Rock ballads are a cornerstone of the genre that offers powerful and emotional expressions of love and loss. These slow, melodic songs allow artists to showcase their vocal range and lyrical depth, creating timeless classics that resonate with audiences for generations.
In this article, we will explore 28 of the best rock ballads of all time. If you are a die-hard fan of classic rock or appreciate the beauty of a well-crafted ballad, join us on a journey through some of the greatest songs in rock history. Let’s get started.
1. “Yesterday” By The Beatles
Up first, we have the pop-rock song “Yesterday,” which is a timeless classic released by the Beatles in 1965. It is a melancholic ballad written by Paul McCartney that features only his vocals and an acoustic guitar.
The lyrics speak of lost love and the feelings of loneliness and regret that come with it. McCartney’s soulful vocals perfectly capture the emotional depth of the song, making it a favorite of many listeners.
The song was an international hit. Though it did not rank in the UK charts in the first few weeks of release, it topped Billboard Hot 100, Cash Box Top 100, and several other charts all over Europe.
2. “Every Breath You Take” By The Police
Song of the Year Grammy winner “Every Breath You Take” is The Police’s signature song and one of their best-selling. Released in 1983 on their album Synchronicity, it features the iconic vocals of rock icon Sting, who also wrote the song.
If one reads the lyrics of the song, you’d think it’s the obsession of a stalker who has fallen in love; after all, the line says, “Every move you make, every step you take, I’ll be watching you.”
But let’s take it as a whole: The narrator can’t sleep, and his heart aches without his beloved. He’s practically begging for her to return him. Perhaps his words mean that whatever she’ll do, he’ll be there for her.
Regardless of how “Every Breath You Take” is interpreted, fans all over the world fell in love with it. It topped US and UK charts, and not only did The Police win a Grammy for it, they won two: Song of the Year and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
Related: What is a ballad in music?
3. “Don’t Stop Believing” By Journey
From their album Escape, we have Journey‘s rock ballad “Don’t Stop Believing. Released in 1981, the song has since become one of the most recognizable songs in popular music history.
From the title itself, you can get an idea of what the song is about. It features a powerful melody and uplifting lyrics encouraging listeners to hold on to their dreams and keep pushing forward.
“Don’t Stop Believing” has inspired countless people to persevere in the face of adversity and never lose sight of their goals. It became the band’s signature song, and in 2022, the Library of Congress chose it to be preserved in the National Recording History.
4. “Can’t Fight This Feeling” By REO Speedwagon
The power ballad “Can’t Fight This Feeling” is by American rock band REO Speedwagon. Released in 1984 as part of their album Wheels Are Turnin’, the song quickly became a commercial success, topping the Billboard Hot 100 as well as Cash Box and Radio & Records charts.
The song’s lyrics, penned by lead vocalist Kevin Cronin, tell the story of a man who is falling in love with a friend he has known for a long time. Despite his attempts to deny and suppress his feelings, he realizes that he cannot fight them any longer.
The emotional resonance of the lyrics is enhanced by the band’s powerful instrumentation, including Cronin’s soaring vocals and the anthemic chorus. The song’s success cemented the band’s position as one of the most popular rock groups of the 1980s, and it remains a beloved classic to this day.
5. “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” By Starship
The rock band Starship released the classic ballad “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” in 1987. The song became an instant hit and was featured in the movie Mannequin.
The lyrics of the song tell the story of a couple who are deeply in love and committed to making their relationship work, despite any obstacles they may face.
The catchy melody, coupled with the soaring vocals of Mickey Thomas and Grace Slick, makes the song an uplifting and inspiring anthem about the power of love.
The upbeat pop-rock tune reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart and on the UK Singles. At the 60th Academy Awards, the song was nominated for Best Original Song.
6. “Hey Jude” By The Beatles
Released in 1968 as a non-album single, “Hey Jude” is one of the most famous tunes produced by the legendary British rock band The Beatles. Penned by Paul McCartney, the track features an unforgettable melody that has stood the test of time.
The lyrics tell the story of a young man going through a difficult time, with the chorus serving as an uplifting reminder that things will get better. McCartney’s emotive vocals and the song’s catchy melody combine to create a timeless tune that continues to be loved by generations.
“Hey Jude” took the world by storm by topping charts in several countries. It also stayed for nine weeks at #1 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart. Its popularity made it a prime choice for other artists, like Wilson Pickett and Elvis Presley, to create covers.
7. “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” By Bonnie Tyler
This power ballad by Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler was released in 1983 and quickly became a worldwide hit. It reached #1 on the charts in several countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom.
It is a song about longing and heartbreak, with Tyler singing about a love that she can’t let go of. The lyrics paint a vivid picture of the pain and turmoil that come with trying to move on from a past love, and the chorus captures the intensity of the emotions that Tyler is feeling.
“Total Eclipse of the Heart” has remained a staple of pop culture, with countless covers paying homage to the song’s enduring legacy, like Nicki French’s 1994 version or Kareen Antonn in 2003.
8. “Iris” By Goo Goo Dolls
The 1998 film City of Angels may not be a well-remembered classic, but it did bring us an iconic rock ballad in “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls. The 1998 song quickly became a worldwide hit, reaching the top of the charts in several countries, including Australia and Canada.
Its lyrics, which speak of unrequited love and the longing for someone who is out of reach, perfectly capture the film’s themes of love, loss, and sacrifice. Lead singer Johnny Rzeznik’s emotive vocals perfectly carry the sense of longing and vulnerability the song evokes.
9. “The Reason” By Hoobastank
Released in 2004 as the title track of the album of the same name, we have next “The Reason” by American rock band Hoobastank. This song is known for its emotional depth, with the band’s raw, honest lyrics and powerful instrumentation.
The lyrics are about the pain of a failed relationship and all the emotions in the aftermath. The chorus, in which the singer expresses he’s not a perfect person, is one of the most recognizable in rock music history.
“The Reason” became a worldwide hit. As it resonated with fans everywhere, it reach the top of the US Adult Top 40, Alternative Airplay, Mainstream Top 40, and UK Rock & Metal charts.
10. “The Sound Of Silence” By Simon & Garfunkel
In 1964, folk-rock duo Simon & Garfunkel released their debut album, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. It contains one of the greatest and hauntingly beautiful folk-rock ballads of all time, “The Sound of Silence.”
The lyrics poetically reflect on the theme of isolation and the inability to communicate effectively with others. It conveys a sense of loneliness and despair, with lines such as “People talking without speaking, people hearing without listening.”
Unlike other songs on this list, “The Sound of Silence” was a sleeper hit, reaching #1 on the charts in the United States in 1966 after being re-released with electric instrumentation. It is also widely remembered as part of the soundtrack to the classic film The Graduate.
11. “Bohemian Rhapsody” By Queen
The signature song of the legendary rock band Queen, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is not widely considered as a ballad. It defies categorization, blending elements of opera, hard rock, and ballad into a unique musical experience. The latter qualifies it to be included in the list.
The ballad of “Bohemian Rhapsody” starts just after the haunting piano intro and goes on for a little over two minutes. The lyrics of this portion are enigmatic, telling the story of a man who has committed a murder and is facing the consequences.
“Bohemian Rhapsody” was an instant hit, reaching #1 on the UK charts and staying there for nine weeks. It was also a commercial success internationally. The song’s influence on popular music since its release in 1975 is immeasurable.
12. “The Flame” By Cheap Trick
The power ballad “The Flame” by the American rock band Cheap Trick was released as a single in 1988. The song features lead vocalist Robin Zander’s distinct singing, with a chorus and a memorable guitar solo by Rick Nielsen.
“The Flame” is about a lost love that the singer can’t forget and the yearning to rekindle the flame. The sentimentality and romantic theme helped it become one of the band’s most successful songs, pushing it to the #1 spot on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.
This song marked a departure from Cheap Trick’s typical rock-and-roll sound, but it proved to be a wise move, as it garnered the band a broader fanbase and critical acclaim.
13. “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” By Bryan Adams
Canadian singer-songwriter Bryan Adams created “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” for the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Released in 1991, the soft rock ballad became a global sensation, topping the charts in more than 15 countries.
The lyrics express the narrator’s dedication to his love interest, promising to do anything and everything for them. Its soaring melody and Adams’ raw, passionate vocals create an emotional and captivating experience for the listener.
“(Everything I Do) I Do It For You” has become a timeless classic and is often played at weddings and other romantic occasions. It remains one of the most successful and beloved songs of Bryan Adams’ career.
14. “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” By Aerosmith
Anybody who has seen the blockbuster hit Armageddon is sure to know the power ballad Aerosmith made for it. “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” features lead singer Steven Tyler’s soaring vocals and a powerful arrangement of guitars, drums, and orchestration.
The song expresses a deep and abiding love, with the narrator proclaiming that they don’t want to miss a moment with their beloved. The chorus is particularly poignant, with the narrator singing that even the sweetest dream of his love isn’t enough for him.
“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” became one of Aerosmith’s biggest hits, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and staying there for four consecutive weeks. It also landed the top spot on several charts around the world, including Norway, Ireland, and Australia.
15. “I’ll Be There For You” By Bon Jovi
Released in 1989 as the third single from Bon Jovi’s album New Jersey, we have next the power ballad “I’ll Be There for You.” Written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora, it became one of their most popular and enduring hits.
The song features a slow, dramatic tempo at the start before Bon Jovi’s emotive vocals, backed by a powerful guitar riff, enter and take it into a soaring chorus.
Lyrically, the song expresses the idea of being there for someone through thick and thin and offering support and comfort in difficult times. Its emotional resonance and memorable melody made it one of the best rock ballads.
“I’ll Be There For You” was a massive commercial success, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and becoming a top-ten hit in several other countries. Because of the song’s success, it became a staple of Bon Jovi’s live performances and a beloved classic rock song for generations of fans.
16. “How To Save A Life” By The Fray
A pop-rock ballad, “How to Save a Life,” is a powerful and emotionally charged song by The Fray. It was released in 2006 as the lead single from their debut album of the same name and quickly became a massive hit, continuing to be one of the band’s most popular songs to this day.
The song’s lyrics speak of a person’s struggle to help a friend who is going through a difficult time, offering advice and support in an attempt to save their life. The powerful chorus is particularly moving, with lead singer Isaac Slade’s soulful vocals wondering what was the turning point at which he lost a friend.
“How to Save a Life” was nominated for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal at the 2007 Grammys. In pop culture, it has been featured in many TV series, including Grey’s Anatomy and Scrubs.
17. “How Deep Is Your Love” By The Bee Gees
The falsetto harmonies of the Bee Gees is well known among fans, and their pop-rock ballad “How Deep Is Your Love” it provides a dreamy quality to the romantic lyrics.
The lyrics express a deep connection between two people and the willingness to explore and understand the extent of their love. The song’s chorus asks the question, “How deep is your love?” and emphasizes the importance of knowing and feeling the strength of the relationship.
Released in 1977, it quickly became a worldwide hit, topping charts in many countries and earning the group a Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.
18. “How You Remind Me” By Nickelback
Released in 2001 as part of the album Silver Side Up, “How You Remind Me” is a hit song by the Canadian rock band Nickelback. The song features a catchy guitar riff and lead singer Chad Kroeger’s distinctive gravelly vocals.
The lyrics of “How You Remind Me” reflects on a failed relationship and the painful memories that still linger. Its chorus, “This is how you remind me of what I really am,” speaks to the regret and self-doubt that can come with the end of a relationship.
The song’s catchy melody, memorable lyrics, and powerful guitar riffs helped propel it to the top of the charts in the US, UK, Ireland, Denmark, and Austria. It also earned a nomination for Grammy Record of the Year.
19. “With Arms Wide Open” By Creed
Post-grunge band Creed released “With Arms Wide Open” in 2000 as part of their second studio album, Human Clay. The song features amazing vocals from lead singer Scott Stapp and a memorable melody.
The lyrics speak of the joy and wonder of becoming a parent as the narrator sings of his hopes and dreams for his unborn child. The emotional resonance is heightened by knowing that Stapp wrote this song after finding out that he would soon become a father for the first time.
The song was an instant hit and earned Creed a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song. With its heartfelt message and powerful delivery, “With Arms Wide Open” remains a beloved rock ballad and a testament to the enduring power of love and family.
20. “It Must Have Been Love” By Roxette
Written by Per Gessle, the power ballad “It Must Have Been Love” was performed by Roxette. Originally released in 1987 as a Christmas song, it gained greater fame and popularity in 1990 after it was re-recorded for the soundtrack of the romantic comedy film Pretty Woman.
The pop-rock ballad expresses the sadness and longing of someone who has lost a great love and the struggle to move on from the pain of the past. The verses describe the memories and moments that the narrator shared with their former lover and the emptiness that they feel now that it’s all over.
“It Must Have Been Love” became a massive commercial success, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and becoming one of the most iconic songs of the 1990s.
21. “Blaze Of Glory” By Jon Bon Jovi
Though he often plays with his eponymous band, Jon Bon Jovi debuted as a solo artist with the power ballad “Blaze of Glory” in 1990. The song was written and recorded for the soundtrack to the film Young Guns II.
The lyrics of the song describe the life of a cowboy, and with the chorus repeating the phrase “I’m going down in a blaze of glory,” it suggests that the cowboy is aware of the risks of his life and is determined to live it fully and without regret.
“Blaze of Glory” became a major hit for Bon Jovi, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It also earned Favorite Pop/Rock Song at the American Music Awards and Best Original Song at the Golden Globe Awards.
22. “All For Love” By Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, & Sting
Next up, we have yet another rock ballad created for the soundtrack of a film. “All for Love” was used in The Three Musketeers and features the vocals of rock idols Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, and Sting.
The song starts with an intro to the piano followed by the guitar, and then the drums and bass come in, setting the mood. The lyrics describe how the singers would do anything for the person they love, and it emphasizes that love is worth risking everything for.
“All for Love” went on to become a massive success, topping the charts in several countries, including the US, Europe, Canada, and Australia. It received critical acclaim and was even nominated for a Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals Grammy.
23. “Kiss From A Rose” By Seal
British singer-songwriter Seal wrote “Kiss from a Rose” and released it in his eponymous second studio album in 1994. That year, it was featured in the film The Neverending Story II and, the year after that, in Batman Forever, helping to push the love song to the top of charts in the US as well as Australia.
The song describes the singer’s fascination with a woman’s beauty and his desire to be close to her. The title of the song is a metaphor for the transformative and healing power of love.
The chorus emphasizes the idea that love can make everything else fade away and that the singer’s love for the woman is so powerful it feels like a “kiss from a rose on the grey.”
The success of “Kiss from a Rose” can be attributed to Seal’s powerful vocals, the memorable chorus, and the poetic and enigmatic lyrics. It won several awards, including three Grammy Awards for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year.
24. “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” By Green Day
Loneliness is a common theme in ballads, and “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams” by Green Day is one of them. The second single from their album American Idiot, was released in 2004.
The song features a melancholic melody and introspective lyrics that deal with themes of loneliness, isolation, and the search for identity.
The title refers to a street where people who have lost their way in life gather, as illustrated in the song’s music video, which depicts the band’s lead singer, Billie Joe Armstrong, walking alone down a deserted city street.
“Boulevard of Broken Dreams” became one of Green Day’s biggest hits, reaching the top of various music charts worldwide and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also won both the MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year and the Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
25. “Last Kiss” By Pearl Jam
“Last Kiss” was originally recorded by Wayne Cochran in 1961. In 1998, Pearl Jam recorded a cover of the song, which became a massive hit and introduced the song to a new generation of fans. Their version of the song follows the same storyline as the original but adds a modern rock twist.
It tells the tragic story of a car accident that takes the life of the narrator’s girlfriend after a romantic evening together. He tries desperately to save her, but she eventually dies in his arms.
The song expresses the singer’s feelings of grief, loss, and heartbreak and his longing to see his girlfriend again in the afterlife. The raw, emotional vocals of lead singer Eddie Vedder make the tragedy of the story all the more palpable.
“Last Kiss” reached the top of the charts in several countries, including Australia and Iceland. It also peaked at #2 on Billboard‘s Hot 100 chart.
26. “Drive” By The Cars
The American rock band Cars released their fifth studio album, Heartbeat City, in 1984. It contains one of their greatest rock ballads, “Drive,” which features a simple but memorable melody, lush synths, and a melancholic vocal performance by singer/bassist Benjamin Orr.
The lyrics suggest that the song is about a person who is trying to save a failing relationship. The lines “Who’s gonna come around when you break?” (and other similar verses) imply that the narrator is concerned about his friend and is worried about what will happen to them if they are no longer together.
“Drive” was a massive commercial success for the Cars, reaching #3 on Billboard Hot 100 and #4 on the UK Singles Chart. It remains one of the band’s most enduring and beloved songs.
27. “Here Without You” By 3 Doors Down
Released in 2003, “Here Without You” is a heartfelt rock ballad by the American band 3 Doors Down and written by their lead singer Brad Arnold. It was a single from their album Away from the Sun.
The song deals with the pain and loneliness of being separated from a loved one, with Arnold’s vocals conveying a sense of longing. Despite the distance and time apart, he is still dreaming of her all the time.
“Here Without You” became one of 3 Doors Down’s most popular songs, reaching #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #1 on the Adult Top 40—a strong testament to the power of simple, heartfelt songwriting.
28. “Runaway Train” By Soul Asylum
There’s nothing more poignant and raw than Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train.” Released in 1993 in their album Grave Dancers Union, the song features a haunting melody and a powerful vocal performance by lead singer Dave Pirner.
The lyrics of the song express a sense of desperation and a desire to escape, with lines such as “I’m walking in the shadow of the valley of death” and “Can you help me remember how to smile?”
It deals with feelings of hopelessness and despair as well. Pirner has stated in interviews that the song was inspired by his experiences with depression and feelings of being lost or disconnected.
“Runaway Train” quickly became a massive hit, peaking at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and earned Soul Asylum a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song.
Summing Up Our List Of Great Rock Ballads
Rock ballads have been an essential part of the music landscape for decades. They have provided us with memorable melodies, powerful lyrics, and emotional performances that have resonated with fans around the world.
From the soulful ballads of the ’60s and ’70s to the epic power ballads of the ’80s and ’90s and beyond, these best rock ballads of all time offer a diverse range of styles and emotions that have stood the test of time.