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My Top-20 Ballads

June 30, 2014

We dig ballads. Whether it’s a sappy tune that reminds us of someone special in our past or that power ballad that we remember singing with our high school sweetheart, they’re a part of our lives. Ballads can take us to a magical time in our past and they will be with us forever.

Admittedly, I’m a sentimental guy. There’s, rarely, a day that goes by that I don’t hear a song that can whisk me back to a simpler and younger time. Here are the top-20 ballads that can leave me, mentally, frozen in time for a handful of minutes:

1. “There’s Nothing Better Than Love” – Luther Vandross & Gregory Hines

There’s no better ballad than this 1987 classic, in my opinion. Inviting Gregory Hines to sing this duet was masterful on Luther’s part. It’s a shame that this song isn’t played at more weddings. This was the “farewell & thank you” song at our wedding in 2003. Having a bunch of fellow radio personalities compliment us for this selection instead of the usual (and tedious) “That’s What Friends Are For” validated our choice.

2. “My Eyes Adored You” – Frankie Valli

It’s impossible to not like a song about reminiscing of innocent, young love. While Frankie is the only one credited for this late 1974 ballad, it rekindled interest in The Four Seasons – leading to the Jersey boys’ second round of success.

3. “Let’s Wait Awhile” – Janet Jackson

Janet’s 1986 “Control” album spawned several top-10 hits and moved her out of Michael’s shadow. While the previous four singles from “Control” illuminated her exuding sexiness and independence, “Let’s Wait Awhile” promoted abstinence and postponing intimacy within a relationship. The sweetness of this amazing song culminates with Janet whispering “I promise: I’ll be worth the wait.”

4. “Hopelessly” – Rick Astley

Sure, Rick will live forever as “Rick-Rolling” still pops up from time to time, but this powerful track from his 1993 “Body & Soul” CD showed another side of this smooth-singing Englishman. I have contended that, if not for the popularity of hip-hop on Top-40 radio from the early 90’s-on, Astley had the potential to be England’s version of Neil Diamond.

5. “You’re in My Heart (The Final Acclaim)” – Rod Stewart

Not only is this one of my favorite ballads, this 1977 song’s lyrics are out of this world – including a chorus that you can hear people of all ages singing along, sometimes, loudly. It’s too bad that this classic has disappeared from many radio stations’ playlists. Future lyricists could learn a lot from one song.

6. “Get Here” – Brenda Russell

While only receiving modest airplay on R&B radio stations as a single from her 1988 album of the same title, Brenda’s poignant and hopeful song was, in my opinion, the best track – even better than her hit “Piano in the Dark”. Oleta Adams recorded the song in 1990 and, with the onset of the 1991 Gulf War, had a trans-Atlantic hit. Despite the success of Ms. Adams’ cover, the original remains the best.

7. “Tears in Heaven” – Eric Clapton

Simply, this is a magnificent piece of music & lyrics penned by Slowhand following the death of his 4-year old son, Conor, in 1991. It’s, still, breathtaking nearly a quarter of a century later.

8. “Three Times a Lady” – The Commodores

Of all the hits The Commodores had, this 1978 legendary effort always hits home – especially due to the memories of slow-dancing at my high school dances. *sigh*

9. “Stay” – Sugarland

While there are countless songs in many genres of music that deal with infidelity, Sugarland’s 2007 hit (and stunning video) approached the subject from a different perspective: the mistress demanding that her man leave his wife. Jennifer Nettles’ haunting singing, coupled with the intensity of one of the most powerful videos ever recorded, made “Stay” a personal favorite from the first time we played the song at the old “K-Country 103” in Myrtle Beach.

10. “I Won’t Hold You Back” – Toto

The sixth single released from the 1982 “Toto IV” album, and third top-ten hit, is based on the old adage “if you love something, set it free”. Written by Steve Lukather and featuring backup vocals from The Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmit, this ballad rarely receives radio airplay, yet, is as timeless as “Roseanna” & “Africa”.

11. “Unforgettable” – Nat King Cole

No true “best-of” list involving music for the ages omits the great Nat King Cole. Originally recorded in 1951, his most popular version of the Grammy Hall of Fame song was tracked in 1961 and was edited and remixed in 1992 to create a masterful recording with his daughter, Natalie. That multiple award-winning version created a new generation of fans.

12. “I Honestly Love You” – Olivia Newton-John

Was Olivia singing from the point of view as a stalker? No matter. This 1974 Grammy Award-winning song cemented the sweet-singing Australian as a future star in Top-40 music.

13. “Longer” – Dan Fogelberg

There’s nothing wrong with a simple love song. This 1979 single from Fogelberg, while a departure from his previous work, was instant make-out material all over the USA. God Bless America.

14. “Saving All My Love For You” – Whitney Houston

Say what you want about the diva days of the late singer, she wowed everyone right out of the gate – and this effort from Whitney, originally recorded by Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis, Jr., had guys everywhere wishing that she was singing about them, your humble narrator included.

15. “Desert Moon” – Dennis DeYoung

The former Styx frontman scored a 1984 solo hit shortly after Tommy Shaw’s departure from the Chicago-based band. He has, yet, to duplicate that feat. Still, the poignancy and fantastic video make the song a classic.

16. “I’m Still in Love with You” – Al Green

Al Green. ‘Nuff ced.

17. “To Sir, with Love” – Lulu

The top song of 1967 was performed in the penultimate scene in the movie of the same name. A touching moment from one of the greatest movies of all-time.

18. “If You Ever Did Believe” – Stevie Nicks

From the soundtrack of the 1998 Sandra Bullock/Nicole Kidman movie “Practical Magic”, the song was a comeback, of sorts, for Stevie. The acoustic arrangement and outstanding backup singing from gal-pal Sheryl Crow moves this pensive effort into my faves.

19. “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” – Boyz II Men

Don’t lie. You’ve belted this song out in the car, shower, elevator or space where you thought you were alone. It’s OK. It’s worth the criticism. Amazing work by the lads.

20. “Faithfully” – Journey

The ultimate power ballad. Honestly, it’s not really in my top-20 but, if I didn’t include it, I would receive copious amounts of grief from Classic Hits 104.5 WJJK’s Nikki Miller. *waves*

Yes, I’m sure I omitted your favorite ballad(s). Feel free to comment if you are so moved.

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