52. Def Leppard - Pour Some Sugar on Me

Some of the songs that I've written about for this list have had some very deep and meaningful lyrics. They're songs that not only want to move you with their music, but they want to change you with their lyrics. "Pour Some Sugar on Me" by Def Leppard is not one of those songs. The lyrics are about as deep as a puddle of spilled beer. So they're not trying to change you, they're just trying to entertain you. Def Leppard is the summer blockbuster of music. You go because you just want to turn your brain off and enjoy yourself. No Nazis, no mentally challenged fathers, no abused children. It's asteroids, superheroes and sequels up the yingyang.

I'll stay with the movie metaphors. Before Titanic was the money pit of movies, Hysteria was the money pit of albums. After their huge success with their 1983 album, Pyromania, the band went back into the studio to take it to the next level with their follow-up. Pyromania producer John "Mutt" Lange was too burned out from his previous workload and wanted to take some time off. The band tried another producer and even tried to produce the album themselves, but both proved inadequate. Production costs were soaring and they didn't have anything that was worth putting on an album.

Then, to top it all off, drummer Rick Allen was in a life-threatening auto accident that resulted in him losing his left arm. The band didn't want to replace him, but they didn't know what they could do. As Rick himself put it in his Behind the Music interview, "Well, I've lost my arm..... and I'm a drummer." But you've never met a more persistent man than this one armed drummer. He invented a radically new style of playing the drums where he played all of the beats that would have been played by his left arm with his left foot. So they hooked up an electronic drum kit that was tied into a series of kick pedals for his left foot and he set off to practice. And practice. And practice.

All the delays ended up working in the long run because after Mutt's prolonged break to recharge his batteries, he returned to produce Hysteria. So the band went back into the studio with their uber-perfectionist producer and went to work. A process that had already been drawn out ended up taking over three years, and I should know because I was one of those anxiously awaiting their new album. The production costs skyrocketed, and it was reported that the album would have to sell at least two million copies just to break even. So it was double platinum or bust for Def Leppard.

"Pour Some Sugar on Me" was the fourth single from Hysteria. The first three had been met with mixed success, but it was "Pour Some Sugar on Me" that really catapulted Hysteria into that super successful arena. The song was a huge hit and became the signature song from the album. The version that I think is the best is not the one that appears on the album. The album version was actually the last song recorded for the album and Mutt Lange remixed it for the single version, and that's the version that I think is the best. The band agrees, because it's the remix version that was released both as the single and video.

The remix uses all sorts of studio embellishments to give the song a much more polished feel to it. There are echoes and reverbs, stereo separation, serious vocal layering, instrumental isolation and more. People complain about how music became less soulful in the 80's with the advent of modern production techniques, but I think it just gave musicians more tools at their disposal to make more interesting sounding songs. The same people usually complained about visual effects ruining modern movies, but they forget that Citizen Kane and 2001: A Space Odyssey used cutting edge effects to give their movies a look never seen before. Same thing with The Beatles. They used new production techniques (like stereo recording) to give their albums a new and exciting feel. Read about Sgt. Pepper's. That album was a revolution in music production. So if polished is bad, then go ahead and listen to your poorly produced 60's albums that give great songs lackluster production and watch movies like Easy Rider. I'm all for progress, so I'll listen to Kanye West and I'll go see Avatar.

Musically, the song is exactly what Mutt beat out of the band with countless takes - perfect. It starts out with Joe Elliot's bouncing vocals interspersed with Steve Clark's pulsing rhythm guitar punctuated with Phil Collen's screaming lead guitar. Then you get the song's signature guitar riff, pulling you fully into the song. Joe Elliot has just enough of that I've-smoked-fifty-packs-of-cigarettes-today voice to give the vocals a great hard rock feel without taking it to the I've-just-gargled-two-gallons-of-gasoline voice of AC/DC's Brian Johnson.

Rick Allen on the drums would come across as pretty basic at first, until you realize that this guy's only got one arm! Even so, as the song progresses, his drumming becomes more complex and even more amazing considering his predicament. The electronic nature of his drums don't detract from the song, and given the song's impeccable production, they actually add to the song. There isn't really a guitar solo, just a section where the song breaks down to some simple guitar picking and drums. It's kind of like the anti-solo.

Lyrically, as I mentioned before, this song will not change anyone's perspective on, well, anything. It's a song all about hooking up - a lot. A sampling:

Razzle 'n' a dazzle 'n' a flash a little light
Television lover, baby, go all night
Sometime, anytime, sugar me sweet
Little miss innocent sugar me, yeah

And all the other lyrics are just other ways of talking about getting with a girl and having a gooooooooood time. Then, later on after the anti-guitar solo, they break into some lyrics that I always misunderstood. Apparently I was the only one. The actual lyrics are:

You got the peaches, I got the cream
Sweet to taste, saccharine

I heard it as:

You got the beat, 'cause I got the heat
Sweet to taste, sad for me

In my defense, I think the beat/heat thing I came up with works lyrically. As far as the saccharine line goes, Def Leppard is from Britain where they pronounce the word saccharine (which we in America pronounce sack-ah-rinn), sack-ah-reen. And I knew that sack-ah-reen wasn't a word, so I just made up my own. My wife Jennifer, just shakes her head at me, but I think I make an okay case for myself. You be the judge.

The video that the band did for the song is a live performance that matches the tremendous energy of the song. The guys are running around, playing with gusto, having nothing but a good time throughout. That's what rock n roll is all about, especially hard rock. If you can't have a good time, you're not doing it right. And Def Leppard, as a band, has been doing it at such a high level for a long time.

Here's a little advertisement/endorsement: They haven't had a huge hit album in a while, but they've put out some really solid ones out lately. Their latest, Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, is a really good album. If you haven't listened to any new Def Leppard in a while, give it a chance. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

(Fun Fact #85: In an act of sheer hubris, Def Leppard released their first single for "Women" that had a cover that was a section of the album cover of Hysteria. They broke the album cover down into three rows and three columns, and each single was one of those sections. So in order to reproduce the entire album cover, they would have to release nine singles from the album. They wanted Hysteria to be the hard rock version of Michael Jackson's Thriller, where every song could be a single. At that point in history, only Thriller had ever released as many as seven singles. Def Leppard didn't quite make it to nine, but they still equaled Jackson's record, releasing seven singles from Hysteria, a stunning achievement from the album that many thought would be a disaster. Their record didn't stand for long, though. They were eclipsed by the artist they were emulating, Michael Jackson, who released all ten songs from his album, Bad, as singles.)
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