Great Rock Ballads Part 1
Get out your lighters out and ready! Today we are saluting a few of the greatest rock ballads. These tunes have stirred up many emotions, feature beautiful vocal and instrumental work, and are timeless classics.
Ballads are a vital ingredient in any band or musician’s repertoire. They slow things down, set a peaceful mood and atmosphere, and allow the band to showcase their wide range of songwriting and performance skills. The formula for a good ballad, at least to me, is meaningful lyrics, strong instrumental foundation, and a story behind the tune. If you can feel the emotion behind the song and paint a mental image in your head while listening, then the artist has done his or her job.
In every genre, ballads expose the performer, leaving them right in the open with no safety net. The slower tempo would seem easier to play in, but many musicians have a tendency to rush or speed up ahead of the established beat of the song. Also, a slower tune without emotion in it comes out sounding flat and meaningless. This becomes a great challenge for musicians, which makes the standout ballads so incredible.
Now, with any “top list” I know there is going to be some debate about the tunes that did and did not make the list. These are just a few great ballads that stand out to us and have fit the criteria outlined above; that does not discount all of the other amazing tunes out there by any means.
Now, without further ado, let’s take a deeper look into the first 3 remarkable and iconic rock ballads.
Let It Be – The Beatles
The Beatles are the best for a reason. All of their songs are expertly crafted and demonstrate the highest level of musicianship possible by human beings. This is especially evident in their widely popular hit “Let It Be.”
The song was written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon. The song was first rehearsed in the beginning of January 1969 and was recorded later that month at EMI studios, which later was named Abbey Road Studios in London. The song was the title track feature on the album Let It Be which was released in 1970
In 1968, the Beatles were deep into their career and were an international sensation. As with many bands, they were constantly touring and recording which led to stressful situations and subsequent late-night antics. This time was particularly taxing on Paul McCartney.
After many sleepless nights, he finally got a chance to rest. That night he happened to have an emotional and vivid dream about his mother who passed away when Paul was just a boy. She held a very special place in his heart because she always provided for her family and represented everything good in his life. After twelve years had passed after her death, the image of her face became hazy and Paul could not quite remember what his mother looked like.
But, in that dream, she came to life and her “face was completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said very reassuringly: Let It Be.” That would give anyone reassurance and make them have a positive outlook on their life.
Being a musician, Paul went to the piano immediately and came up with the lyrics and melody. Not only did his mother come to him to give him words of advice, but things did get better for him. The line “mother Mary comes to me” is actually about his mother whose name was Mary, not the biblical mother Mary like most people think.
Since this tune held so much meaning and importance for him, he brought it to the band who got influenced by all of the emotion. The tune was not only named the album but became one of the most popular Beatles’ tunes of all time.
Stairway To Heaven – Led Zeppelin
From every local rock radio station to every guitar player attempting to play it at the music store, we have all heard this song hundreds of times. We all knew this song was going to end up on this list though. There are some songs, not matter how many times we hear them, that will always be amazing and stand the test of time.
Led Zeppelin is one of the greatest bands to ever perform and produced some of the greatest music the world as ever heard. Their classic ballad “Stairway To Heaven” is definitely no exception. Try to avoid listening to the song for a while, then revisit it. I promise you will have a new-found appreciation for the mastery and expertise that went into composing it.
The song was written by the dynamic duo of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in a cottage in rural Whales known as Bron-Yr-Aur. This remote and peaceful location became the birth-place for many iconic Led Zeppelin tunes and synonymous with the band. The final piecing together of “Stairway” occurred at the famous recording studio Headley Grange in Hampshire England. The recording took place in 1971 and the tune was released on the album Led Zeppelin IV.
This song is extremely complex with a lot of, as guitarist Jimmy Page describes, “layers that unfold gradually throughout the progression.” It starts off with an “exposed acoustic guitar” accompanied by beautiful recorders that set a peaceful mood. Then Plant comes in with the hauntingly beautiful lyrics. He had an innate ability to compose novel worthy and poetry-like lyrics that tell a story and inspire deep thought. It then increases slightly when John Bonham comes in. This makes him “more effective” by coming in out of nowhere, propelling the tune forward. It then opens up into a “fanfare that introduces the solo, allowing the solo to soar.” It culminates in an epic display of raw talent, showcasing why Led Zeppelin was the best at what they do. The drums are booming, the guitar chords are crunchy, and the vocals are in front and commanding. You can imagine Page with his stunning Gibson Double-Neck guitar, strutting on stage.
This is what makes this one of the greatest rock songs in history and caused it to “ascend to truly anthemic status.”
Wild Horses – Rolling Stones
This beautiful song performed by the long-standing British Rock superstars the Rolling Stones, was recorded in late 1969 and not released until 1971. The writing of this tune has been debated over the year, with all of the credit going to Keith Richards and Mick Jagger.
In fact, longtime friend and fellow musician Gram Parsons, who helped popularize a blend of RnB, soul, folk, and rock music, was with Richards and Jagger when they were coming up with the tune. They all came up with parts together and Parsons recorded a version of the song with the Flying Burrito Brothers.
The Stone’s version was recorded in December as part of a three-day session in Muscle Shoals studios, the iconic home of Duane Allman. The song was an emotional response to constantly being on the road and being away from their families. The line “couldn’t drag me away” signifying a lot of emotion and pain.
Keith Richards elected to play the chords on an acoustic 12-string guitar. This really opened up the sound of the whole song and “drew out the melancholy in those chords and the chorus.”
Over the years, the song has been featured on many top charts, is featured in television shows, and is number 334 on the Rolling Stone “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.
Stay tuned for more great rock ballads!
By Patrick Ortiz