DEF LEPPARD – Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection (2005 Universal)
The Def Leppard’s Best Of released in the UK in 2004, North America followed suit in 2005 with Rock Of Ages: The Definitive Collection. We’re not going to comment on that “definitive” claim, but this new compilation covered a bit of ground that the UK version did not. With ten years and three albums since 1995’s Vault, it was a logical time to put out an updated collection. With the musical Rock of Ages hitting the stage in Los Angeles, everything seemed to be lined up for Leppard.
Disc One is much the same as Best Of and Vault. Same tracks in the same order with some slight variation. The big difference here is that Disc One closes on something very special: The High N’ Dry instrumental scorcher “Switch 625”. It was a side closer on High N’ Dry and so fits the role of ending Disc One very well. It’s the heaviest song on the disc by a mile, and the only one that was not a single somewhere. A brilliant surprise especially to those who didn’t know Leppard’s heavy side. This version fades in from “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” just like it did on album. Really, it’s a one-two combo.
Disc Two is a larger departure from that on Best Of. They both begin with “Rock Rock (Till You Drop)” and then diverge. Here, we carry on with a killer streak of early tracks from High N’ Dry and Pyromania. “Let It Go”, “High ‘N’ Dry (Saturday Night)”, “Too Late For Love”, all rifftastic tracks of Clarkian proportions. “Let It Go” isn’t on Best Of.
The key “bait” on these new greatest hits compilations was the inclusion of one new cover song. On Best Of, it was “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks. Here it is “No Matter What” by Badfinger, a truly poptastic inclusion that benefits from Leppard’s vocal prowess. According to Phil in the liner notes, the band started playing it live on the X tour and therefore decided to record it. With two great covers in the bag and on the shelves, we’d certainly expect the band’s forthcoming covers album to knock the socks off….
More great songs follow the Badfinger cover, beginning with the hit “Promises” from Euphoria which does deserve the spot. “Mirror Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)” (which wasn’t on Best Of) and “Another Hit and Run” sandwich the hit “Women” from Hysteria. It’s just a constant stream of awesome. “Slang” follows, which although a great song indeed, sounds out of place next to these riff rockers.
The excellent ballad “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)” is a disc highlight. So is the early track “Rock Brigade”, a blazer from On Through the Night. “Now”, from X, could have been left off. It is however the only representation of the X album here. The superior “Long, Long Way to Go” was included on Best Of, but not here. Instead, we get a great epic track that was not on Best Of called “Paper Sun”. A universal favourite from Euphoria, it really deserved to be on a compilation of some kind. Then “Work It Out” from Slang is a modern sounding track that might not be heavy, but sure is worth uncountable listens over the years.
The closing trio of rockers are a delight. “Die Hard the Hunter”, “Wasted” and “Billy’s Got a Gun” are beloved Leppard non-singles that have been cherished by fandom for a long time. Particularly “Wasted”, likely the heaviest Leppard track of all time. It’s all riff! As for “Billy’s Got a Gun”, it gets the closing position that it should have had on Best Of. They got the running order right this time.
Similar to the UK Best Of, this compilation has ample photos and liner notes inside. The band track commentary remains, as does the opening essay. For overall listening, this is probably the better of the two.
Nine years after Vault, why not another “best of” collection? And why not make it a double? And a “limited edition” too?
The approach was all but perfect for Def Leppard’s double Best Of. Except when you look at it in hindsight. You always need some bait, and this time the bait was an unreleased new track. Suggested by Phil for a forthcoming covers album, Leppard recorded “Waterloo Sunset” by the Kinks, and quite well in fact. The problem was it was going to be re-released in two years on 2006’s Yeah!. So we spent all that money on one new track that we were going to end up re-buying in two years. Hard to justify.
Fortunately, “Waterloo Sunset” is an excellent version. It defies expectation in fact. Phil and Vivian sound absolutely stellar on guitar, with warm tones. It’s soft, laid back, and Joe Elliott nails the lead vocal in his own style. It does sound like Def Leppard, but it does not sound like them bastardizing the Kinks in any way. It sounds just fine, like a Waterloo sunset!
The compilation kind of plays as if disc one was the “greatest hit” and disc two is the “bonus disc”. The first disc is almost an exact repeat of the UK version of Vault., with only slight differences. It opens with the “video version” of “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, and then rolls through a what’s-what of Leppard hits. Every song, in order, from the UK Vault, until you get to track 10. Originally “Foolin'”, track 10 was swapped for “Action”. Then for track 11, they inserted the recent ballad “Long, Long Way To Go”, a good selection. “Make Love Like A Man” is also wedged in here, which let’s face it, most of us can do without. The Vault tracklisting then resumes, with “Armageddon It” through to the end, but minus “Miss You In A Heartbeat”. “Foolin'” eventually appears on CD Two, but “Miss You In A Heartbeat” does not. In the end, CD One is two songs longer, and overall a better listen than the original UK Vault.
CD Two is the one that hardcore fans will enjoy more. “Rock! Rock!”, what an opening number. “Promises” is the only inclusion from Euphoria, and justifiably so. Then you get “Slang” for a double dose of fun, and then the melancholy “Foolin'”. An unfortunate inclusion is the morose “Now” from the X album, but it’s worth sitting through to get to “Rock Brigade” from the debut. That’s an odd transition, by the way. From Lep’s latest with programming and loops and bleeps and bloops, to their early hard riffing stuff. Very weird. Sounds like two different bands presented that way.
Every single track after the dull “Now” is a killer. “Women” wasn’t on Vault. Strange, right? Rectified here. Then onto “Let It Go”, the killer “Too Late For Love”, and “High ‘N’ Dry”. A trifecta of perfect right there. The disc takes a turn to the modern side again on “Work It Out”, but at least this track isn’t a waste of space. It might not fit with the early Lep songs so well, but it has integrity and wickedly choppy guitars. When it fades, we go into “Billy’s Got A Gun” which ups the Pyromania factor a notch. “Hit and Run” and the ever-loved “Wasted” bring more of that old-school vibe, but sandwiched between them is the ballad “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)”. A great ballad and highlight of the disc, but in an odd setting to be sure.
Following “Wasted”, the disc closer is “Die Hard the Hunter”, another strange choice. Would “Billy’s Got A Gun” not made for a better closer? Or even “Wasted”? Probably. Good song, but in the wrong position for sure. It’s just not the kind that closes an album. It’s more the kind that closes a side (which it did on Pyromania).
Sonically, the second disc is the most uneven since it combines tracks from both the first album and the most recent. It’s also a much more fun listen just because it includes a couple deeper cuts and some lesser heard gems. I mean…”Wasted”, right? Just wish it was the closer.
On the plus side, Best Of Def Leppard has a nice booklet with track commentary from the band members. There’s an essay and a few photos. It also comes in a nice cardboard slipcase with an embossed Def Leppard logo in shiny black. The cover art, with that slate background, is simple, cool and effective. There’s even a picture of Steve Clark inside (but no Pete Willis).
So what about that covers album? In the liner notes, Joe says it’s recorded, but it took them until 2006 to release it. In the meantime, the US would put out their own 2 CD compilation album, with a slightly different running order, a few different deep cuts, a Badfinger cover instead of the Kinks, and a better closing track. How does the US compilation stack up against the UK? Check in next time.
RECORD STORE TALES #981: I Got A Bad Feeling About This: Euphoria
Without sounding like a broken record, the 90s were a rough time for rock and roll bands. Those who suffered did what they had to do to survive. When that didn’t work out, they’d revert to formula. In the case of some high-profile groups, the moves were quite obvious attempts to recreate the past. Take, for example, Bon Jovi.
1995’s These Days was a daring attempt to do something different, a little more laid back and organic. The result was, with the benefit of hindsight, one of the band’s best records. But it sold half as many copies as 1993’s Keep the Faith, which sold less than a third of what New Jersey sold, which sold just over half of what Slippery When Wet sold. The law of diminishing returns. So what did they do? The wrote a song called “It’s My Life” which was just “Livin’ On A Prayer 2000” no matter what they admitted to. Back was the talk box, Tommy, and Gina. It was embarrassing. The fans didn’t mind though, and they ate it up like crack-covered ice cream.
Hell, even Motley Crue got back with Bob Rock for a couple new throwback tunes. They stepped back from the cliff of Generation Swine and scored some minor redemption before Tommy Lee fucked off.
In 1999, Def Leppard were faced with a similar situation. Like Motley Crue, they leaned into the 1990s on Slang. The difference was that Def Leppard made a coherent disc that felt natural, unlike the slop that Nikki Sixx fed us. Instead of selling half of what the triple-platinum Adrenalize sold, Slang only mustered up gold in the US. Alarm bells were ringing and something had to be done. And like Bon Jovi at the same time, Leppard too attempted to recreate the past.
A certain Robert John “Mutt” Lange was summoned, and one of the resultant tracks called “Promises” sounds a dead ringer for “Photograph”. And then, this artwork was released.
“After Pyromania and Hysteria comes…Euphoria.”
My buddy T-Rev was working at the Cambridge location of the Record Store. He received the press release for Euphoria featuring that slogan in his morning shipment of CDs. He laughed and gave me a ring to tell me.
Another “-ia” album. For fucksakes…
I can’t recall my exact words, but I do remember my exact feeling: “I got a bad feeling about this.”
It was as if the last decade didn’t happen. Let’s forget the last couple records, no matter how good they may be. And the cover art? The dominant blue recalled the past hits, but the return of the classic logo was a clear message. You’re going to get the Def Leppard you remember. You’re going to get the Def Leppard album that should have followed Hysteria. That’s the message here.
While the majority of fans were in love with the idea, I had reservations. It seemed contrived. Slang deserved better than to be buried like this. In fact this move really does a disservice to the whole Slang era. That album was a brave attempt to try some new hats on. This looked like a timid step back into safe territory, afraid to do anything but.
Like Hysteria before it, Adrenalize produced a wealth of riches in B-sides. Between the two albums, they had enough B-side studio material to turn into an album compilation. Tellingly, the final album called Retro-Active featured very different cover art, and a toned-down logo. It was intended to be the ending of an era, and the start of a new one. Guitarist Steve Clark was gone, replaced by veteran Vivian Campbell. The grunge era was two years deep, and Leppard were about to change sonically. In their minds they needed to “clear the decks” of old material so they could focus on the new.
What’s interesting about Retro-Active is that it is not simply a compilation of rare material. Everything has been reworked to some degree — everything. There are even two “new” songs, unfinished tracks with Steve Clark that were finally completed for this album. We will take this album track by track and go over the changes made to the original B-sides. (The printing on this 2019 CD reissue is so small, I had to pull out my original 1993 CD to read the notes.)
1. “Desert Song”. A track begun during the Hysteria sessions but left unfinished without lyrics or vocals. Joe finished the words in 1993, while Phil laid down guitar overdubs and Rick Allen re-recorded the drums. Steve Clark is featured on the second guitar solo. What’s surprising about “Desert Song” is how modern it sounds even though it was originally written in 1987. A slow, heavy groove is melded with middle-eastern vibes for a dark winner.
2. “Fractured Love”. Another from the Hysteria sessions. You can tell the intro is of more recent vintage compared to the body of the song. Joe’s vocals suddenly revert to the old screamin’ Elliott and it’s absolutely brilliant. Drums were re-recorded in ’93, along with the new intro by Joe and Phil Collen. Both these songs sound ahead of their times and well suited to the darker moods prevalent in the early 90s. “Fractured” is choppy, intense and reminiscent of the old band while still sounding like a 90s song. Steve Clark on lead guitar!
3. “Action”. This Sweet cover originated on the 1992 “Make Love Like a Man” CD single. Vivian Campbell had joined the band by this time and the track features some of his guitar work. Like most of the tracks on Retro-Active, the drums were re-recorded by Rick Allen in 1993. “Action” became a Leppard staple over the years, and as a rare fast/heavy rock singalong, you can hear why. In fact, it was later released as a single, from this album!
4. “Two Steps Behind” (Acoustic Version). As we’ll see, “Two Steps Behind” exists in a number of different versions. The demo was electric. The first version released appeared on “Make Love Like a Man” as a purely acoustic song with no drums. The second release had strings added by Michael Kamen for the Last Action Hero soundtrack, and that version was released as its own single. The version on Retro-Active is the popular Kamen single mix. This was Leppard’s very first acoustic song and it opened new doors for the traditionally hard rocking band.
5. “She’s Too Tough”. Helix recorded this Leppard outtake themselves for 1987’s Wild in the Streets. From their version, you could hear the song deserved wider renown. Def Leppard released their finished version on the single for “Tonight” in 1993. The drums were re-recorded for Retro-Active but there were no other changes made. This blitz of a rocker features the screamin’ Joe voice and all the adrenaline you can handle (and was missing from Adrenalize).
6. “Miss You In a Heartbeat” (Acoustic Version). This is actually a piano version of a song that exists in many forms. It was first recorded by Paul Rodgers and Kenney Jones as The Law in 1991. For that band, it was a low-charting single. It faired better for Leppard themselves, who released it as a single A-side themselves in 1993. This quieter version features a stunning acoustic guitar solo by Phil Collen. There are many, many versions of this song, as you will see as we proceed through this series. (And this album!)
7. “Only After Dark”. The Mick Ronson cover was first released on the “Let’s Get Rocked” single. Both Vivian and Phil added guitar overdubs for the Retro-Active version. The additional guitar depth is noticeable. Leppard are so good as these kinds of glam rock songs.
8. “Ride Into the Sun”. From the very first EP, and then re-recorded on the “Hysteria” single. Could this be the fastest Def Leppard tune? It’s certainly among them. Also ranks highly among the heaviest, and best, of Def Leppard! Rick re-recorded the drums, and for some reason Ian Hunter from Mott the Hoople added a honky-tonk piano intro. The “studio talk” at the end of the song has also been trimmed off. Sonically, this could be the best sounding version of “Ride Into the Sun”, though the preferred will always be the “Hysteria” B-side.
9. “From the Inside”. Originally released as part of a three-song session with Hothouse Flowers on “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad“. Billing themselves as “Acoustic Hippies from Hell”, Leppard were really leaning into their acoustic side! The song originated as a TV broadcast on a program called Friday at the Dome with Joe Elliott and Liam Ó Maonlaí. The only modification made to this version is that the count-in at the start has been deleted. Leppard fans may be surprised by the tin whistle but it’s not too much of a stretch. The bleak song is about the dark side of addiction.
10. “Ring of Fire”. Dipping back into the Hysteria B-side collection, “Ring of Fire” has a new intro. The drums were re-cut and backing vocals thickened up. It’s one of two Mutt Lange co-writes on the album and stands as one of Leppard’s harder rockers from the era. An excellent track, “so stick around and settle down, enjoy the mystery.”
11. “I Wanna Be Your Hero”. From the “Animal” EP, this is the second Lange co-write on Retro-Active. With new drums added, here it stands as one of the highlights among many highlights. The track should always have been on Hysteria. Combining ballad and rocker into one meaty package, “I Wanna Be Your Hero” is a stone cold Leppard classic.
12. “Miss You In a Heartbeat” (Electric Version). Nothing was overdubbed or re-recorded for this track, but the opening fades out of “I Wanna Be Your Hero”, meaning it is still different from its original B-side release on “Make Love Like a Man”. Another stone cold Leppard classic. A majestic electric ballad with layers of Phil’s sweetest guitars and backing vocals. A masterpiece.
13. “Two Steps Behind” (Electric Version). Previously unreleased. Joe’s original backing track was fully Leppardized with all the band members including Vivian. This gives you an idea of how the song was originally envisioned before it took its better known acoustic guise. The acoustic version is more original, but this one does boast a big huge Leppard chorus.
14. Unlisted bonus track! “Miss You In a Heartbeat” (Acoustic, Acoustic Version). This third version of the ballad is the softest. It is the piano-based version, but without the backing band. Just Joe, the piano, and Phil on an acoustic guitar solo. A nice surprise.
There are more demo versions of these songs on the B-sides of singles, that we will get to when we arrive at the appropriate disc in the CD Collection Volume 2.
As it turns out, Retro-Active was not entirely the clearing of the vaults we thought it was. There was still one more song with Steve Clark unfinished. One more compilation to release. The future was on the horizon, but the past had to be dealt with first. Which doesn’t diminish Retro-Active in any way. Where there is repeat of tracks, it is justified by the versions being completely different in tone and direction. It plays like a “new Def Leppard studio album” to the layman, but a compilation of the deepest cuts to the faithful. Cuts that have been freshened up and don’t repeat the exact B-sides in their collections. A win/win.
Here they were again! A #1 album. Adrenalize eventually sold three million, no small feat during the peak of the grunge era. A step down from Hysteria, but a success. And after yet another devastating loss. Choosing to record without replacing the fallen Steven Maynard Clark, it was up to Phil Collen to handle all the guitar work. He rose to the occasion and the quartet emerged from their years of toil with an album they were satisfied with. And they figured out how to do it on their own, without Mutt Lange tending to every detail.
It all begins with Joe asking the musical question: “Do you wanna get rocked?”
“Let’s Get Rocked” didn’t break any new ground nor did it need to. It served it purpose of putting Leppard back on the charts. But it also highlighted something missing. Where were the riffs? “Let’s Get Rocked” is decidedly unriffy. It relies on a bass groove and guitar pyrotechnics, but the razor sharp riffs of the past are seemingly missing. That didn’t stop it from hitting #1 in the US during a year when bands like Def Leppard were getting dumped by their labels.
One of the most poppy of the new tunes, “Heaven Is”, hits the second slot running. A little of that Steve Clark is present, but this one’s main feature is the melodically constructed vocal melodies. The thick chorus harmony proved that Leppard had learned Mutt’s tricks. Lange did help co-write most of the tracks, but his meticulous studio touch was no longer needed in a producer’s capacity. This time, Leppard produced with Mike Shipley. Mutt was “executive producer”, which pretty much means “quality control”.
The first stumble of album the was second single “Make Love Like a Man”. This cowbell-inflected mid-tempo rocker would have been B-side material five years earlier. Listen carefully for Phil Collen’s “Cockney rhyming rap”.
Fortunately side one is redeemed by one of Def Leppard’s greatest ballads. Demoed during the Hysteria sessions, “Tonight” was the darkest Leppard ballad to date. The standout Rick “Sav” Savage guitar structure is the foundation for a damn special song. There’s Joe utilising his screaming voice a little bit on the chorus. It used to be his trademark, but here reserved only for moments of great expression.
The first side concludes on the Steve Clark tribute “White Lightning”. The brilliant Collen intro is designed to emulate Clark’s trademark guitar drones on “Gods of War”. Tesla tried a similar trick on their own tribute called “Song and Emotion”. In this track, Elliott warns of the dangers of addiction. “You wanna dance with the devil, you gotta play his game.” Clark’s demons are starkly laid out in the words, and the seven dramatic minutes of music are as epic as any of Leppard’s most ambitious moments.
Remarkably, side two opened on another top tier Leppard track. “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion)” boasted an odd title, and some of Leppard’s catchiest music. Call it a ballad? Sure, why not. It’s somewhere in between ballad and rock tune, but every minute that it’s playing is a minute of the best of Def Leppard. Something about its pulse; its uplifting chime. The undeniable chorus is the icing.
Next is the ode to monogamy called “Personal Property”, not essential Leppard. We do love the part when Joe threatens/screams, “You wanna stay healthy man? Take my advice! You better hit the road Jack, and don’t come back.”
A decent, but syrupy throwaway ballad with the overlong title “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” is the weakest of the three here, but that didn’t stop it from being chosen as a single and going top 10 in Canada and the US. It’s just nothing special given the quantity of superior ballads in the past (and future). Following that is the most pop track of the batch, “I Wanna Touch U”, a bouncy good song if vastly removed from “Wasted” and “Ride in the Sun”.
The 10th and final track is the new version of the familiar “Tear It Down”. This born rocker has been polished up and produced just right for album release. Which do you prefer? The final Adrenalize rendition, or the raw B-side from ’87?
Like Hysteria before, Adrenalize came complete with a number of important B-sides. Perhaps the most crucial of these was a track that could have been a throwaway, but “Two Steps Behind” turned into Leppard’s first acoustic song. This opened doors to entirely new worlds for the band. We will take a closer look at these B-sides when we arrive at the appropriate discs in the CD Collection Volume 2 box set.
With an album completed, released, and on the charts, there was another challenge ahead. Def Leppard were a two guitar band. Phil Collen did admirably well, playing all the guitars on the album. Live, they’d need someone both capable and dedicated. What are the odds of finding the exact right match?
Adrenalize did what it had to do. It kept the band alive and viable. Hysteria was a period of exponential musical growth for Def Leppard. If they couldn’t repeat that kind of experimental innovation this time out, they’d have to give it a shot next time. And they would.
RECORD STORE TALES #973: “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize
Before the internet, the best way to access your rock news in Canada was to buy magazines and watch the Pepsi Power Hour. We had all the US magazines plus M.E.A.T and some of the best rock coverage with MuchMusic. You’d be negligent in your rock and roll duties if you didn’t buy some magazines.
I remember buying one at the end of the 80s, the turn of the decade. It might have been Metal Edge or something of a lower tier. (You bought what was on the shelf when pickings were slim.) But they had a column by a psychic who was making rock and roll predictions for the coming decade. Stuff like “Will Jon and Richie break up?” What interested me the most was what she predicted for Joe Elliott of Def Leppard. The biggest rock band in the world, she claimed, would get only get bigger. Joe’s next album would outsell Hysteria, and he would get involved with some important causes.
Was she confusing Joe for Bono? Cool if true, but outselling Hysteria? Hard to imagine.
A few things were known about the next album at the start of the new decade. They’d be trying to produce it without “Mutt” Lange for one. “Mutt will be involved,” said Joe, but in a different capacity. The goal was to make a “quick” album — one year instead of several. They had one song earmarked from a B-side called “Tear It Down”. They also had some unfinished ideas left over from Hysteria such as the ballad “Tonight”. As kids, we imagined an album less produced than Hysteria, but hopefully just as good. I had actual dreams of anticipation at night, imagining the new album cover sitting there on the shelves. Continuing with the “-ia” naming convention, the next album was said to be titled Dementia. A title they dropped in favour of something less negative, when once again things went down the toilet.
Rick Allen’s car accident was extremely unfortunate, but what happened this time was tragic. Steve Clark, always the band’s riff-master and shape-throwing classic rocker, was gone.
The guitarist had been suffering from his addictions, and this time a deadly mixture of prescription pills and alcohol was enough to end his life. January 8 1991, “Steamin'” Steve Clark was no more.
The band didn’t know what to do but carry on. Record the the album as a four-piece. Dedicate it to Steve. Don’t even think about replacements until it’s necessary.
And so the fans mourned, and waited. As the band toiled away, now producing with Mike Shipley, we anxiously awaited news. Any news. A few song titled leaked out: “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”, “Stand Up”, “Tonight”, “Tear It Down”.
And then, over a year after Clark’s death, listening to the radio one snowy afternoon: Q107 out of Toronto, announced: new Def Leppard. Coming right up.
My sister and I huddled around the radio. We may have popped in a tape to record it; I can’t remember. We didn’t need to since it was about to carpet-bomb the nation with radio and video play. “Let’s Get Rocked” was here!
And it was…
It was OK. It sounded like Def Leppard. It didn’t push the boundaries in any fashion. It was safe, straightforward, and simple.
“Well, that classical section with the violins was different,” I said trying to see the bright side.
“Yeah, but that was just one short part,” answered my more realistic sister.
Through the years of anticipating a new Def Leppard album, we imagined some growth. Maybe not as drastic a transition as they made from Pyromania to Hysteria, but something at least. The one-time biggest band in the world shouldn’t just spin their tires musically.
“You know what, I’m gonna let it go,” I said. “They’ve had to deal with so much, and when Steve died, they just needed to get an album out. They can grow on the next album.” (And boy did they!)
With that attitude, I counted the days until I would trek to the mall and finally get the new Def Leppard in my hands. Now with the title Adrenalize, and with “Let’s Get Rocked” climbing up the charts, it was time for Leppard’s return. A long time coming, if not the way it was planned!
DEF LEPPARD – In the Round In Your Face (1989 VHS, 2001 Universal DVD)
When I was a kid, in love with music and watching every video on television, there was only one concert I wanted to see. Grade 10, going on grade 11, the only show I craved was Def Leppard. Their innovative stage in the round, in the center of the arena, seemed like the ultimate package. But I was just too young and had no one to go with, so I never made it. Fortunately, Def Leppard released a home video to satisfy those of us who could not be there. I rented the tape from Steve’s TV and made a copy. It was the best I could do on my allowance. To make up for it, I bought it three times since on different formats (VHS, DVD, CD).
I popped the tape into the VCR with anticipation. A sped-up collage of the stage assembly flashed before my eyes, to the sound of “Rocket”. A massive undertaking, but this was just pre-amble. The show was about to begin!
It was just as I had heard about in the highschool halls. The stage was draped on all four sides by massive Hysteria curtains.
“I know what you’re thinking,” says Clint Eastwood over the sound system. “‘Did he fire six shots, or only five?’ Well to tell you the truth you know in all is excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself.” A laser show begins dancing on the curtains. “You’ve got to ask yourself one question. ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well do ya, punk (punk punk punk)?”
Guitars replace the echo of Eastwood’s voice.
“I said welcome to my show!” screams Joe Elliot, teasing us before the curtains finally crash down and “Stagefright” kicks off the proceedings! Even in my armchair, there’s still goosebumps.
Def Leppard rip through “Stagefright”, completely in control, on fire as hot as their early days. Each member throws shapes on stage while Rick Allen keeps the whole thing moving, on drums in the middle. Leppard’s stage is not flat, with catwalks and staircases for the band to run and jump all over, which they do. Overhead cameras capture everything, from every angle. Nobody but Allen is confined to one space, as the band leap from place to place in the name of entertainment.
Continuing with the Pyromania, “Rock! Rock!” keeps the pace going at full speed. It brings a tear to the eye, seeing Steve Clark do his trademark whirlwind moves on stage, accented by his red scarf and made only more perfect in the round setting. A reminder that this was it — the last high point of the Clark era. Fortunately captured on camera and tape.
The first new song, and break in tempo, is “Women”. This is the famous version released as a single B-side with the “We got everything we need!” intro. You know it, you love it, it’s legendary: the live version of “Women”. Rick Savage mans the keyboard station for the time being while the lights get dimmer. Lots of echo on this one to duplicate the album ambience. “Too Late For Love” — a damn fine version — brings a ballady vibe, which they then lean into fully on an early appearance of “Hysteria”. The live version of “Hysteria” is lengthier with an extended bass intro. It feels like Def Leppard are a band with four frontmen, with the amount of shape-throwing going on here! And, for a moment, Joe Elliott on rhythm guitar! A funny little 80s axe with no headstock it is, locking down the riff while Steve and Phil embark on a glorious dual-guitar harmony solo.
Steve Clark gets a mini-solo to open “Gods Of War”, a Leppard epic that really shines in the live setting. We always thought it should have been the 8th Hysteria single. Rick Savage on acoustic guitar during the outro. The lights blast at the end, simulation “the bomb” and the band exist the stage as the lights go black. It’s a perfect transition to the gunshot sound effects that open “Die Hard the Hunter”. Lighters up! Off goes Phil’s shirt. This track is a return to the tempo of the opening duo, all three being from Pyromania.
Indeed, it is time to address the setlist. You may have noticed all the tracks are from Pyromania and Hysteria thus far. There is nothing from On Through the Night, and only one from High N’ Dry: “Bringing On the Heartbreak”. “This is one of our earlier songs, that we’re going to play a brand new way for ya,” says Joe. It seems they were trying to focus on the big albums that people had heard on MTV rather than their heavier metallic roots on this tour. Phil Collen gets a nice acoustic intro to show off his skills, along with Steve on doubleneck. This new semi-acoustic version of “Heartbreak” was so the band wouldn’t get sick of the song; it’s interesting anyway.
“Foolin'” ushers in a long stream of big, big hits. Steve’s still rockin’ the doubleneck. Then “Armageddon It” is nice and fresh. Much of this footage will be familiar to fans of the music video. “Animal” is tight, and received with a rapturous applause. Lots of girls in the front row dancing to this one.
There’s a touching moment in the “Pour Some Sugar On Me” intro when Joe says that the return of Rick Allen “the Thundergod” on drums was the biggest “up” that the band ever had. They then make easy work of the hit single. Phil takes a solo rip on the fretboard before “Rock of Ages”, and then of course the obligatory long audience singalong section. (“You can do better than that!”) The encore “Photograph” closes the show, and a great song to do it with. Shirts are no longer required where Joe and Steve are concerned.
This video was expertly directed by Wayne Isham. It is simply one of the best shot and edited live concerts available on DVD. It’s also – sadly – a document of the last stand for this lineup of the band. They had hit the top. Unfortunately you can never stay.
Note: This being the thirdHysteria 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.”
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.
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.