Do Artists Need to Play Their Hits at Concerts?

It depends! For any artist, they need to have popular tunes to sell records. But sometimes, overplaying the hits can be a bit much at times. It is necessary, though; at a Bon Jovi concert, for example, the crowd would be upset if they don’t play “Bad Medicine,” “Wanted Dead Or Alive,” or “Livin’ On A Prayer.” 

“I have no problem playing the hits on stage,” said Joe Elliott of Def Leppard during an interview with Brian Johnson on Brian Johnson’s A Life on the Road (2019). 

When you go to see your favorite band, people want to see their favorite artists play the songs they grew up with and saw them perform on MTV, etc. In Joe Elliott’s case, Def Leppard wouldn’t get out alive unless they played songs from the Hysteria album. In AC/DC’s case, there’d be a riot if they don’t play anything off of the Back In Black album. 

“I’ve always said, and I’ll say it a million more times before I die, no doubt, if you can’t handle the responsibility of writing a hit, don’t write it,” said Elliott.

But what about the fans who go to every Def Leppard and AC/DC show? They’ve probably heard the same songs from the same albums at every gig. Depending on how much you love the band, sometimes the hits are not enough. Some people want to hear the hits, some people want to hear songs the band hasn’t performed in years, some want to hear songs from their latest album, and some want a combination of all the above.

I love the hits, but it’d be nice to hear variety at the shows once in a while. I’ve watched four Def Leppard concerts that took place within 2013-2019, and they all feature the same six songs: “Hysteria,” “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak,” “Switch 625,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me,” “Rock of Ages,” and “Photograph.” 

I’m not trying to throw hate at these artists; I’m just saying it’d be nice to hear some of them perform the deep cuts at their concerts. AC/DC took that approach on their Rock or Bust tour, where they added hidden gems to their setlist such as some songs from their Powerage album, and “Giving the Dog a Bone,” from Back in Black.

Am I overreacting? Possibly because Joe Elliott does have a point; what’s the use of making hits if you don’t perform them live? Also, it may be a different story for current artists vs. older acts.

In an article titled, “How Many Songs Off New Albums Should Bands Play?“, by David Sackllah, he described the process of deciding how many new songs to play based on five factors: when the new album came out, how popular it is, how many albums they have, how often they tour, and the size of the venue/type of tour it is. Artists that only have 2-3 albums could manage with playing newer songs, but not artists like Def Leppard or AC/DC.

In the end, it depends on who’s coming to see the artist, how much time they have to perform, and what type of tour it is. Whether or not artists should play their hits, there’s no right or wrong answer. 

Let me know your thoughts on this down in the comments below!

Take care and see ya real soon!

Lana

15 thoughts on “Do Artists Need to Play Their Hits at Concerts?

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  1. There are a lot of artists/bands that do mix it up a lot. Bob Dylan or The Grateful Dead I don’t believe has ever played the same setlist twice in a row. But the nature of their stage show makes it easier. For an AC/DC show, you have lighting and pyrotechnics. So, if the band changes a song, there are 100 people that need to do 100 things to make it happen.

    As for if they should play hits, I think they should if a band is asking for money for a show. I think people pay with an understanding that they will hear the songs they want to hear live.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wasn’t aware that some artists change up their setlists. You bring up a good point with AC/DC; their shows have a lot going on and they probably have some of the craziest shows I’ve ever seen before. Yes, artists need to play the hits. But I wrote this post based on a comment on youtube for Def Leppard’s performance of “White Lighting” that said, “So many great songs and yet they play the same 12 songs over and over again” or something like that!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t think Leppard has changed there setlist in 15 years. Sure they have done those Vegas residences but once on tour its the same 18 songs, Greatest Hits set.
        But as you said these bands shows are all synced to the lights that you change one tune and 100 things happen.
        Great point Kev.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. I mean I’ve never seen them live, just videos. In fact, the picture for the post and my background for my website are screenshots of videos I stole from my dad when he saw Def Leppard back in 2018. I know they use a lot of screens and lasers for their shows, especially for “Hysteria.”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting post. If I think back to each gig I’ve seen, it’s the new songs that were played that I remember. Ian Gillan one said the dynamic of a gig is in the new songs and I agree. But Smoke On The Water still gets the biggest cheer and it baffles me. How many times has everyone heard that?! I wouldn’t mind if they left that out once or twice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah “Smoke On the Water”!!! I’ve never heard the song, but I’ve heard of the riff. Yeah, sometimes overplaying the hits can be a bit much. I’m not saying artists have to toss out the hits completely, like you said, maybe if they skip the hits once or twice, it would freshen up their gigs once in a while.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m a classic rock guy originally. Deep Purple, KISS, The Who are all favourites. I like a lot of metal too: Sabbath, Priest, Maiden through to a lot of the really extreme stuff!

        I see Def Lep and Ac/Dc on your site. Love them too! What else do you like?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ah classic rock and metal are awesome! I love Iron Maiden too, Metallica, and Bon Jovi (though I can’t get past stuff after Richie Sambora left). Those are the main ones, but I also like a mix of Guns N Roses, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, and Queen. Basically, as long as it’s loud I’ll like it!

        Like

      3. They’re all bands I love too. I didn’t last as long with Bon Jovi. Bounce was the last album I really liked. Lost interest after that. But I hate the thought of Sambora not being in the band anymore. It’s not right!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. RIGHT?!?!? I’m so glad you feel the same way. In all honesty, I only picked bits from their albums starting with ‘These Days,’ and hated ‘Lost Hghway.’ Also, considering the fact that I only care about Bon Jovi with Richie, I’m more of a Richie Sambora fan more than a Bon Jovi fan haha!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I am a deep cuts kinda guy to be honest. If I went to a Kiss show and they didn’t play Rock And Roll All Nite, I would be psyched to have seen such an historic show. They do need to play the hits though, because that’s how the bills get paid, and I’m one of like 3 guys in the audience who only want deep cuts. Just throw us a bone or two in the setlist is all I ask!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You brought up good points because the hits pay the bills, but like you said, it wouldn’t hurt to throw in a few deep cuts. When I wrote this post, I had Def Leppard in mind because according to my research, their sets have gotten predictable over the years (with the exception of the 2019 Vegas residency), so deep cuts and rarities would be a nice touch (“Desert Song”). Also, it’s funny you brought up “Rock and Roll All Nite,” because I hate that song, sorry. Thanks for stopping by Mike!

      Like

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