The Ballad of the Wet Ballad

Dream on, baby, that new swimming pool can be filled with tears

I finally found the love of a lifetime/A love to last my whole life through/I finally found the love of a lifetime/Forever in my heart/I finally found the love of a lifetime

-from "Love of a Lifetime" by Firehouse

Firehouse is another band that enlarged its audience by balladeering. Taking the expansion theory one step further, soft-rock radio was given a choice between the electric or acoustic version of "Love of a Lifetime." After playing the latter to death, an afternoon DJ on WHYI-FM oozed, "What a bee-yoo-tiful song. But you know, I've heard that Firehouse is actually a rock band! Can you believe that?" Not hardly! And I bet some of the 1.3 million people who bought the album didn't know either.

The ballad also works wonders for those careers that just can't seem to get off the ground. Lita Ford enjoyed a bright (albeit brief) moment of success on a duet with Ozzy Osbourne called "If I Close My Eyes Forever." And really, who gave a shit about the Scorpions until they squeezed out "Wind of Change"? Not only was it a guaranteed arm-waver, but it was practically the theme song for the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The grizzled German rockers actually got to meet face-to-face with Mikhail Gorbachev, who commanded the Scorps' presence in the waning days of the empire because he was such a fan of the tune. Now that's what I call marketing.

But the award for Band Saved By A Ballad this week goes to Mr. Big. Composed of highly proficient musicians who won't be mistaken for male models any time soon, Mr. Big put out an album, Lean Into It, nine months ago. It produced a market line so flat even Gage and DeSoto couldn't defibrillate it back to life. But Mr. Big's record company recently released an innocent acoustic love ditty called "To Be with You," and suddenly, we've got a pulse! Though Atlantic refused to give out any pre-single sales figures, the label did say the album was re-entering the charts at number 56 with a bullet at press time, and "To Be with You" was headed for the top ten. I rest my case.

Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place where as a child I'd hide/And pray for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me by

-from "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses

Hey, I've got nothing against anyone making a buck. Free enterprise is a beautiful thing, but I get a little tetchy if it's deliberately playing on my emotions. If I'm going to wallow in a large puddle of sorrow, I don't want some reject from the Hallmark poetry department. I want something truly weepworthy.

Just how do you separate a good, honest ballad from a substitute for ipecac? It's all a matter of taste. One girl's enchilada is another girl's cat burrito. However, some of the qualities I've found in real, touching ballads are a melody that takes at least a few listens before you can sing along with it; non-insulting lyrics (a house doesn't have to fall on most people for them to figure out you're talking 'bout the L word); and basically, if you find yourself getting moist in the optic region on the first listen, it's a keeper. Some examples that'll be in my Walkman if I ever leap off a building are the aforementioned "Sweet Child," "More Than Words," and "Sarah I'm Alone" by area heroes Forget the Name, from their Subtleties of Anger cassette. These songs sound like the musical equivalent of reverence and anguish.

If, however, you hear a ballad that you feel you could have written easily (or better), harbor pangs of guilt when you sing along, or know that it will one day end up on a K-Tel compilation, chances are it's a wet one. Save your tears for the real thing, or if you want a really good cry, go hit yourself in the head with a brick.

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