On Through the Night

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 – On Through the Night (The Early Years Disc 1)

Part One of the Def Leppard Review Series

No matter how I do this, I’m doing something out of order.  So here goes.  Hi!  Welcome to the DEF LEPPARD REVIEW SERIES where we will attempt to cover in some way everything Def Leppard here at LeBrain HQ.  Some of these articles will be re-reviews.  Some will be beefed up, some will be streamlined.  

What about order?  Deciding to start with The Early Years box set, we could go in two ways.  We could run through Discs One through Five, starting with On Through the Night.  Or, we could go chronologically and begin on Disc Four, Too Many Jitterbugs, which has the first EP and early demos pre-dating the album.  Obviously, we’ve decided to to go in disc order, and worry about chronology later.  So let’s get, let’s get, let’s get, let’s get rocked.

Original review: On Through the Night (1980)

DEF LEPPARD – On Through the Night (The Early Years Disc 1) (Originally 1980, 2019 remaster)

The obscenely young quintet from Sheffield were starstruck.  Drummer Rick Allen was just 16 years of age. There Def Leppard were in Tittenhurst Park, Ringo Starr’s home formerly owned by John Lennon, with Judas Priest producer Tom Allom, laying down tracks for their debut LP.  Signed to Vertigo, the band was filled with awe to be on the same label as their heroes Thin Lizzy.  Recording nine songs from their live set and two newly written tracks, the band took just three weeks to get the job done.  Unfortunately, so much time was spent on Steve Clark and Pete Willis’ guitar overdubs, that Joe Elliott only had two days left to record all his vocals.  This can be heard on the final product.  At least Joe got to sleep in Lennon’s bedroom for the duration of the recording!

On Through the Night is a beefy 11 tracks, written mostly by Clark and Elliott with seven Rick Savage co-writes and seven by Pete Willis.  It showcases ambition, promise, and raw talent.  In a word:  potential.  One of its major strengths is the dual guitar team of Clark and Willis.  Clark tends to be thoughtful and compositional in his solos, while Willis effectively jumps on the wah-wah.

“Rock Brigade” wastes no time getting cranked, 16 year old drummer Rick Allen going wild on the big tom rolls.  An adrenalized band gets to work on a serious riff, while Clark and Willis dart in and out with curt fills.  The handclaps sound lifted from a Judas Priest anthem, but this song burns it up.  Joe’s vocals are set back in the mix a bit more than we’re used to, but there are hints of the kind of backing vocals that Def Leppard would endevour for in the future.  In short, “Rock Brigade” kicks ass.

A strange layered vocal mix fails to hit the mark that Leppard would do with regularity later on, but it does serve to introduce “Hello America” uniquely.  This naive rocker even has a little bit of synth to accent the sugary chorus, but otherwise sticks to the driving riff.  Clark comes in with a wicked solo, showing off some of the creative technique he’d be famous for. A strange video clip for “Hello America” was filmed, with the drum kit featured at the front of the stage and everybody else behind. Rick Savage got stuck at the very back.

The acoustic guitars are out for “Sorrow is a Woman”, too heavy to be called a power ballad.  The choruses rock heavy as anything else, though the verses remain quiet.  This is one of the tunes that Joe could have used some more time refining.  For fans of the early solo work of Clark and Willis, get ready for some pretty epic guitar constructions.  They tell their own stories within the song.

One of the two songs written in the studio was “It Could Be You”:  Fast choppy metal, with a Priest-like riff and unusually high Elliott vocals.  Cool riff but more refinement time needed.  Its energy is remarkable and as with all the tracks on On Through the Night, Rick Allen burns it up on the drums as a supernovic ball of nuclear combustion.

Taking it back to a metallic city groove, “Satellite” is the first use of one of Joe’s favourite astronomical objects in a Def Leppard song.  This is a great car tune.  Cool and classy staccato guitar picking on the second verse.  Takes an unexpected acoustic detour midway, showing the ambition and ability that these five kids had in their blood.  Then it breaks into another unique guitar section after the Willis guitar solo.  Clearly, not the commercial techniques later employed by the band, but more an effort to emulate some of their heroes like Page and Lynott, as best they could.

Talking of ambition, “When the Walls Came Tumbling Down” closes side one with nothing but.  A pretentious Joe Elliott monologue introduces the track cheesily enough.

In the first day of the first month, in some distant year,
The whole sky froze gold.
Some said it was the aftermath of the Radium bomb,
And others told of a final retribution.
A terrible revenge, from the gods.

The post-apocalyptic settings is a metal niche unto itself, launched by Black Sabbath and maintained by Aerosmith, Queensryche and Judas Priest.  This is not one of Def Leppard’s more successful attempts at getting serious, but you have to marvel at their cohones for trying.

The “Wasted” riff, a Steve Clark creation, is one of Leppard’s most legendary.  This simple steamer is pure power set to music.  That riff, what a riff!  Just a few chugs and then a unified resolution.  But what a riff!   No wonder the band had to resurrect it in recent years.  The fans wouldn’t let it stay buried.  “Wasted” is a centerpiece gem, and itself contains a certerpiece of a guitar solo by Clark, skillfully constructed by the young protege.

“Rocks Off” contains the annoying crowd noise overdubs, clearly artificial, but you can’t stop this little one from launching.  Once again it’s all about the riff, and the Clark era of Def Leppard do not get enough recognition for their riffs.  The song is disrupted by a solo section that harshly pans the guitars from right to left in distracting fashion.

The other song that was written in the studio is the surprisingly strong “It Don’t Matter”.  Some very rich guitars, properly spaced in the mix, make for some cool riffs and licks.  There’s a laid back chorus and good backing vocals.  The cowbell is also effective except it’s not a cowbell.  The band didn’t have one so they used the house tea kettle for which they were properly scolded by the housekeeper Ruth.  Thing is — it sounds OK!

Moving on to the penultimate track, “Answer To the Master” has a verse that is stronger than its chorus, which is really more about the riff.  Rick Allen gets the spotlight for a brief moment before the band break into an AeroZeppelin-like funk.  “Whole Lotta Walk”?  Then there’s a startling guitar solo section more influenced by the likes of Lizzy.

Finally Leppard decided to go with a big epic as their album closer, “Overture”, which also closed their debut EP (which is on Disc Four of The Early Years).  It’s another post-apocalyptic soundtrack, a multi-parted manufacture.  Some truly great guitar parts are buried within, but this track is an example of overreach.  The kind of truly epic recording they were striving for could not be achieved in the time they had, but you can hear frequent shots of brilliance.  Each riff and lick has its own unique hook.

On Through the Night went to #15 in the UK but failed to crack the top 50 in the US, charting at #51.  It did not go Platinum until 1989, well after Hysteria made Def Leppard into demigods.  If anything it planted the seed and made the band more focused on what they wanted to achieve when they had a second chance.  And it wouldn’t be long before fate hooked them up with Robert John “Mutt” Lange, which would alter their course forever.  On Through the Night stands today as a Polaroid of an innocent past, when Def Leppard caked on riff after riff in an effort to reach the heights of the bands they adored.  It lacks focus, both within the songs and on Leppard’s collective strengths.  Focus that they would soon gain in spades, and later in excess!

An innocent but earnest beginning.

3.5/5 stars

Next:  The Early Years Disc Two –  High N’ Dry

REVIEW: Def Leppard – On Through the Night (1980)

DEF LEPPARD – On Through the Night (1980 Phonogram)

A bright young LeBrain in grade 11,
During the glorious 80’s,
Needed new music to feel like heaven,
To woo some lovely young ladies.

In 1980 Def Leppard came out,
With the LP On Through the Night,
It is heavy with screams and plenty shouts,
It makes me feel alright alright alright.

“Hello America”! It’s the “Rock Brigade”!
I played these singles on my ghetto blaster,
Unpolished – but the tunes made the grade,
Heavy ones like “Answer to the Master”.

Producer was Tom Allom of Judas Priest fame,
A heavy raw album he did record,
Leppard had not yet joined the hit game,
No big tricks on the electronic soundboard.

“It Could Be You” rocking out to this one,
Reckless abandon with axes ablaze,
“Wasted” blasts you like a shotgun,
Nothing left to see but a smokey haze.

Sophistication will not be found anywhere,
Maybe a little on the closer “Overture”,
Loud guitars drums blasting and long hair,
For your metal sickness this is the cure.

On Through the Night straight into battle,
Leppard hit the launching pad hard,
With the New Wave of British Heavy Metal,
The Lep became leaders of the new guard.

The story continues today as Leppard survive,
Still prowling the concert stage all over the world,
Fans clamour to hear these old song lives,
And so on Viva Hysteria, “Wasted” was unfurled.

This is but the seed that would grow into a beast,
The mere beginning of something great,
Pick up this record at the very least,
You will find it is very difficult to hate.

4/5 stars

Further reading:

DEF LEPPARD – On Through the Night (1980) review by DEKE at ARENA ROCK
DEF LEPPARD – The Def Leppard E.P. (1979) EP review
DEF LEPPARD – “Wasted” / “Hello America” (1979) single review
DEF LEPPARD – “Hello America” / “Good Morning Freedom” (1980) single review

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Wasted” / “Hello America” (1979 single)

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

DEF LEPPARD – “Wasted” / “Hello America” (1979 Vertigo/Phonogram single)

My initial thinking regarding this single was that I didn’t need it; both songs are available on On Through the Night.  Then I found out that these single versions of “Wasted” and “Hello America” are earlier, non-album recordings.  Rick Allen was in the band by this time but On Through the Night had yet to be recorded.  This immediately put the single on my radar as a must-have.

On Through the Night was produced by Tom Allom (Judas Priest) but before settling on him, Leppard tried out Nick Tauber due to his history with Thin Lizzy.  (He also produced Sheer Greed by Girl, the band that featured future Leppard alumnus Phil Collen.)  Tauber worked on the earlier, folksier Lizzy, not the later version of the band that rocked out such classics as “Jailbreak” and “Bad Reputation”.

The story goes that the record label was unhappy with Nick Tauber’s results and put a halt to his work on the album.  He had finished four songs:  These two, plus “Rock Brigade”, and “Glad I’m Alive” which both remain unreleased.  The label released “Wasted” as a single while recruiting Tom Allom to start over on the album.

“Wasted” boasts one of Leppard’s all time greatest riffs, if not the greatest.  You can see how this song has remained a cult favourite all these decades later.  This earlier version isn’t as adrenalized (pardon the pun) as the later album version, but there’s otherwise nothing wrong with it.  I think Allom’s album version is safely still the definitive one.  The two tracks are not that dissimilar, just Allom’s more in tune with the current heavy metal sounds.

The B-side, “Hello America”, would become a single in its own right the following year, in its guise as an Allom track.  This might be one that I prefer in its Tauber version.  Allom added a synthesizer riff to the chorus of “Hello America” that I always felt dated the tune.  While this version is not as manic or electrified, it does have the bare unadorned chorus.  There are bonuses to both versions.

It’s kind of funny to hear how shaky Joe Elliott’s voice was back then.  He grew into a powerful screamer by the High ‘n’ Dry album, which is my favourite period of Def Leppard.  They were all young back then, but Joe was clearly not as confident nor in his control of his voice in 1979.

Still, as a purchase, as a single, as a collectible, I am very happy with this.  My only regret is that I didn’t find one with a picture sleeve.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Hello America” / “Good Morning Freedom” (single)

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HELLO AMERICA FRONT

DEF LEPPARD – “Hello America” / “Good Morning Freedom” (1980 Vertigo/Phonogram)

“Hello America” was the third of three singles from Def Leppard’s debut album, the first two being “Wasted” and “Rock Brigade”.  Like many kids in the late 80’s, I first heard the song “Hello America” on Def Leppard’s video anthology, Historia.  It was a weird video, with Rick Allen’s drums up front and the band in behind!  Nobody would ever say that this was one of Def Leppard’s all time best songs, but it’s catchy with a driving riff.  Joe Elliot hadn’t really found his voice yet.  This is standard hard rock, but not outstanding.  The guitar solo by Steve Clark is quite excellent.

Please note, Leppard’s first single for “Wasted” had an alternate recording of “Hello America” on the B-side.  This is not that version.  This is the standard album version.

The B-side, like the A-side, was produced by (Colonel) Tom Allom who had also produced Judas Priest’s British Steel around the same time.  “Good Morning Freedom” was not on the On Through the Night LP, however.  This is an exclusive track.  Just over three minutes long, “Good Morning Freedom” is a good song, much in the same vein as the rest of Leppard’s music at the time.  “Good Morning Freedom” (parsed as “Goodmorning Freedom” on the vinyl itself) is very New Wave of British Heavy Metal in style.  It almost sounds like an Iron Maiden B-side from the same period.  The track boasts a driving rhythm, rock-solid riff, but also another shaky Joe Elliot lead vocal.  Not an outstanding song, but most definitely collectible.  The tune is credited to Elliot, Clark, guitarist Pete Willis and bassist Rick Savage.  It’s notable for its Rick Allen drum intro.

Not a bad single, comes with a picture sleeve, and rocks harder than their later material.

3/5 stars

Def Lep playing “Good Morning Freedom” in Vegas as part of Viva! Hysteria