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Top 8 Def Leppard Songs of the '80s

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While the surviving members of Def Leppard have continued into the new millennium as hard rock survivors, their greatest legacy will always be the band's tuneful, fully relevant pop metal of the '80s. This is a fine mainstream arena rock band, whose best songs persist in the hearts and minds of music fans ultimately because they are well-crafted and deftly orchestrated. That's why the band continues to please old fans and attract new ones still today. Despite the dreaded hair metal tag and some overly slick production, Def Leppard produced some classic '80s tracks like these, presented here in chronological order.

1. "Let It Go"

Def Leppard perform on stage at Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, Wembley, London, 20th April 1992.
Michael Putland/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
This underrated rocker marks the transitional point between Def Leppard the full-tilt hard rock band and the latter-day pop metal outfit to come. Sure, there's plenty of melodic sense in this tune, but more than anything else this is a scorching rock song, built upon a muscular, nimble riff and supported well by forceful, metallic solos. Joe Elliott's voice is at its screechy best here, opening up doors (for better and worse) for much of the hair metal to follow later in the decade. And, of course, there's not much substance here, but as straight-ahead rock tunes go, this one's well worth remembering.

2. "Bringin' on the Heartbreak"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Mercury Records

It's no shock to learn that 1981's High 'N Dry was Def Leppard's first album produced by Robert John "Mutt" Lange, the architect of the band's late-'80s mainstream superstardom. This track establishes the highly melodic formula that would carry the band to the top but also spotlights some raw, old-school rock guitar that links with Def Leppard's glam rock and genuine heavy metal origins. The twin-guitar opening sets the stage perfectly and then bleeds into the haunting arpeggio of the verse, leaving lots of room for Elliott's signature, passionate vocal style. This is the band's first great tune and possibly one of its best all-time.

3. "Photograph"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Mercury Records
Although it's been played nearly to its saturation point, this catchy rocker stands as both an early prototype of '80s pop metal and the form's possible pinnacle. Bands attempting to follow in the path cleared by Def Leppard must have bristled daily at just how impossible it would always be to match this song's central guitar riff, energetic urgency and pure pop hooks. And though some may scoff at what I'm about to say, the band projected through this tune a significant amount of intelligence, little seen before or after in hard rock, that was exemplified by this thoughtful, conceptual take on romantic fantasy.

4. "Too Late for Love"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Mercury Records
This one's my personal favorite, but I would also argue, in an empirical sense, that this tune offers up in layers the best elements of Def Leppard's sweeping and melodic yet forceful sound. The band has always had a knack for terrific openings, and the slow-burn guitars that lead into the verses here create a mysterious, moody and even slightly menacing atmosphere. Elliott's whispery vocals turn appropriately into a throaty scream during the chorus, and the twin-guitar attack of Phil Collen and the late Steve Clark always sounds distinct yet thoroughly accessible.

5. "Foolin'"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Mercury Records
I suffer from a love-hate relationship with this tune, also from 1983's smash Pyromania album. I've always loved the arpeggiated, textured acoustic guitar opening as it melts into Elliott's mournful musings on "Lady Luck" and such. I really love the bridge that brings in pounding guitars, harmonies and Rick Allen's big, big drums. However, I quite detest the song's overly simplistic chorus, which to me represents the often-present negative side of the coin, on which the band rolls out dumbed-down arena rock posturing. Still, as a total package, this clearly comes through as one of the band's finest '80s offerings.

6. "Animal"

Album Cover Image Courtesy of Mercury Records

Though it took four years and some significant personnel roadblocks, Def Leppard returned to the top of the charts and exceeded its previous success with 1987's Hysteria. Certainly, much of that success was owed to the tuneful brilliance exhibited on this mid-tempo tune, even if the band did sound a bit mechanical and particularly overproduced this time around. Collen and Clark still sound great, after all, and the songwriting, while by no means unpredictable, carefully and precisely weaves gentle verses into the anticipated chorus payoffs.

7. "Love Bites"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Mercury Records
Computerized flourishes notwithstanding, Elliott & Co. succeeded here in crafting one of the decade's most perfectly haunting power ballads. Even if you're not inclined toward mullet rock in any shape or form, I find it difficult to believe you don't buy in when the slow verses explode into yet another sterling bridge. The chorus, for me, may be a bit of a letdown, but that doesn't take away from the song's ability to encapsulate with surgical precision the emotional helplessness of infatuation. Lange should have probably steered the boys away from the "Mr. Roboto" blips and bleeps, but this is still great stuff.

8. "Hysteria"

Single Cover Image Courtesy of Mercury Records
Even if the band's blockbuster album of the same name may have been its most homogenous effort (I always used to get this track mixed up with "Animal," maybe because of the somewhat plodding beats in each tune), the craftsmanship of the band remains thoroughly intact here. I don't know if it can often be said with a straight face that many pop metal bands have the capacity to be consistently evocative, but Def Leppard's substantial skills have always accomplished that feat. It's possible, in fact, that the Sheffield band was the first, last and only great pop metal band of the era.
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