When power ballads die

I love setlist.fm. It’s a great way to find out when Rush last played its current commercial hit Fly By Night (that would be 1978, not counting two cover versions by Smashing Pumpkins in the early 90s).

And it’s a fun way to get a sense of what bands think of their old hits. Especially rock bands who went through a power ballad phase.

Let’s consider Heart from its big-hair, big-cleavage era. The Led Zeppelin-loving hard rock band rebranded itself in 1985 with a synth-heavy MTV-friendly sound and a whole lot of outside songwriters on its eponymous album. In 2012, two songs from that album (These Dreams, What About Love) have been concert staples. In 2011, Never made a few appearances. If Looks Could Kill and Nothin’ At All, the latter most famous for a borderline creepy video (hey, wait — is Ann prepping Nancy for a date with Ann’s ex … oh, who cares … it’s Nancy … sigh …), haven’t been in the setlist for quite a while.

The next album, 1987’s Bad Animals, is represented only by the Tom Kelly/Billy Steinberg tune Alone. Not Diane Warren’s Who Will You Run To, which has been out of the list since 1990.

That’s actually a bit more love for the big-hair era than Heart showed in 2004, when These Dreams and Alone were the only tunes from that era in rotation. They haven’t played the reprehensible All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You since 1995.

So if you see Heart today, expect a total of three songs from their synth/power ballad era. Then four or five from their current album (surprisingly, none from the two albums before that), a couple of Led Zeppelin covers and then the big guitar hits: Barracuda, Crazy On You, Magic Man, Even It Up, Straight On, etc.

How about a band that had a much shorter power ballad phase?

Let’s check out Cheap Trick. You can guess much of the setlist — I Want You to Want Me, Dream Police, Surrender and … really? They’re playing The Flame?! And they’re playing it more these days than they did in the 90s? That, I did not expect.

That ruins my entire thesis.

Let me check elsewhere …

Yes, Def Leppard is still playing Love Bites. …

Whoever’s touring under the name Whitesnake now is still playing Is This Love? Must be popular in Ukraine, where they played five dates in November 2011.

Foreigner? I Want to Know What Love Is? Yep.

Kiss? Still trotting out Beth on occasion.

Ozzy doesn’t do his Lita Ford duet Close My Eyes Forever, but yes, he does Mama, I’m Coming Home.

Van Halen, you’re my last hope. Surely with David Lee Roth back in the fold, you’re skipping the Van Hagar ballads, right? Yes!

But my thesis is still quite wrong. Only Heart and Van Halen are glossing over the glossiest parts of their careers. And in Van Halen’s case, that’s an oversight that has more to do with the fact that Roth can’t pull off the Hagar numbers.

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