Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My Love Can Only Be Expressed Through the Power Ballad

So I was just randomly skimming through wikipedia at work trying to look like I was working on a spread sheet, when I came across an interesting "fact" that might be all the more relevant with this being Valentine's day and all. Through my wikipedia hopscotching I manged to come across the official entry for "power ballads". The article itself was severely flawed. In addition to it's limited scope and clumsy formatting, it had both the "doesn't meet standards" and "does not cite references or sources" warning headers on top always suspect. I couldn't blame it too much though, defining a power ballad is an extremely tenuous affair. There are obvious examples of power ballads a la Styx's "Lady", Poison's "Every Rose Has It's Thorn", and almost every hit by REO Speedwagon, but it's kind of like what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about defining pornography, he couldn't properly define it but "I know it when I see it". I for one have a similar, complex (some might say arbitrary) personal system that would take pages to actually explain, assuming if it even could be explained fully.

So it came as a bit of a surprise to me that when it came to history it listed the Carpenters' 1972 hit "Goodbye to Love" as an important precursor to the form. Being the noted fan of 70's brother sister MOR groups I have the Carpenter's "Love Songs" album and I've heard "Goodbye to Love" many times before; but an early power ballad?

I never noticed it in that context and it wasn't a particularly memorable song in my hierarchy of Carpenters hits, but upon a second listen I was quite surprised at its power ballad-like flavor. Many of my personal criteria were there. Slow lyrical start with a sparse piano accompaniment? Check! Self reflection on the question of love? Check! Broken hearts? Check! Gradually rising background vocals? Check! Outrageous fuzz guitar solo that acts as a beautiful crushing crescendo to it all? Checkmate!

If it wasn't for the one glaring fact that the band was the Carpenters and thus incapable of being bad ass and rocking enough in the first place to give the necessary powerful contrast to a ballad like this, I would have indeed considered this a power ballad. However, in an ironic note, apparently even though the song was a decent Carpenters' sized hit, it elicited some considerable "hate mail" from people who thought the duo had "sold out" and gone "hard rock". So maybe there was more to them then their white smile, heart shaped image let on? Some of their most well known songs like "Top of the World" and "We've Only Just Begun" are as optimistic as they come, but there were some haunting downers like "Solitare" and must definitely "Goodbye to Love". There was tension between the band mates, continued tremendous success inspite of dismissal by critics, a bizarre tribute album by various contemporary alternative acts, and to top it off their lead singer died prematurely after years of abusing her body; pretty Behind the Music if you ask me.

Let's see Bon Jovi top that.

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