The 80s rock stage had a massive influx of different styles from different points of the world.
This led to a huge mixture of influences, with good old British rock and American jazz and country going strong, the New Wave of British Heavy metal dominating the European charts, American trash metal holding pole positions in the US, with German rock and power metal gaining more and more influence.
All this created a diverse music era famous for its colorful music, especially rock ballads. Below are тhe Тop 20 rock ballads of the 80s!
Don’t Miss to Read: Top 20 Rock Ballads of the 70s
Don’t Miss to Read: Top 20 Rock Ballads of the 90s
What makes the rock ballads of the 80s so special?
The emotion sets apart all rock songs from the 80s from all other decades. Various artists, not only in rock or metal, created an enormous number of songs on various topics. An active decade with many shifts on many levels, the 80s inspired different bands with different audiences.
And the bands gave their view on these topics with emotion. So, along with the diversity mentioned above in genres, the top rock ballads of the 80s are swirling with emotion!
“Home Sweet Home” by Mötley Crüe
This power ballad was written by colorful band members Tommy Lee and Nikki Sixx as a part of the 1985 album Theatre of Pain.
Nikki Sixx is quoted saying it was a response to them being out for so long after the 1983 Tour Shout At The Devil. “It was our first experience for what felt like an eternity. We were picked up by a tour bus at our little apartments and taken away to play several gigs, only to be dropped back off 18 months later.”
This wasn’t the traditional Mötley Crüe song and was even this close to not making it to an album. The song was released in 1985 and peaked at #89 in the US. A couple of years after that, it was re-released and reached #37.
“November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses
Two fascinating facts about Guns’ “November Rain” – it was the first rock video to reach a stunning two billion views on YouTube. To this day, this is the biggest-selling debut album in US history.
Apart from these, the 9-minute track has a rich history. “November Rain” revealed a different side of Rose to the public. He abandoned his raucous rock character to exhibit unexpected compassion. Musically, the song was an opulent take on mid-70s Elton John piano balladry, boosted by a passionate voice from Rose, a massive-sounding string arrangement, and a soaring Slash guitar solo.
Another fact about creating the song’s video is that it totaled around $1 million, which is pretty expensive even by today’s standards, not to mention the 80s.
“Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison
The story of this 80s smash hit says that Poison vocalist Bret Michaels got his fair share of heartache one night in Dallas. The band was on tour in promotion of their debut album, Look What The Cat Dragged In, which was unleashed in 1987. Yet Michaels’ romantic problems inspired Poison’s best song of all time.
Following the gig in Dallas, Michaels, and the band returned to their hotel for the night. A lonely Michaels decided that a 3 a.m. call to his fiancée, an exotic dancer with whom he shared an apartment in Hollywood, would be precisely the thing to brighten his spirits.
The call had the opposite effect, as he caught his lover with another man. So, inspired by his heartbreak, Michaels put every tear into a song.
In an interview, he stated that he went to the hotel’s laundry and began singing, thinking about the cold and loneliness of ending this relationship. He believed his now ex-fiancée was the rose, but her being untrue was torn.
“Don’t Stop Believin” by Journey
One of the few entries in our Top 20 of 80s rock ballads that are not inspired by heartache.
“Don’t Stop Believin” stands out for its distinctive beginning piano riff and chorus. It is understood as a perceptive look at individual humans and society and how the two interact. It emphasizes how tedious, monotonous, and suffocating the workplace is.
Yet, the song instills sentiments of optimism, enthusiasm, and persistence in its listeners.
The words of the song describe individuals from many walks of life. They all have one thing in common: suffering in the face of adversity. These difficulties are more or less related to what Perry experienced personally.
Two people board a “midnight train traveling anywhere,” hoping to venture into the unknown. Leaving home for a better life is a prominent topic in the song and contributes to its overall cheerfulness.
“I Want to Know What Love Is” by Foreigner
Mick Jones benefited from insomnia in the 1980s. As darkness fell on the circus that had been his existence since Foreigner’s all-conquering album in 1981, the guitarist found himself with space to breathe and time to create.
The song was inspired by Mick Jones’ unhappiness with not being able to achieve the perfect relationship, as the lyrics indicate.
In an interview, he stated that “I Want To Know What Love Is” began on a more intimate note. “I’d gone through a number of unsuccessful relationships and was still looking for something that could last. And that, too, took on a life of its own. It evolved into a more general feeling.”
“Heaven” by Bryan Adams
The song was co-written by Adams himself and composer Jim Vallance. It was aimed as a soundtrack for “a dreadful film called A Night in Heaven.” The movie told the story of a male stripper and was released in 1983.
Yet, the song aged far better than the movie and is a famous love anthem even to this day. Yet, the song faced multiple issues. First, the recording schedule was running late. Then, Adams thought it wasn’t heavy enough for its designated album – Reckless.
The second of two videos was published in March 1985. There, a man is pulled over for drunk driving across the street from a Bryan Adams performance in this one. The lady he was driving dumps him and goes to the performance, where she meets Adams. This second version received an MTV Video Music Award nomination for Best Cinematography.
“Alone” by Heart
Heart were the third artists to record Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly’s “Alone” in 1987.
The power ballad first appeared on Taking the Cold Look, an album released in 1983 by Steinberg and Kelly under the alias i-Ten (produced by Keith Olsen and Toto’s Steve Lukather) that fell under the radar. A year later, in the sixth episode of their one-season CBS comedy Dreams, actors John Stamos and Valerie Stevenson sang the song; the duet featured on a second soundtrack published at the end of the year, again without much success.
“Alone” topped the charts in July 1987. It was the group’s second chart-topper, following “These Dreams” a year before, and just their third Billboard Hot 100 Top 5 success. It reached No. 2 on the year-end Top Pop Singles chart in 1987 and No. 1 in Canada; “Alone” was also Heart’s lone Top 5 hit in the United Kingdom.
“Faithfully” by Journey
Faithfully was first written on a napkin and considered a road song by the band. It was inspired by the Journey’s touring crew. Most were lonely, as they couldn’t take their loved ones on the road.
The band’s keyboardist felt drawn to write a song about being on the road, far away from loved ones, and found “Faithfully,” the first lines coming on a napkin one evening after a show.
Cain brought the napkin to the band’s next soundcheck in Saratoga Springs, New York, placed it on his piano, and began quietly singing “Faithfully,” working out the melody and piano parts, but never recorded a demo until he revisited “Faithfully” with late producer Keith Olsen, and finally recorded the track.
“Love Bites” by Def Leppard
When Joe Elliott wanted to sing about a lost lover, many eyebrows were raised. The song continues to reveal some of the incidental mental tricks of a love that has fallen from grace.
“Love Bites” is the sixth single from Def Leppard’s fourth mega-hit album Hysteria, which progresses through doubts, uncertainties, and increasingly personal discoveries inside a relationship.
The song’s last seconds are the subject of a widespread rumor. Following the phrase “If you’ve got love in your sights, watch out, love bites,” what appears to be heard is “Jesus of Nazareth, go to Hell.” The band has denied this myth, most notably in a Hysteria documentary. The statement is producer Mutt Lange mumbling in a Yorkshire accent, “Yes, it does, bloody hell,” using a vocoder.
“Is This Love” by Whitesnake
Was “Is This Love” promised for Tina Turner? Apparently, yes! David Coverdale, the band’s iconic frontman and founder, stated in an interview that his associates in EMI Records asked him if he had something appropriate for Tina, as he was a massive fan of hers.
He and guitarist John Sykes rented a villa, where they came up with the idea of the song. However, the pair liked the raw material so much that they kept it for themselves!
“Sorry, Tina,” Coverdale said. “I would still love to have heard her sing it, though.”
David Coverdale states that even today, he feels so nervous when he sings “Is This Love.” But every single time the song received a great reception from hardcore heavy metal fans, and average music lovers alike, becoming a super hit and a mainstream staple.
“Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake
A second entry by Whitesnake, “Here I Go Again,” was released on Whitesnake’s 1982 LP, Saints & Sinners. It was re-recorded for the group’s self-titled album in 1987. When released as a single, it peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on October 10 of that year and reached No. 9 on the UK Singles Chart a few weeks later.
“Here I Go Again” is about finding one’s path. Maybe love will find you and take you away from your dismal path. But, no matter what, you are alone in your life search. So continue to rage into the night.
The original version, written by the band’s lead vocalist, Coverdale, and the band’s former guitarist, Bernie Marsden, was significantly more blues-oriented. However, the re-recorded version in 1987 resulted from a deal struck between record executives Al Coury and David Geffen and Coverdale to re-record the song “Crying in the Rain” for the band’s self-titled album.
“The Flame” by Cheap Trick
A late-80s entry to the list, The Flame is a curious case. According to legend, Rick Nielsen listened to the demo tape of “The Flame” once and then crushed it beneath the heel of his boot. Nielsen had written or co-written the majority of the band’s enduring masterpieces. Still, by 1988, the band was in a prolonged slump, and their producers of Epic Records were pressing them to bring in additional composers. Nielsen was not pleased, but everything worked out in his favor.
The Flame became Cheap Trick’s first and only #1 hit. It checked all the requirements, and while it wasn’t something the band would make themselves, they preferred it over the other alternative. Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos explained in an interview with Gerry Galipault that the VP of Epic told the band that this song will be a #1 hit.
“Open Arms” by Journey
“Open Arms” was released as the third single (and the band’s second entry to the list) from Journey’s hugely successful album “Escape” in 1981. The exquisite ballad, written by Steve Perry and Jonathan Cain, became an instant radio smash and fan favorite.
Furthermore, it boosted album sales and became the band’s highest charting single, peaking at #2 for six weeks! Surprise! “Don’t Stop Believin’,” Journey’s most famous song, did not even crack the top five in the United States.
Jonathan Cain arrived at Journey with this melody entirely created, according to the liner notes of Journey’s Time3 collection. It may have been a song for his former band, the Babys, but vocalist John Waite rejected the tune as “too syrupy.” He embarrassedly presented Perry with the music on his portable Wurlitzer keyboard, and Perry instantly wanted to play it. The rest of the band was skeptical.
“When I See You Smile” by Bad English
This is by far Bad English’s biggest hit, but it’s not their only one. “Forget Me Not,” their debut single, peaked at #45 in the United States. “When I See You Smile” was their following single, while “Price of Love” was their fifth charting single.
Before calling it quits, they issued one more album (Backlash, 1991). “It was fun for a year,” John Waite revealed in a recent interview. Then everybody went back to what they were doing. The Journey lads wanted to return to Journey, whereas he wanted to return solo. They sincerely tried to make a second record but didn’t have the time to write it. Yet, they tried and almost succeeded.”
“When I See You Smile” is now one of the classic rock ballads of the 80s.
“Waiting for a Girl Like You” by Foreigner
Foreigner has always avoided “message songs,” so you won’t hear any political or social criticism from them. Still, you will listen to songs about relationships and emotions.
Foreigner guitarist Mick Jones, who composed the song with lead vocalist Lou Gramm, said he had no control over ‘Waiting For A Girl Like You.” It just came out as a full-blown masterpiece.
To this day, it is a popular song to play at weddings and one of the best rock ballads of the 80s. It’s the type of tune the pen writes, and you have no idea where it came from. But you feel like something is floating around at times that you have to grasp – it’s like flying around in the air, and you just have to be open enough to allow it to flow through you. It’s sometimes magical where these thoughts originate from.
“I’ll Be There for You” by Bon Jovi
How many times has Bon Jovi’s “I’ll Be There for You” been included in break-up mixtapes? Or how many crying singles have repeated it since its premiere in 1989 after a shattered heart? It remains of the symbolic rock songs from 80s.
The approximately six-minute song is a lament over the loss of a romance. But there’s a catch. The song not only touches the emotions of individuals who have been discarded, but it also provides hope.
The speaker, likely Jon Bon Jovi, wishes for another opportunity. What does he promise for this renewed hope? Bon Jovi says, “I’ll be there for you,” adding, “I’d take the light from the sky for you.” This is coming from a platinum-selling artist.
“Still Loving You” by Scorpions
Still Loving You is an extremely emotional song about love, grief, and the desire for another opportunity. In an interview, Scorpions’ guitarist Rudolf Schenker stated that he created the composition’s melody. It took the song six years to be included on an album. Matthias Jabs came in with the guitar part, and the emotion was straight away, so Klaus (Meine) noticed. He desired to pen something genuinely unique.
“He told me about how he walked out into the fields in the snow one day and came up with the lyrics. He returned home, flung them down, and here we are.”
“It’s the narrative of a love affair that ended, but the couple decided to try again. It’s the same old narrative; it’s always the same old story. What, after all, can we do? We can’t keep reinventing the wheel. We always express something that has been stated many times before but in our own unique style.”
“Love Song” by Tesla
“Love Song” was composed by Tesla vocalist Jeff Keith and guitarist/keyboardist Frank Hannon. It is Tesla’s hallmark song and has a special place in the band’s heart.
“Tesla’s always been about the love,” Keith said in an interview a few years ago. “We will always play ‘Love Song’ every time we play.” Because love is what brought us all here, love keeps the world turning. Love triumphs above all, including hatred.”
On a related point, Tesla’s “Love Song” arrived at just the perfect time for an identity problem. They were perceived as a “glam metal” band at a time when glam metal was dying like disco. Tesla attempted to reinvent itself by dressing casually in jeans and T-shirts, playing more blues-driven rock, and acting more like a jam band than a stadium band. It’s almost as though they would have liked to have developed grunge if they had only been a few states north.
“Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” by Cinderella
Cinderella’s biggest chart hit would be “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone),” which peaked at #12 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in November 1988.
The heartbreaking ballad went viral on MTV and was played all over the radio. Its lasting power is still great, and it is still played on radio stations all over the world.
One of the song’s main strengths is that it contains a greater depth of passion and sincerity than other bands’ power ballads. Tom Keifer’s somber yet forgiving words are complemented by soaring minor guitar chords known as chords of despair. They were a fantastic fit for the lyrics.
Cinderella arrived just in time to grab and ride the 1980s metal wave. They’d spent the first few years of the decade performing in clubs across the greater Philadelphia region.
“Patience” by Guns N’ Roses
Following their debut album Appetite for Destruction’s wild auditory blitz, Guns N’ Roses delivered “Patience,” a gentle ballad in which Axl Rose speaks of waiting things out in a relationship. It was the sole single released from G N’ R Lies, their second album.
This song pioneered the usage of all-acoustic instrumentation, allowing hard rockers to show their sensitive, vulnerable sides more modestly rather than the power ballad approach common among hair bands in the late ’80s.
This song appears in Robert De Niro’s 1991 film Cape Fear when Juliette Lewis’ character uses it to block out her parents arguing. It’s also in the 2013 film Warm Bodies.
To wrap it up – the top rock ballads of the 80s
Putting the best rock ballads into a list of just 20 is challenging, as at least a few thousand worthy titles will probably be left out. The rock songs from the 80s were all of the immense music quality. The decade’s classic rock ballads will raise people to a slow dance or call out emotion in anyone in the years to come.
Do you agree with our 80s rock ballads list? Leave us a comment and let us know!
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