Best Rock Ballads: Top 5 Classic Songs According To Music Fans

Rock ballads are songs that can evoke a strong sense of nostalgia in a listener. They are defined by a slow measured tempo, moody themes, and guitar licks that can be more memorable than the lyrics. These classics have made an impact on social consciousness to the point that the songs on our list are each a massive radio hit with lasting popularity. What then are the characteristics of the best rock ballads of all time? Typically, these famous tracks come from heavy metal, hard rock, or hair bands of the ’80s and ’90s.

Rock ballads are a sub-genre of rock music that emerged in the 1960s and became popular in the 1970s and 1980s. These songs are typically characterized by their slow tempo, emotional lyrics, and powerful vocal performances, often accompanied by acoustic or electric guitars and a strong drum beat. They often explore themes such as love, heartbreak, loss, and redemption, and are known for their ability to evoke strong emotions in listeners.

Besides being go-to tunes to rock out to, listening to “groovy” music actually has benefits for your brain. Scientists from the University of Tsukuba report that “music with a groove” can significantly increase measures of executive function and associated brain activity. There is a catch, though: You have to be familiar with the tune.

It is not surprising that rock ballads stay with listeners, always ready to take them back in time. “In the 1980s, every high school had that one sappy schmuck that loved one woman so much, they just had to make her an awesome mix tape filled with songs that told a story they were too chicken to tell themselves,” writes Medium. Ready to belt out your favorites? It is with great fondness that we now share the top five best rock ballads. Let us know what songs you would add to the list in the comments below!

man playing guitar on stage
Rock concert guitarist (Photo by Max Brinton on Unsplash)

The List: Best Rock Ballads, According to Experts

1. “November Rain” Guns N’ Roses (1991)

In a topic that is absolutely filled with amazing music, “November Rain” Stands out as one of the greats. Music Industry How To describes the track: “Guns n’ roses front man Axl Rose took his love of Elton john and repurposed the typical piano ballad in a hard rock package for the single November Rain.”

This rock epic is over nine minutes long and still managed to get mainstream radio play in the ‘90s. It was and continues to be the defining standard for the rock ballad.  “In the middle of two albums full of outlaw rock, Axl Rose tapped into his sensitive side. During the Use Your Illusion era, Guns N’ Roses were the most ambitious band in rock, and here they set out to create the ultimate power ballad – and succeeded,” writes Udiscover Music.

Guitar, lyrics, and vocal performance come together in this hit song. “The music video depicts a common trend of the 80s, a mini-movie sequence. However, the showstopper of this soft rock ballad is the lyrics and Slash’s guitar solo. It was the first time Axl Rose ever wrote about lamenting lost love, change and loss,” adds Speaking Out Loud.

2. “Alone” Heart (1995)

The number two track on this list is also a massive world-wide hit, “This giant of a song reached No.1 in the States and No.3 in the UK. Ann Wilson’s voice goes stratospheric as she relates the tale of a confirmed singleton who suddenly finds true love. But there’s a twist: ‘The secret is still my own’. (In other words, whoever-he-is is oblivious to her affections). Giving a double meaning to the title, Ann later asks: ‘How do I get you alone?’ What fantastic songwriting,” notes Louder Sound.

Alone leans into the listener with lyrics that focus on a message of unhealthy attraction and unrequited affection that features “deeply unsettling lyrics about an individual completely wrapped up in love. Oh, and it’s also because of the irresistible chorus that has inspired countless karaoke renditions around the globe. The lyrics of ‘Alone’ allow listeners to long for their potential lovers,” writes Watch Mojo.

“It became a huge global smash, with a chorus that smashes you round the face, a powerhouse vocal performance from Ann Wilson and practically the definitive pre-chorus power ballad drum fill. Whether your instrument is air guitar, air drums or simply an out-of-tune but passionate vocal, this song has something for you,” according to Short List.

3. “Always” Bon Jovi (1994)

“Another band that needs no introduction – Bon Jovi – spawned from New Jersey in the ’80s and continues to rock on today as they did in their beginning,” writes blogger Iulian Ionescu. Bon Jovi are best known for their pop-leaning brand of American rock music.

Many of the works in their catalogue were contenders for this list. “If power ballads are an art, then Bon Jovi is Picasso or Van Gogh or whichever *really* famous artist you prefer. Bon Jovi is one of the reasons why this list limited artists to one entry, because Bon Jovi could easily dominate this entire list. One of two new songs on their 1994 greatest hits LP Cross Road, ‘Always’ was a smash hit all around the world,” says Q105.

“Always” comes out on top as one of their greatest all-time hits. “It became the song – as if they (Bon Jovi) needed another one – that propelled their Cross Road greatest hits compilation into the stratosphere. ‘I will love you: always.’ Has there been a more simple and direct message of devotion uttered by any man? Even one who has ‘made mistakes’ and says he’s ‘not that good any more’? We think not. Put aside your cynicism and sing your lungs out to that chorus and you will discover the secret of pure joy,” adds Short List.

4. “I Want to Know What Love Is” Foreigner (1984)

Fans familiar with this track can already hear the iconic chorus in their head. Foreigner released this schmaltzy love ballad in 1984, and it remains a much-loved hit song today. “The sheer omnipresence of this song when it first came out might have weakened its modern-day appeal somewhat. That said, I Want To Know What Love Is still swoops like a bird of prey. And vocalist Lou Gramm revels in his role as lord of the wrings; by the end of the song he’s forlorn, shattered, betrayed, abandoned, distraught. A hollow shell of a man. And he still hasn’t the foggiest idea what love is,” says Louder Sound.

This whimsical song is made all-the-more memorable because of singer Lou Gramm’s vocal styling. “Foreigner’s 1984 hit is as close a pop ballad ever get(sic) to gospel testifying, with a soul-tearing vocal from Lou Gramm. The song doesn’t even need its great chorus, that ‘change this looonely life’ delivery is enough of a payoff,” explains Udiscover Music.

Clearly critics see this sugary sweet love song in an affectionate if humorous light. “Well, here’s a heavy burden to bear for any would-be lover, since it’s one thing to ponder the idea of love, and another to want someone to show you actual love. Ok, you get the idea of this Foreigner hit, well, because it’s all in the title. ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’ came at a crucial moment in music history, as music videos allowed musicians another medium to express their utter confusion in regard to romance, and thus channel their energy to a world of equally troubled listeners,” writes Watch Mojo.

5. “I’d Do Anything for Love” Meat Loaf (1993)

This Meat Loaf ballad, released in 1993, was another major hit with a hefty run time. This seven-minute-long track was from the album, “Bat Out of Hell II: Back into Hell”. It is another example of a song with a mini-narrative and easy-to-sing lyrics. “The song beautifully narrates a mature man’s love and willingness. Well, that is what the song is all about, the willingness for love. Although it takes about a romantic relationship between a man and a woman, it can still be perceived in any romance,” writes Speaking Out Loud.

Fans of Meat Loaf and this song specifically are very passionate about its status as one of the greatest rock ballads. “An epic journey – in the true, non-reality show sense – this is a song that twists and turns, rises and falls, is bombastic then gentle, then bombastic once more, transporting you to another place. It’s a mini movie of a song, held together by the astonishing, dramatic vocal performance of Meat Loaf, singing like his very life depends upon it,” according to Short List.

Just like the other songs on this list, “I’d Do Anything for Love” is an absolute vocal feat. Performed by Meat Loaf as a master of his craft this track is described as follows, “For this 1993 hit, Meat Loaf actually recorded a 12-minute album version of the song, in which he passionately, and perhaps obsessively, details out his crippling loneliness, a fondness for both fire and ice, and of course, his fair set of standards for love. From the opening piano to the intense final act, this song would be absolutely nothing without the wrenching vocals of the man known as Meat Loaf,” says Watch Mojo.

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  1. Queen did some excellent ballads: Love Of My Life, Who Wants To Live Forever, and You Take My Breath Away.

    1. Absolutely,
      as well as The Flame by Cheap Trick.
      Always by Bon Jovi is not a top 20, let alone top 5.

  2. Are you sure that wasn’t the list for the 5 worst rock songs ever? Even Heart would agree Alone is hardly their sound, they were forced into their commercial era. Heart regrets the entire album.
    None of these songs will bring played in the next 10 years. We have songs from the 60s still setting the standard for rock.
    Where’s Led Zeppelin and the rest?
    Where did this list come from? Who voted on these songs?

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