Sentimental ballad

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For the painting by Grant Wood, see Sentimental Ballad (painting).
To emphasize the emotional aspect of a power ballad, crowds customarily hold up lighters adjusted to produce a large flame.[1][2]

Sentimental ballads, also known as pop ballads, rock ballads or power ballads, are an emotional style of music that often deal with romantic and intimate relationships, and to a lesser extent, war (protest songs), loneliness, death, drug abuse, politics and religion, usually in a maudlin but solemn manner.[3] Sentimental ballads are found in most music genres, which include, pop, R&B, soul, country, folk, rock and electronic music, among others.[4]

Ballads tend to have a lush musical arrangement, emphasizing melody and harmonies.[5] They are usually melodic enough to get the listener's attention. They mostly use acoustic instruments such as acoustic guitars, pianos, saxophones, and sometimes an orchestral set. The electric guitars are normally faint and high-pitched. However, recent ballads often feature synthesizers and other electronics, such as drum machines.[6]

Sentimental ballads had their origins in the early Tin Pan Alley music industry of the later 19th century.[7] Initially known as "tear-jerkers" or "drawing-room ballads", they were generally sentimental, narrative, strophic songs published separately or as part of an opera, descendants perhaps of broadside ballads. As new genres of music began to emerge in the early 20th century, their popularity faded, but the association with sentimentality led to the term "ballad" being used for a slow love song from the 1950s onwards.[8]


Early 20th century[edit]

By the Victorian era, ballad had come to mean any sentimental popular song, especially so-called "royalty ballads".[9] Some of Stephen Foster's songs exemplify this genre.[10] By the 1920s, composers of Tin Pan Alley and Broadway used ballad to signify a slow, sentimental tune or love song, often written in a fairly standardized form. Jazz musicians sometimes broaden the term still further to embrace all slow-tempo pieces. Notable historical ballads include, "Little Rosewood Casket" (1870), "After the Ball" (1892), and "Danny Boy" (1913).[11]


Popular sentimental ballad vocalists in this era were Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Andy Williams, Dusty Springfield, Johnny Mathis, Connie Francis, Nat King Cole and Perry Como. Their custom recordings were usually instrumental versions of current or recent rock and roll or pop hit songs. This was the time when the adult contemporary radio station was formed, a format that mainly focused on ballads. One big impetus for the development of the AC radio format was that when rock and roll music first became popular in the mid-1950s, many more traditionalist radio stations wanted to continue to play current hit songs while shying away from rock.[12]


Soft rock, a subgenre that mainly consist of ballads, was derived from folk rock in the early 70's, using acoustic instruments and putting more emphasis on melody and harmonies. Major sentimental ballad artists of this decade included Barbra Streisand, Nana Mouskouri, Elton John, Engelbert Humperdinck, Carole King, Cat Stevens, James Taylor. Furthermore, rock-oriented acts as Chicago, Toto, England Dan & John Ford Coley, Air Supply, Seals and Crofts, America, the Eagles and Bread, also had made ballad music.[13] [14] By the early 1970s, softer ballad songs by the Carpenters, Anne Murray, John Denver, Barry Manilow, and even Streisand, began to be played more often on "Top 40" radio.[15][16]

When the word ballad appears in the title of a song, as for example in The Beatles' "The Ballad of John and Yoko" (1969) or Billy Joel's "The Ballad of Billy the Kid" (1974), the folk music sense is generally implied. The term ballad is also sometimes applied to strophic story-songs more generally, such as Don McLean's "American Pie" (1971).[17][18][19]


Prominent artists who made sentimental ballads in the 80's were Richard Marx, Michael Jackson, Bonnie Tyler, George Michael, Phil Collins, Sheena Easton, Amy Grant,[20] Lionel Richie, Christopher Cross, Dan Hill, Leo Sayer, Billy Ocean,[21] Julio Iglesias, Bertie Higgins, Tommy Page[22] and Laura Branigan.[23]

The 1990s mainstream pop/R&B singers such as All-4-One,[24] Boyz II Men, Rob Thomas, Christina Aguilera,[25] Backstreet Boys and Savage Garden[25] had made a number of successful, chart-topping ballads. In addition to Celine Dion, other artists with multiple number ones ballads on the AC chart in the 1990s included Mariah Carey, Phil Collins, Marc Anthony, Michael Bolton, Whitney Houston and Shania Twain. Newer female singer-songwriters such as Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Jewel, Melissa Etheridge and Sheryl Crow also broke through on the AC chart during this time owing to their ballad-sound.[26]


A popular trend in the early 2000s was remixing dance music hits into acoustic ballads (for example, the "Candlelight Mix" versions of "Heaven" by DJ Sammy, "Listen To Your Heart" by D.H.T., and "Everytime We Touch" by Cascada).[27]

Throughout this era, artists such as Nick Lachey, James Blunt, John Mayer, Bruno Mars, Jason Mraz, Kelly Clarkson, Adele, Clay Aiken, Susan Boyle, Michael Bublé and Josh Groban have become successful thanks to a ballad heavy sound. Rock artists such as Coldplay, Nickelback and Evanescence have also had made ballad music. Country musicians such as Faith Hill, Shania Twain, LeAnn Rimes and Carrie Underwood had also gained popularity for their ballads.[28]

In the early 2010s, indie musicians like Imagine Dragons, Mumford & Sons, Of Monsters and Men, the Lumineers and Ed Sheeran also had indie songs that crossed over to the adult contemporary charts, due to their ballad-heavy sound.[29][30]


Jazz and traditional pop[edit]

Most pop standard and jazz ballads are built from a single, introductory verse, usually around 16 bars in length, and they end on the dominant - the chorus or refrain, usually 16 or 32 bars long and in AABA form (though other forms, such as ABAC, are not uncommon). In AABA forms, the B section is usually referred to as the bridge; often a brief coda, sometimes based on material from the bridge, is added, as in "Over the Rainbow".[31][32]

Examples of notable traditional pop and jazz ballads include:

Pop and R&B ballads[edit]

The most common use of the term "ballad" in modern pop and R&B music is for an emotional song about romance, breakup and/or longing.[11] The singer would usually lament an unrequited or lost love, either where one party is oblivious to the existence of the other, where one party has moved on, or where a romantic affair has affected the relationship.[34][35]

Some notable examples of pop ballads include: Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On", Elton John's "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word", Delta Goodrem's "Lost Without You", George Michael's "Careless Whisper", Lana Del Rey's "Summertime Sadness" and Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You".[36] Examples of R&B ballads include Mariah Carey's "My All", Lionel Richie's "Hello", Ashanti's "The Way That I Love You", Jazmine Sullivan's "Bust Your Windows", Labrinth's "Jealous", Rihanna's "Unfaithful", and Toni Braxton's "Un-Break My Heart".[37]

Power ballads[edit]

Simon Frith, the British sociomusicologist and former rock critic, identifies the origins of the power ballad in the emotional singing of soul artists, particularly Ray Charles, and the adaptation of this style by performers such as Eric Burdon, Tom Jones, and Joe Cocker to produce slow-tempo songs often building to a loud and emotive chorus backed by drums, electric guitars, and sometimes choirs.[38] According to Charles Aaron, power ballads came into existence in the early 1970s, when rock stars attempted to convey profound messages to audiences.[39]

Aaron argues that the power ballad broke into the mainstream of American consciousness in 1976 as FM radio gave a new lease of life to earlier songs such as Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" (1971), Aerosmith's "Dream On" (1973), and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" (1974).[39] The Carpenters' "Goodbye to Love" (1972) has also been identified as a prototype of the power ballad.[40] Notable power ballad examples include Nazareth's version of "Love Hurts" (1975),[38] Heart's "What About Love" (1985)[41] and Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" (1988).[42]

Journey's power ballad, "Faithfully", a late addition to the group's Frontiers (1983) album, inspired Prince, who obtained the blessing of Journey's singer/songwriter Jonathan Cain, before releasing what was to become Prince's signature song, "Purple Rain" (1984).[43]

See also[edit]


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  2. ^ "Rock Concert Question: Are Lighter Salutes Bad for the Environment?" Live Science, July 15, 2006.
  3. ^ Bronson, B., H. (1969). The Ballad as Song. Los Angeles: University of California Press
  4. ^ Ord, J. (1990). Bothy Songs and Ballads. Edinburgh: John Donald.
  5. ^ J. M. Curtis, Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music and Society, 1954-1984 (Popular Press, 1987), p. 236.
  6. ^ "Pop Music - What Is Pop Music - A Definition and Brief History". September 7, 2012. Retrieved October 3, 2012. 
  7. ^ P. Buckley, The Rough Guide to Rock (Rough Guides, 3rd edn., 2003), p. 378.
  8. ^ Witmer. See also Middleton (I,4,i).
  9. ^ Child, F., J. (1898). The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co
  10. ^ Temperley (II,2).
  11. ^ a b N. Cohen, Folk Music: a Regional Exploration (Greenwood, 2005), p. 297.
  12. ^ "Project MUSE - Lounge Caravan: A Selective Discography". February 23, 2005. doi:10.1353/not.2005.0059. Retrieved October 3, 2012. 
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  17. ^ D. R. Adams, Rock 'n' roll and the Cleveland Connection Music of the Great Lakes (Kent State University Press, 2002), ISBN 0-87338-691-4, p. 70.
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  22. ^ Fawthrop, Peter (May 24, 1970). "Tommy Page - Music Biography, Credits and Discography". AllMusic. Retrieved October 3, 2012. 
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  32. ^ Buchan, D. (1972). The Ballad and the Folk. East Linton: Tuckwell Press
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  34. ^ Smith, L.: Elvis Costello, Joni Mitchell, and the Torch Song Tradition, p. 9. Praeger Publishers, 2004.
  35. ^ Allan Forte, M. R.: Listening to Classic American Popular Songs, p. 203. Yale University Press, 2001.
  36. ^ Trust, Gary (September 13, 2011). "Is Adele's 'Someone Like You' The First No. 1 Piano-And-Vocal-Only Ballad?". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved January 16, 2012. 
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