As a ballad is a powerful expression of emotions in verses meant to be sung with or without instruments, a rock ballad is somewhat distinct from a simple ballad. It is an extremely touching and emotional ballad having deeper meanings. However, it could have a fast or slow pace with a noisy or quiet tempo. It does not matter for the singers as they rock with the ballad to make it rock. Interestingly, even rock ballad falls short of giving words to these strong feelings and emotions that are not easy to express. The top ten rock or pop ballads are as follows in our order of ranking.
Unchained Melody by the Righteous Brothers and Elvis Presley
Woah, my love, my darling
I’ve hungered for your touch
A long, lonely time
And time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me
Although rock ballads or pop ballads started emerging in the decades of 70 and 80, the first such popular rock ballad was “Unchained Melody” which Alex North sang first in 1955 after Hyman Zaret wrote its lyrics. Later several others such as Tod Duncan followed by the Righteous Brothers and Elvis Presly also sang it. The main theme was derived from a movie, Unchained, released in the same year. The ballad became such a hit that it was translated into several languages with more than 670 singers trying their skills. The beauty of the ballad lies in its intensity of emotions expressed through rhetorical questions with doubts in the mind of the speaker about his beloved and her sincerity. Within just three stanzas, the repetition of “Woah, my love, my darling” has won the hearts of the lovers of this song. The use of sound devices, poetic devices, and some rhetorical strategies have brought this ballad at the top in our order of ranking of the best pop/rock ballads. Its first stanza shows these excellent qualities of the ballad.
Bridge Over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel
When you’re weary
When tears are in your eyes
I’ll dry them all
I’m on your side
Oh, when times get rough
And friends just can’t be found
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down
Sung by Simon and Garfunkel in their album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, this beautiful and powerful rock ballad appeared in 1970 and instantly hit the cords with Grammy Award and various other nominations. This soul pop and classic rock folk ballad lets the speaker start with his encouragement to his beloved with the vows that he would stand by her through thick and thin until she sails smoothly through the rough seas of this world. Paul Simons has beautifully shown his dexterity in writing lyrics. The use of first-person plural, similes, and repetitions has made this rock ballad stand second in our order of ranking. Its first two stanzas show its excellent qualities.
A Change is Gonna Come by Sam Cooke
Oh, there been times that I thought
I couldn’t last for long
But now I think I’m able, to carry on
It’s been a long
A long time coming
But I know a change gonna come
Oh, yes it will
Written by Sam Cooke himself, this beautiful rock ballad first appeared in his album, Ain’t That Good News, released in 1964. Later, several of its versions hit the markets. However, the major verses almost stayed the same which states that the speaker has witnessed a rough patch in his life, and now he compares his present life with the former sufferings and becomes contented that he has surmounted all the obstacles. The comparison of the former life with the river, his determination to surmount mountains, and his resolution to continue despite his brother’s betrayal are some of the major positive points. The use of different literary devices such as similes, metaphors, repetitions, and the refrain of “Oh, yes it will” have brought this song to third position in our order of ranking. Its last two stanzas show its excellence.
Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen
Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you dont really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor falls, the major lifts
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
This beautiful rock ballad appeared in 1984 when Leonard Cohen sang it after Leo Robin and his colleagues wrote its lyrics. It was included in his album, Various Positions. The lyrics made the ballad an instant hit rock ballad. Specifically, the melody and refrain of Hallelujah brought it to the top among the rock ballads of the 80s. Although beginning with a religious note of the Lord and David, the speaker turns to his beloved whose faith he knows and to whom he loves the most. Yet, he questions the existence of God with skepticism and expresses his feeling that love is the most important passion which can save or kill a person. This extreme expression of passions through different literary devices such as refrain, metaphors, consonances, and assonances has brought this ballad forth in our order of ranking of the top rock ballads of all times. Here is its first stanza as an example.
Nothing Compares 2 U by Prince and Sinead O’Connor
It’s been seven hours and 15 days
Since you took your love away
I go out every night and sleep all day
Since you took your love away
Since you been gone, I can do whatever I want
I can see whomever I choose
Sung by the duo of Prince and Sinead O’Connor, this beautiful rock ballad first appeared in their album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, released in 1990. The ballad was nominated for Grammy Award but missed it. Written by Prince Rogers Nelson, the lyrics of the ballad revolves around the separation of the speaker, who exactly knows the time when his beloved has left him, and he still can sing though he is feeling the pangs of the separation. He is determined that he can recall his blues despite this separation and ends the song on a happy note that although the doctor has suggested him to stop recalling his girl, he knows that nothing could become like her. The use of repetition, refrain, dialog and similes have made this beautiful rock ballad to come at fifth position in our order of ranking. Its first stanza shows its beauty.
All By Myself by Eric Carmen and Celine Dion
When I was young
I never needed anyone
And making love was just for fun
Those days are gone
I think of all the friends I’ve known
But when I dial the telephone
Written and sung by Eric Carmen, a US singer, and writer, this rock ballad was released first in 1975 and hit new records on the best musical lists. Carmen is stated to have claimed that he borrowed the chorus from Let’s Pretend, a song sung in 1972 by him with the Raspberries. The speaker now thinks that when he was young, he was with his friends but now he is living a lonely life with nobody with him. This loneliness makes him insecure and obscure and he feels the pang of this loneliness. Using short sentences and phrases, good metaphors, and other sound devices, Carmen and Dion have made this song a beautiful rock ballad of its time as its two stanzas show. That is why it is also placed sixth in our order of ranking.
Without You by Harry Nilsson and Mariah Carey
No I can’t forget this evening or your face as you were leaving
But I guess that’s just the way the story goes
You always smile, but in your eyes
Your sorrow shows
Yes, it shows
No I can’t forget tomorrow
When I think of all my sorrow
When I had you there but then I let you go
And now it’s only fair that I should let you know
What you should know
Written by two senior members of Badfinger, a popular British rock group of the 70s, Tom Evans and Pete Ham, composed this ballad and released it in 1970 in their album, No Dice. The forcefulness of this rock ballad lies in the fact that more than 180 artists came forward during its recording. Several versions of this ballad later became highly popular and it was also part of the 500 best hits of all times. The speaker discusses the sorrow and beauty in the eyes of his beloved saying that he cannot tolerate this and cannot forget this, because he cannot live without her. This beautiful expression continues with the application of repetitions, smiles, and metaphors until the end. That is why this rock pop ballad stands seventh in our order of ranking. These two stanzas show the beauty of this ballad.
Wild Horses by the Rolling Stones
Is easy to do
The things you wanted
I bought them for you
You know who I am
You know I can’t let you
Slide through my hands
Sung by the popular band, The Rolling Stones, in its album, Sticky Fingers, in 1971, this song has not become as popular as it was envisaged. Yet, it continued to be the best until now with several other rock and pop ballads of the Rolling Stones. In fact, its popularity lies in its crispy, concise and short verses having an ABCB rhyme scheme and short four-lined stanzas. The beauty of this song also lies in its theme. The speaker vows to continue loving his beloved due to her gracelessness and talks about horses saying that they could not divert his attention from his love. This digression, coupled with repetition and alliteration has made this ballad come at eighth position in our order of ranking. Its first two stanzas show the beauty of the ballad.
Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin
And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
When all is one and one is all, that’s what it is
To be a rock and not to roll, oh yeah
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
Written by Jimmy Page and Robert Anthony Plant, this beautiful ballad in the hard and folk rock genre was first released in 1971 by Led Zepplin. It made the movie, The Song Remains the Same, in which it appeared, a hit of that year. The speaker, in this ballad, tells about a lady who, he says, wants to go up to heaven and considers everything gold. Then he alludes to the piped piper and seasonal changes and compares them with human behavior. He ends the ballad with the same repetition that the lady wants to buy a stairway to heaven. The beauty of the ballad lies in the use of allusions, alliteration, and formal diction in an informal way. That is why this rock ballad stands ninth in order of ranking. Its last stanza also shows its beauty.
Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landside,
No escape from reality
Open your eyes,
Look up to the skies and see,
I’m just a poor boy, I need no sympathy,
Because I’m easy come, easy go,
Little high, little low,
Any way the wind blows doesn’t really matter to
Me, to me
Released in 1975, this beautiful rock ballad was sung by Queen, a rock band. It first appeared in its album, A Night at the Opera. The group member, Frederick Mercury, wrote this song in the hard rock and progressive pop genre. The ballad sums up the entire life of the speaker in the confusion of how, what, and why to understand it. Starting with rhetorical questions, this ballad shows the speaker caught in this web of confusion, questioning life’s mammoth reality and his own minuscule existence. The speaker also touches a murder, love, Galileo, and other things of reality in mind with allusion to Islamic greetings and the triviality of these significant issues. The use of repetitions, allusions, assonances, consonances, and alliteration have made this rock ballad come tenth in our order of ranking. Its first stanza shows its forcefulness.