This is the 16th post in a biweekly series. Read about the series — and just what we mean by “freestyle music” — here. Freestyle Fridays post on the first and third Fridays of each month.
For the first Freestyle Friday post of 2017, I thought we could take a rambling look at one of my least favorite freestyle subjects: the ballad.
I’ve mentioned more than once that the debut albums of more savvy freestyle pop artists tend to follow a predictable pattern when it comes to releasing singles. The first song released will be a kicky freestyle pop song, all fun and bubblegum. After the debut single, there might be one more upbeat pop single released— but the second or third single from a new freestyle artist is almost always the dreaded love song/ballad. The first upbeat pop song release puts the artist on the map, but the ballad goes on to dominate the charts and get played at every junior high school dance in the country.
I say “dreaded” ballad because I mostly have no love for them. These songs tended to be massive hits, so the artists and their handlers clearly knew what they were doing. My problem with these ballads is, as ever, that they tended to be played to death. Back when flipping from radio station to radio station was the easiest way to hear music— and you couldn’t just skip to the next song— these interminable ballads brought on a malaise of despair, boredom, and impatience that only a hormonal teen can understand.
On the radio, these big hit songs were played at least once per hour. If you were lucky enough to have several pop stations available to you, this meant that you might stumble upon a particular hated song four or more times in an hour. The worst of these ballads were slow, uninteresting, unrelatable, and generic. Worst of all, they were often earworms, so you carried these dreadful unimaginative tunes and lyrics with you for days.
These ballads are not all bad. I rather like this Lisa Lisa jam, especially given that Lisa Lisa and the male singer (is he Paul Anthony or Bow Legged Lou?) seem to be all cried out over the same long-haired male model. (Skip to the 2:00 to see what I mean.)
I also kinda love anything Taylor Dayne does.
But the biggest offense, as far as this blog series is concerned, is that the ballads by freestyle artists were, often, not freestyle at all. Instead, they simply relied on the pop conventions of their time, like…
Heavy guitar and bass solos:
Or saxophone – so much saxophone:
Or even more guitars and bass solos:
One last notable feature of ballads by freestyle artists: lots of them are cover songs. I wrote recently about Will to Power’s awesome medley of two 70s ballads, Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Freebird.” And the Cover Girls did a pretty faithful cover of Rose Royce’s “Wishing on a Star,” which I can’t complain about too much.
Side note: Boston’s KISS 108 has a tradition of playing the Rose Royce version every Saturday at noon. The tradition was started in about 1980 by legendary KISS 108 DJ Sunny Joe White, and was kept up by DJs Vinnie Peruzzi, JJ Wright, Dale Dorman, and others. This doesn’t have much to do with anything, but I love the idea of this decades-long tradition involving a disco song being passed down from DJ to DJ.
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