Close your eyes. It’s the mid to late ‘80s. Pick a multi-purpose arena that doesn’t exist anymore. Put yourself in the middle of 15,000 sweaty hard rock fans in ripped jeans. Smell the hairspray. The lights go down, the music slows down, and the lighters go up.
The stage is set for your favorite band to take their collective foot off the gas to sing about love. Either how they found it, lost it, or are still searching for it.
It’s time for their most recent power ballad, which is probably on the radio and MTV once an hour while climbing all the music charts.
Hard rock bands slowing it down was not new – see Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven – but in the ‘80s it became the road to almost guaranteed success. All you needed was a singer who could hit the high notes on the emotional ballad he just penned and a lead guitar player who could keep it “rock.”
Not all power ballads are about love, of course. Life on the road, a departed friend and a family member all provided inspiration for some of the songs that make up our list of Top 12 Power Ballads of the ‘80s. Check out the countdown below.
12 CINDERELLA - Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone)
Acoustic guitar joins piano on the intro until Tom Keifer's full-throated vocals deliver the regret. “I was thinking about how great life was and how sad I would be if [success] all went away," he once said about the inspiration behind the song. The sentiment works for love too.
11 L.A. GUNS - The Ballad of Jayne
The band that took the Guns from Guns N' Roses wrote a little song about Jayne Mansfield for 1989's Cocked and Loaded. Frontman Phil Lewis and guitarist Tracii Guns reclaimed the L.A. Guns name in 2016 and are still recording and touring.
10 VAN HALEN - Love Walks In
The band replaced David Lee Roth with Sammy Hagar and fully embraced the '80s on their first album with their new frontman. The tone for the song from 1986's 5150 is set with a melodic synth intro by Eddie Van Halen.
9 BAD ENGLISH - When I See You Smile
Journey members Neil Schon, Jonathan Cain and Deen Castronovo teamed with singer John Waite and bassist Ricky Phillips to form a supergroup. Their musicianship brought street cred to a love song written by Diane Warren.
8 WARRANT - Heaven
The imagery is strong on the first verse: "Got a picture of your house and you're standing by the door. It's black and white and faded and it's looking pretty worn." A great guitar solo will take any power ballad to the next level and Joey Allen delivers on this track from the band's 1989 debut, Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich.
7 SKID ROW - I Remember You
This one from the New Jersey rockers also starts with a lyrical bang: "Woke up to the sound of pouring rain. The wind would whisper and I'd think of you." The song appeared on Skid Row's self-titled 1989 debut, which was more Guns N' Roses than Winger.
6 BON JOVI - Never Say Goodbye
From the band's 1986 breakthrough album, Slippery When Wet, it manged to appear on some charts despite not being released as a single. The song about a teenage love lost worked well for slow dancing at the prom.
5 POISON - Every Rose Has Its Thorn
This heartbreaking song by Bret Michaels struck so many of the right chords that it went all the way to #1 on Billboard's all-genre Hot 100. Don't sleep on the lead guitar playing by C.C. DeVille, who comes up with tasteful accents at all the right times while delivering the perfect solo.
4 MOTLEY CRUE - Home Sweet Home
Many of the other entries on this list were written because of the success of this song from 1985's Theatre of Pain. Power ballads became a prerequisite for any album produced by an '80s metal band once Motley Crue proved it was not only safe - but lucrative.
3 DEF LEPPARD - Hysteria
The title track from the British rockers' 1987 masterpiece finds Joe Elliott and company in the age old situation of yearning for someone. And you really feel it. The song advances on a wall of guitars and epitomizes the slick production utilized by Mutt Lange.
2 AEROSMITH - What It Takes
The Boston rockers' second act began in earnest with their 1987 album Permanent Vacation. It included "Angel," which could have also made the list if we weren't limiting it to one track per band. "What It Takes," from 1989's Pump gets the edge because it's a perfect piece of songwriting and production.
1 NIGHT RANGER - Sister Christian
The 1983 track features a piano intro, rousing air drum worthy build-up leading into the chorus and skilled guitar solo by the underappreciated Brad Gillis. The song was written and sung by drummer Kelly Keagy about his younger sister, and it soundtracked an epic scene in the film "Boogie Nights."