“It’s a ballad!”
“Oh, that’s helpful.”
There’s been some recent discussion around the southern gospel blogosphere over the vagueness of the generic term “ballad” by itself. I personally believe David Bruce Murray nailed it with his categorizations, even though they were tongue-in-cheek. There’s nothing wrong with the term, but without appropriate descriptive adjectives, it really doesn’t tell the reader much. But if you couple it with its proper modifier(s), you’re on your way.
So instead of describing the different categories of ballad in depth, I’m going to share some of my favorite ballads from all genres, just for fun and just to show how much variety they can have. And just to make it a little more fun, I won’t say what songs I pick, to try to tantalize my readers into clicking on them out of curiosity. (Though I will give you a hint that the artists range from Josh Ritter to Celine Dion to Journey to Sandi Patti.)
The Classic Ballad
Okay, so “classic” may be a kind of generic term in itself, but when I use it, I mean a long, lyrical piece of poetry that tells a story, in a folksy musical setting. The reason I call it “classic” is that it probably represents the earliest and purest manifestation of the term. Here is a perfect example of the classic ballad.
The Folk Ballad
A folk ballad can be the classic kind that tells a story, but it can also include political rants, musings on the meaning of life, or just about anything that occurs to a dude or dudette with a guitar. As DBM said, they tend to run long. Very long. Here is a classic example of such a ballad.
The Country Ballad
The country ballad typically tells a story as well, but it revolves around a limited set of themes. Familial or romantic love, heaven, and patriotism would probably claim the vast majority of country ballads. Here is a perfect example of a country ballad.
The Piano Pop Ballad
I sort of made up this category. It’s a pop song that begins with the focus squarely on the piano and then stays there instead of drowning it out in guitars and drums (see the power pop ballad). Here’s one of my favorite examples.
The Power Pop Ballad
Otherwise known as inspirational or torch songs, these are generally sung by female divas, with an adoring crowd of fans waving lighters in the audience. One or more ear-piercing high notes are regularly involved. Here is a perfect example.
The Rock Ballad
A ballad that rocks. You don’t HAVE to have long hair, a dirty ‘stache/scruffy beard, or a sleeveless shirt to perform it… but it does help. Observe, a perfect example. There might be lighters involved here too, except they would be real cigarette lighters, not glowsticks, candles, or whatever the cute little girls are waving in the power pop ballad.
The Orchestrated Ballad
This is the category into which many southern gospel ballads fall. It starts quietly but dramatically and builds to a huge finish with all the instruments pulling out all the stops. It also covers inspirational anthems from the Steve Green/Sandi Patti era. Here is a classic example.
There might also be room, in between country and folk, for the Western ballad as its own category. Lyrically it tends to take a classic form, but instrumentation can be sparse, orchestral or anything in between. “I Hung My Head” is an example of a Western ballad that’s been interpreted both ways.
Discuss… Do you agree with my categories? Are there some categories I left out? What’s your favorite kind? (Oh, and it’s just possible that I put the wrong Youtube links in the wrong places, so if you were expecting Sandi Patti and got Journey instead… let me know and I’ll fix it. )