I'm not only older than critic Suzan Colon, I'm bigger, and besides, I'm prepared to deal with any allegations of smarminess when I say that ballads rule. Sure, many are wet - sappy sales ploys filled with all the wit and imagination of a Coors can. Many are cloying junk food for the ears. But others, well, they bring a tear to my jaded eye. Here's ten all-time faves:
10. "Snowblind Friend" by Steppenwolf
The first and only great anti-drug-abuse song was delivered as a fragile tear-jerker by the band that coined the descriptive "heavy metal" (in their anthemic "Born to Be Wild"). I miss the Sixties.
9. "Princess of Little Italy" by Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul
Way back in the Eighties, Bruce's former guitarist/sidekick/co-producer released three of the most potent, rockin' albums to never sell more than ten copies. All three - Men Without Women, Voice of America, and Freedom - No Compromise - are absolute masterpieces, among the best rock albums ever made. Buried in these beds of fire are some poignant moments, such as this third-person sonic novella about beauty caged.
8. "Only Women Bleed" by Alice Cooper
"The Ballad of Dwight Frye" might have been a more obvious choice, but this is the softy that showed the world there was more Mr. Nice Guy. I guess you should expect sensitivity from a man named Alice.
7. "As Tears Go By" by the Rolling Stones
Seminal fluid. Back when rock-band stereotypes were first being formed in the collective perception, ballads proved something, although it's hard to say what exactly. Maybe it was a simple matter of: Look, Mom and Dad, these nasty, noisy, long-haired freaks can play a song even you might like. Whatever, as acoustic tales go, this remains a touching piece of mushy metaphor. And it planted a seed in rock that has blossomed and flourished.
6. "Irene Wilde" by Ian Hunter
Or "I Wish I Was Your Mother." Ever heard him do this stuff live with Mick Ronson? Maybe you're not old enough. And the current generation rejected his comeback, which says something for being old. These two songs, plus "Ships," and a few others, balanced Hunter's reeling rockers and gave him a chance to show off on piano. They also showed him to be a mighty awesome songwriter. The only problem with "Irene Wilde," in fact, is that he was never able to sing it live without being interrupted by orgasmic screams from audience members.
5. "City Kids" by Garland Jeffreys
From the transcendant album American Boy & Girl, this is a visit to hard-core street, where the denizens will jack you for a dime, cut you up for fun, spill your guts to have something to look at. It's an easy topic to ruin with maudlin outsider-looking-in pontification, it's a difficult subject to make real. With a spoken intro and smooth slides from first-to third-person p.o.v., this is the ultimate punk-on-the-pavement drama. By the way, the long-lost Jeffreys is back with a brand-new LP, Don't Call Me Buckwheat, on RCA.
4. "Alison" by Elvis Costello
In 1977 I was impressed. Hearing it after so long girl, I still am. Besides, Elvis makes any list I compile.
3. "Here Comes a Regular" by the Replacements
Back then, in Tim time, the boys from Minneapolis really rocked. Now they're gone, or might as well be, but their recorded ballads ring as jittery-but-
filling now as then. Pass me a beer and a handkerchief, please.
2. "Rock and Roll Suicide" by David Bowie
"Time takes a cigarette/Puts it in your mouth/You pull on your finger/Then another finger/Then your cigarette." Bowie sings this intro so convincingly and melodramatically that I've never been able to get through the song without lighting up. Slow suicide, I suppose, but the split-Brit makes it sound so romantic, almost heroic, that burning out and going down in flames seem like the same thing.
1. "Heaven" by Talking Heads
All the bands here play my favorite songs. I've probably heard this strange trip tune a million times. I could hear it another million, especially if it meant that I wouldn't ever again have to listen to Poison's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn.
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