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.

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  • Lee on

    Joe, if you can’t even chart a 45rpm in the top 100, I think radio doesn’t care.

  • PaleRider on

    Too Late for Love was a great song. It is one of my favorite Def Leppard songs of all time. Great guitar playing on that song. Billy’s Got a Gun is also one of my favorites. Mirror, Mirror is my favorite Dec Leppard song. Joe is right in that they are great album tracks- just not gonna produce the wide appeal that a single needs. Conversely, I despise Pour Some Sugar On Me and Don’t Shoot Shotgun. Successful radio songs but just not what I like to hear from Def Leppard. I do love a lot of the Hysteria album though.

    • Dana on

      I agree. Pyromania is still one of all time favorite albums.

      Dana from 🙂

  • Bob on

    Pour some sugar on me and the syrupy songs that made Def Leppard an MTV hit were the deathknell for fans like me who consider High and Dry one of the greatest albums of its era.Thank God I saw Leppard before Hysteria…..

    • Dana on


      You’re right, High N’ Dry was also a great album. My two favorite Leppard recordings are HN’D and Pyromania. I didn’t care for the poppy Hysteria either, but it knocked Michael Jackson’s, Thriller, out of the number one spot. That was Mutt Lange’s goal, he wanted to make a Heavy Metal “lite” version of Thriller. He succeeded, Hysteria, had a TON of hits and was an overwhelming commercial success.

      Dana from 🙂

    • DR on

      HN’D was my intro to DL, and I really liked it. Pyromania came out and I absolutely loved it. Played that cassette till I had to buy another one. Hysteria came out and I was like ‘what the hell is this crap’? Couldn’t believe how a band could do such a 180 turn. It worked out for them though in a big way and you can’t disagree with the success they had. Buy Hysteria was the last DL release I purchased. I agree with Bob. I saw Leppard on the Pyromania tour (Uriah Heep was the opener – what a show!). Bought On through the Night the next day and thought I had a band for life. But that all changed with one overly pop music release in Hysteria. They’ve been trying to get back to that rock sound they had, but could never get back there. I wonder if the death of Steve Clarke had something to do with that. We’ll always have the first three releases at least.

    • Dana on

      Yep DR,

      I was the same way with Pyromania. My mom said if she heard Rock of Ages one more time, she was going to throw my LP (yes, I said LP) out the window. Def Leppard was actually my favorite band until Priest deposed them. But, they will always have a very special place in my heart.

      D 🙂

    • DR on

      My fav was Stagefright. Still love that intro…’I SAID WELCOME TO MY SHOOOOOOOOWWWWW!

  • Bob on

    The loss of Steve Steamin Clark turned the band in a direction that they never recovered from,in my humble opinion….

  • DR on

    Maybe his motto s/b ‘never go to bed without Mutt Lange’.

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