I’m obsessed with Monster Ballads right now. As I write this I’m listening to “Every Rose Has Its Thorn,” a classic Monster Ballad. I’m even obsessed with the term Monster Ballad — I just want to say it a bunch of times in a row. But I’ll refrain, because I’m running a classy show here.
Now, there are some different interpretations of what exactly constitutes a “Monster Ballad,” and I’m sure I’ll get a few angry comments from people who disagree (this IS the Internet after all), but what follows is my personally accepted definition. The Monster Ballad, also known as the Power Ballad, was a genre of rock song spawned in the age of hard-rocking Hair Bands (a term I like almost much as Monster Ballad) like Poison, Def Leopard and Journey. Every once in a while, because their record company forced them to, or because they were attempting to make a Top 40 hit, bands like these would mix things up a bit and do a slower song about more sentimental subjects than their usual topics of hedonism and drug use.
Monster Ballads usually contain several of the following characteristics:
- They generally start with a softer instrument than the usual hard electric guitar, like a piano or an acoustic guitar.
- Throughout the song, there is typically a significantly lower level of overall rocking.
- The songs tend to be longer, and have more tempo changes.
- However, the bands still have huge hair and do rock hard during at least 50% of the song, once it gets warmed up.
The best part about Monster Ballads is that occasionally, the Hair Band involved becomes convinced that it’s actually doing something meaningful. And that’s when things turn awesome. Carried away by its own histrionic momentum, the song gets longer and longer, the shift between soft-beginning and hard-rocking chorus becomes more pronounced, and the lyrics start to stray into subjects utterly inappropriate for Hair Bands, like true love, the meaning of life, and the nature of man. The greatest part is that the Hair Bands have no idea that they’ve gone too far; they’re just so caught up in the epic-ness of their Monster Ballad.
Hair Bands are not the only ones guilty of songs like this. Other bands can go overboard as well, with the same result. And it’s these songs I’m especially obsessed with right now. So much so, that I’m declaring a new genre: The Monster-Epic.
Monster Epics are much like Monster Ballads, except they go a little further:
- A Monster Epic should be at least five-minutes in length, or as close to it as possible. The longer the song is, the more epic it is.
- The title of a Monster Epic should also be long, and feel free to use as much punctuation as it likes, for example “How Do You Talk To An Angel?” Like the song itself, it doesn’t matter how ridiculously long the title is, because the whole thing’s just so goddamn epic.
- The slow parts of a Monster Epic should be as slow and soft as possible; the hard parts should rock as hard as possible. That way the full range of human emotion is covered.
- There should be many instruments involved in a Monster Epic, and, if possible, a background choir. No expense should be spared to convey the awesomeness of the song.
- The best Monster Epics involve a lead singer who, convinced of the earth-moving meaning of his lyrics, nearly breaks down in sobs at some point during the song. The lyrics are, of course, NOT earth-moving, but the lead singer should be convinced that they are.The most important characteristic of a Monster Epic is that, from the emotive performance of the song, you can tell that whoever wrote the song knows, with utter certainly, that this is the greatest song that has ever been written, or will ever be written. The fact that the song’s eight minutes long, incorporates a full orchestra and has nine tempo changes — none of these things matter, because it’s just so awesome. And the band knows this. For a fact.
Based on these characteristics, I’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of the top ten Monster Epics I know of, all of which have been playing on my computer while I write this. If possible, I highly recommend you download these songs yourself and listen to them as you read about each one. You will be weeping and laughing simultaneously.
#10 – REO Speedwagon – “Keep On Loving You”
Good song, a little short, and never rocks quite as hard as some of the others — and, of course, REO Speedwagon isn’t really a heavy-metal band — but c’mon. Just look at that hair.
#9 – The Heights – “How Do You Talk To An Angel?”
This songs gains a lot of points for having a saxophone in it. Gotta love the choir at the end too.
#8 – Poison – “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”
The first thing you hear in this song is Bret Michaels sighing. Great start. And through the entire thing, you kind of feel like he might break into tears at any moment. If only “Every Rose” could get past its slow, swaggering pace and rock out in a couple places, it could really be a contender.
#7 – Firehouse – “Love of a Lifetime”
Only Firehouse could sing the clichéd lyrics “I’ve Finally Found the Love… of a Lifetime” and really mean it.
#6 – Poison – “Something to Believe In”
Now we’re really starting to rock, yet Poison still remembered to put the slow piano opening at the beginning. Ridiculously slow. “Something to Believe In” also does the great Monster Epic thing where it dies out to piano again at the end, as if to suggest that a band like Poison were capable of doing something poetic like “coming full-circle.”
#5 – Guns ‘N Roses – “November Rain”
November Rain makes it halfway up this list for sheer length, clocking in at a marathon eight minutes, fifty-seven seconds. I heard they had to wrestle Slash’s guitar away from him just to keep it in single digits. Also gotta love the thunder sound effects.
#4 – The Scorpions – “The Winds of Change”
The Scorpions and “The Winds of Change” will always have a special place in my heart ever since Sam and I put them in a movie we wrote. A ballad that will have you whistling all the way down to Gorky Park, “Winds of Change” is a perfect example of the 90-second drum kick-in after the slow start. The second guy scream-echoing the lyrics during the later refrains is also something we couldn’t help but put in the movie.
#3 – Night Ranger – “Sister Christian”
Sister Christian has such a slow, soothing piano opening, you almost think you’re listening to Billy Joel or something. But is Night Ranger worried about being perceived as weak? Fuck no. Because they know how hard they’re about to rock. This song has a perfect build-up that starts at 49 seconds and kicks in exactly at one minute, and the song is exactly 5 minutes long, dying back down to just piano at the end. If there was a book how to write a Monster Epic (and there should be), Night Ranger would author it.
#2 – Whitesnake – “Here I Go Again On My Own”
No Monster Epic band rocks as hard as Whitesnake. And there is no more audacious, meaty guitar solo than the one in this song. I’m not sure if the eventual fade out takes something away, or if it just means that Whitesnake doesn’t know how to stop rocking once they’ve started.
#1 – Meatloaf – “I Would Do Anything For Love”
OK, I’m sure I’ll take some flack for this one, since Meatloaf is far from a Hair Band. But as I said, Monster Epics can be crafted by anyone as long as they’re delusional enough, and no song out there is more crammed full of “I’m the greatest musician who has ever lived and this is the greatest song that has ever been written” than this one. “I Would Do Anything For Love” has a full orchestra in it. There are wind sound effects. The song absolutely explodes at one minute. There are about thirty tempo changes, and a full choir serving no other purpose than to go “Oooooooo,” and then “Aaaaaaaa” behind Meatloaf during certain parts. And I’m not sure if you’ve listened, but the lyrics basically don’t make any sense, and yet Meatloaf is almost crying during every line of the song. Seriously, just listen to this song and try to tell me that Meatloaf doesn’t think it’s the greatest musical accomplishment the world has ever seen. He might be the only one.