joeelliot400 Greg Prato of Songfacts spoke with Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott. Excerpts from the interview below.

Songfacts: How do you write your best songs?

Joe Elliott: To be quite honest, songs percolate in your head first, and normally when you’re too far away from an instrument to get to one. You’re in an airplane or you’re on the back of a bus, or you’re in bed. “Never go to bed without [a] pen and paper” is my motto, or these days an iPhone. Sometimes you get up in the morning and there’s a melody going around annoying you like a bee in a jam jar.

Now, most people, Phil [Collen – Def Leppard guitarist], for example, would just pick up a guitar, because that’s all he knows. He doesn’t play the piano. Sometimes I just sit at a piano and I’ll start trying something and go, “Well, this is a piano song.” And I might try and do it on the guitar and go, “Hmm, could work both ways, but it sounds better as a piano song.” And I will leave it that way.

Two Steps Behind, for example, I wrote on a guitar. Obviously, because that’s what it is. But other stuff that I’ve written, like Undefeated off the Mirrorball album, was all written on guitar. But the new Down ‘n’ Outz material for album three – God willing it gets made – was all pretty much written on piano. But there’s going to loads of guitars all over it, as well.

It’s horses for courses. It really is that varied. Angus Young you wouldn’t need to ask that question to, because you know exactly how he writes all his songs. But with somebody that’s a bit more varied, like a Bowie or a Freddie Mercury or Ian Hunter, will write on both. I like the idea of being able to do that because it gives you a broader scope.

Songfacts: One of my favorite Def Leppard songs is Too Late for Love, and I was surprised that it was released as a single but never as a video, which I think prevented it from being a true hit in the US. (The song didn’t chart on the American Hot 100 and made just #86 in the UK.)

Joe: Here’s why: because Photograph is the first single off Pyromania, and it went through the roof because of MTV. Once people started getting cable all over the States, this fledgling MTV thing took off. We got fantastic bounce-back from people watching it on MTV and then asking the radio stations to play it. The two started bouncing back from each other request-wise, and the song just went crazy.

It was in the middle of that year that I think we released Rock of Ages, and then towards the end of the summer maybe I think Foolin’ came out. And we’d shot the video for Foolin’. I remember doing it – I think we did it in August of ’83. So that kind of covered the end of the tour, which finished in September.

By the time we went back to Europe to do the end of the world tour, they decided they wanted to go to radio with Too Late for Love, but we weren’t really in any kind of a position to make a video for it. Plus, there was this feeling amongst us like, “It’s a fourth single, but it’s just being put out there for the sake of it. It’s only being released because of the success of the first three.”

It was never a game plan in January of that year. It was a on the spur-of-the-moment decision made maybe in August or September that we would go with a full single, to which we responded, “Well, okay, fine, whatever you want. But there won’t be a video, because we’re too busy touring.” It was just the record company trying to prolong the length of the album and see if that song was going to fly.

But as great a song as it is, I believe that any success that it achieved was based on the fact that the first three did so well. It’s a fantastic album track, but it’s not a single. To me. You know what I mean? To me, it’s like putting Kashmir out as a single. [Many of Led Zeppelin’s most famous songs, Kashmir and Stairway To Heaven among them, were not released as singles.]

It’s like, “Are you kidding me?” It’s just a great album track. It’s not a single. It doesn’t have the hook. It’s a brilliant piece of arrangement, it’s a good bit of writing, it’s a great lyric, it’s a brilliant piece of music. But it’s a rock track. It’s never going to challenge Thriller or Billie Jean. Whereas, Photograph and Rock of Ages were, because they were anthemic in a lyrical and a vocal way. They were a call to arms. And Too Late for Love is a bit more “lamentable,” if you like.

Read more at Songfacts.


18 Responses

  1. High N Dry had a clean sound….it got mushed with Mutt layers of sounds on each succeeding record. They need to record in Seattle with Pearl Jam engineering and production.

    1. Obviously, I am not a complete audiophile, nor an expert engineer, but the extra backing vocals tracks is what made Leppard’s sound so unique to me at the time and that was all courtesy of Mutt Lange.

      The first time I heard Rock of Ages, I remember being struck by those incredibly full background vocal tracks that sounded like 40 people were singing along with Joe Elliott. But, to each their own. For every person who thinks that Mutt Lange is a genius, there will be someone who will not agree with that sentiment, it’s all a matter of preference. I happen to think Lange was way ahead of his time. I love his albums with AC/DC as well.

      Dana from 🙂

      PS-I forgot to mention that I cannot agree with you Lee, they should absolutely not record in Seattle with Pearl Jam’s producers and engineers. I would think Bob Rock would be a way better choice for Leppard than any of Pearl Jam’s people. No offense, but what works for Eddie Vedder and company, I cannot see working for Joe Elliott and and the rest of the band. Just my humble opinion, of course 🙂

    2. I think you are right Dana in that Mutt was ahead of his time. And although Hysteria was heavily processed, it still has great melodies and guitar playing. They are songs I love to play when I crank up my amps and pick up my guitars. Hysteria, Gods of War, Women, and Animal are just awesome songs- even stripped down to a backing track and my one guitar. On Adrenalize- White Lightning is my favorite song to play but there are other songs on it that are very good as well. Whether you like Hysteria or not, the Leps did what they set out to do. For that period, they were the biggest rock band in the world. RIP Steve Clark.

  2. I recently listened to Pyromania on Vinyl for the first time in ages and to me it doesn’t stand the test of time as well as I thought it would. Maybe because I’m sick of Rock of Ages and some of the other tracks are too commercial and bordering on cheesy. High ‘n’ Dry on the other hand stands up much better is more of a classic album in my opinion. The songs on High ‘n’ Dry kick ass and there isn’t a bad song on there. It rocks and Pete Willis deserves a little more credit as he’s all over those songs along with a couple of the best ones from Pyromania. I’d love to see Def Leppard do a club tour playing the High ‘n’ Dry album (like Cheap Trick did with In Color, Heaven Tonight & Budokan), but we know the chances of that happening are slim to none.

    1. Fair enough Steve,

      But I would try re-listening to songs like Die Hard the Hunter, Under Fire, Billy’s Got A Gun. While there is no question that Pyromania is a bit more polished than High N’ Dry, I am not sure cheesy is a completely fair assessment.

      Some people might consider Bringing on the Heartbreak, You Got Me Runnin’, Lady Strange and maybe even Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes) as having a commercial sound.

      I think both albums are great. I just wish the band would really consider doing another true rock album.

      Dana 🙂

  3. Well I think most can agree that their best three albuns are HND, Pyro
    & Hysteria. Now in which order seems to be heavily debated. IMO Pyromania
    is the greatest rock record ever recorded. To me u have to take into consideration
    the landscape of music at that time. You had pop bands that could sing but
    were not heavy at all and then you had your heavier bands that werent going to
    hang their hats on amything vocally. So DL (a la Queen) was one of the first to
    blend the two together. Of course with Mutt steering the ship. It is such a landmark
    record cuz thete was nothing out there like it! The double gutars, the bravado attitude
    lead vocal, the gazillion voices background vocals, the heavy distorted Marshalls with the
    piercing guitat solos and ear candy hooks!!! It has everything in one record! I honestly feel
    that it absolutely stands the test of time!!!!

    1. Bill,

      I tend to agree with you. Both HN’D and Pyromania are neck and neck for me. But, I tend to favor Pyromania a bit more.

      As I stated previously, I would love Def Leppard to put out a really great rock record.

      Dana from 🙂

  4. Pyromania was one of the first rock albums I ever had, I was 10 years old when it came out. I loved it, then got High N’ Dry and still can’t decide which one I like more. I continue to this day to listen to both of them regularly. Hysteria was a disappointment for me, there’s a few tracks on it that I like, but they made the transition to a pop rock band on a similar level to Bon Jovi. I can’t blame them for the success it brought them, but after Pyromania there has never again been a DL album I like from start to finish. Retroactive has some really good tracks, Euphoria had a handful of songs that sound like they fit in between Pyromania and Hysteria: Paper Sun, Kings Of Oblivion, Day After Day, Disintegrate (instrumental), even Promises wasn’t too bad. I think Slang had one or two, X only had a couple that I could stomach, I haven’t listened to “Songs From The Sparkle Lounge” in a few years but I think I remember it had a few decent ones – they at least sounded like a proper rock band. At this point in their careers, they’re not likely to excite the world’s population of 16 – 25 year old girls with bubbly pop rock songs from a bunch of 50 somethings. So, I say they leave the polish in the garage, plug some Les Pauls into some Marshall JCM 800 stacks, and put together something that sounds like a blend of High N’ Dry and Pyromania. I doubt it will happen, but I can hope.

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