Def Leppard's Joe Elliott: My Life in 15 Songs

U.K. hitmakers' singer on "Pour Some Sugar on Me," "Photograph" and other glammy gems

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"Rocket" (1987)

I'd been hanging out with somebody in Holland who had been playing me "Burundi Black," which has this immensely hypnotic African drum pattern. It really got under my skin and sucked me in. It reminded me of when I was 12 and I went to this children's disco and "Rock and Roll Part 2" came on. The "Burundi Black" thing was just a much more rustic, urban, natural version of that. So I borrowed it off that friend and made a loop of the actual drum pattern. I started putting chords on top of it, and that turned into what is now the chorus of this song. Then we all bashed it into shape as a piece of music.

When it came to the lyrics, we started singing "rocket" because it was a simplistic phrase that fit the sort of space-age sound that had developed over this African drum loop. But I felt like Bowie had done the space thing to death. So I remember thinking, "Why don't we just use the rocket thing as a metaphor, and make the song a vehicle to talk about our childhoods?" Like, the Easybeats took the easy way out with "Friday on My Mind" — they turned it into a genius thing by just naming the days of the week. I said, "Why don't we do a similar thing to that? Let's just name-check as many artists that influenced us as we possibly can." And obviously there's artistic license with a few people who weren't part of our musical DNA but are there for rhyming reasons, like Jet Black [drummer for the Stranglers] and whoever. But things like "Bennie and the Jets" and "Killer Queen," all that kind of stuff, it just fit the whole vibe of what we were doing.

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