Formed out of the industrial steel town of Sheffield in 1977, little did Def Leppard – or Atomic Mass as they were then – know they would rise to become one of only five acts who have had two or more original albums sell over 10 million copies in America, putting them on a pedestal with the likes of The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Van Halen. It’s exalted company, and these days, given the band’s style hardly being suited to modern metal, one which Hammer readers may find quizzical. But it was once a very different story.
Metal Detector: Def Leppard
Alongside 70s NWOBHM bands like Saxon and Maiden, these five herberts known as the craply-named Def Leppard would go on to take the world by storm.
Leppard signed a deal with Phonogram, having impressed record labels with their self- released Getcha Rocks Off EP,and having slightly changed their name via Deaf Leopard to Def Leppard (’cos it looked more like ‘Led Zeppelin’), it didn’t take long for them to become a leading light on the burgeoning NWOBHM scene alongside the likes of Saxon and Iron Maiden. They supported AC/DC and Sammy Hagar and their debut album, On Through The Night, made the Top 15 in 1980. Yet concentrating on touring America, and the success on the fledgling MTV of the video for Bringing On The Heartbreak from 1981’s High’N’Dry alienated the band’s UK audience who saw them as selling-out.
Leppard’s third album, Pyromania, recorded with legendary producer Mutt Lange, broke them big in the States, though by that time ex-Girl guitarist Phil Collen had replaced founder member Pete Willis. A run of hit singles and arena rock shows secured Leppard’s place as one of UK music’s biggest ever exports, but back home it was still a very different story, with Pyromania only just making the UK Top 20.
All that was to change of course, with the release of Hysteria. Yet that wouldn’t surface until 1987, some four years after Pyromania. First, recording sessions with Bat Out Of Hell producer Jim Steinman stalled, then everything was thrown into chaos when drummer Rick Allen lost an arm in a car accident on New Year’s Eve 1984. Yet after a period of recuperation, Leppard continued with Allen and producer Lange at the helm and when Hysteria arrived the world was their proverbial oyster.
The album made them stars in their UK homeland and catapulted them further into the stratosphere in the US, where they ended the 80s as the top selling rock band ahead of U2, Guns N’ Roses and Bon Jovi.
Further tragedy lay just around the corner, however, when guitarist Steve Clarke died from an accidental overdose brought on by prescription drugs and alcohol, and the band soldiered on as a four piece to complete the recording of Adrenalize, which was released in 1992, adding ex-Dio/Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell just after its release. Despite the fact that Nirvana and grunge held sway, Leppard’s party rock was still a big success, bucking the trend and selling over three million copies in the US while the single Let’s Get Rocked was a huge worldwide hit.
Leppard finally succumbed to changing their image and sound with 1996’s Slang, which was a modest success, and three years later returned to the hard-rocking approach of their youth with 1999’s far better Euphoria. Live the band remain a great hard rock act, and still a reasonable Stateside draw. And no matter what your thoughts on their ripped-jean party rock, Leppard are a band that the UK rock scene can be justifiably proud of.
As befitting a band with the success that Def Leppard gained, predictably there are a whole swathe of biographies out there, most being the usual unauthorised trawl through press cuttings. However, when Leppard released their groundbreaking Hysteria album in 1987, there was also the arrival of the thus far only official tome from the band. Penned by noted Rolling Stone writer David Fricke and with some amazing photos courtesy of esteemed rock photographer Ross Halfin, Animal Instinct went a long way to explain the sometimes intricate tale of the band, not least the four preceding years during which the band had endured drummer Rick Allen’s harrowing car crash and arm loss, his recuperation and the band’s rising from the ashes to finally complete work on what became their career-defining album. It might have been official, but David Fricke hardly shirks from potentially awkward areas and the band come across as very open and honest. The book is unfortunately no longer in print, but secondhand copies are still available on Amazon and eBay. It may only go up to Hysteria, but it’s by far the best Def Leppard book out there.
If the point of Metal Detector is to introduce Hammer readers to the idea that many bands they possibly deem too old to be relevant are actually worthy of your attention, then X is the album from Def Leppard that’s about as far removed from their rock credentials as you can get. Best known for raucously enjoyable party-rock anthems, the rock is ditched here in favour of stabs at melodic pop, going so far as to work with writers of major pop hits of the day. Needless to say, it didn’t open them up to the new mass-market audience that they hoped it would (not that they needed to shift any more units by this stage in the platinum game), and went some way to confusing the male section of their audience who still wanted to get rocked, as Leppard once liked to put it. Still, their wives and partners probably enjoyed crooning along to the likes of Unbelievable or Long, Long Way To Go. You most definitely will not.
A fair crack of the whip.
Sure it’s rough around the edges, but this was Leppard’s debut album. Recorded well over three decades ago, when they were aged around 20, it presents them in an interesting light. The approach blended a more traditional metal style akin to that of Judas Priest (producer Tom Allom had worked with the Brum metallers) alongside the more glam-rock pretensions of Leppard that manifested themselves in Yeah! That said, they arrived at exactly the right time, alongside Iron Maiden, and crashed into the UK charts at No. 15, spearheading the NWOBHM movement. Rock Brigade, Rocks Off and Wasted are full of youthful strut and vigour, although the sentiment of single Hello America would haunt them for another seven years in the UK. This, their first long-player, remains an enthralling listen – albeit almost unrecognisable as Def Lep when compared to more recent musical forays.
Again, caught up in the understandable hype surrounding Hysteria, Leppard released their first video collection in 1988 telling their own history through their videos. Not exactly a documentary (the BBC aired an excellent one around the same time) but an enjoyable romp through the band’s early years. Notable for the inclusion of the hilarious video of the non-album track Me & My Wine, given that Leppard’s post-Hysteria fare might not be of major interest to Hammer readers, this tells you all you need to know. Released on DVD with their In The Round video, capturing them live on the Hysteria tour. Check out Joe Elliott’s mullet – one of many fashion crimes on offer on both discs!
HYSTERIA - THE DEF LEPPARD STORY
A made-for-TV movie courtesy of those nice people at VH-1, Leppard must have wondered what they’d ever done to deserve this! Even their most simpering ballad isn’t enough for inflicting this sort of Americanised bilge on their fans. Yet it’s here because it’s so bad you just have to see it to believe it. No notable actors and indeed no real similarity between the actors and their respective band members either. Then again, what do you expect when the film chooses to shoot all the Sheffield scenes in Montreal? In a way, it’d be great if there were more of these, just for the belly laughs they’d give you, but this Leppard outing is it. Amazingly, the band actually sell this on their website. Go figure.
THE DISCOGRAPHY UP UNTIL 2006:
1979 – The Def Leppard EP (Bludgeon Riffola)
1980 – On Through The Night (Mercury)
1981 – High’N’Dry (Mercury)
1983 – Pyromania (Mercury)
1987 – Hysteria (Mercury)
1992 – Adrenalize (Mercury)
1993 – Retro Active (Mercury)
1995 – Vault: Greatest Hits 1980-1995 (Mercury)
1996 – Slang (Mercury)
1999 – Euphoria (Mercury)
2002 – X (Universal)
2004 – Best Of Def Leppard (Mercury)
2006 – Yeah! (Mercury)
ESSENTIAL DEF LEPPARD
ON THROUGH THE NIGHT (1980)
2) LET IT GO
3) _ROCK ROCK (__’TIL YOU DROP)_
7) POUR SOME SUGAR ON ME
9) LET’S GET ROCKED
10) WHEN LOVE AND HATE COLLIDE
12) DEMOLITION MAN
(That’s enough essential Def Leppard – Anti-Leppard Ed.)
Do you wanna get rocked?
By 1992 Nirvana were kings of Castle Rock, and Def Leppard hadn’t released an album for five years (longer than the gap between Pyromania and Hysteria). And being one of the main players of the melodic rock boom of the late 80s, Def Leppard were one of the bands Kurt and co. had come to do away with. When it came to releasing Adrenalize, how could Def Leppard not fail? Amazingly, they managed to keep things going at an impressive level with another set of lightweight and digestable party pop-metal that while never troubling the grey matter (Make Love Like A Man?) did trouble the charts. Four hit singles in the UK, including the admirably cheeky Let’s Get Rocked asking ‘I suppose a rock’s out the question?’ maintained Leppard’s position while Bon Jovi got their hair cut and tried to go indie. That, of course, was next for Leppard as the band headed for middle-aged AORdom.
Leppard’s second album is, perhaps, one of the most important in their career. True, it may have gone some way to alienating the band’s homeland, but it was the first time they found themselves in the studio with producer Mutt Lange, a man whose name would become synonymous with the band for the next decade. It was the first to highlight the potential of their songwriting and it included Bringing On The Heartache, the video for which was airplayed extensively on MTV, helping break the band in America (where they were soon to become multi-platinum-selling adopted sons). Song wise, their sophomore album is all about the first four songs, the stand-out tracks: Let It Go (still in the live set), Another Hit And Run, High And Dry and ...Heartache. True, it was initially no big seller. But from this brave, ambitious and even precocious start almost everything was set in stone for the Sheffield quintet.
Red hot rockin’.
From the incendiary opener _Rock Rock (’__Til You Drop)_ through the pop-metal perfection of _Photograph_ to the gobbledygook that kicks off _Rock Of Ages_ (it means nothing whatsoever, fact fans), Def Leppard pretty much nailed things with _Pyromania_. With perfectionist Mutt Lange once again in the producer’s chair, new guitarist Phil Collen fitting like a silken glove and the band hitting hitherto unknown heights with their songwriting, _Pyromania_ is the kind of classic most bands only ever dream of achieving. Not one bad song on offer, new heights in (admittedly 80s) production and an energy and awareness of their craft most bands on their third album have little hope of grasping. It, along with Bryan Adams’ _Reckless_ and Bon Jovi’s debut, helped set up the melodic rock revolution of several years later. Not much consolation for red-blooded metallers perhaps, but worthy nonetheless.
Let’s get hysterical.
If 1987 was the year in which everything finally fell into place for Def Leppard, and I think we can safely say it can, it wasn’t without the band facing their fair share of adversity either. Working-class lads blessed with photogenic looks and a knack for penning a damn catchy rock song maybe, they’d also suffered the tragedy of drummer Rick Allen losing his arm in a car accident – though his rehabilitation extended to returning, one-armed, to the drum kit – allegations of selling out to America and being the mere puppets of über-puppetmaster Mutt Lange. The success of Hysteria put that all into perspective.
Four years in the making (amazingly, they’d take five to complete the less rounded Adrenalize) after several false starts, the perfectionist approach of Lange paid immense dividends when Hysteria sold in the region of 13million copies. Although, amazingly, Hysteria was a slow-seller in the States, at last in the UK the band were flavour of the month, with first single Animal finally cracking the elusive Top 40 for the band, reaching No.6 and the album crashing in at No.1. When it finally kicked off in the States, the world was Leppard’s for the taking, ruling the melodic rock roost with the equally popular Bon Jovi.
Regardless of where your tastes lie, Hysteria is an indisputably great album. In fact if Pyromania had been great, then Hysteria is excellent. An almost perfect collision of pop (albeit pop rooted firmly in the T-Rex era) and hard rock, little wonder it performed so well. But an unprecedented seven singles from the album’s 12 tracks point to some exemplary songwriting, not least in the title track and Gods Of War, while the likes of Women, Rocket, Pour Some Sugar On Me and Armageddon It reminded you this was still five working-class lads having fun.