Why have a Top Ten when you can have one more? We count down the 11 best songs by Sheffield's finest purveyors of metal: Def Leppard
To the outsider, Sheffield’s Def Leppard are another British metal band with a spiky font and a surfeit of denim and hair. To everyone else, they are maybe the best pop band of the 80s. What’s that? Pop? Have we gone mad? Nope, not yet anyway. Between 1983 and the end of the decade, Def Leppard couldn’t open their mouths without accidentally discharging a hit. Their 1987 pop metal opus Hysteria is an over-filled hit sandwich that you just can’t stop eating.
Even as everyone else was falling over themselves to go grunge in the early 90s, Def Leppard kept churning out hits by staying resolutely Def Leppard. Massive melodies, heavenly harmonies, guitars that shine like chrome and drums that sound like they’ve been recorded in aircraft hangers… Nobody does BIG like Def Leppard. It’s never subtle but it’s always brilliant. Ahead of their Marlay Park date with Mötley Crüe, here are our 11 favourite Def Leppard songs.
Take What You Want
(Diamond Star Halos, 2022)
Not many 80s rockers are still rocking quite so hard 40 years later. The lead track off the band’s 12th album has a lot more chug and snarl than most of the other songs on this list, but when it kicks off, by God it kicks off. That riff is enormous and when the rest of the band comes in behind Joe on the bridge, it’s transcendent. Write the Leps off at your peril.
Pyromania is a superb album in its own right but it’s also fascinating as a prelude to what was to come. It’s not as meticulously crafted as Hysteria but the building blocks are there, particularly on ‘Foolin’’ and ‘Photograph’. The former crosses from its ominous arpeggios to a cowbell-and-crunch chorus via an anthemic bridge with an almighty hook.
When Love And Hate Collide
It’s safe to say that none of Def Leppard’s peers can touch them for melodic brilliance. When they turn that talent (and Joe’s devastating vocal range) to heart-breaking ballads, the effect is staggering. So many greats didn’t make this list (sincerest apologies to ‘Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad’) but the epic ‘When Love And Hate Collide’ can’t be denied. The demo is worth tracking down to hear Steve Clark’s last recorded solo before his untimely death.
Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)
Def Leppard wrote this smouldering power ballad for Hysteria but held it over because of its similarity to the title track. It turned out to be a wise move as it deserves its own spotlight and wound up as the highlight on Adrenalize, an album that wasn’t wanting for high points. That soaring chorus is one of Clark, Collen and Elliott’s absolute best.
The common narrative is that by the late 90s, bands like Def Leppard had been bellowed into oblivion by grunge and nu-metal. Someone please tell that to ‘Promises’. After dallying with a modernised sound on Slang, they’re back in their comfort zone, albeit a touch rawer than anything on Adrenalize or Hysteria and all the better for it. The band’s trademark hooks and massive chorus are enough to make you rip off the sleeves you’d just painstakingly re-sewn onto your denim jacket.
Phil Collen has said that ‘Love Bites’ was a countrified Don Henley-esque ballad when producer Mutt Lange brought it to the band. If so, Def Leppard did a pretty incredible job of obliterating any trace of country or Don Henley from the finished track. Those vocal harmonies on the chorus are next level, bending and stretching like a lead guitar part.
Pour Some Sugar On Me
The song that launched a thousand strip clubs. By the band’s own admission, it’s incredibly frivolous, but somehow not even the silliest song on Hysteria (hello, ‘Armageddon It’). That’s not even remotely intended as shade. What’s the point of being an 80s pop metal band if you’re not going to write something as gigantic and fun as ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’? It’s the balance between yearning power ballads and big, dumb rock songs that makes Hysteria so perfect. Few people can sell a line like “I’m hot, sticky sweet from my head to my feet” like Joe Elliott does.
On any other record, ‘Animal’ would be the single that gets played at endless weddings. That it was only the 6th best performing single from Hysteria in the US (albeit the best in the UK) shows how ridiculously strong the album is. The band almost shudder when discussing how hard it was to record, but the result is effortless, gleaming perfection. One of the catchiest songs in the Leps’ extensive arsenal.
Bringing On The Heartbreak
(High N’ Dry, 1981)
If you were a pop metal archaeologist, digging through history and trying to find the earliest traces of the genre, here’s your Sutton Hoo. Back before Hysteria was even a glint in Mutt Lange’s eye, he teamed up with the Leps for this beauty of a power ballad. That shift from moody verse to hooky bridge to explosive chorus would become a Def Leppard trademark. If you need more proof of the band’s pop credibility, Mariah Carey covered this back in 2002.
Think of all your favourite power ballads. I’m partial to a little John Waite, maybe a soupcon of Richard Marx with a Chicago twist. But they all pale in the presence of ‘Hysteria’. Every single element of the song is utterly perfect, from that moody, synthy verse to those singing, ringing chords on the bridge to that enormous chorus to that drop in Joe’s voice when he sings “Hysteria, when you’re near”. And then there’s that solo. Just when it seems primed to go way over the top, Phil Collen lays down a tasteful, melodic solo that leaves your jaw on the floor. Glorious.
The band’s first big hit in the US propelled them to arenas stateside when they were still playing clubs back home. It’s not hard to see why America responded so enthusiastically. Its mix of rock riffs and pop hooks isn’t a million miles from someone like Cheap Trick and even as they perfected the recipe on Hysteria, Def Leppard have never written a flat-out rocker to top ‘Photograph’. Up to that point, most of the band’s loudest songs went for big, heavy choruses, closer to their heavy metal roots, whereas ‘Photograph’ tries something different, opting instead for a major-chord anthemic hookfest. And then in comes Phil Collen, shredding like his guitar is running away with him. It all works like gangbusters.