#45. Power Ballads

There’s something about the 1980s: John Hughes movies were a bridge back to the 1950s; Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics were saving the NBA; Michael Jackson decided his ebony skin needed an ivory overhaul; bands like Journey, Toto, Bon Jovi, etc., were producing songs and power ballads that have as much power now as they did when thousands crammed arenas to hear them perform live; in essence, whiteness still sold.

People reveled in it.

This is one of the primary reasons contemporary Black rap and R&B artists “sample” songs from this time period in the hopes of creating an iTunes sensation, because the music from this era resonates with people in a way the Black Eyed Peas original songs could only wish to achieve.

Perhaps the ultimate expression of this concept is the Power Ballad, that one love song every band tried to perfect to include in an 80s film and gain immortality through some awkward teenager guy always remembering it fondly as the song they finally got to the second base while listening to.

White Snake, Journey, Poison, Cheap Trick, Foreigner, Jefferson Starship, REO Speedwagon, Boston; all bands that can actually perform live and sound just as good as they do on the radio, CD, or via iPods, all bands that produced Power Ballads that still have an emotional pull modern “artists” could only wish to replicate.

Go to any bar where modern white people – fresh out of college to those still clinging desperately to their fraternity and sorority days and refusing to grow up – congregate and the pulsating noise of rap will make conversation virtually impossible. But if, by chance, a modern-day “juke box”machine is available that streams music then you have the opportunity to resurrect lost Power Ballads that instantly invigorate any evening out on the town.

Confusing people who never knew songs like Alphaville’s Forever Young existed prior to Jay-Z’s need of something familiar to have an instant ‘hit’ is a hilarious game that illustrates the Power Ballads appeal.

Black people have never been able to understand the mysticism of the Power Ballad, the concepts that go into producing such songs as Boston’s Amanda; Jefferson Starship’s Sara; The Scorpions Europe’s Carrie; Toto’s Rosanna; and Steve Perry’s Oh Sherrie are foreign to Black people. Alien.

Just like Nicholas Sparks novels and films, white girls instinctual love these songs knowing that it represents something fundamental. Years will pass from hearing one of these songs, but the feelings present when they first heard them will come pouring back in an emotional dam-bursting and remind them of dreams they once had.

Sentimentality is a distinctly white trait, and though Black people can Act White by trying to enjoy a Power Ballad, it’s difficult to find a Black person who can empathize with the emotions that can be drudged up from the hearing of a song 10 or 20 years from when those memories were first created.

The Power Ballad is a uniquely white [and primarily American] phenomenon, a manifestation of hope, love, desire and longing that symbolizes one of the last unifying cultural traits left for white people. Regardless of the geographic location, Power Ballads are still played across America and speak to an epoch that contemporary music seeks to dull, de-legitimize and label as square.

Funny: many of the most popular rap and R&B songs require heavily sampling from this time period in hopes of attracting an audience.

Stuff Black People Don’t Like includes Power Ballads, one of the most powerful instruments for keeping Black people from a bar, club, restaurant or place of business.

Power Ballads have the capacity to take white people back to earlier moments in their life that bring a strange mixture of joy and sorrow, loss and happiness. Memories from simpler times when the jitters before a first date could be fixed by listening to the comforting words and music from a Power Ballad that foreshadowed the hope of potentially rounding the bases later in the evening and starting something special with that girl who would ultimately break your heart.

Simultaneously the Power Ballad captures all the emotions that make life worth living and fighting for; you’re not supposed to live in the past, but you’re not supposed to forget it either.



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