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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Zen of the Monster Ballad

A large part and parcel of eighties heavy metal was rested on the shoulders of the later-dubbed "Monster Ballad." It got to the point in the decade where every metal band that wanted to not only score but keep themselves on a record label deal had to tap into their Romeo's soul (or pretend it existed) and find a way to charm the ears of the ladies, because after all, women had just as much buying power--if not more--than men.

The Scorpions proved you could write a titanic love song, one that was seductive, romantic, hot and loud in the same breath. Of course I'm talking about 1984's "Still Loving You," to this day the measure to match if you're constructing a heavy metal love ode. Very few, if any ballads that followed "Still Loving You" could match its anticipatory nature and its stringalong foreplay with each verse that pays off with a literal climax as Klaus Meine hits a captivating alto that personifies release and orgasm as he wails the song title in the chorus.

I've mentioned before that when I interviewed Scorpions guitarist Mathias Jabs, the spoke of a time when the band met a family of fans from France who had named their son "Sly" after "Still Loving You." In joking that the Scorpions had their hand in a mid-eighties baby boom, there is a slight truth to the matter in the fact that "Still Loving You" is the ultimate makeout rock song, and its sheer jeans-popping power instigated--for better or worse depending on your point-of-view--a five-to-six year strain of amped up love rock that unfortunately had its role in killing off the first metal scene.

When you stop and recall monster ballads such as Kix's "Don't Close Your Eyes," White Lion's "Wait," Winger's "Headed For a Heartbreak" or Warrant's "Heaven," for the majority of the headbanging devout, this was all way too much to digest. When Def Leppard turned from the gut-wrenching and mostly sincere "Bringin' On the Heartbreak" to the softsoaped "Love Bites" and when Whitesnake drifted a tad bit from the sleazy "Slow 'n Easy" to the love-starved "Is This Love," it was a bit of a shakeup in the metal kingdom and it announced that a bona fide recipe for staying power in a money-driven rock game was in effect.

Nostalgic songs like Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home" and Dokken's "In My Dreams" are tunes that get pulled off because they were effective in communicating to both guys and gals in the eighties. Every guy wanted to be the weary road dog on the Crue's tour bus aching and pining for his true love (though probably dipping his wick a few times along the way to ease the pain), while the ladies considered it the penutlimate declaration of devotion. To send her man out on the road on tour is akin to the coastal wives waiting for their fishermen to drift back from sea.

So where is the fine line, or the zen if you will, of a good monster ballad when the majority of it can be dismissed as fluff?

Largely the answer lies in the ear of the beholder, and whether or not it's constituted as good taste is perhaps a mitigating factor, yet there's no denying that a billion girls fell hook, line and sinker for Firehouse's "Love of a Lifetime" while most dudes wretched in response. On the other hand, take a respectable band like Tesla. Because of their integrity and subscription to solid and well-written rock tunes, when they hit you with "Love Song," it comes off as harmonious and memorable and there's plenty of people who can attest to simply snuggling up and letting the airs of romance hit them in this song's presence. In other words, Tesla is a working class bunch of average Joes who once hit it big in the mainstream, but in general they speak volumes through simplicity. It's a bit easier to fall into the swoon schism as a result. Not so easy when a falsetto-driven panty hunter is obviously appealing to one sex over the other.

As life goes on and I meet new people and find out what makes them tick, sure, it's sometimes hard to accept they would rather choose Slaughter's "Up All Night," "Fly to the Angels" and "Spend My Life" over Dokken's bricks-heavy and far superior "Without You." Still, what clicks with some people isn't always the jive for others. I've had to reconcile the fact that a large part of the populace want the basics, something identifiable if not singable. If anything, the monster ballad does provide that. You can scour the memory banks and instantly sing the majority of those tunes in your head because they're tailored that way; at one time they were the formula for success in heavy metal.

Me, I'd rather daydream while listening to Doro Pesch croon sweetly to "Let Love Rain On Me" or "Fur Immer" and I would prefer to wax over Cinderella's surprising philosophical dabbling with "Don't Know What You've Got 'Til It's Gone," and I most certainly would rather cuddle up and maybe play a little grabass to the Scorpions because to my ears, no one ever will get within striking distance of Klaus Meine's bait and trap vocals as well as Rudy Schenker and Mathias Jabs' troubadour solos amidst the raw boom of what I'd consider the true zen of the monster ballad...force and might assisting the almost desperate outcry of affection. How can you beat that?


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Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

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