Pete Willis

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

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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!

Gallery: Def Leppard – Pyromania (India import cassette)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – The Def Leppard E.P. (1979)

Part 2 of a 4-part series on early Def Leppard singles!

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DEF LEPPARD – The Def Leppard E.P. (1979 Bludgeon Riffola)

I’ve been slowly, slowly working towards a complete Def Leppard collection.  This is one of the last items from the early years that I still needed — The Def Leppard E.P.  This is a 7″ single,  33 1/3 RPM however, and never have these recordings been released on a Def Leppard CD.  This first EP had Frank Noon on drums.  He was just a fill-in, and a month later Def Lep replaced him with a 15 year old Rick Allen.

I have been wanting this one since I was a young fella.  Def Leppard was a band I was obsessed with back in highschool.  They are in fact the band that really kicked off my collecting, as I described in one of the first Record Store Tales.  “Ride Into the Sun” was the B-side to the “Hysteria” single, and it has long been a personal favourite of mine.  What I found out later was that this B-side was actually a re-recording of one of the very earliest Def Leppard songs, pre-On Through the Night!

The self-produced 1979 version of “Ride Into the Sun” is a bit different, not as fast or heavy, and containing a different pre-chorus.  It’s still a great, fun Def Leppard song from their brief “NWOBHM” period.  “Getcha Rocks Off” is a Van Halen-style shuffle, a cool tune that really cooks, with hot solos and a couple smoking riffs.   This recording was briefly available on Lars Ulrich’s NWOBHM compilation album.  A heavier live (?) version of this song is available on the On Through the Night album.

Side B was taken up by a 7:50 epic track called “The Overture”.  This song too was re-recorded by Tom Allom for the debut album (that version is just called “Overture”).  Perhaps this song is as close as Def Leppard has ever been to a metal band.  It riffs solidly along with some primitive dual guitar hooks.  There are ample solos, pounding drums, and different sections and tempos.  It’s like Def Judas Maiden.  Or something.

The edition I bought is MSB001 of which 15,000 copies were made.  This edition unfortunately did not come with the picture sleeve.  The original cover was spoof of the His Master’s Voice logo, with a leopard instead of a dog.

I’m glad to finally have this Def Lep collectible.  It’s been a long time waiting.

4/5 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

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

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

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

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

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

Girl, featuring Phil Collen and Phil Lewis

Girl, featuring Phil Collen and Phil Lewis

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

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

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The Ultradisc II’s unique case

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/5 stars

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