Joe Elliott likes to call “Pour Some Sugar on Me” “the most important song” on Def Leppard‘s fourth album, Hysteria, and “maybe the most important song in our entire career.”
That’s not just hysterical hyperbole either.
“Pour Some Sugar on Me,” which was first released as a single on Sept. 8, 1987, in the U.K. only, was indeed the song that saved Hysteria — and probably Def Leppard’s proverbial bacon. It’s difficult to remember in the wake of the album’s 12-times platinum success that Hysteria was, within weeks of its release, “pretty well over,” as Elliott told this writer some years later. The follow-up to 1983’s similarly multiplatinum Pyromania had cost the band an enormous amount of time and money, to the point where it needed to sell an estimated 5 million copies just to break even.
That did not happen out of the box. Hysteria debuted at No. 1 in the U.K., but U.S. audiences were less receptive — perhaps because of the band’s long absence and the fact that, as guitarist Phil Collen pointed out, “everyone and their mother was putting out records that sounded like Pyromania.” The first U.S. singles, “Animal” and “Women,” hit the Top 10 of Billboard‘s rock chart but fared worse on the Hot 100, while “Pour Some Sugar on Me” stalled at No. 18 in the U.K. By year’s end, it seemed like Hysteria was a bust.
That changed when Def Leppard released the sex-drenched “Sugar” as a single in the U.S. — a stronger market for the band in general — in April 1988. It was a sweet success, soaring to No. 2 on the Hot 100 (just below Richard Marx‘s “Hold On to the Night”), their highest position to date. The video became an MTV staple as well, ranking at No. 1 on the network’s “Top 300 Videos of All Time” countdown in 1991 and No. 2 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Songs of the ’80s” survey in 2006.
“The song became a hit because strippers in Florida started requesting it on the local radio station,” Collen told Classic Rock in 2016. “It had a second lease of life. Hysteria was all over bar the shouting, and then all of a sudden this song just got popular, and then the album went to Number One. It’s really funny how it suddenly became cool because it was a stripping song.”
Watch Def Leppard’s ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ Video
The irony, of course, is that “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was the very last of Hysteria‘s 12 tracks to make it onto the album.
As the story goes, Elliott and producer Mutt Lange were at the studio in Holland during a December 1986 weekend working on “Armageddon It” while the rest of the band was away. “We took a break,” Elliott remembered in Def Leppard’s online series The Story So Far. “Mutt went off to get a coffee or whatever producers do, and I picked up this acoustic guitar that sat in the corner of the room and just started playing this riff-chorus thing, three-chord turnaround, and singing the chorus.
“And Mutt came back in and he said, ‘What is that?'” the singer continued. “I said, ‘It’s just this idea I’ve had knocking around,’ but we were 11 songs deep into this record that we’d taken the best part of two years to record, so I didn’t dare suggest it to anybody. But he picked up on it and went, ‘No, that’s the best hook I’ve heard for years, many a year. We should do this.'”
Elliott recalled “eyes rolled a little bit from certain members of the band” when he and Lange showed them the song, but “within a minute or so of this demo rolling past, everybody’s like, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re in!'”
The 11th-hour scenario repeated itself on Def Leppard’s 2022 album Diamond Star Halos. Collen presented the song “Kick” after the band felt the album was done, and it became Diamond Star Halos‘ lead single.
“We heard it and [bassist Rick Savage] sent an email: ‘OMG, “Sugar,” anybody?'” Elliott said. “He wasn’t comparing that song to [‘Sugar’]. He was comparing the situation. … It was the same kind of feeling, ‘This could be a very important song for us, and it’s come right at the end when we weren’t expecting it,’ which is always a nice gift. You’re lucky to get one of those in a career, much less two.”