Thursday, September 30, 2010

On power ballads

Yesterday, discussion in college turned to power ballads.  These are generally easy to recognise and perhaps best exemplified by this classic (Tyler 1982):

We were wondering what the defining characteristics of this type are but found it difficult to come up with a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. Most display one or more of the following characteristics:
  • A quiet, perhaps slow, start that leads into a loud chorus section.
  • A solo of some kind - usually either on lead electric guitar or saxophone.
  • The song must express some kind of deep emotion.  Many are plangent in some way, referring to stories of heartbreak, loss, or sorrow.  Many express regret or longing.
  • There is usually a stirring key change late in the song.
  • The singer must deliver the song earnestly and with a barely-perceptible crack in the voice every so often in order to demonstrate the depth of feeling involved.
There are clear rules for the videos of any such power ballad.  If located indoors, they have to involve billowing curtains, preferably in a large and empty house.  It must be night-time.  And there must be a lot of candles.  If located outside, again night-time is the default option.  There should be a wide open space for the singer to occupy, lit by flaming torches or burning vehicles.  There will in both cases be the occasional close-up of the singer, perhaps in slow motion, as he/she closes his/her eyes and turns away in deep but barely expressed emotional turmoil.  Many examples are used in film soundtracks and therefore clips from the film may be interspersed throughout the video.

On reflection, I wondered what became of this genre.  What was the last power ballad (not a cover version or a remix) to be in the 'hit parade'?  Answers on a postcard to...

1 comment:

RJR said...

I think that yesterday Sarah mentioned Jordin Sparks, Battlefield. The video involves her walking through a battlefield. If you're excluding covers I suppose I can't put forward Joe McElderry's The Climb, which was number one in the hit parade earlier this year. (His latest single is very good, you know.) But the original, by Miley Cyrus, was only last year. The video includes dramatic weather and wild horses and such-like.

It's not a criterion as such, but I think that you know you're on the right track if you can imagine listening to the song while driving, perhaps down a motorway towards a sunset, and that this would make you feel like you were having a meaningful experience instead of just driving down a motorway.