When Def Leppard’s ‘Make Love Like a Man’ Raised Eyebrows
No self-respecting semimetal band like Def Leppard can strut its stuff without indulging in a little libido. But the band raised a few eyebrows — and hackles — with the brazen title and lyrics of its 1992 single, "Make Love Like a Man."
The second single from Adrenalize, "Make Love Like a Man" arrived nearly three months after the album. The song only reached No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100 but rose to No. 3 on the Mainstream Rock Songs chart, while also hitting No. 12 in the U.K. and No. 10 in Ireland.
Def Leppard anticipated some questions with "Make Love Like a Man." Elliott tried to head off the controversy during an interview distributed to the media by Def Leppard's Mercury Records label: "For all the feminists that would get offended, please don't," he said. "It's only a bit of a laugh."
"Make Love Like a Man" was co-written by guitarist Steve Clark before his January 1991 death, along with singer Joe Elliott, longtime co-producer Mutt Lange and guitarist Phil Collen. Lange had collaborated on Def Leppard's previous two diamond-certified albums, Pyromania and Hysteria, but was unavailable for Adrenalize so the band handled his duties with Mike Shipley.
Elliott credited Collen with composing "the initial riff and hook, and he said, like, 'Ooh, I'm not sure about this. I think we might offend a few people.'" Elliott added. "I think it was me and Mutt were saying, 'You've got to be joking.' It's obvious. Get a sense of humor! Come on, people have to pick up on the fact it's tongue in cheek — whose tongue and who's cheek I don't know, but ... .
"It's a very positive thing," Elliott added. "It's like 'Women' off the last album [Hysteria]; we thought a few people might think it was sexist, but it was actually putting women on a pedestal, to be quite honest, and saying how wonderful they are – which is what everyone in the band thinks about women most of the time.
"And the same with 'Make Love Like a Man,' the friendly aggression of taking your partner and throwing her down on the mattress, or her throwing you down on the mattress if you're lucky. Again, it's just a humor thing. We didn't want to get stuck in that kind of, 'Oh, they're all miserable' mode. We like to dance around a little bit of controversy I guess, but it's not really meant to be controversial. It's just a bit of fun."
Watch Def Leppard's Video for 'Make Love Like a Man'
Elliott reiterated the point during a broadcast interview at the time, acknowledging that "a lot of people are accusing us of being this kind of sexist, macho loving, hunky sex machine – which we kind of do portray that role on the odd song. But ['Make Love Like a Man'] is done for fun in the way Henry Winkler plays the Fonz for fun. ... It's just, what's the phrase, we are suspending reality for three and a half minutes."
Elliott was proud of one aspect of the song in particular. "Those vocal dynamics at the end are straight from Motown," he told Rolling Stone when Adrenalize came out. "It was us doing the Four Tops as rock 'n' roll. We were getting off on that classic songwriting thing, turning it into rock songs."
"Make Love Like a Man" has been a periodic staple in Def Leppard's sets, most recently during a handful of fall dates in 2018. It was included in the U.K. edition of 1995's Vault: Def Leppard Greatest Hits (1980-1995) and on worldwide compilations such as 2004's Best of Def Leppard and 2018's The Story So Far: The Best Of. The song is also featured on their 2011 concert set Mirror Ball: Live & More.
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