Christian Rock Thursdays: Pour Some Sugar on Me, Jesus!

Christian Rock Thursdays: Pour Some Sugar on Me, Jesus! June 9, 2016

In 1988, Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar On Me” dominated rock radio. Well, so I’ve heard. I don’t actually remember this because a) I was three and b) I was mostly listening to Gospel Duck, a pentecostal Donald Duck clone (when you combine evangelicalism with capitalism, there is almost no artistic depth that cannot be plumbed). But people who were there tell me that “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was played on MTV approximately 4000 times a day. And, the Christian industry working as it does, this meant there had to be a Christian clone.

“Pour Some Sugar On Me” was not actually the best-selling rock single of 1988—that would be “Sweet Child o’ Mine”—but because of its structure, Def Leppard’s über-hit is far easier to copy.

Def Leppard's Joe Elliott. YouTube.
Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott. YouTube.

You too can write your own Def Leppard rip-off! Here’s how: First, you need the chords I, IV, and V. In the key of E (the key of all True Rock Anthems, because it’s the easiest to play on guitar), that’s are E major, A major, and B major. Then you play them with this rhythm:

two eighth notes followed by crotchet rest

Record armies of people singing a catchy chorus melody and, BOOM, instant hit. The rhythm is the key to it. It’s so insistent that you can change the chord progression (as Warrant did with Cherry Pie) and, if you keep the other elements the same, still have a song that is recognisably derivative of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”.

Christian hair metallers Shout were the first out of the gate with “When the Love is Gone” from their 1989 album In Your Face.

The verse and pre-chorus are reasonably original, in a generic kind of way, but the chorus (1:03) is pure Def Leppard.

Next up were Christian rock superstars Petra, with “I Am On The Rock” (1990). Clearly, the world had been waiting for a song that combined power chords, multi-tracked backing vocals, and the parable of the wise man who built his house upon the rock. The result was an instant CCM classic. And because there is nothing conservative Christians love more than literalism, the video saw the band playing on an actual rock.

Again, it’s the chorus (0:52) where things get plagiarisey.

Now, to be fair to these Christian artists, I should point out two things. First, between 1989 and 1991, a lot of musicians copied “Pour Some Sugar on Me”. I’ve already mentioned Warrant’s “Cherry Pie”, and there were piles of others. The song has cast a long shadow too: in 2013, rumours flew that Def Leppard were going to sue One Direction’s songwriters for Midnight Memories. It’s also a fair bet that “Teenage Dirtbag” and Weezer’s “Beverly Hills” would not exist if Def Leppard hadn’t got there first. Second, “Pour Some Sugar on Me” is itself not exactly original, basically being the chorus from “I Love Rock n’ Roll” bolted on to the verse from “We Will Rock You” (which is one reason Def Leppard haven’t sued any of their obvious copyists).

But most of the non-Christian imitations are more nods of the head to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” than outright clones (the dire “Read My Body” by Kiss being a regrettable exception). Other rock anthems of the era, like those by Slaughter, TNT, Bon Jovi, and Danger Danger, definitely have echoes of Def Leppard, but not many were as blatantly unoriginal as Petra or Shout.

And that’s why when I finally allowed myself to listen to non-Christian music at the end of the ’90s, Def Leppard immediately became my favourite band. I’d spent so many years listening to Christian imitations that Def Leppard sounded immediately familiar, but also much better than what I’d heard before.

The experience of being a Christian rock fan is much like being a normal rock fan, and I geeked out in all the usual ways, putting posters on my walls and reading the liner notes to all the albums until I knew the names of everyone who’d worked on them. But the most important thing, as for every other rock fan, was the experience of hearing a song for the first time and being transported to another world. That I can’t believe how great this freakin’ song is1 feeling is exactly the same for the Christian rock fan as for anyone else. The first time you hear a song that is almost life-changingly good, you become a fan for life. You live to discover the songs that make you feel that way.

Petra’s “I Am on the Rock” was one of those songs for me. And the very fact of its awesomeness was a real boost to my faith. I believed that Petra had been inspired to write this totally awesome music by the Holy Spirit, and that secular music could not possibly be as good because those artists didn’t have God helping them. This belief was easy to maintain because, safe in my Christian cocoon, I hardly ever heard any secular rock.

When I finally heard “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, I discovered that Petra had been inspired less by the Holy Spirit and more by some blokes from Yorkshire. It was a bit of a comedown.

1 Definitely, at that point in my life, freakin’ and absolutely not fuckin’. (Back up)

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