Foolin’

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

Part Eight of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Pyromania deluxe (2009)

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983 (2009 deluxe edition)

Leppard were riding high when they hit the L.A. Forum in 1983.  Pyromania was selling hot enough that every kid in the neighbourhood had heard at least one of its singles on the radio.  MTV was factoring in now, and its impact can’t be understated.  Leppard had some high budget and good looking videos on offer.  Their live show was just as impressive.

Widely bootlegged, the second night in Los Angeles must have felt like a victory lap, even though there were still months left on the tour.  They hit the stage psyched to perform.  Earlier, Frank Zappa phoned up to ask if he could score some tickets for his kids, Moon Unit and Dweezil.  Members of Van Halen and Heart were in attendance.  Best of all, Queen legend Brian May was in town, and he surprised  Leppard by playing them the twin guitar part of their hit “Photohraph” all by himself!

Remixed and remastered, the second L.A. show is now easily available on the Pyromania deluxe edition — the first official release of a live album with Steve Clark, although it did not come until 2009.

“Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” is a natural opener.  Since it already opened Pyromania itself, it was well suited, but its extended (taped) intro made for a dramatic band entrance.  Joe’s road-worn scream is employed to great effect.  Even so slightly faster than LP, “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” defined the mood.  Rock rock till you drop indeed!  Keeping with the “Rock” theme, “Rock Brigade” was locked and loaded for the second spot.  It sounds fresh with Phil Collen on lead guitar and backing vocals.  His solo is balls-out technical, and completely unlike those of Pete Willis.

Joe pauses to say “good evening”, and then it’s straight into “Saturday Night (High ‘N’ Dry)”.  This ode to getting wasted from 1981 is not a vast departure from the album version despite Phil amping up the guitar work.  Into “Another Hit and Run”, it’s pure adrenaline and foot on the gas pedal.  Screaming into the ether, Joe sings of youthful self-destruction.  It turns into a jam towards the end, before careening through the finish line.

“Billy’s Got a Gun” is one of those songs that can get a bit rickety live, but this version is solid.  The excellent “Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes” follows, and it’s very slightly revised to increase the tension.  Some won’t notice the differences.  As usual, the chorus kills.  It’s been all album cuts thus far, and no hits.  But then Joe invites Steve Clark to the spotlight to play an acoustic guitar solo, which becomes “Foolin'”, the first of the three massive hits rolled out in a row.  This might be considered the center of the show:  “Foolin'”, “Photograph” and (a slightly fast) “Rock of Ages”.  Each one a perfect gem, but with the live edge intact.  To take it over the top, a ragged “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”, Leppard’s other recognisable hit, is rolled out immediately after.  What do you do for an encore?  We’ll get to that.

“Switch 625” follows “Heartbreak” as it should.  With the hits behind them, Leppard spend the end of the set rocking really, really heavy.  “Switch 625” is already a steamer, but it’s followed by “Let It Go”, “Wasted” and an encore tease, and then “Stagefright”.  Clearly, this setlist was designed to rock!  “Wasted” in particular stands out from this trio.  Phil’s blazing solo technique adds that extra dimension to the song, but it is just as amped up and the best versions from the early years.

But “Stagefright” isn’t the real encore.

“Right, I said we got a surprise for ya.  And we have a big one at that.  Ladies and gentlemen, will you please welcome all the way from England — Queen’s Brian May!”

Queen were not on tour, but they were in Los Angeles recording their 1984 album The Works.  The long friendship between Leppard and Queen began right here.  A cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelling Band” is the earliest recording of Joe and May together, but certainly not the last!  This is not only a piece of history, but it’s a brilliant track!  Joe’s screaming voice is strangely well suited to an overblown CCR cover.  But hearing the guitar trio solo together, each with their own style, is the real icing on the cake.  May is so creamy!

There are no other live releases from the Pyromania era, and the band’s sound transformed permanently when they next hit the road.  This live album is the end of an era, and an excellent good time of it too.

5/5 stars

The Pyromania tour wrapped up 18 December in Dortmund Germany, another two-nighter.  Two weeks later, on New Year’s Eve, Rick Allen had the car accident that severed his left arm.  In a heartbreaking twist, the arm was reattached, but after an infection set in, had to be removed again.  This devastating tragedy united the band.  Ambulance-chasers were ready and waiting to take the drum stool away from Rick Allen, but the band refused to see it as the end for the drummer.  We all know what happens next.  It was total Hysteria!

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  • Hysteria

RE-REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania (1983)

Part Seven of the Def Leppard Review Series

Original review:  Pyromania deluxe (1983)

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania (1983 Polygram)

Disruption!  Midway through the recording of Def Leppard’s crucial third album, guitarist Pete Willis was fired.  It had been coming for a while.  His alleged alcohol consumption was causing problems and the band had their eye on Phil Collen from Girl already.  They were lucky to get Phil, as he had already been approached about joining Iron Maiden to replace Dennis Stratton.

This was serious.  Once again working with “Mutt” Lange, whose schedule was booked solid, time was money.  And music, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a business.  The third Def Leppard album was critical.  The potential of the band was not underestimated.  “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” made the top 20 in the US and the new album was intended to do better.  Lange has a songwriting credit on every song, indicating the level to which he was involved to make the album as perfect as could be.  It took 10 months to record, a mind-numbingly long time to the young band.  If only they knew….

Pete Willis had writing credits on four songs, including two singles.  With rhythm guitars laid down on all tracks by Willis, Collen just needed to whip up a few solos and finish off some bits and pieces.  He and Steve Clark made a formidable duo.  Collen had a more schooled sound than Willis and the contrast added a new dimension to Leppard’s solos.  Meanwhile, the songs were streamlined.  Sleaker, more hooks per minute, more direct…more commercial.

Some feel this is where Def Leppard started to go over the cliff.  The majority probably see it as Def Leppard becoming the real Def Leppard.

The opening music would have been familiar to anyone who caught Def Leppard live in the early years.  “Medicine Man” was an early track with an absolutely killer Clark riff.  With Mutt’s help they re-wrote it into the now-esteemed “Rock! Rock! Till You Drop”, but that riff is still the main feature.  After the headbanging commences, a screamin’ Joe Elliott lays down one of his most raging lead vocals.  Collen’s style is audible from the solo; a fretburner.  “Rock! Rock!” isn’t really that far off from High ‘N’ Dry, but you can tell it’s spent more time at the polishing wheel.  The production also seems colder and more clinical.

The triumphant “Photograph” really showed where Leppard were going.  Sure there’s a riff, but the main features here are the vocal melodies and harmonies.  Noticeable keyboard accents de-clawed the Leppard, and the sweetened harmonies have the full-on Mutt Lange treatment that you hear elsewhere with Bryan Adams and Billy Ocean.  None of that is necessarily a bad thing, but this is where Def Leppard decidedly left the New Wave of British Heavy Metal behind them.  “Photograph” went to #1 in the United States.  Mission accomplished.

Track three, “Stagefright” opens with a faux-live intro and a biting riff.  Credited to Joe Elliott, Mutt Lange and Rick Savage, it’s surprisingly one of the heaviest songs.  Back then Joe’s voice could deliver both menace and melody simultaneously, and he does that here.

While not a deep cut (#9 US), “Too Late For Love” is a lesser-known classic.  No music video was made though they did a lip-synched TV appearance that later ended up on their home video Historia.  A dark ballad with edge, “Too Late For Love” has cool atmosphere and just the right amount of scream.

“Die Hard the Hunter” opens with synthesised war sound effects and a soft guitar melody that deceives into thinking it’s another ballad; but no.  This rocker burns hot, but damn those drums are really sample-y sounding.  Rick Allen had a better sound on High ‘N’ Dry, but of course the times were changing.  Eliminator by ZZ Top was out the same year.

One of the big singles (#9 US once again) is the undeniable “Foolin'”.  Mixing rocker and ballad formulas, it set a template for bands to attempt to copy on their way up the charts.  The stuttering chorus is now a Leppard hallmark, and not a second of the song is boring.

You can imagine, spending 10 months in the studio, how monotonous some tasks must be, take after take after take.  The simple act of counting in a band — one, two, three, four — must be tedious the hundreth time.  Perhaps the next time, to stave off boredom, it’s uno, dos, tres, quatro.  Then something else, language by language until finally you end up with “gunter, glieben, glauten, globen”, a nonsense phrase that sounds vaguely Germanic.  And suddenly, without knowing it, you’ve created a catchphrase.  At least that’s how it happened for Mutt Lange on “Rock of Ages”!

That’s the story of “Rock of Ages” (#1 US), one of Leppard most irresistible hits, and also one indicative of the shift in Leppard’s sound.  A very synth-y bassline and tech-y drums stamp out a a robotic 80s groove that was destined for radio and video stardom.  The chorus was even more potent.  “What do you want?” yells the band in harmony.  “I want rock and roll!” you respond, fist in the air.  It all seems very contrived, and perhaps it was.  Is that so bad?  Back then, it really felt like you had to fight for rock and roll.  It seemed every church and every politician wanted to neuter rock bands.  A good, defiant, radio-ready smash hit like “Rock of Ages” tapped into the 80s.

The killer deep cut here is called “Comin’ Underfire” which, had there been five singles, would have made a fine fifth.  Tapping into the angst and tension of earlier tracks like “Lady Strange” and “Mirror, Mirror”, this is nothing but awesome wrapped up in a taut chorus like a bow.  Steady, strong, and loaded with hooks.  Pete Willis had a hand in writing it, demonstrating the guitarist’s often overlooked value.

Another wicked deep cut is the terrifically fun “Action! Not Words”, which, if there was a sixth single… Anyway, the slippery slide-y riff is reinforced by a simple and effective chorus.  Let’s face it, there’s very little fat on Pyromania.

If anything, perhaps it’s the closing track “Billy’s Got a Gun” that might be the the only one that could be argued as filler.  Laid back and emoting a dangerous vibe, it’s less exciting than the preceding material.  It is, however, the closer, which has to draw the album to a proper close, and end it on the right vibe.  “Billy’s Got a Gun” does the job.  The album concludes with a song that feels like an ending, especially with that “bang bang” at the end.

A brief record-spinning coda is tacked at the end of the album for those who let it play all the way to the end.  It probably fooled a few kids into thinking their turntable was broken, as the record seemingly spins fast and slow, over and over.

There were no B-sides or bonus tracks recorded.  No extras, no unreleased songs.  Talk about having your eye on the prize!

Pyromania had broad appeal.  The numbers showed it.  It put Leppard in the big leagues.  To date it has sold 10 million copies in the US.  It was the end of obscurity.  The band toured relentlessly.  Though they did not release a live album, the 2009 Pyromania deluxe edition contains one from the L.A. Forum in 1983.  We’ll look at that next time.

5/5 stars

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  • Pyromania bonus disc Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

Gallery: Def Leppard – Pyromania (India import cassette)

Aaron finds the weirdest stuff!  In a recent Box of Goodness that he sent me (including an awesome Thin Lizzy Thunder and Lightning reissue on vinyl) I found this.  It’s Def Leppard’s Pyromania (review here) on cassette, but not just any cassette.

The weird extra-thick and bendy clamshell case was the dead giveaway that this was something unusual.  A quick look at the sleeve reveals it’s an actual Vertigo release, but also an import from India!  Does anyone know if cassettes in India always came in these odd cases?  The cassette actually snaps into the case, and is held by two tabs.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  This version even has an oddly coloured Def Leppard logo, that I’ve never seen on anything else.

Pyromania had a max. retail price of 60 rupees. That’s approximately one US dollar today.

Even though the yellow price tag on the side says $2.99, Aaron got this for the princely sum of one Canadian dollar!  And now here’s the gallery of this strange oddity.

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Pyromania (deluxe edition, 24kt gold Ultradisc II)

Another one that I wasn’t happy with my original review for.  I redid this one, with loads of new pics.  Here it is:  Pyromania redux!

DEF LEPPARD – Pyromania (1983, 24kt gold Ultradisc II, 2009 deluxe edition)

Pyromania is one of those landmark albums that every melodic rock fan should own: Over 10 million copies sold, four classic hit singles, and a sound that at the time was so new and fresh that everybody took notice. This is before Rick Allen’s accident, before Steve Clark’s death, and before Def Leppard had any serious hits. Three would prove to be their lucky number when they set down to record their third album.

Pyromania is also the only Leppard album to feature a three-guitar lineup, in a sense.  Pete Willis was fired mid-way through recording, ironically for alcohol abuse, the same illness that would take Steve Clark 8 years later.  Phil Collen (ex-Girl, with Phil Lewis of the future L.A. Guns) was hired to complete the unfinished guitar rhythms and solos.  Willis’ rhythm guitar appears on all 10 tracks, making this his final Def Leppard album.

Girl, featuring Phil Collen and Phil Lewis

Girl, featuring Phil Collen and Phil Lewis

At some point in the 1990’s, Pyromania was licensed out to Mobile Fidelity labs, who used the original master tapes to create a 24kt gold “Ultradisc II”.  The discs are “custom pressed” (don’t know what that really means) on gold, because it doesn’t oxidize (IE, it’ll last longer).  Although the back cover states that “all liner notes, photos and artwork from the original LP are faithfully recreated”, this is not so.  All the Ultradisc comes with are the lyrics, and nothing else.  Not even a producer credit.  And the weird thing is, Leppard didn’t even print lyrics in their albums at the time.

The ultradisc comes in its own unique case seen below, and does sound tremendous, I can vouch for that.  Does it sound better than the remaster?  Hell, I don’t know.  I’m no audiophile.  They both sound good to me!  The 24kt gold is obviously collectible, which is why I still have it, even though I upgraded to the deluxe since then.

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The Ultradisc II’s unique case

Now, onto the deluxe.  This was freshly remastered. It brings the glory of Mutt Lange’s groundbreaking production to daylight. The liner notes (by one of my favourite writers, Rolling Stone’s David Fricke) reveal Mutt’s obsession: At one point the band were laying down entire chords one note at a time in order to get the right alchemy. Their goal was to create an album that nobody had made before, and they succeeded. (Hard to believe that they would pull off the same stunt twice, and do it again on Hysteria, as different from Pyromania as Pyromania was from On Through the Night!)

This landmark album contains no weak songs:  All 10 of its tracks were valuable use of precious vinyl.  It even filled the vinyl, a full 45 minutes, pretty close to the maximum afforded by the format.  From the melancholy apocalyptic riffage of the power ballad “Too Late For Love”, to the manic gallop of “Rock! Rock! (‘Til You Drop)”, this album is nearly flawless.  Album cuts like “Comin’ Underfire” (tied for my favourite on the album) and “Stagefright” stick to the brain like peanut butter in the mouth.  (“Too Late” is my other favourite.)

And that’s not including the hits:  “Rock of Ages”, “Foolin'”, and “Photograph”, all classics in their own right, which I certainly hope you already know by heart.  The combo of Def and Mutt had, by this point, gotten quite good at writing riffs with hooks, and the songs to go with them.  “Rock of Ages” has a life of its own now, radio will never let this one die.  “Photograph” was a mid-tempo pop rock classic, pointing the way to Hysteria, four years later….

Unlike the Hysteria and Adrenalize deluxe editions on the market, Pyromania has no B-sides.  There were no extra tracks lying around unreleased, and no B-sides available. The liner notes reveal that an 11th song was written, but not much else is known about it.

Instead, the bonus second CD contains an awesome sounding show from the Pyromania tour. It’s important to remember that no live albums or videos were released by Def Leppard until post-Hysteria, so this is the only live release featuring Rick Allen before his accident. Def Leppard sound absolutely ferocious. Joe Elliot’s voice is at its vocal-cord-shredding best, gargling glass like Brian Johnson possessed. Steve Clark and Phil Collen (the new boy) rip and shred on their guitars, and weave them into a wall of thunder (listen to “Switch 625”). The two Ricks, Allen and Savage, keep it rolling on the rhythm, steady as she goes. And then Brian May of Queen even shows up at the end for a CCR cover tune (with a surprise foray into Led Zeppelin)! Some of these songs have never been heard live on a CD before. Indeed, Leppard rarely play anything pre-Pyromania anymore.

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I mean, it’s always a treat to hear “Wasted”, isn’t it?  Combine that with some great tunage from High N’ Dry, such as “Mirror Mirror” and “Another Hit and Run”.  These are some of my favourite Def Leppard tracks anyway, and to hear them live in ’83 by a young and hungry band is really, really entertaining.

Pyromania being their third release, it would have been totally appropriate (and in hindsight very wise, considering the gap between albums) to release this concert as a live album back in the 80’s as the band buckled in for the very hard Hysteria recording sessions. For whatever reason, that didn’t happen. At least we get to hear it now!

5/5 stars

Pictured below:  the three versions I currently own.  The original LP, the 24 kt gold Ultradisc II, and the deluxe.