Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.
Def Leppard – “Make Love Like a Man”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #36 in July 1992
In 1992 the fumes from Hysteria‘s two-year-long residency in the American top thirty would have sent an album’s worth of Joe Elliott imitating a bullfrog to #1, and perhaps Adrenalize would’ve been better if Elliott had done so. Five years after Hysteria and a year after the death of guitarist Steve Clark from drug and alcohol abuse, Def Leppard released their New Jersey. Of course it peaked at #1 on the British and American charts, on the latter for five weeks. But first single “Let’s Get Rocked” was blowzy self-parody; when a band at this stage in their career has to convince you that They’re Rocking it’s an ominous state of affairs.
With a title that Patrick Cowley lacked the temerity to use on his own productions, “Make Love Like a Man” provoked snickers and from the band an uncharacteristic defensiveness. “Make love like a man/I’m a man/That’s what I am,” Elliott boasts in his patented snicker-wheeze over a riff that Poison did better. It does not improve, and when Elliott, ramming a flaccid cock in the audience’s faces, sings, “Don’t call me gigolo, don’t call me Casanova” responsible listeners have left the room to wash their teeth.
Here’s where the Def needed the deluxe ministrations of Robert “Mutt” Lange, who even on duffer Hysteria tracks like “Run Riot” filled in the holes in the band’s songwriting with enough echo and effects to bring Ronald Reagan back to life. Produced by glorified engineer Mike Shipley, Adrenalize does no such thing. It sounds like state of the art pop with a hard rock crust, not a hard rock song whose will to power created its own gravitational power.
Although its chart position proved middling, the Leppards weren’t done yet. “Two Steps Behind” became a surprise top fifteen hit in summer ’93 when attached to Ah-nold’s first bonafide bomb The Last Action Hero . Serviceable goop, and — here’s the best part — I can believe Elliott could make love like a man after listening to it. This wasn’t the case with “Every Road Has Its Thorn.”