Ballads are a style of song that tends to be poetic and moving. Many of the songs on this list of the best ballads use a narrative style to tell stories of love and loss.
From the classic slow piano ballad to uptempo rock music, these songs cover every emotion and every style. They all transport you into the story and will have you grabbing tissues or getting up to dance!
- Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
- Let It Be – The Beatles
- Black – Pearl Jam
- El Paso – Marty Robbins
- With or Without You – U2
- Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel
- Little Wing – Jimi Hendrix
- Purple Rain – Prince
- Winter – The Rolling Stones
- Into My Arms – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
- Something – The Beatles
- Just Like a Woman – Bob Dylan
- (Everything I Do) I Do It for You – Bryan Adams
- November Rain – Guns N’ Roses
- Total Eclipse of the Heart – Bonnie Tyler
- I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing – Aerosmith
- I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) – Meat Loaf
- Kiss from a Rose – Seal
- Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) – Phil Collins
- Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
- Wild Horses – The Rolling Stones
- Broken Wings – Mr. Mister
- I Want to Know What Love Is – Foreigner
- Alone – Heart
- Nothing Else Matters – Metallica
- Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye
- When Love & Hate Collide – Def Leppard
- Hey Jude – The Beatles
- It’s All Coming Back to Me Now – Celine Dion
- Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
- Imagine – John Lennon
- Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now – Starship
- Black Velvet – Alannah Myles
- Always – Bon Jovi
- I Have Nothing – Whitney Houston
- You’re the Voice – John Farnham
Stairway to Heaven – Led Zeppelin
Iconic is not a strong enough word to describe ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Probably the most famous classic rock song ever, this eight-minute track features incredible guitar riffs, driving drums, and of course, the untouchable vocals of lead singer Robert Plant. It’s not obvious what the song is about, as the lyrics twist and turn and offer countless meanings. Some lyrics allude to wealth and how that alone cannot get you into heaven.
Related: See more famous songs about heaven.
Let It Be – The Beatles
This comforting piano ballad reassures us that we don’t need to have an answer to every problem. Sometimes we can just ‘Let It Be’ and wait for the solution to arrive. The reference to “Mother Mary” may make this song a religious one for some people, but Mary was actually the name of Paul’s mother. This gives the song an even sweeter feeling, like a parent is giving you support.
Related: Here are the best C major songs.
Black – Pearl Jam
This song will resonate with you if you have loved and lost. The heavy electric guitar isn’t often used in emotional songs, but it really works in ‘Black.’ The track talks about a true love that just couldn’t last and the awful feeling of knowing the other person will eventually move on with someone else. The anger and despair show up in that gritty guitar and intense vocals.
Related: This song features on our tragedy songs playlist.
El Paso – Marty Robbins
‘El Paso’ tells the story of a man who falls in love at first sight with a girl named Feleena. The story’s setting is Old Western, so when Marty Robbins finds out Feleena has a boyfriend, he kills him. Robbins is then shocked by what he has done, fleeing for his life. Yet, his love for Feleena calls him back, and he meets a retributive death when he returns. At least Feleena can hold him as he dies. “Feleena has found me, kissing my cheek as she kneels by my side.”
Related: Mosey over to the best cowboy music.
With or Without You – U2
The oscillating bassline and ambient synth transport you into this song, and lead singer Bono’s vocals work to ignite emotion in you. He sings about a tumultuous relationship that he knows can’t end happily. He belts, “I can’t live with or without you,” and we see he’s conflicted about what happens next.
Related: Listen to these sweet songs for your boyfriend.
Bridge Over Troubled Water – Simon & Garfunkel
Sweet piano melodies and soft vocals create a feeling of comfort and peace in this song. The narrator speaks to a loved one going through a hard time, promising to always be there for them. He will be “like a bridge over troubled water,” offering protection from rough times. Hopefully, we all have someone like that in our lives and can be that person for others.
Related: Find this song on our list of songs about compassion.
Little Wing – Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix is considered an extremely influential electric guitar player, and his talent is clear in this song. ‘Little Wing’ is about an enigma of a woman, described as having a “circus mind” and “riding with the wind.” The song was actually inspired by the carefree and buzzing atmosphere of a music festival—the energy is so high you could just fly away.
Related: Drift over to our list of clouds songs.
Purple Rain – Prince
Written for the semi-autobiographical movie Purple Rain starring Prince, this swaying track is a quintessential Prince song. ‘Purple Rain’ seems to be about a relationship where Prince has hurt the other person. He regrets this, though, and says he only wants to see them happy. “I never meant to cause you any pain. I only wanted one time to see you laughing.”
Related: Check out these songs everyone knows.
Winter – The Rolling Stones
Winters can be challening; the diminished sunlight and cold weather easily bring out any sadness that the summer may have hidden. The Rolling Stones are singing about a particularly insufferable winter, saying, “my feet been draggin’ ‘cross the ground.” With some references to missing a woman, some of the sorrow is likely coming from loneliness.
Related: You’ll need a jacket for these songs about winter weather.
Into My Arms – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
Nick Cave is harboring a deep and pure love in ‘Into My Arms.’ He talks about how he isn’t very religious, but the grace of the person he loves sometimes makes him doubt that. He sings, “I don’t believe in the existence of angels, but looking at you, I wonder if that’s true.” It’s a beautiful line and sentiment that makes you think about how true love can be a religion all its own.
Related: You’ll love these songs with angels in them.
Something – The Beatles
‘Something’ starts out soothing and acoustic, growing into a string-filled, drum-driven tune that spotlights the confusing facets of love. The Beatles sing about a woman that has something special about her. Though the singer isn’t always able to commit to a relationship, he knows enough to say, “I don’t want to leave her now.”
Just Like a Woman – Bob Dylan
It sounds like Bob Dylan had recently gone through a breakup in ‘Just Like a Woman.’ Rather than singing about his own feelings, though, he talks about being able to see through the facade his ex puts up. She’s hurting and faking a strong front, but he knows the truth. Her strength takes a hit when she’s gone through something difficult—”she aches just like a woman, but she breaks just like a little girl.”
(Everything I Do) I Do It for You – Bryan Adams
This song was written for the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and it plays over the ending credits. Bryan Adams sings about unwavering devotion over gorgeous electric guitar and twinkling synth. He says he’d lie, fight, and even die for this person, singing, “everything I do, I do it for you.”
Related: Enjoy our playlist of sweet songs.
November Rain – Guns N’ Roses
This song is a beautiful one full of emotion. Gritty vocals, ambient strings and synth, striking drums, and of course, the guitar solos make the track a poignant listening experience. ‘November Rain’ talks about how the pain of past loves can damage your ability to love again. The person the narrator loves has been hurt badly, and he hopes this doesn’t make her hold back from him. He sings, “if you want to love me, then, darlin’, don’t refrain,” or else he’ll be abandoned in the November rain.
Related: Go back in time with these iconic 90s songs.
Total Eclipse of the Heart – Bonnie Tyler
‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ is intense and heartbreaking. Bonnie Tyler sings about feeling lonely and sad and how frustrating it is to feel lonely and sad all the time. She desperately needs someone, and her raspy vocals and emotional voice cracks show just how deep that desperation runs. The song builds and builds to match Tyler’s increasing anguish.
Related: Head over to our list of famous 80s songs.
I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing – Aerosmith
A huge hit for Aerosmith, ‘I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing’ was featured in the 1998 movie Armageddon (which starred lead singer Steven Tyler’s daughter, Liv Tyler). The song features a full orchestra and is about loving a person so much that you never want to be away from them. You don’t even want to go to sleep because just watching them breathe is an amazing feeling.
Related: This song appears on our list of love songs from the 90’s.
I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That) – Meat Loaf
This uptempo love song takes you on a ride—there are sections with rocking drums and others with a rejoicing choir. Meat Loaf sings about how he’d do almost anything for love—anything but let this woman go. Lorraine Crosby joins in at the end, asking Meat Loaf things like, “will you make it all a little less cold?” to which he readily agrees.
Related: Here are some more great songs about roses.
Kiss from a Rose – Seal
‘Kiss from a Rose’ is an interesting song because no one is one hundred percent sure what every lyric is. Seal refuses to clarify and hasn’t published the lyrics anywhere, wanting to leave each of us to interpret the song for ourselves. We can tell the song is about a confusing relationship, though, based on the line “the more I get of you, the stranger it feels.”
Related: Stop and smell—no, listen—to the best songs about making a mistake.
Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) – Phil Collins
Post-breakup, Phil Collins is feeling regretful. He wrote this song for the 1984 movie Against All Odds, but the song still seems deeply personal based on the emotion in the vocals. Collins sings, “take a look at me now, well, there’s just an empty space.” He knows it’s unlikely that this person will come back to him, but he begs them to consider filling that empty space beside him.
Related: Oops! You almost forgot the best songs about making a mistake!
Don’t Stop Believin’ – Journey
Journey’s most famous song, this track is a nostalgic one perfect for belting. The staccato piano line is instantly recognizable, and the song builds energy throughout, making you anticipate when they finally sing the title line. Vivid imagery like “a singer in a smoky room, the smell of wine and cheap perfume” fully immerses you in the song.
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Wild Horses – The Rolling Stones
This song is filled with yearning, and the pain in Mick Jagger’s voice is heartwrenching. The song is about a love that went wrong because of broken trust, yet pieces of love remain. The song is likely about Jagger’s relationship with Marianne Faithfull. The tagline “wild horses couldn’t drag me away” was originally a quote from Faithfull.
Related: Gallop over to the best songs about riding horses.
Broken Wings – Mr. Mister
Mr. Mister sings about a love that is struggling. Each has ghosts in their closets, but they want to overcome this to be together. The instrumentation builds anticipation over whether the pair will be successful. There’s also an idea that they might have to let each other go and hope to come back to each other when the timing is right, based on the line “take these broken wings, and learn to fly.” Fly away, and we’ll come back when we’re ready.
Related: Here is the Top Gun songs list.
I Want to Know What Love Is – Foreigner
If you’ve never experienced love or never had a healthy love, this song is a cathartic one to sing along to. You just want to know what love is! You want to feel this indescribable emotion that nearly every song tries to describe. Spiritual synth and the chorus’s choir make it seem like Foreigner is praying to have love in their lives finally.
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Alone – Heart
Having a crush brings up a lot of scary feelings, even more so when you think about admitting your feelings. ‘Alone’ is about the difficult situation of figuring out how to tell someone you like them. The line “how do I get you alone?” has a double meaning: the narrator’s trying to be alone with this person to confess her feelings, but she also wants to be with them, and them alone, for the rest of her life.
Related: Feeling lonely? Check out these lonesome songs.
Nothing Else Matters – Metallica
Being in a relationship, especially in the public eye, like the members of Metallica, can cause people to ask many questions. Even if you are not in a world-famous band, though, there’s sometimes judgment from family and friends. It can be hard to let that go, but if you know that the relationship is right for you, you have to be able to say “never cared for things they say” because “nothing else matters” but your love.
Let’s Get It On – Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye’s pent-up emotions all burst out of him in this song with desperately passionate vocals. He’s been holding back his feelings for this person but just can’t hold them back anymore. He begs, “if you believe in love, let’s get it on,” accompanied by sensual saxophone and hopeful strings.
Related: Listen to more songs from the High Fidelity movie soundtrack.
When Love & Hate Collide – Def Leppard
‘When Love & Hate Collide’ is about just that: a relationship made up of both love and hate. The pair are constantly fighting, but the singer is starting to realize he’s in love with her. He wants them to lay down their weapons because their arguments never solve anything. Even though the love is there, he knows the inability to get along might make this love futile, singing, “can’t stop the hurt inside when love and hate collide.”
Hey Jude – The Beatles
‘Hey Jude’ was written by Paul McCartney for Julian Lennon, John Lennon’s son. Paul and Julian were extremely close, almost like father and son themselves. McCartney offers advice like “don’t be afraid” and “don’t carry the world upon your shoulders.” Triumphant “na na nas” and horns make this a great uplifting song.
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It’s All Coming Back to Me Now – Celine Dion
One of Celine Dion’s biggest hits, ‘It’s All Coming Back to Me Now,’ has irresistible melodies and impressive high notes. Dion starts soft, but she is belting like nobody’s business by the end. She sings about the duality of a toxic relationship. When they’re together, it feels so good that she forgets all the bad times.
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
With a long acoustic guitar solo as an intro, we know that this song will be a vulnerable one. ‘Wish You Were Here’ is directed in part at Syd Barrett, who left Pink Floyd in 1968 due to some mental health issues. The line “we’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl year after year” references fame and how it’s sad that they aren’t able to go through it together.
Related: Missing someone? Here are some songs about losing a lover.
Imagine – John Lennon
John Lennon imagines a world free from combative religion, warring countries, and harmful capitalism. He paints a picture of paradise where everyone gets along, and there is no conflict, and it’s a nice image. Peaceful piano and a slow tempo make you feel like you’re there, escaping the realities of our world for just a moment.
Related: Sound like a pro when you sing these songs with simple lyrics.
Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now – Starship
This retro synth-style song talks about the unstoppable strength of love. The love this couple has is so steady that they know even “if this world runs out of lovers,” they’ll still have each other. They don’t care about anything else because nothing can stop them from loving each other.
Related: Feel victorious with these songs about competition.
Black Velvet – Alannah Myles
‘Black Velvet’ is a tribute song for Elvis Presley, and the grooving rhythm is certainly reminiscent of Presley’s iconic style. The song references Memphis, Presley’s velvety vocals, and his talent, saying, “the boy could sing, knew how to move everything.” He was particularly famous for his dancing, where he would shake every part of his body, making the crowd go wild.
Always – Bon Jovi
‘Always’ was written for the film Romeo is Bleeding, which is why Jon Bon Jovi opens the track with the lines, “this Romeo is bleeding, but you can’t see his blood.” You can’t see the blood because this wound is an emotional one—unrequited love. The muse of the song has moved on with another man, but Bon Jovi is still willing to die for her. It’s a Shakespearean love indeed!
I Have Nothing – Whitney Houston
‘I Have Nothing’ is probably one of Whitney Houston’s biggest songs. Her vocal prowess shines in the belted notes of the chorus, and the song talks about something we can all relate to. When we’re in love, or even when we just have a crush, it can feel like that relationship is the only thing that matters. Houston doesn’t want to live in a world where she isn’t with this person, singing, “stay in my arms if you dare, or must I imagine you there.”
Related: See our playlist of The Bodyguard songs.
You’re the Voice – John Farnham
‘You’re the Voice’ is an inspiring protest power ballad about how each of us has our own power to change the world. John Farnham’s vocals are rich and raspy, lighting a spark in each of us to use our own voice. Farnham uses lines like “we’re not gonna sit in silence, we’re not gonna live with fear” to encourage those of us who are unhappy with the state of the world to do something about it!
Related: Feeling brave? You’ll love these courage songs.