Kick by INXS

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Kick by INXSThe Australian band INXS reached their absolute commercial peak with the well-crafted pop/rock/dance album Kick in 1997. This was the band’s sixth overall studio album since 1980 and marked a distinct migration from their New-Wave roots towards a more funk and soul oriented refinement of late eighties pop.  It yielded four Top Ten hits,  more than any other album in their career. The album’s sound was perfectly in sync with the visual media and the image forged by iconic front man Michael Hutchence which, in turn, also translated well into the non-visual radio and dance club formats. It ultimately transformed the band from the status of an alternative niche to that of a mainstream pop headliner, a status which they maintained well in the 1990s.

Produced by Chris Thomas, the album was initially rejected by Atlantic records who felt the funk and dance elements would alienate INXS’s traditional rock following. They were reportedly offered $1 million to “go back to Australia and start again” but the band persisted in sticking with their plans and the label eventually relented.

The result is amazingly accessible while still maintaining a level of originality from track to track, with each song possessing a different feel from the one previous. Still there are some common elements throughout, especially the simple, direct, and upfront drum beats of drummer John Farriss and the unambiguous guitar riffs forged by brothers Andrew Farriss and Tim Farris. This mixture proved to be a winning formula which the band soon rode to international stardom.
 


Kick by INXS
Released: October 19, 1987 (Atlantic)
Produced by: Chris Thomas
Recorded: Rhinoceros Recordings, Sydney, & Studio De La Grande Armée, Paris, 1986–1987
Side One Side Two
Guns In the Sky
New Sensation
Devil Inside
Need You Tonight
Mediate
The Loved One
Wild Life
Never Tear Us Apart
Mystify
Kick
Calling All Nations
Tiny Daggers
Group Musicians
Michael Hutchence – Lead Vocals
Andrew Farriss – Guitars, Keyboards
Tim Farris – Guitars
Kirk Pengilly – Saxophone, Vocals
Garry Gary Beers – Bass
Graham Broad – Drums, Percussion

 
The drum infused, monotone “Guns In the Sky” starts the album off, complete with opening grunts by Hutchence. The song barely leaves the repetitive, two-chord structure but sets up as a nice contrasting intro for the subsequent, more melodic pop song “New Sensation”. The first of several funk-infused rockers on Kick, “New Sensation” is a fun ride led by a twangy and flanged guitar riff and containing some direct, shouting vocals and well-timed breaks for effects.

The album then moves to a dance oriented semi-suite which contains some of their most popular songs ever. “Devil Inside” is a cool and riff-driven tune with dynamic vocals in both range and style. The lyrics are sexually-fused and nicely complimented by the crisply distorted guitar riff, which cuts through the otherwise smooth sound scape. The song eventually builds towards a strong, climatic ending with building keyboard presence by Andrew Farriss. “Need You Tonight” continues the same general theme and feel, while adding a bit more funk in it’s constant, rotating riff. A well arranged song with overlapping elements, each catchy and memorable in its own right, which helped to make this the band’s top overall hit. “Mediate” is an interesting extension to “Need You Tonight” with a droning rap set over a constant beat and sunrise key pad, before finishing with a well-placed saxophone lead by Kirk Pengilly. Each of these songs contains strong video counterparts, with “Mediate” intentionally replicating the format of Bob Dylan’s classic video for “Subterranean Homesick Blues” right down to the point of apparently deliberate errors.

The sides are bookmarked with strong but middle-of-the road tunes. “The Loved One” has elements of blue-eyed soul with a more modern 1980s arrangement and beat, which gives the impression it could have been a hit in its own right. “Wild Life” is another funky song with a good pop hook and an anthemic vocal hook.
 

 
On several fronts, Kick is very similar to another 1987 album that we recently reviewed, Def Leppard’s Hysteria. Both albums represent the popular apex of bands who started in the earlier 1980’s and both albums are a bit top-heavy with the bulk of the pop songs on side one and lesser known numbers on side two with the exception of one great, out-of-the-ordinary tune. In the case of Def Leppard that song was “Hysteria”, in the case of INXS, this song is “Never Tear Us Apart”. Driven by fast strings and accented by strategic rests, this song stands out from the band’s other radio hits as a brilliantly composed ballad, complete with counter-harmonized backing vocals and a Pengilly sax solo that doesn’t sound like it was put there just to satisfy some formula. This song proves that the band can, in fact, succeed by stretching the limits of their musical scope.

The album concludes with a series of less popular yet very strong songs (there is no filler on this album). “Mystify” is an upbeat swing tune, which is held down to earth by the rock guitars and drums. The title song “Kick” features 1960s style, soul-rock with liberal use of horns throughout and a great driving bass by Garry Gary Beers. “Calling All Nations” returns to the funk formula driven by bright guitars and “Tiny Daggers” is pure 80s pop, keyboard led with slightly interesting vocals.

In total, Kick did just about everything you can expect from a high-end pop/rock album of the 1980s. It forged incredibly catchy and modern sounding songs, while not giving way to the mind-numbing, formulaic trends on many contemporary artists of the time.

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1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 25th anniversary of 1987 albums.


 

Whitesnake

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Whitesnake albumWhitesnake‘s eponymous 1987 album bears the dual distinction of being the moment where a rock band finally reaches its full commercial promise and assures its own rapid demise. Both of these achievements could be placed on the lap of the group’s founder, lead vocalist, and all-powerful decision maker David Coverdale. The band was formed in 1978 and named after Coverdale’s first solo album after his short, mid-seventies gig as Deep Purple’s front man. Whitesnake had increasing success with its three previous albums released in 1980, 1982, and 1984 respectively before Coverdale decided to go “all in” with the next release. After the moderate success of the group’s latest album Slide It In, Coverdale teamed up with former Thin Lizzy guitarist John Sykes to compose new songs with a more aggressive, guitar-oriented sound.

With the exception of two songs that were redone from the 1982 Saints and Sinners album, Sykes co-wrote every song on the the Whitesnake album, which had its release delayed for a year when Coverdale contracted a serious sinus infection which made recording nearly impossible. However, after Coverdale recovered and completed recording, he summarily dismissed Sykes from the band. The subsequent famous music videos would feature new guitarists Adrian Vandenberg and Vivian Campbell “miming” Sykes’ guitar parts. The band’s rhythm section faced a similar fate, as bassist Neil Murray and drummer Aynsley Dunbar were replaced with younger, more “video friendly” players post album release and keyboardist Don Airey was never considered part of the touring band. To complete the overall lack of integrity with this album, a different version entitled 1987 was released in Europe with a different running order and two extra tracks.

The bluesy experience which made the album a good listen was discarded and leaving Coverdale in front of a hollowed out faux band to pretentiously soak in the fruits of the multi-year studio effort. The album was by far their most commercially successful and received exponential more radio play than all their previous efforts combined. However, it also alienated many of Whitesnake’s long-time and loyal fans, who viewed this 1987 album as a pander to the mainstream fads of the time.


Whitesnake by Whitesnake
Released: April 7, 1987 (Geffen)
Produced by: Mike Stone & Keith Olsen
Recorded:September 1985-November 1986
Side One Side Two
Crying in the Rain
Bad Boys
Still of the Night
Here I Go Again
Give Me All Your Love
Is This Love
Children of the Night
Straight For the Heart
Don’t Turn Away
Band Musicians
David Coverdale – Lead Vocals
John Sykes – Guitars, Vocals
Neil Murray – Bass
Aynsley Dunbar – Drums & Percussion

The album is best known for the MTV videos which featured actress Tawny Kitaen, Coverdale’s then-girlfriend who he later married. In spite of all the “style over substance” surrounding this album, it does contain some brilliant musical moments, a few of which where Coverdale does a great job channeling some classic-era Robert Plant. The opener “Crying in the Rain” was originally on Saints and Sinners, with this re-recorded version portraying a much heavier, Zeppelin-esque sound.

 

“Still of the Night” is the true highlight of the album, with Sykes and Murray reworking an old demo by Coverdale and Ritchie Blackmore from the Deep Purple days over a decade earlier. The song combines the blues origins of the musicians with a crisper, updated, and harder-driving sound. Coverdale’s vocal call and response to the riffs are classic Page, Plant, and Jones and Dunbar’s hi-hat work during the mid section is pure Bonham, making this song the 1980s heir to classic Zeppelin. Coverdale would later join up with Jimmy Page for a few albums in the early 1990s.

Whitesnake

“Here I Go Again” was the second remake from Saints and Sinners, co-written by Whitesnake’s then-guitarist Bernie Marsden. It became a #1 hit for the band in America and the peak of their commercial appeal. It was also the point at which the band truly “jumped the shark” as the song was re-recorded yet another time for a watered-down “radio-mix” version, which took away absolutely any edge left on this originally fine composition. Much of the rest of the album is unremarkable and formulaic, with the power ballad “Is This Love” also making waves on pop radio. One standout is the closing “Don’t Turn Away”, which is a unique rocker reminiscent to some of the band’s better material on their previous album Slide it In.

That last song leaves the listener with a taste of the Whitesnake’s prior potential which no longer existed even as the band was headlining arenas through 1988. More line-up changes would plague the band moving forward and even with the inclusion of top talent like Steve Vai, the band would never again reach the heights of 1987.

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1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.

 

A Momentary Lapse of Reason
by Pink Floyd

A Momentary Lapse Of Reason by Pink FloydThe first Pink Floyd album not to feature founder and bassist Roger Waters, A Momentary Lapse of Reason represented a definite transition to a new phase in the band’s long history. It came in the midst of a tumultuous period of lawsuits and name-calling between Waters and his former band mates, led by vocalist and guitarist David Gilmour. Waters officially left the band in December 1985 and tried to officially “dissolve” the Pink Floyd name with his departure, but Gilmour and drummer Nick Mason wanted to continue with new projects by the then-two-decades-old band. Later in the A Momentary Lapse of Reason sessions, former band keyboardist Richard Wright was brought on to give the album “more legitimacy” as a Pink Floyd album (although Wright was not re-instated as an official band member until later).

After the band’s previous release of The Final Cut in 1983, Waters, Gilmour, and Mason each composed solo albums, with Waters and Gilmour following up with respective solo tours. It was during Waters’ 1985 tour for The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking that Mason approached him about his desire to continue with a new Pink Floyd project. However, Waters had already decided to break up the group and was not swayed even after Gilmour threatened to continue without him. Lawsuits ensued over the use of the Pink Floyd name, images, and the performance of certain songs, which were not settled until late 1987, after the release of A Momentary Lapse of Reason.

The album’s music originated from sessions for a new Gilmour solo album in 1985, which were recorded primarily on Gilmour’s converted houseboat, called Astoria, anchored on the River Thames. Gilmour changed his mind in 1986 and decided to use the material for a new Pink Floyd album when Mason joined the project. Bob Ezrin, who co-produced the band’s 1979 blockbuster The Wall, was brought on to produce shortly after he had turned down a similar offer from Waters to produce his new solo album, Radio K.A.O.S., which added further fuel to the feud. Ezrin used new digital technologies, MIDI synchronization, and drum machines throughout the album, a significant change from the more traditionally recorded previous Floyd albums.
 


A Momentary Lapse of Reason by Pink Floyd
Released: September 7, 1987 (Arista)
Produced by: Bob Ezrin & David Gilmour
Recorded: Astoria Houseboat Studio, England, October 1986-May 1987
Side One Side Two
Signs of Life
Learning to Fly
Dogs of War
One Slip
On the Turning Away
Yet Another Movie / Round and Around
A New Machine (Part 1)
Terminal Frost
A New Machine (Part 2)
Sorrow
Primary Musicians
David Gilmour – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Nick Mason – Drums, Percussion, Vocals   |  Rick Wright – Keyboards, Vocals
Tony Levin – Bass   |  Bob Ezrin – Keyboards, Percussion

 
There is no doubt that part of the “Pink Floydization” of the album was to nod back to previous song names, themes, and structures. This is evident in the song titles “A New Machine” (a song “Welcome To the Machine” appeared on 1975’s Wish You Were Here and “Dogs of War”, which is a quasi-sequel to the Roger Waters Animals track “Dogs”. Co-written by Anthony Moore, “Dogs of War” suggests the silent hand behind all war is money, describing political mercenaries in particular.

Mason played a big role in the opening track, “Signs of Life”, by adding some synthesized effects and spoken word in the background. It sets the houseboat scene beautifully with the underlying sound of a boat rowing down a calm river, which was an actual recording of Gilmour’s boatman rowing across the Thames. The result is a cross between the early Pink Floyd experimental sound collages like “Speak to Me”, and the mood-setting long intro to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”. “Signs of Life” serves to set up the listener for the sudden and sharp contrast of “Learning To Fly”, where the rock n roll portion of the album really begins.

Perhaps better than any other recording, “Learning to Fly” has the absolute perfect mechanical sound, built to perfection during the verse rhythm by Ezrin, who co-wrote the song along with Gilmour, Moore, and Jon Carin. The theme was inspired by Gilmour’s passion for flying, as he is a licensed pilot, but also symbolizes his new role as the undisputed leader of the band after Waters’ departure. The song put Pink Floyd back on the radio as well as music television for the first time with a professional music video, and reached #1 on the Billboard album rock tracks chart.
 

 
The album’s first side wraps up with a couple of radio-friendly, pop-influenced songs, something very rare on previous Pink Floyd albums. “One Slip” contains a synthesized arpeggio in similar style to some tracks on The Wall. Co-written by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera, the lyrics describe a one-night love affair (another rare theme for Floyd), with the chorus hook providing the title for this album. “On the Turning Away” is another #1 album rock tracks song, with lyrics that explore deeper issues of poverty and oppression, and the tendency of people to forget about those afflicted by such conditions. Musically, the song starts of very calm and ballad-like but transitions to sections of extended biting and wailing signature guitar leads by Gilmour.

The album’s second side contains much less rich songcraft and much more ethereal soundscape and experimental tracks, harkening back to the band’s mid-era prior to Dark Side Of the Moon. These include a mixture of instrumentals and non-traditional sounding pieces, including “Yet Another Movie”, which features some dialogue lifted from the classic film Casablanca. The electrically distorted, noise-gate and vocoder dominated “A New Machine” bookends the smooth-jazz-like instrumental of “Terminal Frost”, which features dueling saxophones by Tom Scott and John Helliwell, the latter of Supertramp fame. The album’s closer, “Sorrow”, contains an opening guitar piece by Gilmour which was recorded live in a large, empty arena, with the sound piped through the public address system. The rest of the song diverges, with a steady beat and electronic effects providing a backdrop for the slicker lead guitars and calm vocals.

After the release, of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, Roger Waters derided his old bandmates’ material on this album as “third rate”. A bit of a rivalry ensued through the subsequent year when both acts toured and sometimes ended up in the same city at the same time. Waters continued his fight on this front by threatening to sue several promoters if they used the Pink Floyd name. In the end, the overwhelming fan response to the Pink Floyd tour, which sold out several large stadiums, re-established the new, truncated lineup of this long established band as an entity, which would carry on for several more years.

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1987 Images

 

In the Dark by Grateful Dead

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In the Dark by Grateful DeadIn the Dark was the first studio album by the Grateful Dead in over seven years (their twelfth overall) and was a comeback album on several levels. It was a return to the style of the band’s most famous albums in the earlier 1970s and became an unexpectedly popular success reaching the top ten on the Billboard album chart making it the highest charting album of the group’s long career. Further, the album comes in the wake of serious health issues with guitarist and primary front man Jerry Garcia. Garcia’s health declined through the early 1980s and he nearly lost his life in 1986 when he slipped into a diabetic coma for several days. Although he survived this incident, it caused some permanent memory loss and it is said that Garcia had to re-learn many of his established guitar techniques.

The album was recorded in an unusual fashion.  The band was constantly touring and had been performing much of the new material live for years so they decided to record the basic tracks live on stage in an empty and darkened Marin Veterans Auditorium. This process gave the album its title and helped the band achieve a more authentic sound, something the Dead had long struggled with on studio albums. Later overdubs were added in the studio, which gave the album’s sound a sonic, blended edge. In an interview, Garcia spoke about the recording process on this album;

Marin Vets turns out to be an incredibly nice room to record in. There’s something about the formal atmosphere in there that makes us work. Going in [Marin Vets] without an audience and playing just to ourselves was in the nature of an experiment…”

The band’s sound in the 1980s was also unique to any other era due to the unique talents of Brent Mydland, who possessed both a unique voice and great piano and keyboard skills. Mydland joined the Grateful Dead in 1980 and stayed with the group until his death from a drug overdose in July 1990, making him the third keyboardist in the band to die. Mydland also became a prominent songwriter on both 1980’s Go To Heaven and 1989’s Built To Last, but only contributed one song, “Tons of Steel”, to In the Dark.
 


In the Dark by Grateful Dead
Released: July 6, 1987 (Arista)
Produced by: Jerry Garcia & John Cutler
Recorded: San Rafeal, California, January-March 1987
Side One Side Two
Touch Of Grey
Hell in a Bucket
When Push Comes to Shove
West L.A. Fadeaway
Tons Of Steel
Throwing Stones
Black Muddy River
Band Musicians
Jerry Garcia – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Bob Weir – Guitars, Vocals
Brent Mydland – Keyboards, Vocals
Phil Lesh – Bass
Bill Kreutzmann – Drums
Mickey Hart – Drums

 
The album commences and is most identified with “Touch of Grey”, one of four compositions by Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter, a long time collaborator. This song became the band’s first and only Top 40 hit in their three decade-long career. Hunter had originally intended this song for a solo album in 1981, which was never completed. It was picked up by the Dead for their live shows starting in 1982 and serendipitously carried the central message of the band (and especially Garcia) in 1987 – “I will get by, I will survive”. Although the song became a live favorite by fans before it was issued on album, there was a later backlash after the song’s popularity brought an influx of pop-oriented faux “deadheads”, sometimes referred to as “touchheads” after this song.

The other Garcia/Hunter tunes on the album are the groove-driven “When Push Comes to Shove”, the John Belushi tribute “West L.A. Fadeaway”, and the closing ballad “Black Muddy River”. This last track contains some Gospel influence and great guitars, while “When Push Comes to Shove” contains a good rhythm driven by dueling drummers Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart.
 

 
Guitarist Bob Weir also co-wrote and provided lead vocals for a couple of tracks. “Hell In a Bucket” is the best song on the album overall, as it fuses entertaining lyrics and a melodic hook with an excellent mixture of sound by all band members, especially Garcia on lead guitar and Phil Lesh on bass. Co-written by Brent Mydland, the song also contains a unique electric piano riff. “Throwing Stones” is an extended yet repetitive piece which became a minor hit on album-oriented radio. Lyrically, this song is written in much the same style of early Bob Dylan, but musically the band is able to add some real flavor, especially the long guitar lead by Garcia.

In the Dark was received like no other Grateful Dead album and gave the band a pop commercialism and acceptance like they had never received before. The band did eventually settle back into a regular touring routine and lived out their final years as a live jam band right up until Garcia’s death in 1995.

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1987 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.

 

Hysteria by Def Leppard

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Hysteria by Def LeppardAfter the great success of their 1983 album Pyromania which sold 6 million copies, Def Leppard set out to achieve even loftier goals. They wanted to write an album made of “greatest hits” of “all killer, no filler” and wanted to chart at least seven singles. Amazingly, they pretty much achieved these goals, but in doing so they may have produced the most expensive record ever made in the U.K. This was due to a toxic mixture of bad decisions and tragedy, which would delay the album for nearly three years before it was finally released in August 1987. A bad decision was attempting to have Meatloaf songwriter Jim Steinman produce the album in lieu of Pyromania‘s producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who ultimately returned and started again from scratch. A tragedy occurred on December 31, 1984, when drummer Rick Allen was in a near fatal car crash which cost him left arm.

The band relocated to Dublin, Ireland in February 1984 as “tax exiles” from the UK and each bought a Fostex 4-track cassette recorder and drum machine to work on new song ideas. The first song to be written was “Animal” and the record company forwarded them production funds based on the strength of this single song. Initially the album was to be named “Animal Instinct” but Lange dropped out after pre-production sessions, and Steinman was brought in to replace him. However, Steinman’s vision of making a raw rock record did not jive with the band’s interest in making a big and pristine pop production and the band decided to “buy out” Steinman, causing the production budget to instantly sky rocket. When Lange returned in 1986, the initial recordings sessions were entirely scrapped. Also that year, Allen notified the band that he had developed a modified drum kit to allow him to play with only one arm. The band decided to hear him as a courtesy, but were blown away when he played the intro to Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks” and it was clear that he would not be replaced.

Lange’s production was a painstaking obsession which used dense sonic detail and required the band members to do hundreds of takes. Lange also encouraged the band to simplify their riffs and fills, so that each detail could be easily picked out by crowds in large arenas. However, this does not mean that the band was devoid of high talent, especially when it came to the layered vocal harmonies which they performed live (with no artificial enhancements) to supplement their  hooks and riffs.
 


Hysteria by Def Leppard
Released: August 3, 1987 (Mercury)
Produced by: Robert “Mutt” Lange & Def Leppard
Recorded:Various Locations, February 1984-January 1987
Side One Side Two
Women
Rocket
Animal
Love Bites
Pour Some Sugar On Me
Armageddon It
Gods Of War
Don’t Shoot Shotgun
Run Riot
Hysteria
Excitable
Love and Affection
Group Musicians
Joe Elliot – Lead Vocals
Phil Collen – Guitars, Vocals
Steve Clark – Guitars
Rick Savage – Bass, Vocals
Rick Allen – Drums

 
Def Leppard did release their goal of seven singles from Hysteria and, in the American market, the first six went in the exact sequence of the album’s first side. The opener “Women” seems, in retrospect, a curious choice being it is not nearly as strong as some of the other tracks and that was reflected in its modest chart success. “Rocket” followed, as a lyrical sequence of old record titles, built on a strong drum shuffle rhythm. The arrangement was forged by lead vocalist Joe Elliot and included a quasi-psychedelic middle section laced with many sound effects and backwards masking.

“Animal” was the third single released and became the band’s first Top 10 hit on both sides of the Atlantic. In total, the song took over two and a half years to get right, the most difficult of their career. Like many songs on the album, “Animal” contains well produced layered guitar riffs by guitarists Steve Clark and Phil Collen and musically, it is the closest extension to Pyromania and signaled to many long-time fans that the band was truly back. Still, at this point album sales were lagging behind those of the predecessor and it looked like Hysteria may actually lose money.

Then came the huge, chart-topping hits. “Love Bites” was written by Lange as a near-country song and transformed to a power ballad for Def Leppard. It was the cross-over hit that the band had long wanted and opened them up to a pop audience like no song before. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was written last, when much of the band (but not Lange) thought the album was completed. It originated from a hook by Elliot and was built like a rap song along with Lange. The ultimate success of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” sent sales of Hysteria through the roof as it sold nearly four million copies during the single’s run on the charts. The first side concludes with another charting single, “Armageddon It”. The tongue-in-cheek joke title came from a literal studio conversation when Lange asked Clark “Are you getting it?” To which Clark replied “I’m a-gettin’ it”.
 

 
The album’s best song (although far from the most popular) is the title song “Hysteria”. The music was based on an acoustic riff from bassist Rick Savage, with the title being suggested by drummer Rick Allen after his auto accident and the media coverage that followed. The most mellow song on the album, this unique and moody song is a true musical gem, not just on this album or by this band, but for the era in total.

Def Leppard

Unfortunately, the rest of side two is not nearly as satisfying. “Gods of War” starts out sounding interesting, with a unique intro by Clark, but it turns into another boilerplate “we hate war” hollow screed. Hysteria would be the last album to feature Steve Clark, who died in 1991. Although the band had vowed “no filler” on this album, there is plenty on side two. “Don’t Shoot Shotgun” is the worst song on the album (and maybe the band’s entire career) while “Run Riot” and “Excitable” are not much better. There is some slight redemption in the moody closer “Love and Affection”, but this still pales in comparison to the better track on the album.

The story of the events during making of Hysteria was told in the book Animal Instinct by rock journalist David Fricke. One assertion made by Fricke is that Hysteria is the album that Def Leppard intended to make when they were just getting started at age 14 or 15. They accomplished this magnificent feat in a little more than a decade, but would never come close again.

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1987 Images

Pat of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1987 albums.