Sunday Old School: Def Leppard
Many young bands starting out dream of playing in the biggest arenas, but few were seemingly born to perform on the world's largest platforms. One of the groups that were meant to pack out huge venues the world over was formed back in 1977. A band by the name of Def Leppard. Def Leppard was formed in the South Yorkshire city of Sheffield, famous for it's steel production and regularly hosting the World Snooker Championship. They began life under the name Atomic Mass with the founding members consisting of Rick Savage, Tony Kenning, and Pete Willis, before adding guitarist, Joe Elliott to their ranks, who soon switched to vocals, and a second guitarist named Steve Clark, who joined the band after performing "Free Bird" in its entirety. They were all set to begin recording their first EP, when Kenning decided to quit the group, leading them to hire The Next Band drummer, Frank Noon to record the drum tracks for "The Def Leppard EP." After recording the single, Rick Allen, then only fifteen years of age, was hired as their new drummer and they soon found their first taste of sales success, selling out all 1000 copies of "The Def Leppard EP" thanks largely to airplay given to them by John Peel. The band built up a loyal and ever growing fan base and were considered one of, and at times, the most exciting band in the New Wave of British Heavy metal movement. During this time, EMI Records were searching for a new hard rock band to promote and kept a close eye on Def Leppard, though they eventually decided to take their chances on a band from East London named Iron Maiden.
In spite of being passed over by EMI, Def Leppard soon signed to Phonogram/Vertigo Records and before long, they found themselves on the road supporting the likes of AC/DC and Ted Nugent. They also released their first full length album, "On Through The Night," which sold well enough to reach the top fifteen in the United Kingdom, although it was met with some hostility from fans who felt that the band was trying too hard to appeal to the American market. Some people made their feelings about their new direction all too clear when Def Leppard performed at the Reading festival and were met with a hail of bottles, some of which were filled with urine, although Elliott maintains that most bands performing that day were abused by the crowd.
Although "On Through the Night" didn't quite have the impact in the United States that they had hoped for, they would soon gain the attention of American head bangers with their sophomore album, "High 'n' Dry," which hit the shelves in July 1980. The record was produced by "Mutt" Lange, most famous for his work with AC/DC and featured the single, "Bringin' On the Heartbreak," which is considered one of the first metal videos to be aired on MTV. After touring Europe with Ozzy Osbourne, the band fired Pete Willis due to his alcohol abuse and replaced him with Phil Collen, formerly of the band, Girl. Collen made his recording debut with Def Leppard on their next outing, "Pyromania," which became their first hit album, spawning several of their most popular songs including "Rock of Ages" and "Photograph," which replaced Michael Jackson's, "Beat It" as the most requested video on MTV. The latter song was soon all over American rock radio and helped the album to sell over six million copies in 1983 alone, as well as enabling the group to embark on a headlining tour of the United States for the first time. Many now feel that the success of "Pyromania" helped give birth to the so called "pop metal" of the 1980s, bringing mainstream success to many bands in the genre. Although they were riding high with the success of the album, Def Leppard were soon to experience a very serious setback.
On New Year's Eve 1984, Rick Allen was involved in a car accident when his corvette swerved off a sharp turn and crashed through a wall. As a result of his seatbelt not being securely fastened, he was thrown from the car, severing his left arm in the process. He and his girlfriend, who was not seriously injured, were helped out by two passers by who took them to a nearby hospital. Allen's arm was reattached, but because it had become infected, it had to be surgically removed and his future looked to be a very scary prospect. Although he first thought he would not be able to continue his role with the band, he soon discovered that he could replicate some of his drumming with his feet and soon got to work on building a special drum kit with a few engineers. He and former Status Quo drummer, Jeff Rich also built an electronic kit, which allowed Allen to perform his drum parts with one arm. He was soon performing with the band once again and the delight at seeing a man overcome such adversity to continue his dream was clear for all to see when he received an ovation from the Monsters of Rock crowd in 1986.
After some emotional shows, the band got to work on their fourth studio album, which arrived on the 3rd of August 1987 under the title, "Hysteria." While "Pyromania" had been a huge hit, no-one could have predicted how massive this new album would become. It topped the charts in Great Britain, the first time the band had been able to do so in their home country and spawned a hit single in the song, "Animal," which was released as the lead single in most countries except for the United States, where the single, "Women" was released to lacklustre sales. Their next single, the album's title track, also faired quite poorly and so they decided to release one more single to try and grab the attention of the world once again. It was a move that paid off as "Hysteria's" fourth single, "Pour Some Sugar On Me," propelled them to the top of the American charts, as well as reaching the number two spot on the Billboard Hot 100. They also gained a number one single in the U.S. with "Love Bites," making them one of the few acts to have a top ranking single and album at the same time. Two more singles, "Armageddon It" and "Rocket," (the latter now well known in the United Kingdom for being played on coverage of Formula 1,) which were both received very well and helped "Hysteria" become one of the best selling albums of all time, currently holding the status of 12x Platinum.
Hoping to avoid another long gap in between albums, Def Leppard soon began writing their fifth album. However, they would once again face a serious and this time more tragic blow, when guitarist Steve Clark passed away in early 1991, following an overdose of alcohol and prescription drugs. It was a tough decision but the band soldiered on and their next album, "Adrenalize" was recorded as a four piece, with Collen replicating the guitar style of Clark. The album was another success and once again topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic ocean. It contained another popular song, "Let's Get Rocked," which featured a strange, animated music video which the band claimed was inspired by The Simpsons. It also helped solidify their status as rock giants and saw them perform at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium, where Elliott also joined the surviving members of Queen and Guns 'n Roses guitarist, Slash to perform, "Tie Your Mother Down."
It was soon decided that a second guitarist was needed and the band held auditions for the position in 1992, which saw several big name applicants including Adrian Smith, who had left Iron Maiden two years before and former Thin Lizzy and Tygers Of Pan Tang guitarist, John Sykes. In the end, Def Leppard decided to recruit Northern Irishman, Vivian Campbell, who had previously been a member of Dio and Whitesnake, as well as New Wave of British Heavy Metal comrades, Sweet Savage. Campbell laid down his first guitar tracks for Def Leppard on the album, "Retro Active," which was comprised of re-recorded b-sides and rarities. It featured the song, "Miss You In a Heartbeat," which became one of their biggest hits in Canada, eventually going Platinum both there and in the United States. Despite this success, they, like many of their arena filling rock contemporaries, were soon hit hard by the popularity of alternative rock and grunge music, although their first compilation album, "Vault" sold very well, with sales of over five million in the United States and British album chart position of number three. The "greatest hits" package also featured their most successful single in Britain, "When Love and Hate Collide," which reached number two in their homeland. The same year, they also entered the Guinness Book of World Records, when they became the first band to perform in three continents on one day, holding concerts in Morocco, England and Canada on the 23rd of October.
They changed their style quite noticeably for their next album, "Slang," attempting to tap into the alternative rock crowd. Both the album and tour did relatively poorly in the United States, though some publications placed the record in their top ten of the year. Interest was soon lavished upon the band once again though, after they took part in one of the first episodes of the popular documentary series, "Behind the Music." They soon found their albums selling once again and returned to their old style for their 1999 release, "Euphoria," which spawned a Mainstream Rock Chart topping single in the shape of, "Promises." They were even immortalised in a film, the VH1 television movie, "Hysteria - The Def Leppard Story," which was gained substantial viewing figures.
Once again, the band would shed their rock roots somewhat when they released the album, "X" in 2002, a record which featured a pop approach more in the vein of bands like 3 Doors Down. It reached number eleven on the Billboard Albums chart but was not able to match the success of previous releases and soon vanished from the charts, although touring for the album was some of their biggest and busiest in ten years, though only the song, "Now" has been performed live since the conclusion of the album's supporting tour.
Following a second compilation album, the quintet made another unexpected move when they released a covers album entitled, "Yeah!" which saw them performing songs by the likes of Blondie, The Kinks and T-Rex amongst others, most of which they considered to be their rock heroes as teenagers. After being inducted into the VH1 Rock Honours and a tour with Journey, the band released their ninth album of new material, "Songs From the Sparkle Lounge" in 2008. The album's title comes from the name of their mobile recording studio and it peaked on the Billboard chart at number five, their highest position in the United States since "Adrenalize." Since the release of the album, the band has been concentrating more on live performances, teaming up with such other big names as Poison, Whitesnake and REO Speedwagon amongst others and releasing the double live album, "Mirrorball: Live & More," which contained three new studio tracks. Earlier this year, it was announced that Vivian Campbell had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's lymphoma, a form of cancer located in the nymph nodes, though thankfully he is now in remission. It seems now that the band could be gearing up to release their first studio album in six years, after a recent interview in which Phil Collen revealed that the group have alot of new material completed and are focusing on what direction to take themselves in. Regardless of how it turns out, when it's released or how many albums Def Leppard will put out after, they have without question assured their place in the halls of rock history, bringing mainstream success to head banging bands and overcoming obstacles which would have destroyed lesser acts.
Def Leppard - "The Def Leppard EP"
Def Leppard - "Photograph"
Def Leppard - "Animal"
Def Leppard - "Let's Get Rocked"
Def Leppard - "Slang"
Def Leppard - "Now"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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