15 Best Rock Ballads of the '70s

Updated on April 23, 2020
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As a Baby Boomer, I grew up in the '60s and '70s finishing up college in the '80s. Occasionally I like to share some nostalgia.


The 70's saw the rise of heavy metal, punk rock, progressive rock, and so forth. There was soft rock, country, R&B/soul, and folk as well. However, even for some of the hardest rockers out there wrote beautiful ballads.

15 Great Rock 'n' Roll Ballads of the '70s

  1. "Without You" by Badfinger
  2. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel
  3. "The Long and Winding Road" by the Beatles
  4. "Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton
  5. "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen
  6. "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin
  7. "Desperado" by The Eagles
  8. "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd
  9. "Melissa" by The Allman Brothers Band
  10. "Wild Horses" by The Rolling Stones
  11. "Your Song" by Elton John
  12. "Lady" by Styx
  13. "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" by Meat Loaf
  14. "Dust In The Wind" by Kansas
  15. "American Pie" by Don McLean

Which ones were best is a matter of personal preference but I've listed some of the top ones here. If you disagree, you'll have the chance below to set me straight on the subject.

1. "Without You" by Badfinger

A ballad about being left by a lover can be powerful stuff. Although most have heard the song Without You done by either Harry Nilsson in 1971 or Mariah Carey in 1990, it was Badfinger that wrote and performed the song first. The original version is a bit less dramatic but beautiful.

Band members Pete Ham and Tom Evans composed it in 1970. Other bands have used the tune, including Air Supply in 1991.

You can hear Badfinger perform their rock ballad below.

2. "Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon and Garfunkel

Bridge Over Troubled Water was written by Paul Simon in 1970. It was sung primarily by his musical partner Art Garfunkel. They were a folk rock duo who had a number of hits in the 1960's and earned 10 Grammys.

The duo broke up following the release of Bridge Over Troubled Water but they did perform together again in the 2000's. However, in 2018 Paul Simon announced his retirement from touring.

You can hear Art Garfunkel sing the tune in a 1990's live performance below.

3. "The Long and Winding Road" by the Beatles

The Beatles had been a group since 1960 and had international celebrity since the mid-60's. John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr were all from Liverpool, England.

The Long and Winding Road was written and sung by Paul McCartney. It was released by the Beatles on their final album in 1970. It was their last hit as a group.

You can hear it below.

4. "Wonderful Tonight" by Eric Clapton

Eric Clapton is an acclaimed English guitarist, singer, and songwriter who earned 18 Grammy Awards. He has performed in a number of groups and as a solo artist over the years. In 1977 he was inspired by his then wife Pattie Boyd to compose Wonderful Tonight.

Ms. Boyd had also been the inspiration for the 1969 Beatles hit Something which was written and sung by her then husband, George Harrison.

You can hear Clapton's rock ballad below.

5. "All By Myself" by Eric Carmen

An accomplished musician, Eric Carmen had been in groups for a number of years and experienced a fair amount of success with the Raspberries. He was a classically trained pianist, violinist, and a self taught guitarist. He then branched out into a solo career. In 1975, he released All By Myself a rock ballad that was very popular.

You can hear Eric Carmen perform it below.

6. "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin

In 1968, the British band Led Zeppelin (initially known as the New Yardbirds) started touring and recording. The band consisted of guitarist Jimmy Page, vocalist Robert Plant, bass and keyboardist John Paul Jones, and percussionist/drummer John Bonham.

The band enjoyed a great deal of success and sold out venues over the years. One of their many memorable tunes was Stairway to Heaven. It was what some call a rock ballad and like the band itself, it had an enduring effect on rock music. Written by Jimmy Page (music) and Robert Plant (lyrics) it was released in 1971. You can hear it performed live below.

7. "Desperado" by The Eagles

Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Bernie Leadon, and Randy Meisner formed The Eagles in 1971. They had a number of hit songs including Take It Easy, Already Gone, Peaceful Easy Feeling, and The Long Run among others. They recorded the song Desperado in 1973 but never released it as a single.

Later that same year Linda Ronstadt did a cover of the tune and it was well received. The Eagles continued writing, recording and performing for nearly a decade and then did not perform together from 1980-1994. They took another break from 2001-2007 and then Glenn Frey died. The Eagles still perform although with new members including Glenn Frey's son Deacon.

You can hear Desperado below.

8. "Free Bird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Southern rock has also produced some of the best rock ballads of the 70's. Lynyrd Skynyrd recorded the song Free Bird in 1973 and released it as a single in 1974. It's popularity grew over the years in live performances and it became a staple at their concerts. A live version of the song charted again a couple of years later in 1977.

The band is also known for it's tune Sweet Home Alabama. Unfortunately, the band is also remembered for a tragic turn of events in 1977 when the band was in a plane crash which killed band members Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines, and others. Although membership in the band has changed over the years, they performed up through 2018 which was their farewell tour.

You can hear the band perform Free Bird below.

9. "Melissa" by The Allman Brothers Band

Gregg Allman wrote Melissa over a period of time. At one point he even sold the rights to the song but was able to later buy them back. His brother Duane gradually grew to love the song, so much so that Gregg played it at his funeral when Duane was killed in a motorcycle accident in October 1971.

After Duane's death, his band The Allman Brothers Band, recorded and released Eat a Peach which included the final version of Melissa.

You can hear it below.

10. "Wild Horses" by The Rolling Stones

In 1965 The Rolling Stones was formed as a band. They definitely have longevity as they continue to perform as of 2018. Certainly the band has had a number of commercially successful songs, particularly in the 1960's, 70's, and 80's. Some of their top singles include (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (1965), Start Me Up (1981), Miss You, (1978), Brown Sugar (1971) and Get Off of My Cloud (1965).

Angie and Wild Horses are two songs on the softer side. You can hear Wild Horses below.

11. "Your Song" by Elton John

Another famous rock ballad from the 70's is Your Song. Written by Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin it was released in 1970. That same year, Three Dog Night recorded it on an album but John released it for himself on a single.

The Taupin/John writing team first began in 1967 and continued throughout Elton's career. Elton announced his farewell tour in 2018. You can listen to Your Song below.

12. "Lady" by Styx

Written by Dennis DeYoung, Lady was recorded and released by a Chicago based band, Styx. It gained national attention in 1974. The band had other notable songs including Come Sail Away, Babe, and Mr. Roboto among others.

A recording of Lady is posted below for you to hear.

13. "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" by Meat Loaf

Another 70's rock ballad comes from Meat Loaf, aka Marvin Lee Aday. Meat Loaf hails from Dallas, Texas, USA but his operatic voice has taken him far. He has done Broadway, movies, TV, and record albums as a singer, songwriter, record producer, and actor.

Jim Steinman wrote Two Out of Three Ain't Bad and Meat Loaf recorded and released it in 1977. You can hear it below.

14. "Dust In The Wind" by Kansas

Dust in the Wind was a successful ballad by the band Kansas (from out of Topeka, Kansas, USA) . It was written by band member Kerry Livgren and was released in 1977.

The band still performs although there have been numerous changes in band membership over the years. Another well known song from Kansas in that time period was Carry On Wayward Son.

You can hear Dust in the Wind below.

15. "American Pie" by Don McLean

American Pie might best be described as a folk ballad but it makes the list here too since it celebrates the early life of rock n' roll. Don McLean wrote it in 1971 and released the single in 1972. It's lyrics seem to be a reminiscence of an earlier incident, "the day the music died". Presumably, the catastrophe of a plane crash in 1959 which killed rock pioneer Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, and The Big Bopper.

You can hear McLean sing it below.


What is Your Favorite Rock Ballad of the 70's?

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© 2018 Christine Mulberry

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