Def Leppard may have formed in England, but their American following and commercial success were quickly established as part of the British heavy metal wave that came over here in the 1980s.
Titans of the rock genre, Def Leppard, are known for their melodic rock sound and being pioneers of the arena and glam rock movements in the US. In this article, we’ll go deep into rock history to bring you 15 of the best songs Def Leppard has ever released.
1. Pour Some Sugar On Me
I have no doubt there will be some blowback for me placing this song at the top of this list. But I can’t put it anywhere else; I grew up listening to Monsters of Rock CDs, and this was always a huge favorite in my family.
It wasn’t Def Leppard’s biggest hit of all time, but it is one of their best and most enduring. Pour Some Sugar On Me is mostly considered Def Leppard’s signature song, one that went all the way up to number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1988 and was the number-two song on the 2006 version of VH1’s 100 Greatest Songs of the 80s.
2. Rock of Ages
It takes guts to start a song with some nonsense words strung together that sound the slightest bit German, but Def Leppard pulled it off. Rock of Ages eschewed the typical “1, 2, 3, 4” countdown for their song starts in favor of the now immortal “Gunter gleiben glauchen globen” (which has no real meaning if we’re honest about it).
It eventually pushed up to number sixteen on the Billboard Hot 100 and 19 on the Cash Box Top 100, topping the Top Tracks Rock chart in 1983. Some fans will believe this is their best song ever, and it certainly has a case to make there.
No, I didn’t mess up and put a Nickleback song on the list. Photograph was the lead single from Def Leppard’s Pyromania album in 1983 and topped the Billboard Top Tracks rock chart for six weeks.
It ended up being a big crossover hit, almost breaking into the top 10 of the Pop Singles chart, where it peaked at number 12. In all honesty, it was a massive success because it mixed pop hooks with the hard rock sound the band was becoming known for, laying down the foundation for what Def Leppard would be for the rest of their career as a band.
4. Bringin’ On The Heartbreak
Bringin’ On The Heartbreak wasn’t a huge radio success when it first came out in 1981. The original release on High ‘N’ Dry never charted, but a new remix of the song released after the Pyromania album made Def Leppard stars.
It ended up pushing to number 61 on the US Billboard Hot 100, and its music video saw a lot of play on MTV. The US reissue of High ‘N’ Dry was more successful than the band’s initial release, with Bringin’ On The Heartbreak playing a significant role in its commercial abilities.
5. Desert Song
Desert Song ended up being one of the last Def Leppard songs to include the skills of Steve Clark before his death in 1991. Weirdly enough, it started as an instrumental that never made it to an album and was forgotten about for a while before its official release on Retro Active.
The song moves like a river, meandering around for five minutes and embodying the glam metal style Def Leppard loved so much. Coming off of their Retro Active album, Desert Song ended up being a hit on US radio, climbing to number 12 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
Animal is Def Leppard’s first top-10 song in the UK, which is odd when you look at how much success they had in the US before Animal came out in 1987. It also took the band over two years to get it to sound how they wanted, meaning it was the most complex song to record for their Hysteria album.
While it eventually reached number six on the UK Singles Chart, it was another one of Def Leppard’s songs to do well in the US. It broke the top 20 of the Billboard Hot 100 by peaking at number 19 and rose to number five on the US Mainstream Rock charts.
7. Too Late For Love
Def Leppard’s Pyromania album was certified diamond for a good reason. It was chock full of hits, and Too Late For Love was one of the songs that helped buoy it to such high peaks.
It starts with the sound of the wind before rolling into an intro that’s almost a cappella before grooving into a strong bassline. It was eventually released as a single, reaching number nine on the Mainstream Rock chart. Its music video heavily edited the song, bringing the total length down from four minutes and 30 seconds to only three minutes and 23 seconds.
8. Blood Runs Cold
Blood Runs Cold may be the most slept-on single of all of Def Leppard’s great songs. It’s not as slow as some of their biggest commercial hits, and it doesn’t quite scratch the arena-rock itch, but it carries a magic all its own.
Coming from their 1996 album Slang, it helped mark the transition of Def Leppard away from traditional recording and into a more organic sound.
Another big hit from Pyromania, Foolin’ came out in 1983 and mirrored Photograph in its ability to blend pop melodies with their metal style. It would eventually make it up to number nine on the Mainstream Rock chart but also did well elsewhere, making it to number 28 on the Hot 100 and number 39 on the Canadian Top Singles chart.
Def Leppard’s 1987 album Hysteria carried an excellent title track released as the fourth single from the same year. With all their success in the early 80s and the vaunted Pyromania album, it’s a surprise when you learn that Hysteria was the band’s first top-10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
It rose to number 10 on that chart while breaking into the top 10 of the Mainstream Rock chart as well, reaching number nine.
11. Love Bites
Love Bites was released on the Hysteria album too, and it became their most successful single in chart success. The band reworked what was originally a country ballad by adding power rock and backing vocals to create a brooding power ballad that was groundbreaking for the band.
It rocketed up the charts, reaching number one on the Billboard Hot 100, Cash Box Top 100, UK Rock and Metal, and Canadian Retail Singles charts, while also topping out at number three on the US Mainstream Rock chart. It was released after the massive success of Pour Some Sugar On Me.
12. Gods of War
Def Leppard never really released a protest song, they weren’t activists with their music, and there wasn’t much social commentary from them during their careers. That kind of changed with Gods Of War, as it’s the only track from Hysteria with any political overtones and takes on how easy it is for political leaders to start wars.
It began as a guitar riff by Steve Clark, and the lyrics were inspired by what Joe Elliot had been watching on the news. A great song and one that stands out as very unique among Def Leppard’s catalog.
Promises was a standout song of Def Leppard’s 1999 album Euphoria and really helped carry the album into the next century. It became one of their most popular songs in live performances and eventually became one of their most-played tracks despite being one of their newer songs.
Promises went on to top the US Mainstream Rock Tracks chart when it was released as a single and even had success overseas when it peaked at number 41 on the UK Singles chart.
14. White Lightning
White Lightning had extra significance for Def Leppard and their fans, as it was written as a tribute song to their guitar player Steve Clark who had passed on in 1991.
Its release on the Adrenalize album in 1992 showcased yet another transition period for the band as they dealt with Clark’s death and found new elements to add to their sound.
15. Let It Go
To round out the list, we’re going back to the beginning. Let It Go was released in 1981 as part of Def Leppard’s High ‘N’ Dry album. As one of only two single releases from the album, it had to be good, and it was. Let It Go ended up peaking at number 34 on the US Mainstream Rock chart.
The seven-inch vinyl version runs around 30 seconds shorter than the album version. To this day, it’s still the second most-played song by Def Leppard in concert, at least when it comes to songs from High ‘N’ Dry, coming just behind Bringin’ On The Heartbreak.
As a contributing writer for Music Grotto, Dakotah writes and produces professional music/media content. He works closely with editorial staff to meet editorial standards and create
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