On Through the Night
by Def Leppard

Buy On Through the Night

On Through the Night by Def LeppardIt is clear that Def Leppard had yet to refine their signature sound when they recorded their debut LP, On Through the Night. The album, which contains songs then described as “working-class hard rock anthems” are raw and energetic and was produced in a way which is a little short of professional, but this may be part of the overall charm. Led by the duo guitarists of Steve Clark and Peter Willis, the young group showed some hard rock and heavy metal sophistication as well as an advanced knack for composing hooks.

Def Leppard grew out of a band called Atomic Mass, featuring Willis and bassist Rick Savage. In 1977, 18-year-old Joe Elliott successfully auditioned for the band and brought with him the name “Deaf Leopard”, which he had envisioned as a band name through his school days. Clark joined the band in early 1978 and later that year, while recording their first EP of original music, then-15-year-old Rick Allen joined the group as its permanent drummer, rounding out the quintet.

That EP actually sold well in the U.K., fueled by the song “Getcha Rocks Off”, which got some healthy airtime on the BBC, and the band developed a loyal following in the British hard rock and heavy metal scene. This led to a major record deal in 1979 and the production of On Through the Night late in that year. Produced by Tom Allom, the album is split between re-recorded versions of the group’s previous single, EP tracks and a handful of newly written songs.


On Through the Night by Def Leppard
Released: March 14, 1980 (Mercury)
Produced by: Tom Allom
Recorded: tartling Studios, Ascot, England, December 1979
Side One Side Two
Rock Brigade
Hello America
Sorrow Is a Woman
It Could Be You
Satellite
Walls Came Tumbling Down
Wasted
Rocks Off
It Don’t Matter
Answer to the Master
Overture
Group Musicians
Joe Elliott – Lead Vocals
Steve Clark – Guitars
Peter Willis – Guitars
Rick Savage – Bass
Rick Allen – Drums

“Rock Brigade” starts the album with the energy of a cross between Aerosmith and early Rush, a very seventies vibe for this group that would become synonymous with eighties rock. Driven by the double guitar crunch of Clark and Willis, the song features plenty of slight sound effects to enhance the otherwise solid rock song. Where the opener is a cool rocker, “Hello America” seems overtly tacky during the naked opening vocal chorus, but is otherwise pretty heavy and upbeat with some well placed synth effects in the chorus by session man Chris M. Hughes.

Def Leppard In 1980“Sorrow Is a Woman” is the best song on the album. it starts with a solid and dramatic rock phrase which gives way to the reserved, almost jazzy verse sections with well-picked guitars and fantastic bass by Savage. After a calm and moody first and second chorus, the song launches into a heavy and extended, multi-part bridge with traded and harmonized guitar licks and leads. “It Could Be You” is a heavy blues rocker by Willis with a frenzied feel and nearly as frenzied vocals by Elliot, making this the closest to heavy metal on the first side.
“Satellite” is a bit darker and more murky than the previous tracks and the song tries too hard to be relevant, though it is entertaining enough. The first side finishes with “When the Walls Came Tumbling Down”, a song with an epic feel due to the theatrical beginning with spoken narration by guest Dave Cousins of the UK band the Strawbs. The English feel is interrupted by a riff and rudiment rock section which shows that this young band can actually jam pretty well.

On the second side of On Through the Night, Def Leppard starts to sound like eighties hair band that they would ultimately become. “Wasted” is almost comically simple in its approach and repetition, but it is the one song which remained from this album in the band’s repo ire through their superstar years. “Rocks Off” is an updated version of the band’s 1978 radio hit, and is another straight-forward rocker, this time laced with faux crowd noise at various points. The music is tight on this latter track as the duo guitars shine atop the fast and potent rhythm lead by the exquisite timing of drummer Allen, especially during the extended jam which closes the song. “It Don’t Matter” is upbeat with great bluesy guitars in the intro and solo section with well-timed and executed rock riffing during the verses and some chorus chanting, while “Answer to the Master” takes a turn towards the “darker” heavy metal themes floating through other groups at the time.

And with this message that I bring to you / A beacon of light to see you through / For time is on our side

Def Leppard’s first album ends with a nod to the past, with the a hard prog rock epic “Overture”. Starting with an acoustic arpeggio and a folkish,  melodic vibe through the opening two minutes, the track breaks into an electric rock shuffle during the next phase, with poetic lyrics and subtle melody by Elliot. Next, the song goes through some riff-based sections to bridge it back full circle to the opening section with nearly identical lyrics.

Although On Through the Night was a not a huge commercial success upon release, the album was eventually certified platinum by the end of the decade it ushered in. More importantly, it caught the ear of famed producer “Mutt” Lange, who refined the band’s sound on their second album, High ‘n’ Dry in 1981. This led to further success as Def Leppard quickly climbed to the top of the hard rock world.

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Classic Rock Review 1980 promo

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 35th anniversary of 1980 albums.

 

Pyromania by Def Leppard

Pyromania by Def LeppardDef Leppard struck gold (well, actually diamond) with their third LP Pyromania. The album was a phenomenal success, eventually selling over ten million copies in the U.S. and being certified “diamond” by the RIAA. The album had a tremendous amount of support from their record label, which gave the band and producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange a year to record and an over $1 million budget. This meant the album would have to sell over a million copies just to break even, which was an amazing leap of faith being that the previous album by Lange and the band, 1981’s High n’ Dry, did not do so well commercially. But the gamble paid off as Pyromania sold more than 100,000 copies per week during the calendar year of 1983 and the radio-ready blend of stadium anthems brought the quasi-heavy-metal band to a mainstream audience.

Although recorded meticulously by Lange and mastered for the dominant sound of early eighties rock, the album falls short be a rock masterpiece if not for some sonic glitches, particularly the constant drilling crack-shot of the snare drum, performed by drummer Rick Allen. It seems at places like Lange tries a little to hard to recreate his “AC/DC” sound, when he would have done better just letting the talent of Def Leppard shine through. Most talented here are guitarist Steve Clark and lead vocalist Joe Elliot, who were complemented by the rich vocal harmonies and “guitar orchestra” by the rest of the band.

When recording of Pyromania began, original guitarist Pete Willis was still on board and his rhythm guitar tracks appear on all songs. Willis was fired midway through the recording sessions for excessive alcohol abuse and replaced by Phil Collen, who immediately contributed the lead guitar for the song “Stagefright” on his second day on the job.

 


Pyromania by Def Leppard
Released: January 20, 1983 (Vertigo)
Produced by: Robert John “Mutt” Lange
Recorded: Park Gates Studios & Battery Studios, London, January–November 1982
Side One Side Two
Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)
Photograph
Stagefright
Too Late for Love
Die Hard the Hunter
Foolin’
Rock of Ages
Comin’ Under Fire
Action! Not Words
Billy’s Got a Gun
Band Musicians
Joe Elliot – Lead Vocals  |  Steve Clark – Guitars
Phil Collen – Guitars  |  Rick Savage – Bass  |  Rick Allen – Drums

 

Written by bassist Rick Savage “Stagefright” is a complete, upbeat composition which works perfectly with the established Pyromania sound. Aside from some fake live crowd effects, which is the song’s only real drawback, the overall vibe of hyper sugar-fueled rock is reached eloquently. This pace is set by the opener “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)”, which contains a dramatic beginning part that goes through a couple of variations before Clark’s fine main riff kicks in on this anthem would probably fit any classic eighties rock album.

The group shows the compositional diversity when they first retreat to slower, darker, and more measured music in “Too Late for Love”. Written by all members of the band (including Willis and Lange) and reminiscent of some material from their 1980 debut album On Through the Night, “Too Late for Love” is a very high quality and potent song which reached #9 on the Mainstream Rock charts. The only real weak spot on the album’s first side is the closer “Die Hard the Hunter”, which starts with some fake air raid effects and sounds forced and dated. An attempt to be super-melodramatic, the song lacks focus even when it later breaks in full “AC/DC” mode and feels a bit drawn out overall.
 

 
The finest track on the first side, is the song which really put Def Leppard on the map as the lead single from Pyromania. On “Photograph”, Elliot’s vocals are at their pristine apex. The song was the band at their peak and commanded absolute attention in early 1983 as the ascending vocals over the chorus hook tell the typical story of stalking and envy which the music drives with a kinetic passion of action. Sonically, there are also some treats, especially during the measured pre-chorus, which contain some slight synths and a cow bell to compliment the heavily distorted guitar riff.

The album’s second side begins with “Foolin'”, which works as an quasi-acoustic ballad before migrating to a later heavy arrangement. Savage’s bass is more potent than on any other track and the song’s multi-part progression works towards the hook, which elevated the song to Top 40 status. The defacto title track, it is clear that everything this album was trying to accomplish is wrapped up in the song “Rock of Ages”. The most indelible moment on the album and one of the highlight’s of Def Leppard’s career. The song kicks off with a German-like nonsense phrase used as a count-in by Lange and it’s title originated from Elliot glancing at a children’s hymn book. There are some charms along the way, such as the almost comical background voices and laughs and the song finishes very strongly, making it the last great moment on the album.

The album closes with some rather mediocre material. “Comin’ Under Fire” could have been another hit song, with the thumping bass and kick beat under the choppy guitar chords of the verse along with the full-fledged chorus chant. “Action! Not Words” is simply terrible, almost a parody of 80s hair metal, and the album would have been better without this song. The melodramatic “Billy’s Got a Gun” completes the weak ending for this otherwise fine album and includes a weird synth percussion during the outro.

Following the breakthrough of Pyromania, the band began writing material for a follow-up, with Mutt Lange initially joining in the sessions. Tragedy struck on New Year’s Eve 1984 when Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash. It would take another three years until the band would complete their much anticipated follow-up Hysteria in mid 1987.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of 1983 albums.


1983 Images

 

Hysteria by Def Leppard

Buy Hysteria

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.