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While no one would ever argue that hair metal was a genre full of variety, the form did boast a handful of archetypes, the most well-known of which is probably the glorious power ballad. Although there are many examples to choose from, it's impossible to shower any of these tunes exclusively with either praise or negative criticism. But somehow this mixed bag syndrome does not prevent a substantial amount of pleasure from creeping into the experience of listening to them. Here's a look at 10 of the best, in no particular order, ranging from classics of the form to sleeper examples of high quality.
"Every Rose Has Its Thorn" by Poison
The most remarkable thing about this emblematic hair metal classic is how solid it is. In the five or so years that this quintessential glam pop metal band occupied a portion of the zeitgeist, audiences came to expect a fairly vapid, undistinguished party-time output. This assessment of romance gone sour contains genuine emotion and showcases a very decent songwriting sense on the part of Poison frontman Bret Michaels. Therefore, its status as one of pop metal's finest moments is well-deserved and well-earned.
"Heaven" by Warrant
A few years back, Warrant frontman Jani Lane despaired over the fact that the song his band is probably most remembered for (well, the stubbornly literal music video anyway) is the appalling, subtle-as-a-nuclear-assault abomination known as "Cherry Pie." However, it should be some consolation to him that "Heaven," a thoroughly successful acoustic ballad that again plumbs genuine emotion in lieu of empty macho posturing, represents a fairly respectable legacy for the band. It may be a bit hard to distinguish this blond lead singer from his competitors, but there have been far worse efforts than this tune that have somehow received more acclaim.
"Nobody's Fool" by Cinderella
Early on in the band's career, Cinderella distinguished itself by retaining a sinister, somewhat aggressive edge even as members fully adopted the increasingly popular glam look. Such darkness fuels this atmospheric gem from the band's 1986 debut "Night Songs", and it makes for a wonderful marriage with the gravelly, creepy vocal style of frontman Tom Keifer. Of course, this East Coast band never truly fit in as a hair metal act anyway, quickly moving to more bluesy material for its sophomore release. Nonetheless, this great song remains a central '80s flashpoint for hair metal balladry.
"Love Bites" by Def Leppard
Arguably the best power ballad ever, this track alone could have cemented a vital spot for Def Leppard in the hard rock pantheon. Of course, there were plenty of other reasons for this British band's '80s dominion, but at no time did the boys from Sheffield get things more right than on this precise, compelling, and meticulously produced masterpiece. Futuristic blips and beeps aside, the song presents the best version of Joe Elliott's vocal style and spotlights the underrated guitar playing of Phil Collen and the late Steve Clark that gave the band its powerfully melodic sound.
"Home Sweet Home" by Motley Crue
Whether you'd like to admit it or not, this piano-driven power ballad from the L.A. bad boys' 1985 album was unmistakably a prototype for many of the songs that would follow from their big-hair brethren. This signature Motley Crue song's template calls for the revelation lyrically of a heretofore hidden sensitive side (gently supported by piano, keyboards or acoustic guitar) and just enough guitar-hero explosions to avoid scaring away that highly important adolescent male demographic. The piano intro is solid, and the melody is almost strong enough to make up for Vince Neil's typically thin vocal delivery.
"I Remember You" by Skid Row
Although it's tempting to spotlight this somewhat rougher-edged hair band's "18 & Life" in this space, it would fly in the face of the established formula of the hair metal ballad. On one level or another, doesn't it have to be about love sweet love? So this song made the list instead, which isn't embarrassing in the least and spotlights nifty guitar playing from Dave "the Snake" Sabo. Truly, Sebastian Bach's theatrical vocals are the main attraction, even though the main thing many people remember is the homeless dude from the video and his acid-washed hottie from his haunted past.
"When the Children Cry" by White Lion
Vito Bratta was a talented frontman, and his solo here remains an enchanting listen, even if Mike Tramp's vocals, garbled as they were by his Danish accent, tended to inspire laughter rather than the intended empathy. It was always treacherous territory when hair bands attempted to get serious, and that's certainly the case with this shallow world peace propaganda.
"Here I Go Again" by Whitesnake
Tawny Kitaen aside (or astride, one might as well say), this song works so well because David Coverdale downplays his normal tendency to try and sound like Robert Plant. Oh, there's still plenty of posturing (as well as woman-as-hood-ornament imagery), but the primary strength of this song is that in its mildly vapid way, it's a compellingly universal examination of the rocky romantic road that confronts us all at one time or another. As one of the most spirited marriages of rock guitar and synth-heavy keyboards in the annals of hair metal, the tune will always be a worthy '80s classic.
"Carrie" by Europe
Oh, Joey Tempest, with his blustery wail and curly Nordic locks, certainly took a lot of abuse from "genuine" rockers of the '80s, but the truth is that his band's operatic pop metal was always better than it got credit for. That goes for this song as well, a soaring ode to Joey's Scandivanian queen of hearts with the distinctly Swedish name. Europe remained apart from its hair metal brethren in a number of ways, and general purity was one of them. No sleazy tramps or nights of debauchery populated the band's lyrics, just non-threatening space-age shenanigans and true devotion such as this.
"The Price" by Twisted Sister
The most underrated and unheard song has been saved for last on this list. Along with his cohorts, Dee Snider, the scariest clown-faced drag king on the planet, produced fist-pumping anthems and a more simplistic hard rock. But with this tune, the band takes advantage of restricted expectations and delivers a surprisingly tuneful, even mildly thought-provoking power ballad that has actually aged remarkably well. Well… maybe not remarkably, but Snider proves that he has a reasonably expressive voice, and the band ably kicks in behind him with a crisp, slightly restrained aggression that retains considerable toughness and grit.