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Music

The 10 greatest Def Leppard songs

Ask your dad if he’s a Def Leppard fan, and he’ll probably respond: “They were better than Blind Hyena!” And then he’ll probably show you his copy of Hysteria, which was tucked away with pressings of The Joshua Tree, Graceland and Brothers In Arms in an effort to remind himself that he was once adolescent au courant.

His French has become a little rusty, and with Brexit on the rise, he’ll likely use it as a way to vacate himself from the pursuit of languages, noting that his time has passed. But he’ll always remember that fresh feeling he felt when he was a young lad, singing along to the words of ‘Love Bites’. It felt like…victory.

Def Leppard might be “Dad Rock”, but dads are allowed to rock: They need their men caves to enjoy Thin Lizzy, or to bellow out the final refrain of ‘I Want To Break Free’, keenly aware that he has to speak for his fellow brethren paying for their children in college. The trials of parenthood.

So, here’s to the fathers of the world. May they continue to rock to ‘Rock of Ages’, may they continue to enjoy their ‘Photograph’s, and know that in the eyes of their children, they will never be ‘Two Steps Behind’. But, and this is a big one, never ask someone to pour sugar on you…leave that one to Def Leppard.

Ranking the 10 greatest Def Leppard songs from worst to best:

10. ‘Animal’

This song is classic Def Leppard. Featuring a howling falsetto, and thunderous drums rattling behind the guitars, ‘Animal’ emerges like a panther prowling in the wilderness, which given the band’s given name, is pretty fitting. The track is littered with pulsating, hysteria-driven guitar hooks, bolstered by Elliott’s explosive vocal delivery, and presented with a collection of barbed bass licks.

The band were improving as a collective of stadium rockers, and the feistily positioned five-piece were poised to become better suited to writing numbers of a more romantic nature. Lifelong Queen fans, the group were beginning to understand the importance of the music in question, creating a sense of purpose in their quest for diversity.

9. ‘Two Steps Behind’

Def Leppard were diversifying as an outfit, and with ‘Two Steps Behind’, they were enjoying the milieu of acoustic rock. The pastoral, piercing backdrop is perfect for the yearning, forlorn vocal delivery. In its own way, the track showed the men for the romantic people that they were. It was unfashionable for metal rockers to show such a heartfelt display to the people in their lives, considering it a fad of the pop contingent, but Def Leppard were comfortable in their own skin to let a little tenderness into the proceedings.

The band are savvy enough to let Elliott take on the majority of the duties, keenly aware that his efforts are strong in their outlook and resolve. The backdrop is plain but understated, the chiming arpeggios lushly capturing the essence of the work in question. But it was never in the band’s interests to come across as towering when they had so much more to offer.

8. ‘Kick’

The most recent single to make this list, ‘Kick’ is the hardest to look at objectively, and who knows if its cachet will rise or fall in the coming years, but there’s no denying the fact that the song has a whack and punch to it that makes it worthy of their fans attention and time. Even more remarkably, the song was cut during the pandemic, which means that the individual band members had to trust each other remotely, in the hopes of capturing the essence of the track in question.

“And when I say remotely,” Eliott recalled, “I mean old fashioned remotely! We didn’t even use Zoom. We made phone calls and we used emails to send MP3s to each other. We didn’t literally see each other for two-and-a-quarter years but we were on the phone every day. In fact, I probably conversed with everyone in the band more often because of lockdown than I would have done if we weren’t in lockdown, because it kind of pushes you into that scenario.” And yet the song sounds like a band playing in the same room, although they weren’t necessarily playing the same kind of music.

7. ‘Nine Lives’

The Batman made great use of Nirvana’s ‘Something In The Way’, and now with a sequel on the way, reportedly using the working title of ‘The Bat and The Cat’, he would be foolish not to use this track by Def Leppard. Indeed, the song is tailor-made for Zoe Kravitz’s Catwoman, showcasing the feline villain in a form that is more fragile, human and ferocious than anything we’ve seen on the big screen. Def Leppard, like Queen and 10cc, have a quality to their music that stems as much from cinema as it does from the world around them. They’re a deeply postmodern band, creating a new form of character that invokes their past resolve.

The tune in question embodies the forlorn qualities that bed the band, through a series of striking musical passages, earmarking an impassioned journey into the centre of the musician’s whole. Carving a new sound, the splash of guitars deepen the resolve, as it buries the passion of the warrior-like spirit that can be heard on a record, as well as the soundtrack to a potential DC movie.

6. ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’

There was no way we could avoid this track, but there was also no way we could put it in the top five. The song is passionate, pervading in a work that is predominantly functional in its understanding of the world around them. It’s a little too silly to merit it beyond the realms of ridiculousness, and it’s almost certainly responsible for the rise of nonsense rockers Muse and The Darkness, but unlike those bands, it knows how camp it is, and the tongue is placed firmly in the cheek from day one. Better still, the rocker is a form of a hybrid number, so it flits between pop, rock and white rap, pummelling to the sound of a pummeling drum machine.

It’s best to think of this as a Friday night number, knowing that the week’s labour is finished and that there is a night of drinking ahead. The song invites splendour and rapturous applause, even if it means hearing such hackneyed metaphors as “I got the peaches, you got the cream.” But it was never their intention to be Leonard Cohen, although Cohen himself tried to rap on the synth-heavy ‘First We Take Manhattan’, so he likely wouldn’t have minded.

5. ‘Bringing On The Heartbreak’

With its Thin Lizzy-like opening, this song is a guitar-heavy feast that is embellished by a lyric that is strangely Beatlesque. Elliott tries his strongest John Lennon impression, while Rick Allen plays in the back with Ringo-like flair. The central hooks hold a barrelling style hook that sounds like it’s taking something from the Jeff Beck era of The Yardbirds, but there’s no shortage of invention on this tune, packing more into four minutes than many bands put into an entire album. Best of all, the vocals soar through the hemisphere with bluesy aplomb, as the vocals lack the helium-induced madness of the later recordings.

One of the band’s first recordings, the track typifies the sound many consider to be the sound of British – or Irish, as is the case with Thin Lizzy – heavy metal. It’s taut, pounding, polished and laced with a certain level of swagger and guttural sex appeal. The song is one of the band’s more interesting diversions into the field of blues-rock, and it’s all the more exciting because it’s urgently put together by the collective gumption the band hold in their tracks.

4. ‘Love Bites’

And now this is a piece that is deliciously inventive in both its production design and the way it is formulated, as the guitars weave in and out of the haunting vocal. In its place comes an impassioned performance from the band, who are comfortable in their place next to the production pyrotechnics that keeps them in their stead. The production brings the tune to newer, greater heights, as they slot into the world of world-weariness and contempt, confident in their standing as rockers of a movement.

“It was just a standard rock ballad but it had something else going for it, ” guitarist Phil Collen remembered. “Lyrically, it kind of painted a picture, and in a song you always want to do that, paint a picture. ‘On a dark desert highway,’ the first line of ‘Hotel California,’ great song, it just paints an image for you straight off the bat and that’s the sign of a really good song. It takes you right there. ‘Love Bites’ did that as well.”

3. ‘Photograph’

It really is a coin toss of a difference between this and ‘Hysteria’. We chose ‘Hysteria’ for second place, largely because it works as both an acoustic number and a rock piece, while ‘Photograph’ works best as a rock number. But what a rock number it is, a culmination of guitar textures and ambience crashing into one punchy piece. The number also boasts one of the most exhilarating solos in the entire canon, lushly presenting a fiery punch that slots straight into the heartstrings, just as the heartfelt vocal aims for the heart.

It showed that the cerebral rockers had beating hearts, demonstrating a fondness for the work of the 1960s elegists, who were happy to write rock numbers with some passion and panache, as the characters, conditions and lovers come together under one barrelling roof. The guitars chug and punch, to the sound of the pummelling vocal lines.

2. ‘Hysteria’

The title track to their 1987 opus, ‘Hysteria’ is also one of their more malleable numbers, as it works nicely as an acoustic ballad, which they were happy to show to the public. Indeed, it comes across even more urgently via a wooden guitar, because the passion is allowed to breathe in a way the thunderous drums would not permit it to. But on the recorded version, the bass is also prominent, but the band also made pains to work on their harmonies, and Elliott’s voice is lifted by the sound of a wailing choir of voices, bringing it to the centre of the mix.

At its most basic, the song stands as an impassioned work for the rockers, who wish to know whether or not the woman in question aches for them in the same way she holds an impression on their lives. There’s nothing false about the recording, but instead lets the music breathe freely and with great assurance.

1. ‘Rock of Ages’

The only negative thing this wondrous tune has to answer for is that it inspired a genuinely wretched rock film that starred Russell Brand and Bryan Cranston, complete with a tawdry sequence that featured Tom Cruise attempting fellatio in front of a hungry monkey. Everything else about this nutty number is glorious, capturing the craziness of 10cc, Queen and ‘Kooks’ era David Bowie in one tidy little package. It’s hard to state what category this work would be pressed as, but there’s no denying that it is impressive.

Complete with a bone-crunching riff, the song flits comfortably between a mix of genres, making it one of the more curious songs to sing at karaoke. That it remains a Saturday night go-to shows that the song holds a power and a passion that is genuinely engaging to listen to. But enough of our yapping, play that classic and sing!