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, sometimes called "tear-jerkers" or "drawing-room ballads", had their origins in the early "Tin Pan Alley" music industry of the later 19th century. 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, such as ragtime, blues and jazz, began to emerge in the early 20th century the popularity of this genre faded, but the association with sentimentality led to the term ballad being used for a slow love song from the 1950s onwards. Today, sentimental ballads are primarily known as pop ballads, rock ballads or power ballads, and they often deal with romantic and sexual relationships.[3]


By the Victorian era, ballad had come to mean any sentimental popular song, especially so-called "royalty ballads". Some of Stephen Foster's songs exemplify this genre.[4] 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).[5]

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).[6]


Pop ballads tend to have a lush arrangement, emphasizing melody and harmonies. They are usually melodic enough to get the listener's attention and may also work well as background music. Ballads tend to be written in a basic format employing a verse–chorus structure.[7] Ballads 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.[8]

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".[9]

Examples of notable pop and jazz ballads include: "Always" (1925) by Irving Berlin, "God Bless the Child" by Billie Holiday (1941), "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye" (1945) by Cole Porter, "Autumn Leaves" (1945) by Nat King Cole, "You Mean Everything to Me" (1960) by Neil Sedaka, "My Way" (1968) by Frank Sinatra, "Windmills of your Mind" (1968) by Noel Harrison, "If You Go Away" (1968) by Tom Jones, "(Where Do I Begin?) Love Story" (1970) by Andy Williams, "Speak Softly Love" (1972) by Andy Williams, "Killing Me Softly with His Song" by Roberta Flack (1973), and "I Will Wait For You" (1998) by Connie Francis.[10]

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.[5] 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".[11]

Examples of notable 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".[12]

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.[13] According to Charles Aaron, power ballads came into existence in the early 1970s, when rock stars attempted to convey profound messages to audiences.[14]

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).[14] The Carpenters' "Goodbye to Love" (1972) has also been identified as a prototype of the power ballad.[15]

Notable power ballad examples include Nazareth's version of "Love Hurts" (1975),[13] Heart's "What About Love" (1985)[16] and Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn" (1988).[17]

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).[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "POP VIEW; The Male Rock Anthem: Going All to Pieces". The New York Times. Published February 1, 1998.
  2. ^ "Rock Concert Question: Are Lighter Salutes Bad for the Environment?" Live Science, July 15, 2006.
  3. ^ Witmer. See also Middleton (I,4,i).
  4. ^ Temperley (II,2).
  5. ^ a b N. Cohen, Folk Music: a Regional Exploration (Greenwood, 2005), p. 297.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ "Pop Music - What Is Pop Music - A Definition and Brief History". September 7, 2012. Retrieved October 3, 2012. 
  8. ^ J. M. Curtis, Rock Eras: Interpretations of Music and Society, 1954-1984 (Popular Press, 1987), p. 236.
  9. ^ D. Randel, The New Harvard Dictionary of Music, (Cambridge MS: Harvard University Press, 1986) ISBN 0-674-61525-5, p. 68.
  10. ^ A. Forte, The American Popular Ballad of the Golden Era, 1924-1950 (Princeton University Press, 1995).
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ Midemblog, James (January 13, 2011). "Interview: Diane Warren, the "fiercely independent" hitmaker". Midem Blog. Retrieved March 24, 2012. 
  13. ^ a b S. Frith, "Pop Music" in S. Frith, W. Straw and J. Street, The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press), pp. 100-1.
  14. ^ a b Aaron, Charles (2002). "Don't Fight the Power". In Jonathan Lethem, Paul Bresnick. Da Capo Best Music Writing 2002: The Year's Finest Writing on Rock, Pop, Jazz, Country,and More. Da Capo Press. p. 132. ISBN 978-0-306-81166-1. 
  15. ^ Perrone, Pierre (August 2, 2010). "Tony Peluso: Guitarist whose solos on The Carpenters' 'Goodbye to Love' ushered in the power-ballad era". The Independent. Retrieved February 4, 2013. 
  16. ^ P. Buckley, The Rough Guide to Rock: the definitive guide to more than 1200 artists and bands (Rough Guides, 2003)
  17. ^ H. George-Warren, P. Romanowski and J. Pareles, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Fireside, 3rd edn., 2001), p. 1060.
  18. ^ Graf, Gary Graff (April 26, 2016). "Why Prince asked for Journey's Blessing Before Releasing 'Purple Rain'". Billboard.