The 1970s ignited an unforgettable era of rock music, birthing a mesmerizing fusion of powerful lyrics, captivating melodies, and passionate performances.
A significant innovation of this time was the rock ballad – a musical form that resonated deeply with audiences and left an indelible mark on the music industry—this decade gifted us some of the most memorable rock ballads in history.
Join us as we reminisce and explore 13 of the best rock ballads of the 1970s. Let’s get started!
1. “Stairway To Heaven” By Led Zeppelin
This epic rock ballad by Led Zeppelin from 1971 is considered a masterpiece by many, with its haunting melody, poetic lyrics, and powerful guitar solo. “Stairway to Heaven” begins with a gentle acoustic guitar riff and gradually builds to a crescendo of soaring vocals and electrifying acoustics.
The lyrics are also enigmatic and poetic, with references to mythical themes such as the May Queen and the piper. The song’s central theme is the search for meaning in life and the possibility of a higher spiritual existence, which resonated with a wide audience.
The song’s popularity has earned its spot at #3 on VH1’s 100 Greatest Rock Songs list and #1 on Guitar World‘s 100 Greatest Guitar Solos. While “Stairway to Heaven” was never commercially released in the US, it was still the most requested song on radios back in the ’70s.
2. “Dream On” By Aerosmith
Released in 1973, this iconic ballad by Aerosmith centers around the theme of chasing your dreams and never giving up on them. A combination of blues rock and power ballad influences, “Dream On” has become a staple of the classic rock genre.
The song sets a contemplative and introspective tone, followed by Steven Tyler’s soulful yet power-packed vocals, which carry a sense of yearning and vulnerability throughout the song. “Dream On” has two versions: a shorter one for radio play and a longer album version.
“Dream On” was a smashing commercial success, earning its place in the Grammy Hall of Fame. It also has a 4x Platinum certification in the United States, and it peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100.
3. “American Pie” By Don McLean
While Don McLean‘s “American Pie” is often considered a power ballad, it transcends simple genre categorization due to its unique blend of folk, rock, and pop elements.
The song is a complex and poetic composition that touches upon various themes and historical events. It is often interpreted as a commentary on the changing cultural landscape of America in the 1960s and the loss of innocence.
The song’s length, clocking in at over eight minutes, was unconventional for radio play at the time but did not deter its popularity. It has been covered by numerous artists over the years, further solidifying its enduring appeal.
“American Pie” achieved significant chart success, reaching #1 on several charts in the US in 1972 for four consecutive weeks. The National Recording Registry also selected “American Pie” for preservation for its cultural significance in American music history.
4. “Beth” By KISS
A much slower song than KISS‘ usual aggressive metal rock style, “Beth” is a 1976 power ballad that features gentle piano melodies, heartfelt vocals, and a poignant lyrical narrative
The lyrics of “Beth” are about the pain and loneliness of being away from someone we love. The song’s central message is that even though we may be far apart from those we care about, our love for them remains strong and enduring.
This song was a major commercial success for KISS, peaking at #7 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 and winning the People’s Choice Award in 1977 for Favorite Song.
5. “Lola” By The Kinks
While “Lola” by The Kinks is not typically categorized as a power ballad, it is a powerful and influential track with its own distinct style. Released in 1970, “Lola” is a notable song that combines elements of rock, pop, and a touch of glam.
The lyrics tell the story of a romantic encounter between the singer and a woman named Lola, who is believed to be transgender. Considering that it was released in the early ‘70s, “Lola” is considered a progressive song, exploring themes of identity, acceptance, and sexual ambiguity.
Due to its controversial subject matter, the song sparked debates and discussions, adding a layer of cultural significance to its chart performance. Commercially, “Lola” gained significant success, topping the charts in several countries, including the Netherlands, Ireland, New Zealand, and South Africa.
6. “All By Myself” By Eric Carmen
A poignant power ballad in 1975, “All By Myself,” is Eric Carmen’s first single after he left the pop rock band Raspberries. In fact, according to Carmen, elements of his song’s melody were taken from Raspberries’ hit “Let’s Pretend,” which he also wrote.
“All By Myself” prominently features a grand piano as its centerpiece. The song begins with a melancholic piano intro, setting a somber and reflective tone. As the song progresses, it gradually builds in intensity, incorporating orchestral elements.
Chart-wise, “All By Myself” achieved significant success, reaching #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Its popularity continued to grow internationally, charting well in several countries.
The song’s impact was not limited to its chart performance, as it became an anthem for heartbroken individuals and resonated with listeners who related to its themes of solitude and heartache.
7. “Lady” By Styx
The 1973 Styx hit “Lady” exemplifies the power ballad genre through its blend of soft rock and progressive rock elements, heartfelt lyrics, and soaring vocals.
Styx founding member Dennis DeYoung penned “Lady” as a declaration of love for his wife, expressing his deep affection and unwavering devotion. The song’s connection to DeYoung’s personal life adds an intimate touch, allowing listeners to connect with the song on a deeper level.
“Lady” opens with a gentle piano intro and gradually builds up throughout the song, incorporating electric guitar accents and keyboard layers.
The song initially had a modest release in 1973 but gained significant popularity when it was re-released in 1975. It reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became one of Styx’s signature songs.
8. “Dust In The Wind” By Kansas
While Kansas‘ catalog is filled with dynamic and progressive compositions, “Dust in the Wind” is a power ballad with an introspective approach that sets it apart from their other songs.
“Dust in the Wind” embraces a more minimalist and acoustic-driven sound. The song features primarily acoustic guitars, with a delicate finger-picking pattern that forms the foundation of the composition.
The lyrics also explore existential themes of mortality and impermanence. The song’s simple yet profound message resonated with audiences in the 1970s, a decade marked by social and cultural changes and a heightened sense of introspection.
“Dust in the Wind” achieved significant success upon its release in 1978. It reached the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, received a triple Platinum certification, and became one of Kansas’ biggest hits.
9. “More Than A Feeling” By Boston
Considered a classic rock staple, “More Than a Feeling” was the lead single in American rock band Boston‘s self-titled debut album.
An interesting fact about this 1976 classic is that it took Tom Scholz, Boston’s founder and lead guitarist, five years to complete. The extended timeline for the creation of “More Than a Feeling” speaks to the meticulous attention to detail and perfectionism that Scholz poured into the song.
One of the standout features of “More Than a Feeling” is its carefully layered instrumentation. The song seamlessly blends electric and acoustic guitars, providing a tapestry of melodic lines and memorable riffs.
The song’s worthiness of the long wait is further exemplified by its chart success and enduring popularity. It peaked at #4 on the US Cash Box Top 10 and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Even up to this day, it continues to resonate with audiences and maintain its place in the classic rock canon.
10. “The Long And Winding Road” By The Beatles
Perhaps the most significant song on this list is “The Long and Winding Road,” a song by the legendary band The Beatles. This rock ballad was released in 1970, a month after the band’s much-publicized disbandment.
The Beatles didn’t break up without making waves, though. “The Long and Winding Road” achieved significant commercial success, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming The Beatles’ 20th and final chart-topping single in the US.
However, the production of the song was not without controversy. The tension surrounding the song arose from the disagreement between Paul McCartney and producer Phil Spector over the addition of orchestral and choral arrangements.
Despite the controversy, “The Long and Winding Road” remains a beloved and influential song in The Beatles’ discography.
11. “Angie” By The Rolling Stones
Released in 1973 as a single from The Rolling Stones’ album Goats Head Soup, the song showcases a departure from their usual energetic rock ‘n’ roll sound and embraces a more introspective approach.
“Angie” is characterized by its gentle acoustic guitar intro, followed by Mick Jagger’s soulful rendition. The song explores themes of heartbreak, lost love, and emotional longing, presenting a more vulnerable side of The Rolling Stones’ songwriting.
There have been several theories about who the titular character “Angie” is in the song. One prominent theory suggested that it referred to Angela, the wife of musician David Bowie. However, it was later revealed that “Angie” was simply a made-up name chosen by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards for the song.
Commercially, “Angie” was a massive success for The Rolling Stones. It reached the top of the charts in multiple countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
The song’s softer and more accessible sound appealed to a broader audience, further expanding the band’s fan base.
12. “Without You” By Badfinger
Although this song was a hit in the ’80s and ’90s, “Without You” was actually first recorded in the ’70s by British band Badfinger. It was an instant hit the year it was released it topped the charts in multiple countries.
The widespread recognition of “Without You” is evident in the numerous cover versions it has inspired. Over 180 artists from various genres have re-recorded the song, each putting their own spin on it. Mariah Carey’s rendition in 1994 became a chart-topping hit and brought a new generation of listeners.
The song’s accolade, the Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically, further affirms its status as a masterpiece. The raw emotions conveyed in the song’s lyrics, combined with the soaring melodies, create a truly powerful rock ballad.
13. “Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad” By Meat Loaf
Inspired by the lyrics of Elvis Presley’s “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” this 1977 single by rock singer Meat Loaf has an interesting background. The song was in response to author Mimi Kennedy’s challenge to songwriter Jim Steinman to write a simple song.
Steinman, known for his epic compositions for Meat Loaf, did not disappoint. Meat Loaf’s powerful and emotive delivery brings the lyrics to life, infusing them with a sense of longing, vulnerability, and passion.
Upon its release in 1977, the single garnered significant radio airplay and climbed the music charts, both in the United States and internationally. The song peaked at #11 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, making it one of Meat Loaf’s highest-charting singles at the time.
Summing Up Our List Of 1970s Rock Ballads
The 1970s was a time of unparalleled creativity in rock music, and the birth of the rock ballad exemplified the genre’s power to touch the soul.
Songs like Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Aerosmith’s “Dream On” not only defined an era but also transcended time, continuing to inspire and influence musicians today.
If you have more songs to add to the list, feel free to share your favorites and let the power ballads continue to serenade us with their timeless magic!