The 1980s produced some of the most memorable and enduring rock ballads of all time. Perhaps it’s due to the fact that the 1980s was a time of musical innovation and experimentation.
Rock ballads showcased the soaring vocals of lead singers and the stripped-down acoustic tracks that revealed vulnerability and intimacy. These slower, more introspective songs counter the high-energy, guitar-driven anthems that defined the decade.
In this article, we’ll explore 13 of the best rock ballads of the 1980s. What are you waiting for? Let’s dive deep into the music and lyrics that have stood the test of time.
Related: For more like this, check out our list of the best rock ballads of all time here.
1. “Heaven” By Bryan Adams
In 1984, singer-songwriter Bryan Adams released “Heaven” as part of his Reckless album. The song is almost 40 years old as of this writing, and yet it has carved its place among the greatest rock ballads.
In Adams’ signature husky tenor, he sings about his undying devotion to his lover. When he’s with her, it feels like heaven.
Adams’ voice and the solid melody are just some of the factors that made this single a commercial success. In 1985, it hit the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100. In the same year, it was certified gold in Canada, where the song peaked at #11 on the RPM Singles Chart.
2. “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” By Poison
Our next classic rock ballad, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by the American band Poison, was released in 1988. With poignant and touching lyrics, the song tells a story about a love affair that fell apart.
The song’s melody is simple and powerful, complemented by Bret Michael’s lead vocals. The chorus has become a popular catchphrase, proving the song’s enduring popularity.
Several months after its release, the song dominated the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks. VH1 ranked it #34 on “100 Greatest Songs of the 80s” and #7 on “Top 25 Power Ballads.”
3. “When It’s Love” By Van Halen
American rock band Van Halen released “When It’s Love” in 1988 from their album OU812. This power ballad stood out from the album for being the most popular among the singles.
The song, with its thoughtful lyrics, reflects the singer’s dilemma in knowing if what he feels is love. What he knows is that “it lasts forever” and it’s “something you feel together.”
Following the song’s release, it peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 but #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock charts. VH1 also ranked the song 24th on The Greatest: 25 Greatest Power Ballads.
4. “Love Bites” By Def Leppard
The English glam metal band Def Leppard released “Love Bites” in 1988. It may be a moderate success in the UK, having peaked at #11. But in the US, it topped the Billboard Hot 100.
Featuring a slow, melodic intro that builds up to a powerful chorus, “Love Bites” showcases the band’s signature harmonies and guitar riffs. The lyrics speak to the intense nature of love, portraying it as both a blessing and a curse.
The success of “Love Bites” cemented Def Leppard’s place in the annals of rock music history. It also helped solidify its reputation as one of the greatest bands of the 1980s.
5. “With Or Without You” By U2
Another lasting rock ballad is U2‘s “With or Without You,” from the band’s 1987 album, The Joshua Tree. This was a commercial success for the band as it hit #1 in the US and Canada. This would become U2’s first #1 single in the US.
Lyrics-wise, the song explores the feelings of a man away from his lover. In many ways, it reflects frontman Bono’s own experiences as a musician. It’s difficult to maintain a relationship due to his constant absences. However, the singer admits that he can’t live without his lover.
Not only was “With or Without You” a commercial success. It also received various accolades. The song often appeared in rankings of the best songs of all time. For instance, the song was ranked 131st among “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time” by Rolling Stone magazine in 2004.
6. “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” By Cinderella
Glam metal band Cinderella released “Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone)” in 1988. It can be found as the second single from their album Long Cold Winter.
The single was a commercial success, peaking at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Eventually, it became one of the band’s most recognizable and popular songs to this day.
The lyrics speak about the regret and pain one feels after losing a loved one. As is usually the case, the singer realizes only after she’s gone how much she means to him. The song’s instrumentation is also noteworthy, with its soaring guitar solo and powerful drumbeat adding to the emotional weight of the lyrics.
7. “When I See You Smile” By Bad English
The 1989 single “When I See You Smile” is as old as many of us. And pretty sure many of you can still sing along to it. Bad English released this rock ballad classic from their self-titled debut album.
The song reached the top of the charts in several countries, including the US, Canada, and Australia. It peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 and RPM Singles charts. The song is known for its powerful vocals and soaring guitar solos.
In the lyrics, the singer speaks about the universal theme of love. He describes how just a smile from his lover can arm him with the strength to face any challenges.
8. “Alone” By Heart
Our next rock ballad is “Alone,” popularized by the American rock band Heart. They released it in 1987 as part of their album Bad Animals. Their version dominated the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks. In the UK, it peaked at #3, making it their most successful single in the country.
The song features lead vocalist Ann Wilson’s powerful delivery and Nancy Wilson’s intricate guitar work. The lyrics express the heart-wrenching emotions of a failed relationship and the overwhelming sense of isolation that comes with it.
The song’s soaring chorus has become iconic and cemented its place as one of the band’s most beloved hits. “Alone” remains a staple on classic rock radio and has continued to be loved by fans over the years.
9. “Heaven” By Warrant
The next rock ballad to grace our list is “Heaven” by glam metal band Warrant. The single was released in 1989 as part of their debut album, Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich.
“Heaven” was written by lead vocalist Jani Lane and showcases his impressive vocal range. This love song expresses the longing and desire for a perfect romantic relationship.
The track features a catchy chorus and a guitar solo that has become a classic of ’80s rock. It remains one of Warrant’s most popular hits. This is a testament to the band’s ability to craft memorable and heartfelt power ballads that fans love.
10. “Here I Go Again” By Whitesnake
The British rock band Whitesnake appears on our list with their rock ballad “Is This Love.” It was released in 1982 from their album Saints & Sinners and co-written by lead vocalist David Coverdale. The band re-released the song in 1987.
In the lyrics, the singer expresses the overwhelming feeling of falling in love and the desire for a long-lasting relationship.
When it comes to performance, the song was a commercial success. It peaked at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #9 on the UK Singles Chart. The 1987 version reached the top spot on the Canadian Singles Chart.
In the 2003 issue of Q magazine, “Here I Go Again” was in the 962nd position out of 1001 “Best Songs Ever.” Three years later, VH1 ranked it #17 on its list of 100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s.
11. “Faithfully” By Journey
Only a few songs are successful in that even the most recent generations know about it. “Faithfully” is certainly one of those songs. The rock band Journey released it in 1983 from their album Frontiers.
The song was written by keyboardist Jonathan Cain and showcases Steve Perry’s distinctive vocal range. It also features a piano-driven melody and a memorable guitar solo by Neal Schon.
In this love song, Perry sings about the ups and downs of a rock star’s life on the road and his commitment to his partner. “Faithfully” is one of the best rock ballads that still capture the interest of new generations of music lovers.
12. “I Want To Know What Love Is” By Foreigner
Our next song may be almost 40 years old. But thanks to covers done throughout the years, “I Want to Know What Love Is” became a timeless song. This was an original of the rock band Foreigner, released in 1984.
The single quickly became a massive commercial success. It reached #1 in the US, the UK, and several other countries. Rolling Stone magazine ranked it #476 and #479 greatest song of all time, in 2004 and 2010, respectively.
The song’s emotional and introspective lyrics explore the desire to understand and experience the true meaning of love. The band’s lead vocalist, Lou Gramm, delivers a passionate and soulful performance backed by a soaring gospel choir and a lush orchestral arrangement.
13. “I Remember You” By Skid Row
To complete our list, we have Skid Row‘s “I Remember You.” This is a rock ballad released in 1989 from their self-titled debut album.
The poignant lyrics and Sebastian Bach’s soaring vocals capture the pain and longing of lost love. Here, the singer can’t move on as he recalls his memories with the girl he loved.
“I Remember You” was a commercial success for the band. It peaked at #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 in New Zealand. It remains a beloved classic of the glam metal era.
Summing Up Our List Of The Best 1980s Rock Ballads
These rock ballads represent a unique era in music history that left an indelible mark on popular culture. They showcase the emotive power of the instruments, soulful vocals, and heartfelt lyrics that speak to the deepest emotions and continue to resonate with listeners decades later.
The 1980s may be long gone. But the legacy of its rock ballads lives on as a testament to the power of music to capture the human experience.