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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542. ‘The Power of Love’, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood

Frankie Goes to Hollywood complete their hattrick of number ones, with a ballad out just in time for Christmas.

The Power of Love, by Frankie Goes to Hollywood (their 3rd and final #1)

1 week, from 2nd – 9th December 1984

This one starts off very slow, very stately – gentle guitars and sparse piano – and completely out of sync with what’s gone before this year. ‘More is More’ has been the motto of 1984, with even the ballads being that little bit extra. This being Frankie though, there’s still a bit of weirdness amongst the calm… I’ll protect you from the Hooded Claw, Keep the vampires from your door… whispers Holly Johnson over the intro.

It slowly builds, though, into a more dramatic, orchestral beast. Soaring strings come in after the first chorus, in which we are told to make love your goal… There are ominous synths, and even a jazz bar piano at one point. It grows into its OTT-ness, and ends up quite camp. Under it all, it’s a simple enough love song. Yes, there’s a lot of biblical imagery – tongues of fire and souls being purged – but the key line might just be the heartfelt I’m so in love with you… I’ve no idea who it’s about, but I believe he means it.

Was this Frankie Goes to Hollywood making a bid for granny-loving respectability, after the huge controversy around ‘Relax’ and, to a lesser extent, ‘Two Tribes’? (I’m not the first person to point out that they went from sex, to war, to religion.) Well, the difference between this and their debut hit is remarkable. The video for ‘The Power of Love’ (directed by Godley & Creme of 10cc) is a straightforward re-telling of the Nativity, with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and the wise men, making their way to the stable in Bethlehem. And no, the baby Jesus is not kitted out in bondage gear. But the sheer straight-facedness of it is actually what makes this record quirky enough for us not to shout ‘sell-out’.

At the same time, I can’t enjoy this as much as the band’s earlier, genuinely thrilling, chart-toppers. That’s to do with my personal tastes – ballads always have to try that little bit harder to crack my resistance – but also because this one goes on a bit, and has one chorus too many. It veers a little too close to self-indulgence.

But it made #1, and with it Frankie Goes to Hollywood became only the second act in chart history to have their first three releases reach the top. They did so twenty one years after another Liverpudlian act: Gerry & The Pacemakers. Their fourth single, ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’, would make #2, but when they came back with their second album in 1986 the magic seemed to have faded. It produced just one Top 10 hit, and the band split the following year.

They didn’t last long, but the hits live on. All their #1s have re-charted in the Top 20 at various points in the decades since. ‘The Power of Love’, in fact, has returned to the Top 10 twice, in 1993 and 2000, as well as a cover version #1 in 2012. And before we go, it’s worth noting that releasing songs called ‘The Power of Love’ was something of a trend in the mid-eighties. This one, Huey Lewis’s, and another, mega-ballad that we’ll be featuring on this countdown soon enough…

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