Song: “Home Sweet Home” by Motley Crue
There aren’t that many things I consider myself an expert on. If pressed for a list, it’d look something like this: Road House, how to make the perfect vodka sauce, and power ballads.
Apparently, some guy already wrote a book about power ballads. As much as I’d like to hate him for beating me to the punch, the Amazon description hits on all the important points: “Born out of frustration with an internet culture that had allowed Celine Dion and other non-rock pop stars to be placed alongside Every Rose Has Its Thorn and When I See You Smile, Power Ballad seeks to reclaim the mantle for the worthy, deconstructing songwriting, influences and band histories with perceptive insight and biting humor.”
Yes. That. But while he has the book, I have THE SPREADSHEET. That’s right, I once made a list of the top power ballads of all time (chosen from a completely arbitrary list of songs I liked, apparently?) through the miracle of mathematical calculation.
But, as my best friend pointed out, the required criteria omits something vital: the video. Because do you truly have an epic power ballad if you don’t have have an equally wondrous video?
This brings us to Motley Crue. Did they invent the power ballad? Historically, I’m not actually sure. In my mind? Hell yes. It’s hard to look at any power ballad video after and not see the “Home Sweet Home” influence. And maybe that’s apocryphal, like how there are guitar solos in open spaces that pre-date Slash (though I choose to believe travel was involved there.) Anyhow, let’s take a look and see how the video stacks up against my TOTALLY BASELESS YET STEEPED IN DEEP LOVE AND KNOWLEDGE criteria.
1. Impacts the genre
According to Nikki Sixx, the band funded and shot the video themselves after the label refused to support the song, so I think we can call that genre-impacting. Vince Neil claims it’s the beginning of power ballads, so it must be true. With so many shots that feel familiar now, it’s hard to disagree:
2. Has a really awesome chorus to drive it home
Frankly, there are a lot of other reasons to love “Home Sweet Home” but the chorus is an awesome heavy shift from the piano-backed verse, and it kind of lets you chant, which is nice if you can’t hit notes like Vince Neil circa 1985.
3. Plays a critical role in the band’s success
Almost any write-up you find about the video talks about how it was so popular on MTV that the so-called “Crue Rule”(which removed videos from some kind of fan voting) was invented after it was voted to the top of the request chart a billion days in a row. That figure is an estimate. But it only reached #89 on the Billboard. Behold, the power of video.
4. Involves themes relating to love instead of sex, regrets instead of partying
Later, there will be an entire song and video devoted to the finest strip joints across the globe. For now, they just want to get off the road and be with the ones they love, and aside from a fan flashing from the crowd, the only scantily clad women in this video are the ones on posters. Special shoutout to Vince’s tiger striped…leggings? bikini briefs?
5. Demonstrates vulnerability while maintaining rockin’ out and cockin’ out sensibilities
The aforementioned Nikki Sixx interview mentions Elektra’s instance that they weren’t a ballad band. Like, sirs, this seems to be the exact opposite of shouting at the devil. (Don’t worry, the creepy theater mask still has a pentagram on it.) The band preserves their personalities in the open, as they’re each beckoned from their natural habitat: Mick in the crypt, Nikki at a cool underground bar, Tommy at a party, and Vince in the mind of David Lee Roth.
Also, Tommy Lee plays the piano. Do I need to say more?
* Depicting life on the road
Duh. It’s literally what the song is about. The tour bus shots would make “Faithfully”-era Steve Perry proud, and very little of the performance footage matches up with the lyrics of the song to drive home (no pun intended) the monotony of the road. They’re on the grind, man.
* Vivid imagery and rock star metaphors (Jon Bon Jovi Commemorative Category)
We will discuss at a later date how this category came to be named for a man who never met a pair of figurative dice he didn’t want to roll. But for now, we can trust that this is the one time that when Vince Neil sang “feel me in your bones,” he actually meant it figuratively.
One of the top reasons to love the song and video. Because the power ballad hadn’t exploded yet, it’s not the clearly commercial attempt at hit-making that some later ballads are criticized for by expert metalologists in VH1 rock docs. And it’s not a love song meant to pander to female fans, not in the traditional sense. Both Vince and Nikki describe it as defining their career, and if you can find something those two agree on, you damn well better believe they mean it.
* References to being from a small town
If you squint, you can see I didn’t give “Home Sweet Home” a point for this in the original iteration of the spreadsheet. A ballad is always good for looking at where you came from. But if you’re firing on all other cylinders and you’re considered the quintessential LA band, I think we can omit this one.
There’s a part of me that is highly amused at my younger self’s sense of self-importance in coming up with these categories for defining power ballad greatness. There’s a part of me that thinks I’m onto something. But here’s the real reason why “Home Sweet Home” is the greatest power ballad of all time: when I saw them play on their farewell tour in New Orleans, that’s what they closed with. There are a ton of other songs that are more synonymous with the band, but nothing summed up 30+ years of debauchery, decadence, and defining a genre like “Home Sweet Home.” It was beautiful, moving, and absolutely perfect. How many other metal bands could end with a ballad?
I wasn’t there when they got started. Hell, I wasn’t even born. And sometimes it feels weird to feel so connected to a decade of music I didn’t experience the first go-round. Like, it’s static. The music’s been made, and if you can see it played live, chances are only a few pieces of the original band is still intact. So when I saw Vince, Nikki, Mick, and Tommy play “Home Sweet Home” that night, I knew what I had to do. I couldn’t be there for the start, but I’ll be there for the finish, and I can’t wait to see how all bad things come to an end on New Year’s Eve.