Def Leppard is one of those bands that are synonymous with the 1980s heyday of Heavy Metal. Back in the late ’70s, five young lads from Sheffield, England formed a Rock band rooted in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal movement and launched into superstardom by the mid-80s. Def Leppard is one of those bands that also carries the weight of controversy. Punters across the globe all agreed the boys could rock but, as their success began to build, their sound became more Pop oriented and diehard Metalheads felt betrayed. Despite personal tragedies, the excesses of success, and changing musical trends, Def Leppard remains as one of the most successful Rock/Metal bands of all time…..
On Through The Night (1980) – Hard and hungry, that’s how I describe the Def Leppard debut. Coming in at the beginning of the NWOBHM, this album rode the wave and is still regarded as one of the harder, and better, Def Leppard albums. Great tracks on this platter: ‘Rock Brigade’, ‘Rocks Off’, ‘Wasted’ and the rest. A strong debut from a very young band. It sounds more raw than the polished High’n Dry that followed. I remember the band at the beginning but I never heard this until after Pyromania in ’83. I got that album and went back to the beginning.
High’n Dry (1981) – Enter Mutt Lange, producer extraordinaire! This is another gem of an album. Building on their debut’s momentum, the Leps break radio with hard rocker ‘Let It Go’ and power ballad ‘Bringin’ On The Heartbreak’. More polished than On Through The Night, courtesy of Mr. Mutt, but still a strong Hard Rock album rooted in the NWOBHM. At this point, the Leps are starting to really make noise, along with Iron Maiden, putting the new British Invasion on FM radio across the U.S.
I remember listening to 94 WHJY (Providence, RI) and hearing ‘Let It Go’ for the first time, I kept singing the chorus over and over for days. Like the debut record, I didn’t hear this one until after I got Pyromania. 24 years later, I reach for High’n Dry more than any Def Leppard album even though it is not my true favorite.
Pyromania (1983) – Open the floodgates! Building on the relationship the producer Mutt Lange, the band creates what many believe to be their masterpiece. It’s also no surprise that the band’s rise to the top went hand in hand with the birth of MTV. By 1983, MTV was in more households across the U.S. and people clamored to be in front of what was a revolutionary way to listen/see music. Starting with ‘Photograph’, and moving on to ‘Foolin’ and ‘Rock Of Ages’, the band created some of the most memorable songs of their career. They also used videos to help the singles climb the charts and push Pyromania into multi-platinum status. From openers to headliners in the blink of an eye, Def Leppard became a household name.
This cassette came my way thanks to Mom, who knew I was addicted to MTV. She didn’t want me to sit in front of the TV all day so she bought me the tape so I could LISTEN to it in my room, freeing up the TV for a bit for my younger sister and brother! I ate it up, devouring the album tracks as well: ‘Rock, Rock, Till You Drop’, ‘Too Late For Love’, ‘Die Hard The Hunter’. I was too young to see the band in concert but some guys in my class went, they had the Union Jack muscle shirts…..I always wanted one. My 6th grade was split on who was better: Def Leppard, Van Halen, or Motley Crue. If you add the girls in, you got Duran Duran. I was the lone KISS fan. It all hinged on MTV’s FRIDAY NIGHT VIDEO FIGHTS: ‘Photograph’ vs. ‘Jump’, the winner got to face Duran’s ‘The Reflex’. To a class of 11 yr olds, these things were extremely serious! This is my favorite Def Lep release mostly due to the nostalgia of this being one of my first non-KISS albums and my first Leppard release.
Hysteria (1987) – If the floodgates were open with Pyromania, then the dam totally burst with Hysteria! But not at first…..
Master Mutt behind the knobs again and the boys had been in the studio during 1985 for some grueling sessions. This album was delayed because of Mutt’s tenacity at making the guys do the takes over, and over, and over, and…..well, you get the picture. Master Mutt wanted perfection and, if we go by sales, he got it! There was also a delay due to Rick Allen’s near fatal car wreck that sacrificed his arm. I give the guys credit for waiting on the guy, you wouldn’t see that today. I remember seeing the report on MTV and a blurb in a newspaper, Def Leppard was one of the top bands, I couldn’t imagine them not being around. I remember the special report Circus did the issue following the accident, it wasn’t news until Circus or Hit Parader reported it!
After much delay, and four years in the making, the Leps released Hysteria and the first single, ‘Women’, to radio and MTV. I saw the world premiere late at night and I thought the song was great, the public didn’t. Same with ‘Animal’, the second single. And ‘Love Bites’, the third. Gone was the young, and hungry band, they were fat on success and could do what they wanted…..or what Mutt Lange wanted. Hysteria is a “watered down” Def Leppard. Over-produced, sounds almost robotic, especially the drums which I assume is a drum machine like Pyromania’s. The songs aren’t that bad, except for a few, it’s just that the Leps became a different type of band: a Pop Rock band.
The album stalled until they released ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ mid-tour. They were hovering around 2 or 3 million sold with decent attendance but, once they released the new single, everything skyrocketed. I saw the band live (with Tesla) in Providence, RI early in the tour. They had just released ‘Sugar’ and the hysteria hadn’t hit yet. I feel fortunate to have seen the band live when they were actually working hard on stage, when they came back around the New England area after ‘Sugar’, it was a totally different live show. The guys were into it but the fire, the hunger, the power was gone.
Seven singles released from what has become one of the biggest Hard Rock sellers of all time. Definitely Def Leppard’s pinnacle for popularity, sales, attendance, and money. Do I like the album? Yes. I like everything except ‘Love Bites’ and ‘Sugar’. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s because it dropped when I was an impressionable 15 yr. old trying to get a chick. If Hysteria was released now, I’d probably pass it by.
Adrenalize (1992) – Four years after Hysteria, the band releases Adrenalize. Now if this album was released in 1989 or 1990, Def Leppard would be the biggest band on the planet! I call this Hysteria II. The album just oozes technology and production. Produced by the band and Mike Shipley, the Executive Producer is none other than Mutt Lange! Big surprise. Biggest loss is the death of Steve Clark. Obviously a huge blow to the band by losing a close friend but also a huge blow to the sound because I think Steve Clark had the balls of the group. Maybe if he lived, Adrenalize would be more it’s own record rather than a sequel to Hysteria. I guess that’s the problem in itself: you have the biggest seller of your career, an ultra-successful 2 and a half year tour, and all your dreams have come true. How do you follow that? The easiest thing to do is follow the same formula.
Six singles off this platter but the album stalled at around 5 million in the U.S., a smashing success for a Hard Rock band in 1992 but a failure for Def Leppard who are now used to shifting albums upwards of 8 to 10 million. I passed on the tour this time around as I figured I’d seen it already twice back in ’87/’88, my friends said it was a great show. Overall, the album leaves me cold. The songs are catchy, typical Def Lep, but it’s an album without fire to me. I like it, not as much as Pyromania, or even Hysteria, so I don’t reach for it much. Best track on the album is ‘Tear It Down’, a ripping single that goes back to the glory days. I also dig ‘Heaven Is’, it’s got a nice groove.
I remember going to Strawberries Records & Tapes in Pawtucket, RI for the special midnight sale. Adrenalize was released the same day as Bruce Springsteen released both Lucky Town and Human Touch albums (check out my post from April about this night) so the crowd was pretty big. It was an event, maybe the last of such events as the musical climate had changed. Like I mentioned, if this album was released in ’80/’90, Def Leppard have another HUGE hit and mega-sales. During the Seattle/Grunge/Nirvana wave of music, a release from one of the biggest Hard Rock bands of all time got lost in the shuffle (if you want to call 5 million shifted “lost”). This album began the decline, albeit a successful start to the decline.
The band became a victim of their own success. It’s tough to top your previous work if that work is your biggest seller. It’s also tough to release new material and stay relevant if you are on tour for the same album for 2+ years. I always said that the 4 year gaps between Pyromania-Hysteria and Hysteria-Adrenalize were part of the band’s undoing. You can’t blame the guys for the car accident or death of Steve Clark, things happen. You can’t blame them for milking each record and tour either, they were doing what everyone would do…..make a boatload of money! By the end of this tour, the Leps needed to take a break…..
(Stay tuned for Part 2, coming next week…..)