Joe Elliott of Def Leppard, who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March, gave a career-spanning interview on our podcast, Rolling Stone Music Now. Below, he explains at length how the band drew on more diverse influences than many of their peers. To hear the whole discussion, press play below or download and subscribe on iTunes or Spotify.
We’ve always been fans of just great music. We would never limit ourselves to just listening to rock. Then you just sound like a rock band. We wanted to be like Queen were. They were a rock band with a bit of vaudeville and a little bit of operatic thrown in, but it was still essentially rock.
We, as individuals, and as a collective, would readily admit, in front of the entire world, to being fans of everything from the Ramones and the Pistols and the Clash — that kind of aggressive, less musicianship kind of rock — to fans of Utopia, Queen, Steely Dan, the more musician-type of rock.
Then people like Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Tom Waits, Lionel Ritchie, Michael Jackson, just ’cause they make great records. Good enough for Eddie Van Halen to play on! If it’s a great song, you just go, that’s a great song! I mean, we were in a discotheque in Amsterdam in 1986, when we heard “State of Shock” by [Mick] Jagger and Jackson.
We saw how it didn’t empty the dance floor, but it rocked. That’s pretty much inspired “Excitable” off Hysteria. It’s the reaction of people. You can mix it up. We didn’t want to sound like Saxon. We didn’t want to sound like Maiden. We didn’t want to sound like Duran Duran. We didn’t want to sound like Depeche Mode, but if you put the lot into a bucket, there is an interlink between any one of them bands, as much as Maiden might not agree.
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I’ve listened to Depeche Mode for 20-odd years. They’re a rock band without a guitar. Everything about them. Their arrangements, the look, in fact, they did eventually bring guitar in, but even their keyboards were well, they were hardcore-sounding and they were playing rock riffs on a keyboard. Nine Inch Nails — similar kind of thing.
If it’s a good song, it gets logged in our DNA in the plus department. Even if all we ever do is tell people we think it’s great, not lift things from it, that’s a good thing. We’ve always been influenced by everything from pure pop to downright hardcore rock. We would never be one or the other, but take the ingredients, for sure. That’s how you make your own pie, by stealing ingredients from other people’s recipes.
All we ever really wanted to do was make a record that we would go out and buy ourselves. We were one of the few bands… that actually would readily admit to liking things that journalists and fans may question. Because a lot of people are scared to admit their influences, in case it upsets the apple cart with their audience.
I remember thinking should we ever get to the position where I’m asked that question, I’m not going to deny myself. So if somebody says, “What do you think of Michael Jackson or what do you think of Janet Jackson or what do you think of Paula Abdul?” … Hey, if I like the song, I like the song.
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