Pour Some Sugar On Me

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Slang” (1996 UK single)

Part Nineteen of the Def Leppard Review Series

Alternate review:  “Slang” Souvenir pack single

DEF LEPPARD – “Slang” (1996 UK Mercury single)

Kobayashi Maru:  The no-win scenario.  By 1996 the musical landscape had drastically shifted.  Five years of musical upheaval had left many bands in the dust, but Leppard were one of the few survivors.  They simply could not rest of their laurels, and they knew that.  Had Def Leppard come out with another soundalike album in 1996, they would have been accused of retreading the outdated and obsolete 1980s.

We knew Leppard were interested in a more organic way of recording after being locked in studios for so many years.  Their interest in acoustic music was now expressing itself in songs like “Can’t Keep Away From the Flame”, a truly excellent if obscure Japanese Vault bonus track that was also included as a B-side from the new album Slang.  If a track this solid was considered a B-side, you could imagine what the new album was going to be like.  It was a positive sign.  But the album wasn’t going to be acoustic.  Where were Leppard headed this time?

A clue was revealed by the title track, released as a single in May 1996.  Def Leppard had returned to experimentation.  Just as Hysteria was different from Pyromania, now they finally had something just as different from Hysteria.

With hip-hop beats and a big guitar, “Slang” shocked the faithful.  Rick Allen was starting to incorporate acoustic drums back into his kit and they sounded fresh and hot.  All the old Leppard ingredients were shaken n’ stirred, and the new concoction was an acquired addiction.  It’s an upbeat celebration of the new Leppard.  They had indeed gone outside the box.  They had to.  And they did it with creativity and integrity whether you like it or not.

This UK single came with three acoustic bonus tracks, all recorded for the BBC.  Continuing their acoustic side road, “Animal” and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” fare well in acoustic form.  Other acoustic versions were coming, on a limited 2 CD edition of Slang (which we will discuss when we get to that disc of CD Collection Vol 2).

The real treat of this single is the acoustic version of “Ziggy Stardust” (also included on CD Collection Vol 3).  A brilliant take, in fact.  Most bands sound like jackasses trying to cover classic Bowie.  Not Def Leppard.  Their acoustic version has just as much edge as an electric take would.  Joe Elliott’s penchant for Bowie will become relevant a few years down the road, when we take a detour on a Cybernautic misadventure.

“Sugar” and “Animal” acoustic at the BBC remain exclusive to this single.  Worth tracking down.  Though ultimately there are other recordings out there, these are just as good and collectible as ever.

4/5 stars

Previous:  

  1. The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night 
  2. The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
  3. The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
  4. The Early Years Disc Four – Too Many Jitterbugs – EP, singles & unreleased
  5. The Early Years Disc 5 – Raw – Early BBC Recordings 
  6. The Early Years 79-81 (Summary)
  7. Pyromania
  8. Pyromania Live – L.A. Forum, 11 September 1983
  9. Hysteria
  10. Soundtrack From the Video Historia – Record Store Tales
  11. In The Round In Your Face DVD
  12. “Let’s Get Rocked” – The Wait for Adrenalize – Record Store Tales
  13. Adrenalize
  14. Live at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert
  15. Retro-Active
  16. Visualize
  17. Vault
  18. Video Archive

Next:

20. Slang

DVD REVIEW: Def Leppard – In the Round In Your Face (1989)

Part Eleven of the Def Leppard Review Series

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.

5/5 stars

Previous:  

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

 

Next:

12. The Wait for Adrenalize (Record Store Tales)

THREE-VIEW: Def Leppard – Hysteria (1987)

Part Nine of the Def Leppard Review Series

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

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

DEF LEPPARD – Hysteria (1987 Vertigo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But before you buy, some perspective.

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

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

Take my rating with a grain of salt.

5/5 stars

 

Gallery of single covers

Previous:  

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

Next:  

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

REVIEW: Def Leppard – Hysteria (2017 5 CD/2DVD 30th anniversary edition)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disc One:  The original album (Hysteria)

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Disc Two & Three:  B-Sides and Remixes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DVD Disc One:  Visual Hysteria

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

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

DVD Disc Two:  Classic Albums

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

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

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

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

The books and packaging

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

5/5 stars

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HYSTERIA

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5/5 stars

Gallery of single covers

 

 

 

DVD REVIEW: Taylor Swift & Def Leppard – CMT Crossroads (2009)

TAYLOR SWIFT & DEF LEPPARD – CMT Crossroads (2009 Walmart exclusive DVD)

“Of course that country cop out track (“Nine Lives”) is brutal…Leppard has no place for CMT! I remember hearing about the Swift deal…I had zero interest. I was like, ‘How can a band that put out stellar product (basically the first four albums) go and cross over!??’ I mean right out of the Sixx play book entitled Following Trends!”Deke from Metal Shatz

“There’s always a first day when you discover a band, be it the Beatles or Taylor Swift, when you hear the name for the first time and then you go and check it out. So we just Googled her, iTuned her, listened to it all and said, ‘Wow’!” — Joe Elliott

“I like to write songs about what’s going on in my life.” — Taylor Swift, stating the obvious

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Before the Swifties come and tear us apart for what you’re about to read, let’s be perfectly clear. Taylor Swift is very talented and has a genuine love for Def Leppard’s music. She is also an incredibly bright individual, and she has written more hits than Def Leppard in a fraction of the time. Both of them started in their teens, and are guilty of using outside writers. In the included interview footage, she and Def Lep seem like a mutual admiration society. We have nothing against Taylor Swift here, though her brand of pop music is never heard around LeBrain HQ…save this Walmart exclusive DVD release.

How did they hook up? Taylor was on tour with “Tim and Faith” (McGraw and Hill) who’s tour manager was Rick Allen’s brother. She expressed interest in doing an episode of CMT Crossroads with them, and then the phone rang.

Leppard and the Swift’s band share the stage, dual drummers, umpteen guitar players, and fiddle…but on a heavier track like “Photograph” you can’t really hear her group. Taylor gets the first line (she says she felt like a kid in a candy store to do so); then she and Joe swap. It’s clear that she doesn’t have the power nor the control that Joe Elliot has. Her voice is whispy by comparison. It’s also weird to see a girl in a gold mini-dress and cowboy boots fronting Def Leppard, but talk about dreams come true! I’m sure Def Leppard didn’t mind the national exposure either.

“Picture to Burn” is the kind of candy-coated pop country that irritates so many fans of the old fashioned stuff. Taylor is more at home on her own songs, but Joe has never sounded more awkward. Taylor’s band dominates on this song, with only a few Phil Collen guitar squeals to remind you he’s there. Tellingly, Joe Elliot says of her music, “You take the banjos and fiddles off, and you’ve got pop.” The next Taylor number, “Love Story” is one I’ve heard on pop radio many times, but it’s hard to suffer through. It brings back bad memories of Leppard’s pop disaster, X.

Taylor butchers my favourite Def Leppard ballad, “Hysteria”. The song successfully absorbs the twang, but again, Swift just lacks the vocal power to blast it the way Joe can. Her own ballad “Teardrops on my Guitar” is so laid back that most of the Leppard guys are sitting down for it. The bands mesh well and the song is pretty good, although she has a guitar player who kind of looks like a goth country emo Russell Brand. She’s at home on Leppard’s “When Love and Hate Collide”. Once again the meshing of the two bands works well here. There’s a full string section, plus backing vocalists crowding the already overloaded stage, but that’s what the song calls for and it’s genuinely great version of the well-worn hit. “Should’ve Said No” is a Swift song I don’t know, but it’s one of those pop tracks that just feels like it was written by a computer. It transforms directly into the show closer “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, but…damn. Taylor’s out of breath. She is audibly gasping (a big no-no) between lines and unable to deliver the goods. With the fiddle and extra accouterments added, this one’s a write-off.

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There are three bonus tracks that weren’t broadcast as part of the show: One Swift, two Leppard. Taylor says she wrote “Our Song” in ninth grade (“three years ago, actually”). That’s exactly what it sounds like, ninth grade pop, but obviously there is a need in the world for that kind of kid-friendly music. Leppard fans won’t find any appeal here. They will however appreciate “Love”, the only new Leppard song in the set. Interestingly it starts with only Taylor and two of her guitarists on stage, then Leppard emerge from the shadows. As a duet, it’s enjoyable, and it’s overall probably the heaviest thing all night. The much-overplayed “Two Steps Behind” is the final bonus track. The fun thing here is trying to count the number of people playing guitar on stage. (Eight plus fiddle and Rick Savage on acoustic five-string.)

Phil Collen gets bonus points for wearing a jacket on stage, dressing up a bit for the television, but he sticks to tradition by having no shirt on underneath.

2.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Def Leppard – “Tonight” (1993 CD single)

Part five in a series on singles from Def Leppard’s Adrenalize, including hard to find B-sides!

DEF LEPPARD – “Tonight” (1993 Phonogram CD singles)

LeBrain HQ has two different “Tonight” singles in the library, each with its own B-sides.  Things get murky when we start looking at singles released in different territories, but each CD features the same great A-side.  Although the lushly layered harmony vocals that lead off the track sound overly sweet, that’s not indicative of the song itself.  “Tonight” is the sparsest ballad on Adrenalize, and also the toughest.  Original guitarist Steve Clark had a hand in writing it, so perhaps he supplied some of the memorable guitar hooks.  As far as the Adrenalize album went, “Tonight” was a highlight in a mixed bag of songs.

The US single has “She’s Too Tough” as its second track, but we already looked at that song (originally released by Helix but written by Joe Elliot) last time.  Skipping to the end, we get a live version of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” from the 1992 club tour.  This was from Bonn, Germany and is also available on the deluxe Adrenalize.  I don’t think “Sugar” has ever particularly worked well live.

Onto the UK single, there are some more interesting B-sides. For Def Leppard fans, one of their most memorable appearances had to be the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1992. As part of their set, Brian May came out on stage to play “Now I’m Here”. What a great version of a Queen song perfectly suited to Def Leppard. With Brian May on stage it doesn’t get much more authentic. From Bonn once again comes “Photograph” performed live.  This is probably the best of the recordings from Bonn.

Unusually for Def Leppard singles of this period, every single track is available elsewhere. “She’s Too Tough” was on the single for “Heaven Is”, and all the live songs were later reissued on the deluxe Adrenalize. Therefore, collectors can breath a little easier. If you don’t have “Tonight”, you probably don’t really need it. If you do, at least the two singles combine to form an excellent listening experience.

4/5 stars

Adrenalize singles:

Part 1:  “Let’s Get Rocked”
Part 2: “Make Love Like a Man”
Part 3: “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad”
Part 4: “Heaven Is”

Up next:  bonus instalment  “Two Steps Behind”

Part 269: CD Singles (of every variety) featuring T-Rev

Welcome back to the WEEK OF SINGLES 2! Each day this week we’re look at rare singles. Today, we’re looking at lots and lots of them!  WARNING:  Image heavy!

Monday: Dream Theater – “Lie” (CD single)
Tuesday: Jimi Hendrix – “Valleys of Neptune” (7″ single)
Wednesday: Them Crooked Vultures – “Mind Eraser, No Chaser” (10″ single)
Thursday: Megadeth – “Creepy Baby Head” (“Crown of Worms” CD single)

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RECORD STORE TALES Part 269:  CD Singles (of every variety)

Featuring T-Rev

I’m going to take the blame for this.  It was I who got T-Rev into collecting singles in 1994-1995.  Oasis kicked his addiction into gear big time, but it was I that sparked his interest in singles.  According to Trevor today, “I suppose it was Oasis that started that ball rolling…then Blur taught me the tricks…Metallica helped mix the sauce…and then I was almost a pro, like you!”

T-Rev was already familiar with the dominance of singles in Europe.  “They’re so much cheaper in England!” he told me then.  “They have entire walls of them, like we do here with albums, but with them it’s singles.”

He had seen me go crazy for some of the singles that came into the store in the early days.  He saw me plunk down my hard earned pay for CD singles by Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, and many more.  He didn’t get why I was spending so much money on so few songs.  CD singles are much rarer here and commanded (new) prices similar to full albums.

IMG_20140205_130708“Why do you buy singles?” he asked me one day.  “I don’t get it.  The song is on the album, they come in those little cases, and they’re expensive.”

“I buy them for the unreleased tracks,” I explained.  “I don’t buy a single if it has nothing unreleased on it, but I want all the different songs.”

“But the unreleased songs aren’t usually any good, are they?” he continued.

“Sometimes,” I answered.  “But check out this Bon Jovi single here.”  I handed him a CD single that I had bought recently at an HMV store. “This one has ‘Edge of a Broken Heart’.  It’s a song that was recorded for Slippery When Wet, but it didn’t make the album.  Sometimes you find these amazing songs that are totally worth having.  Sometimes you only get live songs or remixes, but I still collect those because I try to get everything.”

When Oasis came out with (What’s The Story) Morning Glory, there were ample new singles out there to collect with bonus tracks galore.  T-Rev got me into the band very quickly.  Oasis were known not just for their mouths, but also for their B-sides.  Noel Gallagher was passionate about giving fans good songs as B-sides; he wanted them to be as good as the album.  Oasis had a lot of singles from the prior album Definitely Maybe as well, and one non-album single called “Whatever” that was absolutely marvelous.

Once T-Rev got onto the singles train, he had his own rules about what he wanted to collect and what he didn’t.  Packaging was important to him.  He hated CD singles that came inside little cardboard sleeves.  He couldn’t see them once filed on his CD tower, because there was no thickness to it; no spine to read from the side.  It didn’t matter what was on those CD singles; if the packaging sucked T-Rev was not usually interested.  This applied when we both started collecting old Metallica singles.  I found an Australian copy of “Sad But True” with the rare B-side “So What” at Encore Records for $20. This came in a cardboard sleeve; T-Rev didn’t want it.  (He also already had a live version via the Live Shit: Bing & Purge box set.)  Oasis started releasing their old singles in complete box sets, but T-Rev was only really interested in collecting the UK pressings.  There were a lot of variables to consider.  If you can’t or don’t want to buy everything, you have to set rules and pick and choose.

Once we understood each others’ needs, we were able to keep an eye open for each other.  T-Rev knew if it said Bon Jovi, Faith No More, or Def Leppard on it, that I’d be interested.  If it was a Brit-pop band like Blur or Supergrass, he’d want it (as long as it didn’t come in a paper sleeve).  Foo Fighters too, or virtually anything with Dave Grohl.  Our collections grew prodigiously with rare tracks, EPs we never heard of before, and loads of Metallica.  I believe at one point, T-Rev and I had nearly identical Metallica collections, duplicated between us.  More than half was singles and rarities.  We used to joke that there were probably only two copies of some of these things in town, and we had both of them in one apartment.

IMG_00000064T-Rev sold a lot of his singles but not all.  He still has some treasures.  Highlights include a Steve Earle tin can “Copperhead Road” promo (that he got from local legend Al “the King”).    There’s also Megadeth’s uber-rare “Sweating Bullets” featuring the in-demand “Gristle Mix” by Trent Reznor  Then there was a Blur thing, some kind of “special collectors edition” signed by Damon Albarn, in a Japanese pressing.  Trevor’s seen one sell for upwards of $100.  Then there was another band called “A”.  As Trevor said, “Remember these guys? It was like ‘Britpop punk’. I liked it anyway.”

Also still residing in his collection:  a Japanese print of Oasis’ “Some Might Say” that has two bonus tracks over the domestic version, and two versions of Foo Fighters’ “Big Me”.  One is from Canada, the other from the UK.  Both have different tracks.  I’d forgotten about these until I saw the pictures.

Those were the glory days of collecting.  I miss collecting CD singles.  I preferred hunting the stores downtown to get all the extra tracks to the way it is now.  Now, often you need to buy an iTunes download and several “deluxe editions” to get all the songs.  CD singles were just better, period.  Even just for the cover art of those Oasis singles, singles were much more fun to collect.  I miss those days!
T-Rev’s pics:
LeBrain’s pics: