everybody Hurts" R.E.M.

65. Journey: Faithfully

66. Tesla: Love Song

67. R.E.M.: Everybody Hurts

68. Jeff Buckley: Hallelujah

69. Heart: These Dreams

70. Roxette: Listen to Your Heart

71. Van Halen: Can't Stop Loving You

72. Edwin McCain: I'll Be

73. Def Leppard: Two Steps Behind

74. Mr. Big: To Be With You

75. Smashing Pumpkins: Disarm

Rock Ballads in Movies

  1. "Heaven in Your Eyes" Loverboy Top Gun (1986)
  2. "Take My Breath Away" Berlin Top Gun (1986)
  3. "Up Where We Belong" Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes An Officer and a Gentleman (1982)
  4. "I Want to Know What Love Is" Foreigner Raising Helen (2004)
  5. "Stay" Lisa Loeb Reality Bites (1994)

76. Peter Cetera: Glory of Love

77. Firehouse: Love of a Lifetime

78. Faith No More: Ashes to Ashes

79. Def Leppard: Hysteria (Featuring Taylor Swift)

80. Cinderella: Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)

81. Bon Jovi: I'll Be There for You

Every rose has its thorn,

Just like every night has its dawn.

— "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" Poison

82. Poison: Every Rose Has Its Thorn

83. Cutting Crew: I Just Died In Your Arms

84. Bon Jovi: Livin' on a Prayer

86. Live: Lightning Crashes

87. Metallica: Nothing Else Matters

88. Joan Osborne: One of Us

90. Roxy Music: Avalon

91. Crowded House: Weather With You

93. Scorpions: Wind of Change

94. Nine Inch Nails: Hurt

95. Howard Jones: Everlasting Love

96. The Heights: How Do You Talk to an Angel

97. Bonnie Tyler: Total Eclipse of the Heart

98. Hootie and the Blowfish: Let Her Cry

99. Queensryche: Silent Lucidity

100. Judas Priest: Before the Dawn

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 dannydeu

    Tell me what you think. If I missed you of your favorite rock ballads of the '80s or '90s, I'll try to add it.

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      • profile image

        erich 3 weeks ago

        really amazing

      • profile image

        dv 6 weeks ago

        Don't close your eyes KIX!

      • profile image

        evelyn 6 months ago

        songs by queen, scorpio and the like

      • profile image

        toots 9 months ago

        nothin by Aerosmith???

      • profile image

        Juanda 16 months ago

        Can you make it as a playlist in Youtube? It will be a lot easier to watch all the videos.

      • profile image

        Japparino 16 months ago

        You take my breath away

      • profile image

        vagg 18 months ago

      • profile image

        Jason 20 months ago

        That was dead on. Thanks for taking the time to put those great albums in order. I for got about some of the artist until I saw your list.

      • profile image

        Cool Kid 20 months ago

        This is cool almost as cool as me

      • profile image

        cool kid 20 months ago

        this was cool just like me

      • profile image

        2 years ago

        Maybe 20% of those aren't rock songs, but as for the rock, some great forgotten gems listed there.

      • profile image

        Zeke 2 years ago

        No House of Pain by Faster Pussycat? It's a seriously good song.

      • profile image

        Ed 3 years ago

        What about honestly by stryper?

      • profile image

        anonymous 4 years ago

        Great selection! I would have added 2 more..... Chris Issacs ..Don't wanna fall in love & Steelheart Never let you go

      • profile image

        ghammond 4 years ago

        Very nice selection. I see you have "Love Song" by Tesla. I think you would also like "What You Give" by Tesla.

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        Love of my life-----Freddie mercury (QUEEN)

        How did you miss that one??????

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        what about "Beth" by Kiss??? one of my the list!

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        what about Beth by Kiss??? otherwise awesome list

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        you guys forgot: changes black sabbat , i'm still in love with you thin lizzy, goodbye to romance ozzy osbourne and even eyes without a face billy idol! COME OOOOOOON

      • JJGJJG profile image

        JJGJJG 5 years ago

        Love it, great list and some good ideas for my M3P, and like the voting thing.

      • RetroMom profile image

        RetroMom 5 years ago

        Those songs are great! I love it! You have a wonderful lens! Thanks for sharing!

      • profile image

        anonymous 5 years ago

        great lens :)

      • Edwardjames81 profile image

        Edwardjames81 6 years ago

        You have included some cracking Rock classics there. I don't agree with your order, but then musical tastes are an individual thing, but this is an awesome lens.

      • nophie lm profile image

        nophie lm 6 years ago

        You are rock... great lens

      • navalava lm profile image

        navalava lm 6 years ago

        Such a great lens! Love those songs!

      • profile image

        Freedomftr 6 years ago

        Great list! Not the order I would put them, but I'm sure it would be different for everyone. Nice page though. Thanks!

      • hughgrissettsr lm profile image

        hughgrissettsr lm 6 years ago

        excellent choices!

      • dannydeu profile image

        dannydeu 6 years ago

        @hughgrissettsr lm: Thank you

      • dannydeu profile image

        dannydeu 6 years ago

        @glenbrook: Thanks for the tip. I'll look into them. Maybe I will have to have 102 Rock Ballads.

      • dannydeu profile image

        dannydeu 6 years ago

        @greenmind: Thank you for stopping by my lens. This list was compiled by myself, but I did have to search the web to remember them all.

      • glenbrook profile image

        glenbrook 6 years ago

        I like Queensryche's "I Don't Believe In Love" and Judas Priest's "Before the Dawn." Don't know if they're considered ballads though.

      • greenmind profile image

        GreenMind 6 years ago from USA

        Wow -- really a complete list! Did you compile this yourself, or find an amazing source to use?

        \m/ >.< \m/ (rock on!)