There are a mash-up of influences on this song, which is typical of Def Leppard, whose frontman Joe Elliott told us
, "Everything I've ever listened to seeps in."
Joe can't always identify the specific influences, but the first record he bought was "Sugar, Sugar
," which was a huge hit for the cartoon band The Archies in 1969. Near the end of that song, there is a line that goes "Pour a little sugar on me, baby," which Elliott says was at least subconscious inspiration for this song.
The lyrics started out as phonetic sounds to fit the music, which they refined later into actual words. Joe says that this was done in the style of "Bang A Gong (Get It On)
" by T. Rex, which contains vaguely lascivious lyrics that don't make any sense ("a hubcap, diamond star halo"?) but sound great.
The lyrics are clearly about sex - Elliott says "Pour Some Sugar On Me" is "The metaphor for whatever sexual preference you enjoy" - but they are shrouded in enough metaphors to make the song safe for radio and MTV. Def Leppard, with Mutt Lange producing, were one of the best-selling bands of the '80s, succeeding with a formula of polished songs perfect for pop radio but with enough rock swagger to keep guys interested - which is where lyrics about sex and drums and rock and roll come in.
The massive commercial success for the band did not translate into credibility, but songwriters tend to write about life experiences, and lead singer Joe Elliott had no interest in writing about an assembly line. He explained to Q magazine in 1988: "I used to work on the treadmill making knives and forks; it don't cross over into a lyric. There's nothing in Sheffield (England) to write songs about - you can't write, 'This is Steel City!' and mean it. It's come across like bloody heavy metal Hovis ad! It's a great place with great people, but in my upbringing there was a lack of community spirit. I'm an only child; I found my own entertainment. The whole idea of being in a band is to escape boredom, so you create escapism."
Hysteria was the follow up to Def Leppard's 1983 album Pyromania, which was also a huge hit. Both albums were produced by Mutt Lange, who is known as a perfectionist in the studio. Hysteria was also delayed because drummer Rick Allen lost an arm in a car accident in 1984. He had to learn to play with one arm.
As detailed in the VH1 Classic Albums
episode on Hysteria
, producer Mutt Lange kept pushing the band for more songs for the album. They working on "Armageddon It
" when they took a break and Joe Elliott started playing his basic idea of "Pour Some Sugar On Me" on an acoustic guitar in the control room. Lange heard it and thought it was a great hook, so he had them record the song, which was done quickly. To compose the lyrics, Elliott and Lange each took recorders and dictated lyric ideas. They listened to each other's recordings, and Elliott picked something Lange said for the opening line: "Love is like a bomb." This line was the basis for the rest of the lyrics.
Notice the rap influence on the verses Elliott sings? He explained to Kaos2000
magazine: "When we did 'Pour Some Sugar On Me,' it was only written because Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith had done 'Walk This Way
.' All of the sudden, rock and rap did mix, so we wrote our own."
Joe Elliot talks about the early TV appearances of Def Leppard in the book MTV Ruled the World - The Early Years of Music Video, where he says, "In 1981, we were in the States with Ozzy for about six weeks and Blackfoot for about a month. We were back home by September and October of '81, preparing for the next album, and didn't know anything about MTV. We'd shot three kind of... I wouldn't call them videos, promo 'movies' of three tracks from High 'n' Dry. Which for us, we knew the only chance of getting them shown was on The Old Grey Whistle Test on BBC in England or the equivalent shows in France and Germany. And maybe Don Kirshner's Rock Concert would show one, but normally, they'd have a band live. So MTV was new to us."
Regarding the above-mentioned TV shows: The Old Grey Whistle Test was a BBC2 TV series running from 1971 to 1988 which focused on giving airtime to "serious" rock music as opposed to playing only the hits like Top of the Pops. Guest artists on the show included Bob Marley and the Wailers, Billy Joel, Judas Priest, Judee Sill, Heart and Lynyrd Skynyrd. The show was named after an old phrase from Tin-Pan Alley; new songs would be tested on an audience of doormen (called "old gray" because of the uniforms they wore), and if they could whistle the song back after a couple of plays, the song producers would know that they had a hit. As for Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, that was the Don Kirshner of Monkees and Archies fame running a syndicated ABC TV series from 1973 to 1981. They featured guest performances by the likes of Rush, The Eagles, KISS, Foghat, The Ramones, Kansas and The Allman Brothers Band. At its peak, the show drew better ratings than The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.
Asked during a 2015 interview with the Albany radio station Q103 if he has ever actually poured sugar on anyone, Elliott replied: "I think we once had a competition backstage to actually pour, like, a pound of sugar over some poor girl's head who had been saturated in hot water. It was written in the contract that it had to be done, no doubt. So, yeah, I think maybe about 25 years ago, we did it at one time."
"She seemed to enjoy it, from what I can remember," he added, laughing. "You know, sugar is better than coal."
Russell Mulcahy, who was one of the most successful music video directors of the '80s, did this one. Most of his videos have actors and storylines, but the "Pour Some Sugar On Me" video shows the band setting up for a show and performing on stage.
Joe Elliott recalled the story of the song to Artist Direct:
"We were working on the vocals for I believe it was 'Armageddon' when Mutt disappeared to get coffee or whatever, and I just picked up this acoustic guitar in the corner of the control room and started playing these three chords around in a circle and singing this hook over the top, and he came back in unbeknownst to me. You kind of feel the eyes burning in the back of your head after a while and you turn around, 'What are you doing?' And he's like, 'What are you playing?' I honestly think to this day he thought I was just playing some Stone or Kinks song or something, I said, 'It's just an idea I had, it doesn't matter, we've got 11 songs on this record, two years into it, I know we're done,' and he goes, 'Oh no, we're not. That's the best hook I've heard in over five years. Play it again.' So I played it and he literally stopped the tape and he took the tape off and put a brand new piece of tape on and said, 'Right, we're going to do this,' and between me and him, we just mapped out what turned into 'Pour Some Sugar On Me.'"
"When the rest of the guys came back in, I believe it was a weekend, and they all came back in around Monday lunchtime and we've got the guts of this thing done in rough form, drum machine, bass, some bad guitar playing by him or me or both, banged out rough vocals on chorus and stuff like that, and said, 'Guys, we've got an idea for a song,' and they kind of went, 'Oh God,' everybody's eyes are rolling. We said, 'No, wait, wait, listen,' and literally about a minute in, they're all going, 'Holy crap, yeah!' And it was the fastest thing we did. We banged the whole thing out in two days, really. By comparison to the record, that was nanoseconds. That was because it took us that long to get comfortable."
In America, this was kept off the #1 spot by Richard Marx, with "Hold On To The Nights
." The next Def Leppard single, "Love Bites
," reached the top, giving them their only #1 on the Hot 100.