Great Rock Ballads Part II
As a continuation from last week, we will take a closer look into three more sensational rock ballads. So, prepare your lighters, settle in your favorite chair, and get ready to debate! These are simply well written and perfectly executed songs that demonstrate top-tier musicianship. There are many other ballads that are fantastic, these are just a few that happen to stand out.
With that said, let’s get to it!
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
Simply put, Pink Floyd was one of the most inventive, technically proficient, and influential bands to grace us with their music. Their live shows were always an elaborate and dazzling display of laser lights and fog machines that coincided with their unique and vivacious form of psychedelic and progressive rock music. They also are one of the most commercially successful bands in history, with many of their albums breaking chart records as well boasting astronomical record sales. Their albums and songs are so bizarrely cool that it is hard not to get sucked into their vortex of sound.
One particular Floyd tune that sticks out is the title track from their 1975 album “Wish You Were Here.” From the opening 12-string acoustic guitar riff coupled with the faint crackle of a record player, I was hooked. It is such a simple part with basic chords most guitar players know, but it is so calming and the fullness from the 12-string gives the riff even more depth. This is another common song heard in the acoustic room of your local guitar shop, and for good reason. The lead section that follows perfectly blends with the rhythm guitar muffled behind it, culminating into a big chord that sets up the David Gilmour’s flawless vocals. This lead riff is repeated a few times throughout the song, along with some intriguing noises going on behind it. Do you know what that was? It was actually Gilmour scat singing, or singing random syllables in a melodic way. Told you they did some cool stuff.
Pink Floyd had just begun settling down after the inexplicably huge success of their album “Dark Side of the Moon” and were ready to get back into the recording studio. Problem was, they did not have much material lined up to fill an entire album. At this time, the band was also to recovering from the absence of their friend and bandmate Syd Barrett who suffered immensely from psychological issues. It was his physical absence as well as his mental absence from reality that deeply disturbed the band and fueled David Gilmour into writing the entire album “Wish You Were Here.” You can hear the sorrow in Gilmour’s voice especially in this song as he was thinking about losing his dear friend in more ways than one.
“Wish You Were Here” was recorded in 1975 in one of the most prestigious and well-known recording studios in the world. Any guesses? It was Abbey Road studios, most known for recording many albums by the Beatles. Fun fact, Gilmour originally wanted a “country fiddle” sound on the tune and they attempted to get the legendary jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli to record the part. In the end they decided to cut it, but you can faintly hear bits of it towards the end of the song.
Tears In Heaven – Eric Clapton
Make sure you have those Kleenex ready. One of our most beloved blues musicians, Eric Clapton has had a very long and successful music career. He is not only known for his brilliant and mind-blowing electric guitar work, but also for his expert-level songwriting and masterful acoustic work.
Clapton’s life was also incredible stressful and complex. He lost some dear friends including Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman after visiting them both days before their deaths, which would be taxing on anyone. But, the most turbulent time in his life began in August of 1990 when he lost his manager, a roadie, and the iconic bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan in a helicopter accident.
After this tragic incident, about seven months later, Clapton lost his four-year-old son Connor in a horrific accident at an apartment building in New York City. This was the hardest moment of Clapton’s life and grief overtook him for a long time. One of the biggest things for Clapton to overcome was how preventable the incident could have been, which moved him to push for child safety windows in apartments. After this, Clapton disappeared from the public eye to try and cope with this tragedy.
Around nine-months later, on March 20, 1991, Clapton emerged with a new tune called “Tears In Heaven” which is his emotional response to losing his son. The song was created for the 1991 film “Rush” and Clapton cowrote it with song writer Will Jennings. The song signified a new era in Clapton’s music and portrayed a new musician. His songs became more emotionally charged and deeply powerful. All of his sorrow and acceptance is poured into this song which hits you right in the gut.
The song blends Clapton’s expert guitar skills with some of the most powerful and heart-wrenching lyrics ever written. Unlike a lot of music today, you hear Clapton’s words and immediately understand his pain and what it must have been like to experience that awful event. Everything about this song makes it an instant and timeless hit.
November Rain – Guns and Roses
November Rain starts off like a rock ballad would if I asked you to come up with one in your head. A gorgeous, almost classical, piano line is accompanied with moving orchestral strings followed by a dramatic drum fill and strummed guitar chords. The rich orchestral style continues until it culminates in a full distortion fueled chorus. Guns and Roses had a knack for writing songs that reel you in and skyrocket you up into the stratosphere. But, not before Slash smacks you with his crunchy, effortlessly crafted solos.
The song was written by the band’s vocalist Axl Rose and was released in 1992 as a single. It is a rather long song, being the third-longest tune performed by Guns and Roses. This song was considered to be Axl Roses’ Magnum Opus, or one of his biggest contributions and most important work. He had been working on the song for about 10 years before it was released and kept altering parts of it until the finished product was perfect.