Mutt Lange

THREE-VIEW: Def Leppard – Hysteria (1987)

Part Nine of the Def Leppard Review Series

Deluxe edition review:  Hysteria deluxe (2006)
30th Anniversary edition review:  Hysteria 5 CD 30th (2017)
Classic Albums DVD review:  Hysteria (2002)
Historia VHS review (1988)

Note:  This being the third Hysteria album review, we will be taking a different approach.  The first two reviews were detailed and comprehensive so please check those out for all the nitty gritty.  This one will be more nostalgic in nature.

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria (1987 Vertigo)

Kiss were always my “favourite band”, but the majority of my highschool years from 1987 to 1989 were all about Def Leppard.  Although they wanted to be the biggest band in the world with this album, many of us were cheering for them to win.  The band had endured years of adversity since the triumph of Pyromania.

Most obviously was Rick Allen’s car accident.  It was hard to imagine how the drummer was going to come back from it, losing his left arm and almost his right as well.  But he did.  He frickin’ did it.  Rick Allen, the Thundergod, returned and Joe Elliott said it was biggest “up” the band ever had.  How could you not want them to win under those circumstances?

The biggest change on Hysteria (so named to characterise the last four years of their lives) was obviously the drum kit.  Rick Allen had a style, employing classic grip and wicked rolls.  Now he had a new electronic kit, with samples triggered by foot pedals and an arsenal of modern sounds.  Allen adapted with a fresh style, leading the charge with a chugga-chugga and some bam-pow.  His new style is one of the defining traits of Hysteria.

The first single here, and first taste of the new Leppard, was “Women”, an unorthodox pick.  A slow grind led by a synth-y sounding bassline from Rick Savage, it is neither a ballad nor a scorcher.  It’s not immediately catchy either, but it drew us all back in for a second third and fourth lesson until we were hooked.  The sound:  clean, precise, with layers of vocals and assorted melodic tones.  But shit, did the band ever look cool in the video.

Hysteria arrived on my tape deck Christmas of 1987.  It quickly monopolized my listening time, though it took a couple spins to “get it”.

“Rocket” threw me for a loop.  I considered it filler; too contemporary and not enough rock.  Bogged down with samples, backwards vocals and tricks.  It sounded like the kind of song that would be impossible to perform live (though they did).  Over the years I’ve warmed up to “Rocket”.  The tribal beat inspired by Burundi Black makes it quite unique in hard rock, and the lyrics are delightful once you realize that Joe’s just naming all his favourite bands and albums.  The meticulously recorded chorus really illustrates the intricate kind of process at hand.  Each voice recorded separately and mixed down to the final product.  Then there’s the long droning middle section, a unique construction worthy of a detailed listen.  “Rocket” was another odd selection for a single, but it was a hit as the seventh and final one almost two years after the album was released.

It was hard to resist “Animal”, even though it was a blatant sonic declaration that Leppard were going for hits.  As the second single from the album, it made some impact with its circus-themed music video.  Light rock, with a punchy chorus, “Animal” was a well-written track with yet more of those immaculately recorded backing vocals.  In the lead singer department, Joe was content to sing more and scream less, a trend that would continue.  The fact is, the guy didn’t have to scream, though he’s terribly good at it.

Hysteria has a variety of tracks, but only two are ballads.  “Love Bites” was selected as fifth single, and a smash hit it was.  I wondered why they used a Judas Priest song title, but the song actually has country origins.  Producer “Mutt” Lange brought the bones of it to the band as a twangy country song.  The end product is nothing like that, with odd computerized voices and a slow dramatic build.  Like every song on the album, the chorus kills.  The band (with Lange) had really honed in on writing and recording technically perfect songs.  There’s a lot going on in the mix on “Love Bites” but none of it is wasted.  Everything’s necessary for the right vibe.

“Step inside, walk this way!  It’s you n’ me babe, hey hey!”  Shakespeare it ain’t.  A hit, it was!  “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, the fourth single, was the breakthrough smash that launched this album on the charts for two years.  Def Leppard had ripped off a couple classic rock tunes here, but they were selling them to kids who never heard the originals.  Mixing rap and rock, Leppard sold a bajillion singles and umptillion albums to kids worldwide.  It wasn’t even an obvious hit.  The genre-bending song took some getting used to initially.

Closing side one, the sixth single:  “Armageddon It”.  The stuttering guitar riff made it easy to like, if a bit light.  This tune is fun to listen to with headphones on, to help break down all the different tracks of guitar.  The cool thing that each guitar part is catchy on its own.

The North American videos for “Sugar” and “Armageddon It” were filmed live, and showed off Leppard’s innovative “in the round” stage.  From the TV in the basement, it sure looked like the ultimate concert experience.  We’d get a full taste of it on the In the Round: In Your Face home video (1989).  Today you can get this concert on both CD and DVD.   The CD version is included in the comprehensive Hysteria 30th Anniversary box set.

Opening side two is the track we all thought should have been a single:  “Gods of War”, an epic in its own right, from the same lineage as “Overture” from the 1980 debut album.  With Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher sampled in the tune, it just sounded cool.  Steve Clark’s E-bow opening drone sets the stage for a dramatic tune full of riffs, hooks and guitar action.  It’s not political, just anti-war like many Ozzy tunes of the time.  Its length probably prohibited it from being a single…but they did edit down “Rocket”.

The first non-single on the album is the hard rocker “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”.  Some odd vocal effects keep it from being a standard guitar rocker; almost every song on Hysteria has some strange twist in the mix.  Though more laid back in groove, this is the first tune that hearkens back to old Leppard.  Slicker, sugar coated and easier to swallow though.  It is paired with “Run Riot”, a similar track with a faster tempo.  Tasty guitars from Collen and Clarke, chugging drums from the Thundergod.  Screamin’ Joe sounding like the Joe from Pyromania, and Savage sounding less synth-y than the other tracks.

The last single on the album was actually the third single released:  the brilliant title track “Hysteria”.  The diamond-like flawless ballad was laid down literally one note at a time, giving it a precise but delicate nature.  It was arguably the most pop Leppard had ever been, and that’s just fine.  When you have a song this good, it doesn’t matter what you call it.  Best tune on the album?  Arguably.  The precise picking is delectable and Joe has one of his best vocal performances right here.  Unlike other songs on the album, it’s low on sonic gimmicks.

If there was one song to eject from the album, it’s the penultimate track “Excitable”.  Back to gimmicks, it relies too much on samples and weird digitally manipulated vocals.  It sounds like it was intended to be a crossover hit.  It could have been replaced by a superior B-side (which we’ll get to).

The album closer is a majestic mid-tempo not-quite-ballad-thing called “Love and Affection”, possibly the second best tune on the whole album after “Hysteria” itself.  It’s all about taste, but this deep cut is one of the strongest.  It’s all about the song, no extra trimmings, just melody and arrangement.  It easily could have been a single.  There’s this one chunky Steve Clark lick that just slays me.  Rick Allen’s pound has never been more suited to a track as it slams through the chorus.  A really triumphant track that I would have released as ninth single after “Gods of War”!

Although it took a year (until the release of “Sugar”) to recoup its costs, Hysteria was an undisputed win for the band that worked so hard for it.  Their loyalty to their drummer was not to lost to fans and media alike, and actually worked in their favour creating a new and exciting 80s rock sound.

But there was more to Hysteria than just the 12 tracks.  Remixes and live material aside, there were five notable B-sides.  All excellent in their own right.

Backing “Women” was the straight-ahead rocker “Tear It Down”.  These B-sides were not produced by Mutt and therefore have a more raw edge, akin to older Leppard.  “Tear It Down” rocked relentess, hard but mid-tempo cool.  After a one-off live TV performance, the song was earmarked for re-recording on the next album….

On the flipside of “Animal” we find “I Wanna to Be Your Hero”, with a ballady opening and hard rocking middle.  How did this song not make the album?  Clearly one of the best tunes, it has both a chugging riff and a pop-smart melody.

The heaviest tune backed the softest.  “Ride Into the Sun” was the B-side to “Hysteria”, and what a smoker it is.  A re-recording of a song from the Def Leppard EP, it is also re-arranged with new lyrics and new chorus.  It’s far superior and kicks every ass in the room.  The B-side to “Sugar” was “Ring of Fire”, just as heavy as “Ride Into the Sun” but not as immediately catchy.

Finally, the last of the B-sides was a cover.  A very confusing cover indeed.  “Release Me” featured their roadie Malvin Mortimer doing something that might be considered singing.  To add to the mess, the band all switched instruments with Joe on piano, so nobody really knew what they were doing.  The band credited the song to “Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys” and in the liner notes, Joe claimed “Rarely in my travels have I come across such a monumental talent as Stumpus Maximus.”  Only when Stumpus unfurls his unholy screams at exactly 2:36 did I get the joke.

The Hysteria sessions yielded some unfinished material as well, that Leppard would finally release in the 1990s.  One of these tunes, a screaming “She’s Too Tough”, first saw the light of day on Helix’s 1987 album Wild in the Streets, released two months ahead of Hysteria.  Brian Vollmer is one of the few singers who can do justice to Joe’s challenging vocal.

Hysteria is available in a comprehensive 5 CD/2 DVD box set with all the B-sides, remixes, and live tracks.  It includes the Classic Albums “making of” documentary, all the music videos, and the entire In the Round: In Your Face concert on CD.   It is, without a doubt, the best way to own the most important Def Leppard album.

But before you buy, some perspective.

There’s a legendary 0/10 review by Martin Popoff that I’d like to share some quotes from.  If I’m over-enthusiastic about Hysteria, then consider this.

  • “High tech, tasteless, and devoid of life whatsoever.”
  • “Even Elliott’s vocals, probably the last vestige that hasn’t completely been swallowed by robots, sound like some kind of dry-wheezing mechanical lung wired to the man’s death bed.”
  • Hysteria is a major assault to anyone’s intelligence.”
  • “An offensive kick in the head sent straight from the rock ‘n’ roll bored room.”

Take my rating with a grain of salt.

5/5 stars

 

Gallery of single covers

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983

Next:  

 10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia (Record Store Tales)

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

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 – Hysteria (2017 5 CD/2DVD 30th anniversary edition)

This is the ultimate review of Hysteria. Some material is recycled from:

This review covers everything you need to know about the ultimate version of Hysteria.

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria (2017 Universal 5 CD/2DVD 30th anniversary edition)

25 million copies sold.  Seven hit singles.  A two year world tour.  All done under the most difficult circumstances.  Def Leppard’s Hysteria is one of rock’s greatest triumphs.

Although the album was released in 1987, the Hysteria story really begins on December 31, 1984.  Drummer Rick Allen lost control of his speeding Corvette, and was thrown from the vehicle due to improper use of seatbelts.  His left arm was severed.  Doctors attempted to re-attach the arm, but infection set in and it could not be saved.  It would be understandable if people thought Rick’s career in music was finished.  While many artists from Django Reinhardt to Tony Iommi had dealt with physical disabilities, nobody had ever seen a one-armed rock drummer before.

Undaunted, Allen began working on a way around his disability.  The band never considered a future without him, and were disappointed by “ambulance chasers” looking for a gig.  Rick Allen wasn’t about to allow himself to go down or dwell in his misery.  With an electronic kit triggered by his feet and right hand, Allen eventually regained his ability to not only play drums, but play live.  This resulted in an inevitable stylistic change.  Allen’s drumming style became more staggered, with emphasis on bigger, spaced out snare hits.  His electronic kit was no crutch:  singer Joe Elliott said he could play it “and make it really sound terrible”.

The next album was supposed to be a big deal.  It was Phil Collen’s first Def Leppard LP as a writer, and Rick’s chance to prove he wasn’t out.  Unfortunately, when the band started to record, producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange was not available.  Instead the band began to work with Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf), but were underwhelmed by the results they were getting.  Leppard’s ambition was not just to make another album, but to make something seriously good, memorable and special.  Something to surpass Pyromania.  Steinman was let go and the band started working with Nigel Green with no progress being made.

The band were taking so long, and suffered so many setbacks and delays, that eventually Mutt Lange was available again, and together they finally began work on the new Def Leppard LP.  Co-writing every song with the band, Mutt provided the focus and intense discipline.  The stated goal, following the template of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, was to make an album with 12 potential singles.

The long story of this difficult album (false starts, illnesses, studio problems) is only overshadowed by its success.  But it took a while to get there.

Disc One:  The original album (Hysteria)

The first single “Women” did well enough, but failed to kickstart the mega album sales needed to recoup the losses.  “Women” was an odd choice for a first single: a slow robotic rock track, with a killer comic book-based music video.  It introduced the new Def Leppard groove:  A simple one or two note bass line, layers upon layers of vocals and chiming guitars, but none of the full-speed-ahead New Wave of British Heavy Metal that Leppard were founded on.  The year was 1987 and Def Leppard were on the cutting edge.

 

To get those chiming bell-like chords, Mutt had them recorded one note at a time!  This is very apparent on “Animal”, the second single.  It too was mildly successful, but not enough to push the album into orbit.  Listen to the guitar chords and you will hear something that sounds more like chimes than strings.  This is down to the incredibly detailed and overdubbed recordings.  “Animal” was a stellar pop rock track, and a fine example of what Hysteria sounds like.

Refusing to give up, a third single was dropped:  the ballad title track “Hysteria” and possibly the finest song on the album.  The fact that these singles were not the hits the band hoped for at the time has not diminished them.  Today they are all concert classics, radio staples, and beloved fan favourites.  Leppard even re-recorded the song in 2013 for release on iTunes.  (While the re-recorded version is impressive, it is impossible to exactly recreate the magic on this album.)

Finally, the success that the band and record label were waiting for happened.  The track was “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and the North American version of its music video showcased the band’s stunning live show.  Def Leppard were playing “in the round” to rave reviews.  “Pour Some Sugar”, a retro glam rock tune with a contemporary sound, was a summer smash hit.  It was cool, it was catchy, and Joe’s verses almost sounded like rap, although really they had more in common with Marc Bolan of T-Rex.

On a roll, nothing would stop Def Leppard now.  Though the goal was an album with 12 potential singles, Hysteria eventually yielded seven.  Most rock bands were lucky to squeeze three out of a hit album.  Though the album was now becoming a bonafide hit, some critics and fans lamented the death of the original Def Leppard.  Others embraced their pop success.  The raw edgy guitars were gone and replaced by bright, precise parts working as a whole, in a gigantic pop rock juggernaut.  Joe wasn’t screaming out every line, but actually singing now.  It hardly matters.  With the success of Hysteria, Def Leppard had embarked on a whole new journey and have rarely looked back to their origins.

The singles carried on, through the rest of 1988 and into 1989.  “Love Bites” was fifth up, which originated as a country ballad that Mutt wrote and the band Leppardized into something different.  It was a hit for the autumn of ’88, a slightly dark ballad for the fall.  The victorious glam rock of “Armageddon It” was next, simple and pleasant enough for radio and video, and another huge hit.  These were songs that had pep, but wouldn’t frighten mom and dad.

The seventh and final single was a surprise choice:  “Rocket”.  On album, “Rocket” was 6:37 long, and featured a long experimental middle section.  The ambitious mid-section featured loads of NASA samples and sound effects, all backed by the African inspired drum loops of Rick Allen.  The song was based a drum beat by Burundi Black, brought in by Joe Elliott, played by Rick Allen and looped.  Eventually lyrics were added, inspired by the glitter groups of the 70’s that Leppard grew up with.  Lange also used backwards vocals for some of the hooks.  The line that opens the track and repeats through the song is the chorus from “Gods of War”, backwards:  “Raw fo sdog eht rof gnithgif er’ew.”  It was a sharp track to be used as a single, but that unforgettable beat was beyond question.

Hysteria had two more tracks as good as the singles, although they were not.  “Gods of War” became a fan favourite, and easily could have been an eighth single.  Dark in tone but more epic in quality, it has since become heavily associated with late guitarist Steven Maynard Clark.  He was responsible for much of its guitar thunder.  The final track that could have worked as a single was the album closer, the ballady “Love and Affection”.  As good as any of the actual singles, “Love and Affection” had its own charm and hit potential.  It’s long been one of my album favourites, just under “Hysteria” and “Gods of War”.

Rounding out the LP are “Run Riot” and “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”, two rock tracks that would have been highlights on a lesser album.  Neither are clearly as brilliant as the hits, but both solidly get the job done with guitar thrills.  Finally there is “Excitable”, the only song I’ve never particularly dug.  It strikes me as gimmicky and very 80’s, much like “Social Disease” by Bon Jovi.  Too reliant on sound effects and gimmicks.  So out of 12 tracks, only one was really a dud.  That’s not bad by any measure.

Hysteria rode the charts, recouped its costs, and then some.  The tour in the round was legendary and resulted in a live video In the Round: In Your Face.  Def Leppard were, for a short while anyway, the biggest rock band in the world.

Disc Two & Three:  B-Sides and Remixes

As discussed in greater detail in Record Store Tales Part 4:  A Word About B-Sides, this album and its singles really clicked with the collector in me.  Def Leppard prepared a number of B-sides for Hysteria, and perhaps because these were not produced with Mutt, they all have a harder edge.  The four key must-have B-sides were all exclusive studio tracks, and the first four on the second CD of this set.

“Tear It Down” was a speedy but basic rock track considered good enough to include on the next album, and so it was.  The B-side version remains its superior, because it is tougher than the one on Adrenalize.  The most impressive B-side was probably “I Wanna Be Your Hero”.  This B-side from the “Animal” EP has the Hysteria vibe and sound.  It easily could have replaced “Excitable” as an LP track, but if it had perhaps Hysteria wouldn’t have sounded as diverse.  Dig that false ending!   Next, “Ride into the Sun” is a remake of a track from the original 1979 Def Leppard EP.  The 1987 update is heavier and far better, a truly impressive upgrade.  Finally “Ring of Fire” was even heavier than that, clearly too heavy for what Hysteria became.

The second disc features all the radio edits done for Hysteria‘s singles.  Even to collectors, this is padding.  Only one radio edit seems to hit the nostalgic notes, which is “Women” with a fade out ending.  Incidentally, the only single from Hysteria that didn’t get a single edit was “Animal”, already short at 4:04.

Most important is the cover version of  “Release Me”.  This track was initially released on the “Armageddon It” picture disc single, but not credited to Def Leppard.  Much like their later acoustic B-sides credited to the Acoustic Hippies from Hell, “Release Me” is credited to “Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys”.  Engelbert Humperdinck is responsible for the most famous version of “Release Me”, but Stumpus Maximus is definitely responsible for the most twisted.  Featuring Def Leppard’s roadie Malvin Mortimer on lead vocals and the rest of the band goofing around on each others’ instruments, “Release Me” is a hoot.  Mortimer breaks all known sound barriers with his screaming (and burping) of the lyrics.  I was absolutely confused beyond belief upon hearing this for the first time, since I didn’t catch on to this actually being Def Leppard in disguise.  They absolutely fooled me; I thought whoever they were, Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys sucked!  A hilarious novelty.

Disc two concludes with an 18 minute radio special from the BBC, going through Hysteria‘s songs with Joe Elliott.   The third disc consists of remixes and live B-sides from the period.  Extended versions of “Animal”, “Pour Some Sugar”, “Armageddon It”, “Rocket” and even “Excitable” all come from 12” singles.  A welcome inclusion is the single edit of “Rocket”, the short version of the “lunar mix” .  This was excluded from the previous 2 CD deluxe of Hysteria.  The video mix of “Pour Some Sugar” is still missing, but that track is on so many albums including the five-million-selling Vault, so we’re not going to worry about it.  These extended remixes are, not surprisingly, pretty much for the fans and collectors.

The live B-sides feature the fascinating “Rock of Ages” medley. It seamlessly captures key riffs of classic rock tunes:  “Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly), “My Generation” (The Who), “Radar Love” (Golden Earring), “Come Together” (The Beatles) and “Whole Lotta Love” (Zeppelin).  This is all done to the tempo and style of “Rock of Ages”, and quite well, too.  Then it’s a lively cut of “Love and Affection”, which was also utilised as the album’s Japanese bonus track.  It’s very rare to hear this song done live, and definitely rare to hear a great vintage version done live.  Finally there’s a so-so “Billy’s Got a Gun” (same gig).  One live B-side is missing, though you can understand why, it is still annoying.  “Elected”, the live Alice Cooper cover (same gig again), was on the 2 CD deluxe edition.  It was recorded during this period but released in 1993 on the “Heaven Is” single.  Because it’s not from a Hysteria single, it was dropped from this box set.  Too bad.

Disc Four & Five:  In the Round In Your Face (Live)

When  I was a young fella, massively into Def Leppard, In the Round In Your Face (taped in Denver over two nights) was the very first live home video I ever bought.  To finally, finally have a proper audio edition…there are no words to express the happiness!  It always should have been a double live album release and not just a video, but hindsight is always 20/20.

The legendary set consists of hits from Hysteria, Pyromania, and “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” from High N’ Dry.  From the unforgettable Clint Eastwood “Dirty Harry” intro, to the final song “Photograph”, it’s non-stop fun.  Though today there is plenty of live Leppard available, nothing tops vintage Joe Elliott screaming like a kid.  Aside from a flawless track selection, highlights of the concert include Phil Collen’s new acoustic intro to “Heartbreak”.  “Gods of War” is heavy and powerful.  “Too Late For Love” gives me chills.  Of the newer songs, “Women” is notable for being included as one of the B-sides for “Rocket”.  Instead of putting it on the previous disc, it was left intact here, with the concert it came from.  Of course, we mustn’t forget what really makes this concert special.  Steven Maynard Clark didn’t survive to do another tour with Def Leppard, and this would be the last live recording with him on it.

DVD Disc One:  Visual Hysteria

This disc is a new compilation of video clips, the first four of which are previously unreleased.  Leppard have three Hysteria-related appearances on Top of the Pops:  “Animal”, “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, “and “Rocket”.  These lip-synced television appearances are almost comical as people scream for a band miming a hit song.  The showmanship of Steve Clark, in his billowy white pants, is sorely missed.  What a rock star!  On “Animal”, frontman Joe Elliott appears to have pulled a Derek Smalls and stuffed his trousers.  Note Phil’s ahead-of-the-times Metallica shirt during “Sugar”.  Unfortunately “Rocket” fades out early.  Though these videos are old and washed-out, it’s a hoot to have them.  Leppard lip-sync again on a familiar video of “Sugar” from the Brit awards.

Music videos were a huge part of the marketing for Hysteria, and a key component to its success.  Each one is here, including both the UK and US versions of “Sugar”.  These videos bring back such a nostalgic glow.  I remember seeing “Women” for the first time, thinking how amazing it was that Def Leppard were back.  I also thought about how brave Rick Allen was.  He didn’t try to hide his injury.  The slow-mo effect of “Hysteria” brings back a lot of memories, as does “Love Bites”.  It was a huge hit video in Canada, during a very cool autumn.

DVD Disc Two:  Classic Albums

Of all the Classic Albums series DVDs, this was one of my most frequently played.  It is now reissued as part of the 30th anniversary box set, a perfect place for it.  In case you didn’t know, Classic Albums is a fantastic series of documentaries that go back to the original master tapes.  Hysteria is one of many albums they have covered.

Hysteria is such a rich, textured, thick album with a long story so this DVD is an obvious slam dunk. The only thing it lacks is Mutt Lange’s knowledge (a notorious recluse). Otherwise, the band go back to the beginning with the early demos. “Animal” was sparse but remarkably recognizable while still in demo form, down to the false ending. “Rocket” is deconstructed so you can hear the drum orchestra that was laid down, while Joe Elliott talks about how it was inspired. The backing vocals of “Gods of War” are laid out bare, virtually every single word sung and recorded separately! That’s the kind of album this is.

Along with that, Joe, Phil and Sav also perform bits live in the studio. This helps to illustrate the individual parts further.  It is revealed to “Love Bites” was brought to the band by Lange as a country song; you can hear the roots on this DVD.  Rick Allen is there to discuss his accident, an obviously emotional moment. Steve Clark is discussed too, and current Leppard guitarist Vivian Campbell is on hand to talk about the numerous guitar parts that he inherited and has to play live.

JEFF RICHMy favourite feature of this DVD is actually in the bonus material.  It’s the chapter that covers the first shows that Leppard played after Rick Allen’s accident. Originally, Jeff Rich from Status Quo was tapped to play a second drum kit alongside Allen on stage, just in case Allen got tired, slipped out of time, or couldn’t finish the show. There were so many variables that nobody knew what would happen during what really amounted to Allen’s comeback shows. Well, for one show in the middle of nowhere, Jeff Rich was late.  If he had turned up on time, maybe Rick Allen would never have found out that he could play a full Def Leppard show on his own.  Allen did the show with no help on the drums, and he nailed it.  Rich told Allen that his work was done; Allen did not need any more help.  And that was it!

The books and packaging

This iteration of Hysteria comes with four individual books and a poster suitable for framing.  The Big Book of Hysteria is the main event.  Adorned with pictures and full credits, this tells the story of the album from the band’s point of view.  There were details in this book that even I wasn’t previously aware of.   Why did Rick Savage play guitar on “Hysteria”?  What was the original planned 10 track running order of the album?  You’ll find that in this book.  There is also a track by track rundown of the album by the band.

Next:   Ross Halfin’s Portraits of Hysteria.  This photo book has many of the classic pictures you will remember from this period.  I had several of these as posters on my wall.  Halfin was responsible for all of them!

A lovely miniature reproduction of the 1988 UK tour book is complete with cut-outs and even more Halfin photos.  Tour books are large affairs, and this being a small reproduction, the text is hard to read.  Especially for us old enough to have an original North American tour program in the house.

Lastly, and perhaps most lovely, is the Discography book.  Inside are photos and release details of every obscure version ever released of Hysteria, all its singles and more.  It’s exhaustive and assembled with consultation from a fan expert.

All seven discs, books and poster are packed in a nice looking, compact box.  Each disc has its own gatefold sleeve with yet more memorable pictures inside.  They nest inside a cardboard tray with the Union Jack printed on it.  Perfect!

Conclusion

I’ve had Hysteria five times now.  The first was a gift for Christmas of ’87.  I upgraded to CD when I was working at the Record Store.  I bought the 2006 2 CD deluxe edition, the DVD of Classic Albums, and Hysteria on 180 gram vinyl.  I hope this 30th anniversary box set is the last time I have to do so.  I can’t imagine what could entice me to buy it again.  A 5.1 surround sound mix?  Please, rock gods, don’t do that.

I love Hysteria.  But let’s hope this is the last of it.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Hysteria (1987, 2006 deluxe edition)

EPIC REVIEW TIME.  Image heavy!  Step inside, walk this way.

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria (1987, 2006 Mercury deluxe edition)

25 million copies sold.  Seven hit singles.  A two year world tour.  All done under the most difficult circumstances.  Def Leppard’s Hysteria is one of rock’s greatest triumphs.

Although the album was released in 1987, the Hysteria story really begins on December 31, 1984.  Drummer Rick Allen lost control of his speeding Corvette, and was thrown from the vehicle due to improper use of seatbelts.  His left arm was severed.  Doctors attempted to re-attach the arm, but infection set in and it could not be saved.  It would be understandable if people thought Rick’s career in music was finished.  While many artists from Django Reinhardt to Tony Iommi had dealt with physical disabilities, nobody had ever seen a one-armed rock drummer before.

Undaunted, Allen began working on a way around his disability.  The band never considered a future without him, and were disappointed by “ambulance chasers” looking for a gig.  Rick Allen wasn’t about to allow himself to go down or dwell in his misery.  With an electronic kit triggered by his feet and right hand, Allen eventually regained his ability to not only play drums, but play live.  This resulted in an inevitable stylistic change.  Allen’s drumming style became more staggered, with emphasis on bigger, spaced out snare hits.  His electronic kit was no crutch:  singer Joe Elliott said he could play it “and make it really sound terrible”.

The next album was supposed to be a big deal.  It was Phil Collen’s first Def Leppard LP as a writer, and Rick’s chance to prove he wasn’t out.  Unfortunately, when the band started to record, producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange was not available.  Instead the band began to work with Jim Steinman (Meat Loaf), but were underwhelmed by the results they were getting.  Leppard’s ambition was not just to make another album, but to make something seriously good, memorable and special.  Something with the potential to be as big as Pyromania was.  Steinman was let go and the band started working with Nigel Green with no progress being made.

The band were taking so long, and suffered so many setbacks and delays, that eventually Mutt Lange was available again, and together they finally began work on the new Def Leppard LP.  Co-writing every song with the band, Mutt provided the focus and intense discipline.  The stated goal, following the template of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, was to make an album with 12 potential singles.

The long story of this difficult album (false starts, illnesses, studio problems) is only overshadowed by its success.  But it took a while to get there.

The first single “Women” did well enough, but failed to kickstart the mega album sales needed to recoup the losses.  “Women” was an odd choice for a first single: a slow robotic rock track, with a killer comic book-based music video.  It was incredible just to see how Rick Allen played drums with his new setup.  Apparently, video directors asked how they should shoot Rick?  The band answered “Just the same as you would any other drummer.”  It was simple as that.

“Women” introduced the new Def Leppard groove.  A simple one or two note bass line, layers upon layers of vocals and chiming guitars, but none of the full-speed-ahead New Wave of British Heavy Metal that Leppard were founded on.  The year was 1987 and Def Leppard were on the cutting edge.  To get those chiming bell-like chords, Mutt had them recorded one note at a time!  This is very apparent on “Animal”, the second single.  It too was mildly successful, but not enough to push the album into orbit.  Listen to the guitar chords and you will hear something that sounds more like chimes than strings.  This is down to the incredibly detailed and overdubbed recordings.  “Animal” was a stellar pop rock track, and a fine example of what Hysteria sounds like.

Refusing to give up, a third single was dropped:  the ballad title track “Hysteria” and possibly the finest song on the album.  The fact that these singles were not the hits the band hoped for at the time has not diminished them.  Today they are all concert classics, radio staples, and beloved fan favourites.  Leppard even re-recorded the song in 2013 for release on iTunes.  (While the re-recorded version is impressive, it is impossible to exactly recreate the magic on this album.)

Finally, the success that the band and record label were waiting for happened.  The track was “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and the North American version of its music video showcased the band’s stunning live show.  Def Leppard were playing “in the round” to rave reviews.  “Pour Some Sugar”, a retro glam rock tune with a contemporary sound, was a summer smash hit.  It was cool, it was catchy, and Joe’s verses almost sounded like rap, although really they had more in common with Marc Bolan of T-Rex.

On a roll, nothing would stop Def Leppard now.  Though the goal was an album with 12 potential singles, Hysteria eventually yielded seven.  Most rock bands were lucky to squeeze three out of a hit album.  Though the album was now becoming a bonafide hit, some critics and fans lamented the death of the original Def Leppard.  Others embraced their pop success.  The raw edgy guitars were gone and replaced by bright, precise parts working as a whole, in a gigantic pop rock juggernaut.  Joe wasn’t screaming out every line, but actually singing now.  It hardly matters.  With the success of Hysteria, Def Leppard had embarked on a whole new journey and have rarely looked back to their origins.

The singles carried on, through the rest of 1988 and into 1989.  “Love Bites” was fifth up, which originated as a country ballad that Mutt wrote and the band Leppardized into something different.  It was a hit for the autumn of ’88, a slightly dark ballad for the fall.  The victorious glam rock of “Armageddon It” was next, simple and pleasant enough for radio and video, and another huge hit.  These were songs that had pep, but wouldn’t frighten mom and dad.

The seventh and final single was a surprise choice:  “Rocket”.  On album, “Rocket” was 6:37 long, and featured a long experimental middle section.  The ambitious mid-section featured loads of NASA samples and sound effects, all backed by the African inspired drum loops of Rick Allen.  The song was based a drum beat by Burundi Black, brought in by Joe Elliott, played by Rick Allen and looped.  Eventually lyrics were added, inspired by the glitter groups of the 70’s that Leppard grew up with.  Lange also used backwards vocals for some of the hooks.  The line that opens the track and repeats through the song is the chorus from “Gods of War”, backwards:  “Raw fo sdog eht rof gnithgif er’ew.”  It was a sharp track to be used as a single, but that unforgettable beat was beyond question.  It was remixed and brought down to 4:25 for the single release.

It is  unfortunate that Mercury stopped at seven singles, because they could have released at least nine.  Many fans had counted on a “Gods of War” release, certainly before “Rocket”.  “Gods of War” had become a fan favourite for those who bought the album, and it could have been used as a “serious” themed single towards the end of the album’s life.  Dark in tone but more epic in quality, it really could have been a valiant single.  It has since become heavily associated with late guitarist Steven Maynard Clark, who was responsible for much of its guitar thunder.

The final track that shoulda woulda coulda been released as a single was the album closer, “Love and Affection”.  As good as any of the actual singles, “Love and Affection” had its own charm and hit potential.  It’s long been one of my album favourites, just under “Hysteria” and “Gods of War”.

Rounding out the LP are “Run Riot” and “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”, two rock tracks that help keep the album afloat.  Neither are clearly as brilliant as the hits, but both solidly get the job done with guitar thrills.  Finally there is “Excitable”, the only song I’ve never particularly dug.  It strikes me as gimmicky and very 80’s, much like “Social Disease” by Bon Jovi.  Too reliant on sound effects and gimmicks.  So out of 12 tracks, only one was really a dud.  That’s not bad by any measure.

So Hysteria rode the charts, recouped its costs, and then some.  The tour in the round was legendary and resulted in a live video In the Round: In Your Face.  Def Leppard were, for a short while anyway, the biggest rock band in the world.

Obviously, Def Leppard have continued to suffer ups and downs since Hysteria.  Steve Clark died.  Rick Savage has Bell’s Palsy.  Vivian Campbell fought cancer.  Yet they have continued to soldier on, never topping Hysteria of course, leaving it as the magnum opus that it is.

HYSTERIA

The album inspired a book and a movie.  An album of Hysteria’s stature deserves a killer deluxe edition too.  This one is nearly perfect.

As discussed in greater detail in Record Store Tales Part 4:  A Word About B-Sides, this album and its singles really clicked with the collector in me.  Def Leppard prepared a number of B-sides for Hysteria, and perhaps because these were not produced with Mutt, they all have a harder edge.  “Tear It Down” was a speedy but basic rock track considered good enough to include on the next album, and so it was.  The B-side version remains its superior, because it is tougher than the one on Adrenalize.  “Ring of Fire” was even heavier, clearly too heavy for what Hysteria became.  Along the same lines is “Ride into the Sun”, an old track from Leppard’s first EP, re-recorded here and in fine form.  “Ride into the Sun” is a stellar track and perhaps should have received some acclaim.  Even though the song has been remixed and reissued on other things, it remains a rarely heard gem.  Yet the most impressive B-side was probably “I Wanna Be Your Hero”.  This B-side from the “Animal” EP has the Hysteria vibe and sound.  It easily could have replaced “Excitable” as an LP track, but if it had perhaps Hysteria wouldn’t have sounded as diverse.  Dig that false ending!

This deluxe edition includes all the live B-sides and almost all the bonus tracks associated with singles for the album, and then some.  “Women” is a live classic from the home video.  Anyone who has seen it will remember this version and Joe’s intro.  “We got everything we need!  We got the band, the crowd, the lights, the cameras, the action!  There’s only one thing that we ain’t got…”  Women!  (I doubt that, Joe!)  “Elected”, the live Alice Cooper cover,  was recorded during this period but released in 1993 on the “Heaven Is” single.

From the same gig as “Elected” came a lively cut of “Love and Affection”, which was also utilised as the album’s Japanese bonus track.  It’s very rare to hear this song done live, and definitely rare to hear a great vintage version done live.  Then there’s a so-so “Billy’s Got a Gun” (same gig again), and a fascinating “Rock of Ages” medley.   This medley seamlessly captures some bits of classic rock tunes within itself:  “Not Fade Away” (Buddy Holly), “My Generation” (The Who), “Radar Love” (Golden Earring), “Come Together” (The Beatles) and “Whole Lotta Love” (Zeppelin).  This is all done to the tempo and style of “Rock of Ages”, and quite well, too.  When this was originally released on the “Rocket” single, there was no mention of the medley part.  It was a total surprise when Leppard broke into these other songs, some of which I’d never heard before.

Leppard released a few remixes during this period too.  Extended versions of “Animal”, “Pour Some Sugar”, “Armageddon It”, “Rocket” and even “Excitable” all come from 12” singles.  What’s missing is the single edit of the “Rocket”, the short version of the “lunar mix” .  The single mix of “Pour Some Sugar” is also missing, but that track is on so many albums including the five-million-selling Vault, so we’re not going to worry about it.  These extended remixes are, not surprisingly, pretty much for the fans and collectors.

Finally, and most importantly, is the last B-side “Release Me”.  This track was initially released on the “Armageddon It” picture disc single, but not credited to Def Leppard.  Much like their later acoustic B-sides credited to the Acoustic Hippies from Hell, “Release Me” is credited to Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys.  Engelbert Humperdinck is responsible for the most famous version of “Release Me”, but Stumpus Maximus is definitely responsible for the most twisted.  Featuring Def Leppard’s roadie Malvin Mortimer on lead vocals and the rest of the band goofing around, “Release Me” is a hoot.  Mortimer breaks all known sound barriers with his screaming (and burping) of the lyrics.  I was absolutely confused beyond belief upon hearing this for the first time, since I didn’t catch on to this actually being Def Leppard in disguise.  They absolutely fooled me; I thought whoever they were, Stumpus Maximus and the Good Ol’ Boys absolutely sucked!  For the time it was a novelty release, but it’s now a wonderful tongue in cheek finale to this great deluxe edition.

Some, including renowned rock journalist Martin Popoff, have dismissed Hysteria as lifeless and dismally underwhelming sell-out pop.  Keeping in mind where they came from (High ‘n’ Dry, Pyromania) there is no question that Hysteria was a clear and intentional turn towards the mainstream.  Where Def Leppard rose above a simple pop foray is in the detail and care given to the recordings.  With Mutt Lange keeping his eye on the goalposts, he drove Leppard not to make an album without a soul, but one that offered flawlessly assembled guitar based songs.  The passion and heart can still be heard; they are not buried.  It’s a unique combination of studio sterility with Leppard’s brand of glam rock, and nobody (not even Leppard) have been able to duplicate the magic of Hysteria.

You might not “need” the full-on deluxe edition, but considering the quality of the B-sides and live material, you’d be positively missing out.

5/5 stars

Gallery of single covers

 

 

 

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Adrenalize (deluxe edition)

DEF LEPPARD – Adrenalize (1992, 2009 Universal deluxe edition)

Ahh, Adrenalize. I remember first buying it on that cold spring day in 1992, and noticing right away, “Where are the riffs?” After Steve Clark died, Def Leppard lost the guy who wrote some of their best riffs, and I miss him.  His absence is most palpable on the album that the band had just started working on when he died.

I was always willing to cut Def Leppard some slack on Adrenalize.  I remember sitting by the radio with my sister waiting for the premiere of “Let’s Get Rocked”.  “It sounds the same as Hysteria,” she said.  I responded, “Well, it had that part with the violins,” but my sister accurately observed that they were only in a section to parody classical music.  If you’re going to enjoy Adrenalize, you have to remember that it was recorded by 4/5 of a band, gutted of their riff writer and performer.  4/5 of a band following the biggest hard rock album of all time isn’t going to reproduce their best work, and we knew that.

Indeed, “Let’s Get Rocked” is pretty limp.  The main thing was just getting Def Leppard back.  Getting them back on the radio was a bonus.  “Heaven Is” was a better song, but it could have been a Bryan Adams outtake.  Sure it has a catchy melody and lush Leppard vocal part, but it doesn’t really rock.  The lyrics won’t be winning any awards:  “Heaven is a girl that I got to have, she makes me feel better when I’m feeling bad.”

IMG_20141116_095810Worse is “Make Love Like A Man”, which is a chorus that I do not want to sing and shout along to.  I give Phil Collen points for the experimentation of putting in a “cockney rhyming rap”, but it’s not enough to save the song.  This sounds like a hard rock version of a Shania Twain hit or something.  The first bonafide Def Leppard classic on Adrenalize is a friggin’ ballad, called “Tonight”.  This one finally captures the magic.  It’s perfect top to bottom, a classy tune that could have fit on Hysteria.

“White Lightning”, a “Gods of War” remake essentially, is a tribute to the fallen Clark.  “White lightning” refers to one of the substances that took him down, but it can also refer to Clark’s appearance on stage, with that big white Gibson guitar throwing shapes.  It’s an apt tribute, and a kick in the ass that this album desperately needed.

The second bonafide classic here is side two’s opener, “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)”.  If you don’t count this slow pop rock song as a ballad, then it’s definitely close, but that chorus kills!  So do the delicate guitar layers, all done by Phil Collen.  It’s too bad this song had such a weird video, and that it was released as a single so late.  It could have been massive.  It’s worth pointing out that both “Stand Up” and “Tonight” were co-written with Steve Clark before he died, which is perhaps why both have memorable guitar parts.

“Personal Property” is one of the harder rock song, but unfortunately it blows.  Another ballad with the agonizing title of “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” was a hit, but it’s inferior to the other two.  “I Wanna Touch U” is catchy and cute, but not hard enough.

That leaves us at the final song, “Tear It Down”, which is a re-recorded version of a B-side from “Animal” (1987).  The B-side version is better.  Predictably, the Adrenalize re-recorded track doesn’t rock nearly as hard.  In one of those “shoulda woulda coulda” moments, maybe Def Leppard should have just polished up the B-side and put it on the album.

Adrenalize went to #1, and millions of copies were sold, so if you’re a Def Leppard fan, you probably knew all that.  So what about this deluxe edition?

ADRENALIZE_0001

This reissue, part of a series of Universal deluxe editions including Hysteria and Pyromania, is a very welcome addition to anybody’s Leppard collection due to the quality of the bonus material. The sound has also been improved significantly enough to warrant an upgrade. As expected with a deluxe such as this, the packaging and liner notes are perfect, including many tales that even the most diehard of Leppard fans have never heard before.

Bonus tracks abound. They include the four live tracks from Leppard’s very rare club tour EP (Live: In the Clubs, in Your Face, 1992), as well as two of the three acoustic sessions with Hothouse Flowers (covers of “Little Wing” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, replete with piano and tin whistle).  (The third Hothouse Flowers track, an original called “From the Inside”, was released in remixed form on the next Def Leppard album Retro-Active.)  These are some of the first tracks recorded to feature Clark’s replacement, Vivian Campbell.

There are two takes of “Tonight”, one being a stunning 1993 acoustic take, and the other being a 1988 demo with (yes!) Steve Clark. The original version of “Two Steps Behind” (before Michael Kamen added the strings) and a live track with Brian May (“Now I’m Here”) from the Freddy Mercury tribute concert are two more rare highlights. The set is rounded out with two live B-Sides also released on the In The Round – In Your Face home video, from Denver in 1988.  These Denver tracks are here because they were originally released in audio format as Adrenalize B-sides.

IMG_20141116_095843But so much material is missing! The 34 empty minutes available on CD one of this set could have housed many more missing treasures.  The Hysteria and Pyromania reissues really packed on the bonus material, Hysteria in particular, which included virtually every rare bonus track and B-side. Adrenalize is missing quite a few: “Only After Dark”, “Miss You In A Heartbeat”, “Action”, “From The Inside” and “She’s Too Tough”. All of these were originally available on long out of print singles, and are excluded here. Why? I can only guess because they are available in remixed form on the Retro-Active CD. However, the Hysteria reissue that came out earlier did not exclude similar tracks.  This leaves the original mixes of these Adrenalize B-sides frustratingly unavailable to collectors.

This deluxe edition of Adrenalize is such a mixed bag. On one hand they have given us some truly rare material such as that 1988 demo of “Tonight”, but on the other they have shorted us original mixes of many key Def Leppard B-sides from this era. I am certain most if not all would have fit. I find this dissapointing and frustrating.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: AC/DC – Back In Black (2004 DualDisc edition)

AC/DC – Back In Black (originally 1980, 2004 Epic DualDisc)

How many times have I bought Back in Black?  How many times have you bought it?  I know that I purchased it on CD first in 1990, and then four more times since.  I currently own two copies:  this DualDisc, and the one that came in the Bonfire box set.  I don’t think I have it on vinyl, but I could be wrong.  The DualDisc has a DVD side with some neat stuff including a documentary.

“The Story of Back In Black” begins in 1979, with Highway to Hell,  fame and glory.  New interviews with all five AC/DC members (Angus & Malcolm Young, Cliff Williams, Phil Rudd and Brian Johnson) provides a little bit of insight.  We all know the story: February 19 1980, the death of Bon Scott, and the brave decision to carry on have become rock legend.  But according to Angus, it was Malcolm who kept the band playing, if only to distract them from the pain of their loss.  The band continued to jam and write without a singer, but producer Mutt Lange knew of one from a band called Geordie.  Brian recalls a hilarious story of being invited to audition for the band.  He went down to London and played “Whole Lotta Rosie” with AC/DC for the first time.  They then went to the Bahamas with Mutt to record.

ACDC BIB DUAL_0005The band tells the stories behind several songs:  “Hells Bells”, “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”, “You Shook Me All Night Long”, “Back in Black”, and “Shoot to Thrill”, while Angus and Malcolm demonstrate the riffs up close.  Brian reveals “Back in Black” was a challenge, since it was intended as a tribute in song to Bon.  No small feat to get the mood right.  The 30 minute mini-doc ends with Back in Black selling 10 million copies.  I guess they got it right!

You know the songs.  You’ve heard ’em the radio, seen ’em on the video, hummed them in your sleep.  “Hells Bells” is one of those archetypal AC/DC songs.  When one pictures the “ominous AC/DC headbanger” song, “Hells Bells” should certainly come to mind.  Then you can get your stompin’ shoes on for “Shoot to Thrill”.  I do miss Bon Scott’s sly playfulness, but there’s nothing wrong with Brian Johnson’s full-speed-ahead screech either.  “What Do You Do For Money Honey” is as catchy today as it was then, and has the benefit of being one of the songs that doesn’t get played every single day on the radio.  I’m not as burned out on it.  Same with “Givin the Dog a Bone”, but on that song all I can do is wonder what Bon would have done with that groove.

One truly outstanding track is the last song on side one, “Let Me Put My Love Into You”.  Yes, that title is hardly clever.  But the song kicks ass all over the place.  It’s one of those late night prowls that AC/DC do so well, and it perfectly closes the first side.

ACDC BIB DUAL_0004

The title track opens the second side with a bang.  Then “You Shook Me All Night Long”, a classic that also needs no introduction.  If you don’t know this song then you probably don’t listen to rock music.  I can’t add anything to the discussion there.

“Have A Drink On Me” and “Shake A Leg” are both fine AC/DC songs.  Nothing wrong with ’em, nothing exceptional about them.  Thankfully they saved one of the best songs for last:  “Rock And Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution”.  This has been my favourite track since first getting the album 24 years ago.  It’s an anthem, the kind of thing we can all agree on.  Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution, baby.  I’ll drink to that.

I don’t think Back In Black is the best AC/DC album, but it might be the best Brian Johnson album.  It’s certainly the most important AC/DC album historically, and it’s a must for any serious rock fan to own.  Choose your format according to your own wishes, but this DualDisc edition satisfies me fine.

4/5 stars

For those times when you can’t use the internet to tell you what songs are on what albums.

DVD REVIEW: Classic Albums – Def Leppard – Hysteria (DVD)

Part 2 of a 2 part Def Lep extravaganza


DEF LEPPARD – Classic Albums – Hysteria (2002 Eagle Vision DVD)

Of all the Classic Albums DVDs that I own, this is one of the most frequently played. And I own a lot. In case you didn’t know, Classic Albums is a fantastic series of discs. Go back into the recording studio where the album was made, with the producer or engineer who recorded it, and the band themselves. You get to hear the original multitrack tapes deconstructed, and we get to hear the band talking about the genesis of the songs and what happened in the studio. Best of all, we get to see the band listening and discovering parts that even they forgot.

Hysteria is such a rich, textured, thick album with a long story so this DVD is an obvious slam dunk. The only thing it lacks is Mutt Lange’s knowledge (a notorious recluse). Otherwise, the band go back to the beginning with the early demos. “Animal” was sparse but remarkably recognizable while still in demo form, down to the false ending. Something like “Rocket” is deconstructed so you can hear the drum orchestra that was laid down, while Joe Elliott talks about how it was inspired. The backing vocals of “Gods of War” are laid out bare, virtually every single word sung and recorded separately! That’s the kind of album this is.

Along with that, Joe, Phil and Sav also perform bits live in the studio. This helps to illustrate the individual parts further.  It is revealed to “Love Bites” was brought to the band by Lange as a country song; you can hear the roots on this DVD.  Rick Allen is there to discuss his accident, an obviously emotional moment. Steve Clark is discussed too, and Vivian Campbell is on hand to talk about the numerous guitar parts that he inherited and has to play live.

JEFF RICHMy favourite feature of this DVD is actually in the bonus material.  It’s the chapter that covers the first shows that Leppard played after Rick Allen’s accident. Originally, Jeff Rich from Status Quo was tapped to play a second drum kit alongside Allen on stage, just in case Allen got tired, slipped out of time, or couldn’t finish the show. There were so many variables that nobody knew what would happen during what really amounted to Allen’s comeback shows. Well, for one show in the middle of nowhere, Jeff Rich was late.  If he had turned up on time, maybe Rick Allen would never have found out that he could play a full Def Leppard show on his own.  Allen did the show with no help on the drums, and he nailed it.  Rich told Allen that he didn’t need any more help, and that was it!   Jeff Rich is there to talk about that day, which was a nice touch.

Of the whole Classic Albums series, this one is certainly my favourite.

5/5 stars

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!