558. ‘The Power of Love’, by Jennifer Rush

Gather round people, and listen. Listen, for this is how you do a power ballad…

The Power of Love, by Jennifer Rush (her 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 6th October – 10th November 1985

Start off slow. That would be the key to effective power balladry. Make the listener wait. ‘The Power of Love’ does exactly that. The first verse is just voice, and some shimmering synths which hint at the drama to come. The whispers in the morning, Of lovers sleeping tight… You can almost feel the curtains fluttering in the morning breeze, two lithe bodies immodestly covered by delicate muslin sheets…

Sorry, got a little carried away there. But this is pretty steamy stuff, to be fair. I hold on to your body, And feel each move you make… You wait for the song to explode, for the climax, so to speak. But it takes two verses and a chorus – two full minutes – for this song to move from plain old ballad, to a power ballad with a capital ‘P’.

It’s the drums. Oh baby, those enormous eighties drums. Doosh…! Doosh…! I first noticed them on Jim Diamond’s ‘I Should Have Known Better’, but those drums sound positively flimsy compared to these beasts. It’s Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound with shoulder pads, jacked up on cocaine. They make a truly ridiculous line – Cause I’m your lady, And you are my man… – work through their sheer beefiness.

After that moment , this becomes weapons-grade power balladry. The best line, the one that’s made for belting out in the shower, or at a drunken hen night, is We’re hea-ding for something… I’d say that this is the first modern power ballad #1. I’ve been watching their progress through the past couple of decades: Nilsson’s ‘Without You’, Streisand’s ‘Woman in Love’, Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’… all of them ballads, all of them powerful. ‘The Power of Love’, though, sets the template from now on.

Having said that, and having grown up in the 1990s, more used to the in your face, ten octaves in one line Queens of Power Balladry: Whitney, Mariah, and Celine (who famously covered ‘The Power of Love’, and took it to #1 in the States), Jennifer Rush sounds like she’s holding back a bit here. She’s not, though. Here voice is wonderful, and she invests what is a trite song with real emotion. The problem is that the Big Three have now ruined power ballads for everybody else with their belting and their melisma-ing.

I think I know why I enjoy this much more than 1985’s other fist-clenching classic ‘I Want to Know What Love Is’: because it’s sung by a woman. Songs like this somehow sound less ridiculous, or at least more enjoyably ridiculous, when a woman sings them. Imagine Michael Bolton singing this song, for example, and shudder… And it seems that the public agreed, in 1985 at least. ‘The Power of Love’ became the first ever million-selling single released by a female artist, and the ninth best-selling single of the decade.

Jennifer Rush isn’t quite a one-hit wonder, but this is far and away her biggest hit. It’s huge sales were partly helped by the fact its climb up the charts was as slow-burning as its intro. It took (I believe) a record fifteen weeks to make #1… Rush seems to be semi-retired these days, and has only released one album this century. Still, when you’ve put your name to the ultimate power ballad, you can afford to take a little time off…

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14 thoughts on “558. ‘The Power of Love’, by Jennifer Rush

  1. It is a beautiful song. I only learned of Jennifer’s original version, recently. My first intro was Celine. Celine over-does everything. The chest thumping thing was ridiculous.

    Jennifer’s voice is just as powerful as all the other melisma mavens. All that yodeling just annoys the crap out of me. The only “yodeler” that pulls it off with style was Dolores O’Riordan.

    I can only take Whitney in small amounts. I can’t stand Mariah. And, the only song Celine put out, that I liked, was her first US hit, before she learned to speak English…Where Does My Heart Beat Now.

    • I can enjoy a chest thumping power ballad if I’m in the mood. OTT can be fun sometimes. But yeah, there’s very little real emotion left in their songs. I prefer Whitney and Mariah doing pop, though. Celine I tend to avoid because THAT song (you know, the Titanic one) has turned me off her forever….

  2. In the US, “The Power of Love” is one of those weird cases where it kept bouncing around the charts with each version that came out with the Jennifer Rush version peaking at #57 while Air Supply released a version shortly after that peaked at #68 which included a parentheses in the title to avoid confusion with the more popular Huey Lewis “Power of Love.” Laura Branigan releases a version in 1987 that peaks at #26 before we get the #1 hit version from Celine Dion. When talking about Dion’s version, Tom Breihan made a point of how the trajectory of “The Power of Love” makes a lot of sense with Rush’s background in opera and the song’s initial success in Europe since the song was written by German songwriters who weren’t native English speakers so it translated well to non-English speaking countries and to Celine Dion who came from speaking and singing in French all her life before becoming an English language singing star.

    • Yeah, add the Frankie Goes to Hollywood song from the year before, and there were several ‘Power of Love’s bouncing around at that time.

      The English as a second language aspect explains the ‘I’m your lady and you are my man’ line… Incredibly clunky and yet it still somehow works!

      • There is almost like a ABBA and Max Martin like Swedish songwriting precision in that the lyrics work not because it makes grammatical sense but because it just sounds good together

  3. This is how you do female power ballad. Build. Emote. Climax. Soon as the inferior warblers get hold of a classic they kill it stone dead. Mariah on without you. Celine on this. Whitney on i will always. Showing off how big your cock is, sorry i meant RANGE is, is no substitute for learning how to use it to maximum effect. I would say mself that the original power ballad girlie was dusty or cilla though. Dusty is the supreme example of someone able to inject appropriate emotion and make every song her own. She analysed every song and worked out how to interpret it note by note. Cilla was a belter-outer but again she knew when to be restrained and work the emotion. It took whitney 13 years to learn how to sing instead of show off. Celine never stopped sounding like cabaret chanteuse but had some highlights. Mariah can do it when someone reigns her in a bit Dream Lover and Fantasy spring to mind.

    • Yes, good shout for Dusty and Cilla. Not sure why I never ranked them as ‘power’ ballads before. Which would mean that ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ was the first power-ballad #1…? Or do we go back to Shirley Bassey earlier in the decade?

      I actually just wrote my post on Whitney’s first #1, and she’s pretty restrained on that one. I think I mentioned it in another reply, but I do prefer Mariah when she’s doing pop, rather than belting a ballad out. ‘Fantasy’ is probably her most fun tune, or maybe ‘Heartbreaker’.

      • Well shirley could belt them out thats for sure but i tend to think of her more in the showtune tradition. Whitneys debut was beautifully restrained and her best record by far until the late 90s 😊

  4. Agree, this was one of the first power ballads and easily one of the best. I have a soft spot for Robin Beck’s ‘The First Time’ and Maria McKee’s ‘Show me Heaven’ as well, but I could do without most of the Whitney, Mariah and Celine output. Whitney did give us a couple of decent dance-pop hit, but I’ll pass on the others. But Jennifer was a trailblazer and she got it just right on this one.

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