Def Leppard Guitarist Phil Collen’s Favorite ’80s Songs Aren’t Necessarily Heavy Hitters
Ah, the mixtape! A time honored tradition of Gen X'ers looking to express their feelings through music and sharing with others. Classic Rock Magazine recently put Def Leppard's Phil Collen through the exercise of making an '80s mixtape, and while you could think the guitarist might load it up with some '80s hard hitters from his peers, you'd be off in that assessment.
"These songs represent my life in the '80s, and what I aspired to be as a musician," explained Collen at the outset. "It was a great time for music, and I remember most of it – at least the bit after 1987 when I stopped drinking!”
First, let's give credit to Collen for including at least one '80s banger on his mixtape. That would be AC/DC, with the guitarist choosing "Shoot to Thrill" as his pick. "'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," says Collen. "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.”
AC/DC, "Shoot to Thrill"
But from there, Collen paints with broad musical strokes as he puts together his '80s mixtape, finding an eclectic mix of new wave and modern rock gems, a classic '70s star adjusting to a new decade, danceable pop and R&B and pointing out the peak era Prince genius as well.
So what else landed on his mixtape? U2 certainly hit Collen with all the feels. The guitarist notes of "Pride (In the Name of Love)," “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.”
U2, "Pride (In the Name of Love)"
And who would've pegged Collen as a Chaka Khan fan? The guitarist notes of her '80s collab with Stevie Wonder on a cover of Prince's "I Feel For You," “Chaka Khan is one of my favorite singers of all time – the archetypal American soul voice. I loved her '70s 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.”
Chaka Khan, "I Feel for You"
His R&B appreciation went a step further with a surprise pick, The System's "Don't Disturb This Groove." As he explained, “This song is so '80s! 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.”
The System, "Don't Disturb This Groove"
As for the aforementioned Prince, Collen offers high praise while noting of the Purple Rain song "Computer Blue," "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.”
Prince and the Revolution, "Computer Blue"
Who else made Collen's cut? You can see and listen to all the selections from Phil Collen's full '80s mixtape over at Classic Rock Magazine.