The Meaning Behind Def Leppard’s Power Ballad “Love Bites”

When you make love, do you look in the mirror? Who do you think of, does he look like me?

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Those were some loaded questions for a lover back in 1988. On “Love Bites,” Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott is singing to a lover who left him for another guy. The song continues to unravel some of the incidental mind games of a love that’s fallen off its pedestal.

When I’m with you are you somewhere else?
Am I gettin’ thru or do you please yourself?

The sixth single off Def Leppard’s fourth, mega-hit album Hysteria, “Love Bites” moves through the insecurities, uncertainties, and the more intimate revelations within a relationship.

I don’t wanna touch you too much baby
‘Cos making love to you might drive me crazy
I know you think that love is the way you make it
So I don’t wanna be there when you decide to break it

Love Bleeds

By the chorus, it’s clear that love bites, and bleeds, because it can cut and injure the heart.

Love bites, love bleeds
It’s bringin’ me to my knees
Love lives, love dies
It’s no surprise
Love begs, love pleads
It’s what I need

“It was just a standard rock ballad but it had something else going for it,” said guitarist Phil Collen of the ballad. “Lyrically, it kind of painted a picture, and in a song, you always want to do that, paint a picture. ‘On a dark desert highway,’ the first line of ‘Hotel California,’ great song, it just paints an image for you straight off the bat and that’s the sign of a really good song. It takes you right there. ‘Love Bites’ did that as well.”

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Collen, who said he played an earlier version of the song for his mother who cried after hearing it, admitted that for “Love Bites,” the band wanted to go “over the top” with guitars and melodies and countermelodies.

“It wasn’t just a rock groove,” said Collen. “It was almost like R&B grooves and different things going off and that’s what makes it, I think. If you get too genre-specific, stay in a box, then you remain in a box. The important thing is to kind of mix it all up. I love all different types of music and I’m constantly making a hybrid of them and I think that is the way to go.”

Mutt Lange and the Eagles

“Love Bites” was written by Collen, along with Elliott, bassist Rick Savage, and late guitarist Steve Clark. Hysteria producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange also has a writing credit on “Love Bites,” along with the remaining album tracks.

Lange wrote the first version of “Love Bites’ and played it on acoustic guitar for Collen and Clark. At first, the guitarists thought it sounded country and more like an Eagles song than a Def Leppard one.

“It sounded more like the Eagles,” shared Collen. “He [Lange] sounds like Don Henley. Mutt’s got an amazing voice, and most of the backing vocals on that song are actually Mutt singing. We are on there but you can’t really hear us. That’s all Mutt’s vocals.”

Learning to Play “Love Bites”

The band recorded “Love Bites” in separate sessions with Lange piecing it all together for Hysteria. When the song hit No. 1, Def Leppard had still never played the track together in one room. When it topped the charts, they rented a studio to figure out how to put all the pieces together and play it live on their Hysteria world tour.

“Love Bites” remains a staple on the band’s set list to this day.

No. 1

Along with the Hysteria title track and singles like “Animal,” “Women,” “‘Rocket,” “Armageddon It” and “Pour Some Sugar on Me”—most of which hit the top 10—”Love Bites” went to the top of the charts and remains Def Leppard’s only No. 1 single.

At the end of 1988, Hysteria was the third highest-selling album of the year, behind the Dirty Dancing soundtrack and George Michael’s Faith.

(Photo: Anton Corbijn / Oriel PR)

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