Bringin’ on the Heartbreak

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Too Many Jitterbugs (The Early Years Disc 4)

Part Four of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original reviews:
The Def Leppard EP (1979)
“Wasted” / “Hello America” (1979)
“Hello America” / “Good Morning Freedom” (1980)
“Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” (1981)

DEF LEPPARD – Too Many Jitterbugs (The Early Years Disc 4) (2019)

Because of the non-chronological nature of The Early Years box set, we are now back at the beginning:  Def Leppard’s first rare EP, and singles releases.  Only on Disc 4 do we finally get to go back to the original Def Leppard EP, which has seen a few re-releases over the years, but none as convenient as this.

The story goes that young Def Leppard used money loaned to them by Joe Elliott’s father, and booked a studio for one weekend.  Drummer Tony Kenning was fired just before the start of recording, for being sidetracked by a girlfriend.  Frank Noon from The Next Band (featuring Rocky Newton on bass) was chosen to fill-in temporarily.  It was The Next Band’s own three-song EP release that inspired Leppard to make their own.  They only had a handful of rehearsals with the drummer completed before it was time to hit the studio.

“Ride Into the Sun” was properly perfected when it was re-recorded in 1987 as a Hysteria B-side.  The original still boasts the same relentless riff, but without the increased velocity.  The chorus is a bit different, but here it is:  the beginning!  Out of the gates with a good song, with room to improve.  And improve young Def Leppard would.

Next on the EP is “Getcha Rocks Off”, the only track that has been available on CD for three decades.  It saw its first digital release on Lars Ulrich’s excellent 1990’s NWOBHM compilation.  The version that eventually made its way to On Through The Night is heavier, but this ground-floor version has an identical arrangement.  The solo work shows the band had early talent, and the riff demonstrates their ability to come up with the goods.

Finally: “Overture”, the big Def Leppard epic that later closed On Through the Night.  A little progressive, the 7:45 track meanders from mellow acoustic opening to galloping riff to blasting guitar workouts.  Much of it is first takes, with Joe having little time to finish the vocal.  However the job was complete.  The record was made.

All that was left was to ask Frank Noon to join the band full-time, which he declined.  15 year old Rick Allen was selected instead.  (Noon later reunited with Rocky Newton in Lionheart.)

All 1000 copies of the EP sold within a week.  Radio started to play Def Leppard.  Finally they signed the big record deal and the rest is history.  Still, there are plenty of rare tracks from the early years that were recorded.  Most were released but some are here in this box set for the very first time.

“Wasted” with “Hello America” on the B-side was originally released in 1979.  These are early versions that differ from the Tom Allom-produced tracks on the album.  Neither are as as heavy, with “Wasted” in particular needing more bite.  These versions, by Nick Tauber, were deemed not worthy of album release by the record company.  The ferocious “Wasted” riff is there but needs to be turned up – way up!  “Hello America” fares better as a more melodic rock tune.  It lacks that synth riff on the chorus of the song, which makes it a little more raw.  It also has a really long fade-out.

The Tauber sessions yielded two more songs that were never released.  “Rock Brigade” and “Glad I’m Alive”, for whatever reason, were held back until The Early Years box set.  “Rock Brigade” is probably the best of these tracks.  Rick Allen’s marauding drum rolls steal the show, but not as much as on album.  In general, the Tauber versions are less aggressive recordings, and Joe’s vocals are not as unleashed as on the final album.  “Glad I’m Alive” is the only one that didn’t make the album.  It is the song with the lyric “too many jitterbugs”, but is otherwise unremarkable.  Not many hooks (if any).  It is only available in The Early Years.

Leppard’s next B-side was “Good Morning Freedom” from the eventual “Hello America” single.  This is a song that surprisingly and delightfully was resurrected by Leppard live (more on that later in the series).  It is early quintessential early Leppard, centered on the riff and designed to get the heads-a-bangin’.  It is not without hooks, and might be as good as anything else On Through the Night has to offer, “Wasted” notwithstanding.

The next tracks are the disc are single edits, which are padding to some and valuable curiosities to others.  Moving into the High ‘n’ Dry era, they are edits of “Let It Go”, “Switch 625” and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”.  Nice to have to be complete, but not essential listening.  All three are obviously better in their full length versions, but you gotta try what you gotta to get on the radio.  “Let It Go” has a shorter intro, and a truncated middle section, weakening its impact.  “Heartbreak” fades out early.

“Heartbreak’s” B-side was a fast and heavy fan favourite called “Me An’ My Wine”.  It was given a raucous and fun music video when it was remixed by Mutt Lange in 1984.  Both “Wine” and “Heartbreak” were remixed for 1984 reissue, and were included in updated editions of High ‘n’ Dry.  All versions, original and remixed, are present in this box.  For some, the remixed “Heartbreak” with added keyboard accents will be the favourite, because it’s the one they grew up with.  It sounds more like a Pyromania single.  The keys do help spruce up the song, which honestly has a couple dead spots otherwise.  As for “Me An’ My Wine”, it has a longer intro and the drums have been treated to sound a little more 80s.  Incidentally, though you can get them on old High ‘n’ Dry CD pressings, this is the first time that these remixes have been available in a remastered form.

And that’s the disc — a damn fine one in fact, because it manages to include every non-album track that Leppard released during those early years.  It makes for a fun listen, as you hear the band evolve.  Even if some songs repeat, they are different enough to not interrupt the flow.  Many of the B-sides have never been released on CD format before, so the value here cannot be understated.

4.5/5 stars

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  • The Early Years Disc Five – Raw – Early BBC Recordings

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – High ‘n’ Dry (The Early Years Disc 2)

Part Two of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review: High ‘n’ Dry (1981)

 

DEF LEPPARD – High ‘n’ Dry (The Early Years Disc 2) (Originally 1981, 2019 remaster)

Leppard’s pride in their debut album only extended so far.  They knew that the sound they heard in their heads was not captured on tape.  So they waited, and waited, and waited, until AC/DC producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange was available.  When he had completed the recording of Foreigner’s 4 (six million copies sold), they got to work on Leppard’s second record.  And work they did, with the band members unsure after many takes if they could even play it any better.  They could, and they did.  With Lange on hand to help refine the songs they had written, Leppard had never sounded better.

Today, High ‘n’ Dry is often cited by diehards as the band’s best record.  It bares the teeth of AC/DC, but the attention to melody and harmony was typical of more commercial bands.  It was a winning combination; High ‘n’ Dry has no filler songs.

The sharp opener “Let It Go” makes the changes apparent.  A better recording, a more confident (and screamy) Joe Elliott, and an incessant bass groove propels it.  The guitars cleverly lay back until necessary for the big rock chorus.  All dynamics missing from On Through the Night.  This time, they could afford a real cow bell — no more tea kettle!  With “Let It Go” opening on such a solid, fast note, where do we go from here?  No letting up!  “Another Hit and Run” is even better, with quiet parts contrasting with the increasingly heady!  Joe has found his voice, and uses it to rip and shred.  Don’t try to follow the lyrics — it’s all about how the frontman screams them at you.

Finally, Rick Allen is permitted to slow down for the sleek, slower groove of “High ‘N’ Dry (Saturday Night)”.  This tenacious track takes its time to blow you away.  It was also one of three they recorded in a single session for music video purposes.

Another video from that session was the hit ballad “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”, although MTV aside, it didn’t really have the intended impact until later.   Originally titled “A Certain Heartache”, with Mutt’s help they steered it away from its Zeppelin-y origins and honed it closer to a hit.  Sad verses are coupled with a chuggy riff at the chorus, which is beefed up by the backing vocals of Mutt and the band, gradually finding that sound step by step.  The lyrics are nothing to write home about with, “You got the best of me,” predictably rhyming with “Oh can’t you see.”  But then the track ends not with a total fade, but with the urgent pulse of a new bass track.  It’s the brilliant instrumental “Switch 625”, paired with the ballad as if to say “don’t worry folks, we haven’t lightened up.”  Leppard were, after all, a part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal bands.  “Switch 625” is something that would have generated melting heat on that scene.  Written solely by Steve Clark, this is one instrumental that is not filler in any way.  It’s a song.

So ended side one, but side two commenced with the crash of “You Got Me Runnin'”, a single-worthy number that scorches the skin with its burning tower of riffs.  Joe bemoans a girl that he don’t trust, while Steve Clark and Pete Willis do their best Angus and Malcolm.  Rick Allen, all of 17 years old now, keeps the beat minimal while Rick Savage maintains the pulse on bass.  When Pete breaks in with his guitar solo, it’s one of the best of his time with Leppard.  But it’s the crucial chorus that keeps you coming back, a singalong brute with gang vocals that could have been lifted from an era past.

Then things get eerie with “Lady Strange”, hurling multiple riffs at the speakers, and boasting a chorus to back it all up.  Tough guy Joe claims to have never needed love before meeting his “Lady Strange”.  This is the only track with a Rick Allen co-writing credit, and features a scorcher of a Clark guitar solo.  Elliott’s screams have never sounded more tormented.  Brilliant stuff.

Without a break, we plow “On Through the Night”, and one of the fastest tracks on the album.  There’s a surprising, quiet Zeppelin-y middle breakdown that’s welcome, but otherwise this track is built for speed.  “Rock n’ roll is no safety net!” screams Joe.  If there were any single track to delete from High ‘n’ Dry, you could make an argument for “On Through the Night”.  However, fact is you need it to set up “Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)”.

Displaying their penchant for parentheses, “Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)” takes Def Leppard back to dark territory.  A single spare Clark riff carries the song while Allen and Savage lay back.  It’s the kind of brilliant construction that Clark was becoming the master of.  Tension building riffs, stinging solos, topped with another perfect Joe Elliott vocal melody.

Finally it’s the all-out chaos of “No No No”, a memorable way to close out a hell of an album.  Breakneck pacing, top lung screaming, and a blitz of a Willis riff.  Melody?  Unimportant!  If the guitars weren’t so obviously well arranged, this could have been punk rock.

Different versions of “No No No” run different lengths.  This one is 3:12 with a slight fade and then abrupt stop.  One can never go wrong with an original vinyl LP, featuring an infinite groove at the end, with Joe Elliott shouting “No!” over and over again, until you either stop the record yourself, or wait until the ultimate end of the universe — your choice.  Another variation of interest is the the 1984 reissue of High ‘n’ Dry, with two remixed bonus tracks.  We will discuss those later as they are included on Disc Four of this set.

Praise today for High ‘n’ Dry is fairly universal.  Martin Popoff rated it higher than Pyromania.  It truly is a remarkable photograph (pun intended) of a brief period in Def Leppard when they were still solidly riff-focused, but with the moderate temperance of Mutt Lange.  A period that has never and can never be repeated.

5/5 stars

Previous:  The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 

Next:  The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980

REVIEW: Def Leppard – High ‘n’ Dry (1981)

Part one of a Def Leppard two-parter!

Def_Leppard_-_High_'n'_DryDEF LEPPARD – High ‘n’ Dry (1981 Polygram)

Now that Pyromania, Hysteria, Slang and Adrenalize have been remastered and reissued with bonus tracks, it is High ‘N’ Dry that needs to be given the deluxe treatment next.  The fact that Adrenalize has been given an elaborate deluxe edition, but High ‘n’ Dry hasn’t even been remastered yet, is injustice.  Any time I listen to High ‘n’ Dry, I leave with one conclusion:  This is Def Leppard’s best album.  And not only that, it’s just one of the best by any hard rock band, period.

For High ‘n’ Dry, my g-to version is my vinyl US pressing.   The CD is still in my collection, because it includes two songs not on the original LP: 1984 Remixes of “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” and “Me and My Wine” (the versions that were used for the music videos).  So that’s cool, good enough reason to own the CD, but the LP has one more gimmick that you can’t get on CD.  The final track on side two, “No No No”, ends in an infinite loop of Joe screaming “NO!”  I love vinyl gimmicks.  I also love that the vinyl has inner sleeve photos that you don’t get on CD (even if one appears to be Rick Allen’s genitals covered in whipped cream).

This is one solid LP.  Def Leppard teamed up with Mutt Lange for the first time and his influence is palpable.  Def Leppard had been heavy before, but now they were channeling a serious AC/DC vibe.  Mutt had just produced a little album called Back In Black.  Surely it was no coincidence that High ‘n’ Dry has similar riffy and sonic qualities?  Def Leppard’s edge had yet to be blunted in their search for hits.  Instead, it had been sharpened.  On Through the Night could have been better, more tightly focused.  High ‘n’ Dry is as focused as a laser beam.  Aside from one guitar-driven power ballad (“Bringin’ On the Heartbreak”) every song seeks only to scorch.

Although there is not one single throw-away or filler track on High ‘n’ Dry, everybody has their favourites,   Mine:  The melancholy vibe of “Lady Strange” and “Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)”.  The pedal-to-the-metal hard rock of “High ‘N’ Dry (Saturday Night)”, “Another Hit And Run”, and the instrumental “Switch 625”.  And my personal favourite song, “You Got Me Runnin'”.  I don’t know why that is so, but that’s the one right there that puts fuel in my tank.

Unlike the band that Def Leppard has become today, this album was all about the hot riffs and the Joe Elliott screams! Hard to believe it’s the same band. But, of course, today they have two different guitar players, so the meat of this band is also not the same.  Having said that, the band acquitted themselves nicely on the recent live album Viva! Hysteria.

Every Leppard fan should own High ‘n’ Dry.   Everybody who’s ever liked a Def Leppard song needs to check out High ‘n’ Dry.  Actually, anyone who breathes should check this album out at least once.  It’s on my desert island list for sure.

5/5 stars, but come on, we need a reissue!

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” (1981 single)

Part 3 of a 4-part series on early Def Leppard singles!

DEF LEP 7 INCH_0001

DEF LEPPARD – “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” (1981 Phonogram/Vertigo single)

High ‘n’ Dry is my favourite Def Leppard album, and I can’t wait to review it (particularly the vinyl version).  “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” was probably the biggest single from the album…I mean, freakin’ Mariah Carey even covered it!  This is a cover version I have never heard and am not even curious to hear, but good on Def Lep for the success anyway.

The original 1981 version is the best known version of the song, although the 1984 remix (keyboards added) was the most pervasive in the late 80’s.  The 1984 remix was done to capitalize on the success of Pyromania, and it was re-released as a single, and as a bonus track on the High ‘n’ Dry album itself.  Also remixed and re-released was the B-side to “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” called “Me And My Wine”.  They even made new videos for both remixes!

For many years, I had never heard the original “Me And My Wine”, as only the 1984 remix was made available on the new High ‘n’ Dry.  I finally hunted down a copy of an original “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” single with picture sleeve, completing this phase of my Def Leppard collection!

“Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” of course is Def Leppard’s first ballad, and one they still play in concert, a rarity for these early years.  It’s always been a favourite of mine.  Back then, you had to have a power ballad, but it had to remain tough.  For example, “Still Loving You” by Scorpions was very soft, you could try to use it to woo a ladyfriend, but it had that awesome guitar solo.  As if to say, “I’m sensitive, but tough.”  This single is Def Leppard’s crack at the format.  I think it’s very successful, the song has proven to have longevity.  It has all the right elements:  a killer chorus, dark and plaintive verses, a dramatic lead solo break, and the word “heartbreak” in the title!

“Me And My Wine” was the main reason I have been hunting this single.  It’s one of Def Leppard’s fastest tunes, while they were still a metal band, and a bit of a cult favourite.  The 1984 remix version is great, and many Def Leppard fans agree that it’s also the best music video they ever made.  Hearing the original 1981 version for the first time, the differences are subtle.

The intro on the remix version is longer, with a count-in, the original mix does not have this.  The drums on the original are a lot more raw.  The remix sounds like the drum tracks are completely replaced by new electronic drums.  The original features more prominent bass guitar as well.  I have to say that after only a couple listens, I already believe the original version is superior to the remix.  It’s groovier with the amplified bass, and I think the remixed drums really take the edge off.  The original version just has more balls!

5/5 stars