"This song is so powerful and still makes me emotional": My 80s Mixtape, by Def Leppard's Phil Collen

Phil Collen and a cassette tape
(Image credit: Phil Collen: Ross Halfin)

"These songs represent my life in the eighties, and what I aspired to be as a musician," says Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen, introducing his favourite songs from the 1980s. "It was a great time for music, and I remember most of it – at least the bit after 1987 when I stopped drinking!”


INXS - Need You Tonight (1987)

“I’m obsessed with hybrid music, when you blend styles, and INXS were a perfect example of that. It was dance music, it was rock, it was pop, and then you had Michael Hutchence, a singer who was an absolute rock star. The way he delivered Need You Tonight, he was as much a narrator as a singer.”

U2 - Pride (In The Name Of Love) (1984)

U2 came out of the post-punk era, but I loved the way they evolved into something else, something bigger. This song is so powerful and still makes me emotional. There was such a great chemistry in the band. The Edge had a unique guitar sound. And then you’ve got Bono, with that amazing voice. Bono is like a great Irish poet in that classic sense.”

Frankie Goes To Hollywood - Relax (1984)

“I was just blown away when I first heard Relax. It was like dance music disguised as hard rock. I loved the sound and the feel and the vibe to it. It’s obviously one of the biggest gay anthems of all time, but it connected with everyone because it was a great song and Holly Johnson was a great singer. They also had a genius producer in Trevor Horn, and the sound of that whole album, Welcome To The Pleasuredome, was a big influence on Def Leppard when we were making Hysteria. You can hear it in Animal, Rocket, even Armageddon It.”

Chaka Khan - I Feel For You (1984)

“Chaka Khan is one of my favourite singers of all time – the archetypal American soul voice. I loved her seventies hit I’m Every Woman, but I Feel For You was really the perfect song for her. Prince wrote the song, Stevie Wonder played harmonica, and there’s rapping by Grandmaster Melle Mel. But most of all it’s that voice that really hits you. She really is a vocal powerhouse.”

David Bowie - Let’s Dance (1983)

“The music that Bowie made in the seventies kind of shaped my life. I loved all the transformations he made from one album to another, and what he did with Let’s Dance in the eighties was similar to Young Americans in the seventies. It’s got this amazing groove, and the guitar playing from Stevie Ray Vaughan is incredible.”

AC/DC - Shoot To Thrill (1980)

"Shoot To Thrill is such an exciting song. I always liked AC/DC’s early stuff and I loved Highway To Hell, but they really took it to the next level with Back In Black, and I don’t think they could have done that without [producer] Mutt Lange, because that’s what Mutt did for Leppard. It’s obvious why Back In Black is their biggest album – it’s phenomenal. And even now, Shoot To Thrill still makes my pulse race.”

The Police - Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic (1981)

“The Police are my favourite band, and again it’s that hybrid of musical styles – reggae and post-punk and pop. There are so many great songs to choose from, but Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic is such a fun tune. Of course Sting was the leader and a brilliant songwriter, but Andy Summers was another guitarist with a truly unique sound, like The Edge. I tried to get that sound on some Leppard songs – Hysteria and Animal – but we never quite got there.”

Prince - Computer Blue (1984)

“I think Prince is the most perfect artist of all time. If you’re a musician, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re a performer, and it definitely doesn’t mean you’re an artist. But Prince was all three, and at a supreme level. Purple Rain is a masterpiece of an album and it ticked every box. It was R&B, it was pop, it was hard rock in places, and then it had this thing that was totally unique. I could pick any song off that album, but I’m going with Computer Blue because it’s so clever and so sexy.”

The System - Don’t Disturb This Groove (1987)

“This song is so eighties! I chose it because it’s a little bit left-field and it’s beautiful. The System was two guys with a sound that mixed synth-pop and R&B, and Don’t Disturb This Groove was their big song. It’s not typical R&B, but it does what every great R&B song should – it makes you want to sing and dance.”

Billy Idol - Eyes Without A Face (1984)

Billy Idol was the punk Elvis, and I loved him for it. He was a massive star, but I think he should have been even bigger. He was great with Generation X, but when he went solo and got Steve Stevens as his guitarist, the stars aligned. For me, Eyes Without A Face really sums up that early MTV era – a great song and a great performance. That’s when Billy was a total superstar. All the women loved him, and all the guys wanted to be like him. Well, some of us did!”

Phil Collen was speaking with Paul Elliott.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”