Part Four of the Def Leppard Review Series
Because of the non-chronological nature of The Early Years box set, we are now back at the beginning: Def Leppard’s first rare EP, and singles releases. Only on Disc 4 do we finally get to go back to the original Def Leppard EP, which has seen a few re-releases over the years, but none as convenient as this.
The story goes that young Def Leppard used money loaned to them by Joe Elliott’s father, and booked a studio for one weekend. Drummer Tony Kenning was fired just before the start of recording, for being sidetracked by a girlfriend. Frank Noon from The Next Band (featuring Rocky Newton on bass) was chosen to fill-in temporarily. It was The Next Band’s own three-song EP release that inspired Leppard to make their own. They only had a handful of rehearsals with the drummer completed before it was time to hit the studio.
“Ride Into the Sun” was properly perfected when it was re-recorded in 1987 as a Hysteria B-side. The original still boasts the same relentless riff, but without the increased velocity. The chorus is a bit different, but here it is: the beginning! Out of the gates with a good song, with room to improve. And improve young Def Leppard would.
Next on the EP is “Getcha Rocks Off”, the only track that has been available on CD for three decades. It saw its first digital release on Lars Ulrich’s excellent 1990’s NWOBHM compilation. The version that eventually made its way to On Through The Night is heavier, but this ground-floor version has an identical arrangement. The solo work shows the band had early talent, and the riff demonstrates their ability to come up with the goods.
Finally: “Overture”, the big Def Leppard epic that later closed On Through the Night. A little progressive, the 7:45 track meanders from mellow acoustic opening to galloping riff to blasting guitar workouts. Much of it is first takes, with Joe having little time to finish the vocal. However the job was complete. The record was made.
All that was left was to ask Frank Noon to join the band full-time, which he declined. 15 year old Rick Allen was selected instead. (Noon later reunited with Rocky Newton in Lionheart.)
All 1000 copies of the EP sold within a week. Radio started to play Def Leppard. Finally they signed the big record deal and the rest is history. Still, there are plenty of rare tracks from the early years that were recorded. Most were released but some are here in this box set for the very first time.
“Wasted” with “Hello America” on the B-side was originally released in 1979. These are early versions that differ from the Tom Allom-produced tracks on the album. Neither are as as heavy, with “Wasted” in particular needing more bite. These versions, by Nick Tauber, were deemed not worthy of album release by the record company. The ferocious “Wasted” riff is there but needs to be turned up – way up! “Hello America” fares better as a more melodic rock tune. It lacks that synth riff on the chorus of the song, which makes it a little more raw. It also has a really long fade-out.
The Tauber sessions yielded two more songs that were never released. “Rock Brigade” and “Glad I’m Alive”, for whatever reason, were held back until The Early Years box set. “Rock Brigade” is probably the best of these tracks. Rick Allen’s marauding drum rolls steal the show, but not as much as on album. In general, the Tauber versions are less aggressive recordings, and Joe’s vocals are not as unleashed as on the final album. “Glad I’m Alive” is the only one that didn’t make the album. It is the song with the lyric “too many jitterbugs”, but is otherwise unremarkable. Not many hooks (if any). It is only available in The Early Years.
Leppard’s next B-side was “Good Morning Freedom” from the eventual “Hello America” single. This is a song that surprisingly and delightfully was resurrected by Leppard live (more on that later in the series). It is early quintessential early Leppard, centered on the riff and designed to get the heads-a-bangin’. It is not without hooks, and might be as good as anything else On Through the Night has to offer, “Wasted” notwithstanding.
The next tracks are the disc are single edits, which are padding to some and valuable curiosities to others. Moving into the High ‘n’ Dry era, they are edits of “Let It Go”, “Switch 625” and “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak”. Nice to have to be complete, but not essential listening. All three are obviously better in their full length versions, but you gotta try what you gotta to get on the radio. “Let It Go” has a shorter intro, and a truncated middle section, weakening its impact. “Heartbreak” fades out early.
“Heartbreak’s” B-side was a fast and heavy fan favourite called “Me An’ My Wine”. It was given a raucous and fun music video when it was remixed by Mutt Lange in 1984. Both “Wine” and “Heartbreak” were remixed for 1984 reissue, and were included in updated editions of High ‘n’ Dry. All versions, original and remixed, are present in this box. For some, the remixed “Heartbreak” with added keyboard accents will be the favourite, because it’s the one they grew up with. It sounds more like a Pyromania single. The keys do help spruce up the song, which honestly has a couple dead spots otherwise. As for “Me An’ My Wine”, it has a longer intro and the drums have been treated to sound a little more 80s. Incidentally, though you can get them on old High ‘n’ Dry CD pressings, this is the first time that these remixes have been available in a remastered form.
And that’s the disc — a damn fine one in fact, because it manages to include every non-album track that Leppard released during those early years. It makes for a fun listen, as you hear the band evolve. Even if some songs repeat, they are different enough to not interrupt the flow. Many of the B-sides have never been released on CD format before, so the value here cannot be understated.
- The Early Years Disc One – On Through the Night
- The Early Years Disc Two – High N’ Dry
- The Early Years Disc Three – When The Walls Came Tumbling Down: Live at the New Theater Oxford – 1980
- The Early Years Disc Five – Raw – Early BBC Recordings