I’ve never been a huge fan of ballads. Back in the day I used to joke the greatest ballad of all time was Sweet Child of Mine. Recently I watched what should really be called Ballad of Ages, and it did nothing to dissuade me from this line of thinking, and if Alec Baldwin can’t make you like ballads nothing can.
My opinion of ballads was cemented recently when I took chance and took my wife to a 40’s big band revival. Which by the way fits my criteria for the “arts”, meaning it earns me brownie points, while mitigating potential retinal, ear drum, or tailbone damage that can come from some of the more pretentious pieces. If I point them out, she doesn’t seek them out herself, so I put myself in win, hopefully not lose setting. Next year by the way I’m thinking The Nutcracker done to Dark Side of the Moon. Anyway what this excursion taught me was they had ballads in 40’s too, and they are just as boring as modern day ballads.
This doesn’t mean all music needs to be fast for me to enjoy, but I need it to be at least a step above a ballad. With that in mind I decided to put together a list of songs that don’t quite fall into the ballad category.
10. Just a Friend – Biz Markie: It’s got a piano. It’s about a broken heart. What else do you need? How about a catchy hook and an out of key singer. It’s just too much fun to be considered a ballad, which is probably one of the reasons it became the most unlikely of hits.
9. Beast of Burden – The Rolling Stones: I only like a handful of Stones’ songs, but this is one of them. This is one of those songs that has a tempo that can’t be considered slow or upbeat which is why I think it qualifies as not quite a ballad, and as a plus is also not quite a love song either.
8. Been Down so Long – The Doors: This the first of many that has a heavy blues influence. This song starts out with the lyrics, “I’ve been down so long, it looks like up to me.” Morrison makes it drips with anguish. Ballads tend to rely on anguish and crooning, this song manages both without cheese, or a tempo slugs could march to.
7. Moondance – Van Morrison: We go from one of the all-time great crooners to the next. A sweet love song that is just a little bit too upbeat to be considered a ballad.
6. Whiskey Without Women – Drive by Truckers: A song about two of my favorite things, with all the angst you could want, by what I would consider a country band that writes great rock songs.
5. The Lemon Song – Led Zeppelin: Zeppelin is the king of bands that refuse to have their songs fall into one tempo. I had a High School teacher that liked to tell a story about one of his friends who was at a dance during Zep’s heyday. He was very uncomfortable fast dancing, but there was a girl there he liked, so he waited all night for his chance to dance with her. He made the mistake of waiting until Stairway to Heaven started to make his move. Awkward.
I probably could have went with half of Zeppelin’s catalog, but chose this reimaging of Howlin’ Wolf’s Killing Floor because the way the song squeezes, “my lemons it makes me wanna' fall out of bed.”
4. Life by the Drop – Stevie Ray Vaughn: Another artist that thrives with songs that don’t quite cross over into full on ballad territory. On the surface there is not much to the song, which largely is nothing more than a classic blues shuffle. There is something about the way Stevie sings about his real life struggle with alcohol, and in a very understated way manages to make us care more about his plight than many of the pandering ballads you’ll run across.
3. Sweet Child of Mine – Guns N’ Roses: I’ve loved this song since I first saw the video in the youth (full disclosure, I also liked Rico Suave). It was also my go to Karaoke song for a while, so I have a lot of history with this particular song, but more importantly it is a reminder of how dynamic the combination of Slash and Axle Rose was before egos got in the way. Plus it’s way better than their true ballad November Rain.
2. Ride On – AC/DC: When you think of AC/DC you usually don’t think of slow songs or serious songs but, Bon Scott and the boys decide to take it down a notch and croon about the lonely life on the road in this number. When he sings of being so lonely you can’t help feel bad for him.
1. Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd: For my money this is one the prettiest songs in the history of popular music. If you didn’t pay attention to the words it could easily be confused for a love ballad. Great riff, great lyrics, great song.