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.
My 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!
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.