13 Of The Best Rock Ballads Of The 1990s

Written by Dan Farrant

The 1990s was a sensational time for rock, with iconic artists in their prime like Nirvana, Aerosmith, and Guns N’ Roses. Many of these bands are known for their intense rock sound, but sprinkled throughout these discographies are emotional pieces that tell a different story than their usual songs.

Thus in this post, we’ve chosen 13 of the best rock ballads of the 1990s that have captured the hearts of fans and have become iconic during that decade. Read on to learn more about them!

1. “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” By Aerosmith

Aerosmith is one of the most well-known American bands in music history. They formed in Boston in the ’70s and went on to make decades of hits that you can still hear on the radio today. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” is one of Aerosmith’s greatest ballads.

Released in 1998, the song was created for the blockbuster hit Armageddon. Featuring Steven Tyler’s signature vocals, it tells a simple but deeply meaningful and moving message.

The lyrics talk about being so in love and enamored with someone that even closing your eyes to go to sleep feels like a waste of time because you want to be with them every second of the day.

Along with the movie “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” was a worldwide hit. It stayed for four weeks on top of the Billboard Hot 100 and ranked first in many charts globally.

2. “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” By Bryan Adams

Canadian singer-songwriter Bryan Adams has had many top hits over his long career, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time. He’s sold over 100 million records and singles across the globe, one of them being this lovely rock ballad, “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You.”

Made for the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, the song has vulnerable lyrics that truly bear the narrator’s heart to their lover. He sings that every moment of their day and every small thing they do is for the love of their life.

“(Everything I Do) I Do It for You” swept the world off its feet with its message. Not only did it take the top spot of both the US and UK charts, but it also topped the charts of over 15 countries! If that’s not a sign of a great ballad, we don’t know what is.

3. “November Rain” By Guns N’ Rose

Hard rock band Guns N’ Roses were formed in 1985 in LA. They’re known for their heavy rock sounds, but some of their pieces are ballads that have stood the test of time, like “November Rain.”

Released in 1992, this song provides a message that is both painful and real, as the singer laments about the death of his beloved girlfriend, who took her own life.

The song was inspired by Axl Rose’s real-life and difficult relationship with Erin Everly and is based on the short story “Without You” by Del James. It’s one of their greatest, saddest, and longest songs, touching upon troubling themes and deep emotions over almost nine minutes.

4. “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” By Meat Loaf

American rock singer Meat Loaf was known for his impressive vocal range, which made him famous and beloved in the genre despite his oddities. He was a theatrical artist, which is apparent in this 1993 dramatic and powerful ballad called “I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That).”

If you’re wondering what it is that he won’t do for love, you’re not alone, but the singer never gave a clear answer up to his death in early 2022. Nevertheless, the song’s message about the limits of love is relatable and painful.

The international #1 hit speaks to how no matter the extent of your love for someone, you can’t compromise your own identity to satisfy them. This resonated so much with fans that the song earned Meat Loaf a Grammy for Grammy Award for Best Rock Vocal Performance, Solo.

5. “Hurt” By Nine Inch Nails

NIN, or Nine Inch Nails, is one of the edgier rock bands of the 1990s and surrounding decades. Formed in Cleveland, they have a large discography of moody, dark, and tortured rock songs, among which is “Hurt.”

From their 1995 album Downward Spiral this song has some heavy themes of depression and pain; some fans see it as a suicide note. However, it’s less about love and more about battling pain and sadness and how you end up hurting people you love when you hurt yourself.

The lyrics talk about letting people down and watching people change. It’s up for debate whether this power ballad is written to a lover or a friend, but either way, the message of pain is clear.

6. “Torn” By Natalie Imbruglia

Several pop rock ballads were released during the 1990s, and Natalie Imbruglia‘s “Torn” is one of the most popular ones from her album Left of the Middle, which was released in 1997.

Despite the fast beat of the song, “Torn” is about heartbreak. It speaks of how the narrator found a man she thought was The One. However, he showed her “what it was to cry,” leaving her broken and, as the title states, torn.

Though the song was originally in Danish and recorded by singer Lis Sørensen, Imbruglia’s version is the most well-known. It took the top spot on Billboard‘s Hot 100 Airplay and Mainstream Top 40 while ranking in the top 10 of the charts worldwide.

7. “Iris” By Goo Goo Dolls

Beginning as an underground punk band, Goo Goo Dolls is now known for their alternative rock music and meaningful lyrics. Released in 1998, “Iris” is their biggest hit, pulling at everyone’s heartstrings and capturing the vulnerability of love.

The lyrics talk about the difficulty of life and how cruel the world can be, making the singer want to hide away from their lover forever. They want to shelter their beautiful love from the world because people judge, misunderstand, and ruin things.

Though the power ballad peaked at #9 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 list, it topped three other charts in the US: Adult Top 40, Alternative Airplay, and Mainstream Top 40. It also received Grammy nominations for Pop Performance by a Duo or Group and Record of the Year.

8. “Always” By Bon Jovi

An epic rock ballad we can’t miss on this list is “Always,” released by Bon Jovi in 1994 in the album Cross Road. It was written for the film Romeo Is Bleeding, which is mentioned in the first line of the song.

Another song of heartbreak, the narrator sings of how he’s been feeling since his beloved left him. She is now in another man’s arms, and he’s wishing that it was in his arms she was in because he still loves her. Despite only being left with memories, he will always love her.

“Always” was one of Bon Jovi’s greatest hits. It topped charts in several countries, including UK Rock & Metal and Canada’s Top Singles, while peaking at #4 on Billboard Hot 100.

9. “More Than Words” By Extreme

True love can transcend words. It can be shown through deeds and actions, as what rock band Extreme tells us in their 1991 song “More Than Words.”

The soft rock ballad begins with acoustics many fans are familiar with. This continues throughout the song as the singer tells us the best way to show love than just saying the words “I love you.”

Though the song debuted at #81 on Billboard Hot 100, its wise message resonated with many and soon reached the coveted top spot of the chart. It also was an international hit, peaking within the top 10 charts all over the world.

10. “I’ll Be” By Edwin McCain

American singer-songwriter Edwin McCain had a few hits in the 1990s. He’s not as popular as many of the other bands and artists on this list, but he still contributed iconic songs to the genre of pop-rock ballads, including the sweet and reassuring song “I’ll Be.”

In the song, the narrator talks about supporting their lover and being there for them even in their worst moments. The beauty of the narrator’s lover takes their breath away, and all they want to do is love them wholly and be the best they can be for the love of their life.

Because of the song’s poignant message, it’s become a popular wedding song. It climbed to the fifth spot on the Billboard Hot 100 and was covered by Kian Egan in 2014. It was also featured in episodes of TV series like Dawson’s Creek and The Office.

11. “Walking In Memphis” By Marc Cohn

Singer-songwriter Marc Cohn hit it big during the early 1990s. He’s since retired from music due to a gunshot injury inflicted by a carjacker, but his comforting voice and beautiful sound lives on in soft rock ballads like “Walking in Memphis.”

This song is unique because it’s not about love or pain like many of the best rock ballads from the 1990s. It’s about visiting a new place and feeling like you immediately belong.

Cohn has described “walking in Memphis” as a spiritual awakening and the feeling of coming home for the first time. It’s a cheerful and poetic tribute to Memphis and the legends who came from or performed there before him.

12. “Love Of A Lifetime” By Firehouse

A hard rock band from Richmond, Virginia, Firehouse has been releasing power ballads since 1984. One of these is a very quintessential song of everlasting love, the 1991 “Love of a Lifetime.”

If there is any romantic ballad you’d want to sing to your beloved, this song would be it. It tells of finally finding “the love of a lifetime,” one that will last your “whole life through.” If that’s not something to sing about, we don’t know what is.

Released in their eponymous debut album, “Love of a Lifetime” is Firehouse’s first-ever power ballad and one of their highest charting. It debuted on Billboard Hot 100 at #81, but before the end of the year, it climbed to #5.

13. “Nothing Else Matters” By Metallica

Most everyone knows the iconic rock band Metallica and their countless top hits. They’re best known for their heavy metal, hardcore sound; however, in “Nothing Else Matters,” the group departed from that roughness to create a soft and tender song.

The song revolves around the feelings of the narrator regarding his relationship with another. For him, they should trust who they were and not care about what others think because if they trusted, “nothing else matters.”

This ballad was one of Metallica’s international hits. It charted at #11 on Billboard‘s Mainstream Rock Tracks while reaching the top 10 in other countries and #1 in Denmark.

Summing Up Our List Of Great Rock Ballads of the 1990s

Rock music can be loud and rough, but these emotional ballads exemplify how the genre can be tender and sweet. From sweet love connections to painful feelings, these ballads capture many meaningful aspects of life with poetic lyrics and distinct music.

This list, however, is far from complete, as several rock ballads were released during the ’90s. Which have we left off? Let us know, and we’ll add it here!

Photo of author

Dan Farrant, the founder of Hello Music Theory, has been teaching music for over 15 years, helping hundreds of thousands of students unlock the joy of music. He graduated from The Royal Academy of Music in 2012 and then launched Hello Music Theory in 2014. He plays the guitar, piano, bass guitar and double bass and loves teaching music theory.