Def Leppard's 15 Best Songs: Critic's Picks
Unless it’s calibrated by a quantifiable measure like sales or airplay, whittling an artist’s work down into a best-of list is automatically a subjective exercise. And when examining an act that has steadily produced music for 40 years, parsing the tracks that define its artistic expression is that much tougher of a judgment call. Thus is the challenge when reviewing a catalog as commercially abundant as that of Def Leppard.
Impressive enough that the British rock band has scored 19 Billboard Hot 100 hits (with 11 in the top 20) and 29 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart, but this is the quintet that this year celebrated the 30th anniversary of Hysteria, the behemoth that sold 25 million copies worldwide (per various sources) and featured seven of those Hot 100 scores. What shouldn’t be forgotten in the, er, hysteria surrounding those milestones is that Def Leppard were already superstars due to 1983’s Pyromania (selling 10 million copies in the States alone). The two albums are a yin/yang of sorts: By third studio project Pyromania, the band had refined its classic-rock influences into its own sound, and follow-up Hysteria further transformed that style with heavily multitracked production and accessible pop flair.
Def Leppard has seen more than its share of troubles as well, weathering such misfortunes as drummer Rick Allen losing his arm in an auto accident, the death of guitarist Steve Clark and current guitarist Vivian Campbell’s cancer battle. But through it all, the group has kept touring and recording; its most recent studio project was 2015’s Def Leppard, and the fivesome keeps delivering both hard-rocking chargers and polished radio fare. Its lengthy career accounts for this list containing ties and honorable mentions for comparable tracks that also have considerable merit.
Here are the 15 best Def Leppard songs to date.
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15. Def Leppard - “Let It Go”
Like the title says, Def Leppard lets it rip on this song from 1981’s High ’n’ Dry with AC/DC-style power chords and a wailing, Led Zeppelin-esque outro. (Honorable mention: “Ring of Fire” from 1993’s Retro Active for its similar hell-raising aural pyrotechnics.)
14. Def Leppard - “Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)”
The High ’n’ Dry track gradually crests into one of the act’s famed catchy choruses with thickly stacked vocal harmonies and hits a high point with an ascending guitar solo. (Honorable mention: Slow-but-steady burner “Paper Sun” from 1999’s Euphoria.)
13. Def Leppard - “Switch 625”
One of the band’s traditions is indulging in journey pieces to flex its jamming muscles. This ripper from High ’n’ Dry is barely three minutes long but doesn’t give an inch. (Honorable mention: “Billy’s Got a Gun” from Pyromania, which closes the album with aplomb.)
12. Def Leppard - “Foolin’ ”
Another of Pyromania’s MTV-propelled hits. It’s carried by Clark’s silky acoustic intro, singer Joe Elliott’s rafter-scraping vocals, its “Fuh-fuh-fuh-foolin’ ” chorus and stuttering riffs. It hit No. 28 on the Hot 100, the third track from Pyromania to crack the chart.
11. Def Leppard - “Go”
The opening track from 2008’s Songs From the Sparkle Lounge proves the band still had plenty of gas left even after three decades, launching with a compelling lead hook and holding tight with an incredible rhythm section and fervid guitars.
10. Def Leppard - “White Lightning”
This moving dedication on 1992’s Adrenalize memorializes Clark, who died in 1991. Ironically, he helped write his own eulogy, having contributing songwriting to the piece before taking a leave from the band due to the alcoholism that, sadly, later claimed him.
9. Def Leppard - “Gods of War”
This unexpectedly sober piece of work on Hysteria (which focused on Def Leppard’s de rigueur topics of sex and love) takes an uneasy look at the state of the late-’80s world. It builds in intensity and features audio of President Ronald Regan’s 1986 speech regarding U.S. airstrikes against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
8. Def Leppard - “Blood Runs Cold”
Slower Def Lep numbers like “Two Steps Behind” and “Miss You in a Heartbeat” are more commercially popular, but the gently spiraling guitars and plaintive melody of this sleeper from 1996’s Slang is in a league of heartbreaking magic all its own.
7. Def Leppard - “Hysteria”/“Love Bites”
The namesake cut from Hysteria is a midtempo love song that hums with yearning, driven by an engaging rhythm guitar.
The hopeful romanticism of “Hysteria” is the polar opposite of the album's “Love Bites,” the brooding, electro-tinged ballad that gave the band its sole Hot 100 No. 1 hit. “Hysteria” reached No. 10.
6. Def Leppard - “Armageddon It”/“Animal”
Def Leppard’s knack for devising colorful ways to sing about sex informs Hysteria’s “Armageddon It” (No. 3 on the Hot 100), a gangbusters sing-along borne by ebullient rhythm guitars.
The same is true for “Animal” (No. 19) from the same album. It's more frenetic, but just as celebratory, even though it praises the chase instead of the catch.
5. Def Leppard - “Too Late for Love”
From the sound of the gathering wind to the nearly a cappella intro to Rick Savage’s foreboding baseline, this Pyromania hit is dramatic in all the right ways. Its kiss-off attitude perfectly aligns with Phil Collen and Clark’s striking guitars.
4. Def Leppard - “Desert Song”
This Def Leppard song off Retro Active is an exotic-flavored sonic wallop that meanders for over five minutes. Its throbbing rhythms encapsulate the glory derived from a band falling into perfect performance sync. (Honorable mention: Retro Active’s “Fractured Love,” with its pouncing bass and percussion.)
3. Def Leppard - “Pour Some Sugar on Me”
The big, loud, entendre-saturated arena stomper (the good-time lyrics are fairly ridiculous) is the best-selling Def Leppard song, per Nielsen Music. It resuscitated Hysteria's stalled sales after strippers began requesting it in their clubs, making it shoot to No. 2 on the Hot 100.
2. Def Leppard - “Photograph”
The classic first chords of the No. 12-peaking “Photograph” are the equivalent of revving an engine before a drag race. Between Elliott’s mile-high cries and Collen utterly owning the solo on the Pyromania track, it’s one of the quintet’s most passionate and best-performed songs.
1. Def Leppard - “Rock of Ages”
Pyromania’s No. 16 hit remains Def Leppard’s clarion call to “Rise up/Gather ’round/Rock this place to the ground.” Despite containing few guitars in the beat-heavy verses (a composition similar to “Pour Some Sugar on Me”), it nonetheless does just that, reserving the real juice for when Collen takes the limelight with a blistering solo.