Def Leppard

Def Leppard

There are few bands that exemplified the 1980’s quite like Def Leppard. Their combination of pop and metal had its finger on the pulse of 80’s record buyers. The high-tech sound they pursued on their albums helped define pop-music recording techniques of the 80’s. They were also one of the first bands to take advantage of the possibilities of MTV by creating a string of videos that played up their good looks and youthful appeal to help sell their records. As a result, they became internationally successful and their sound and style set the tone for many future pop/metal acts.

Def Leppard got their start in the English town of Sheffield in 1977. They united over a mutual love of bands like T-Rex and Mott the Hoople and began to write songs that fused hard-rock riffs to pop-music hooks. The group made a successful independent EP which brought the attention of a record company. They released On Through The Night as they began to build a fan base in both the U.K. and the U.S. through touring. Their second album, High And Dry, became a Top-40 hit thanks to MTV frequently playing the video for “Bringing On The Heartache.”

In 1982, Def Leppard spent much of the year recording what would become their breakthrough album. The end result, Pyromania, perfected their mix of pop hooks and metal riffs. Songs like “Rock of Ages,” “Foolin” and “Photograph” mixed sweet harmonies and hard-rock swagger in a way that pleased pop fans and metalheads alike. The group’s videos took advantage of their good looks (along with some Dungeons & Dragons-like Medieval imagery on the ever-popular “Rock of Ages” video) and thus added teen appeal to the mix. Def Leppard embarked on successful world tour and Pyromania became one of the most internationally-successful albums of the year.

After a long break, Def Leppard reunited to record a new album but it woudn’t come easily. The task would ultimately take three years, a change of producers, and several aborted recordings before the band produced a finished album. During this time, drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car accident. However, he triumphed over his misfortune by learning to play a special set of electronic drums that used footpads to fill out his drum sound. The band also took advantage of the gap between albums to experiment with synthesizers and sampling techniques as they painstakingly pieced together their complex new songs.

Finally, Hysteria was released in the summer of 1987. Like Pyromania, it was a massive international success. The months spent in the studio paid off, resulting in a lush, high-tech album that smoothly blended cutting-edge rockers like “Animal” and “Armageddon It” with gorgeous ballads like “Hysteria” and “Love Bites.” There were also nifty surprises like the techno-styled “Animal,” which was successfully promoted in dance clubs through a 12-inch remix. All in all, Hysteria gave the band six consecutive Top-20 hits that kept them riding high on the charts for two years straight. Def Leppard followed their spectacular chart success with an equally successful international tour, an impressive spectacle that featured plenty of lights and lasers. Some of these shows were played ‘in the round,’ much to the delight of the fans. The band ultimately spent two years touring before returning to the recording studio.

Further tragedy struck Def Leppard when guitarist Steve Clark overdosed after years of drug and alcohol abuse. Carrying on as a foursome, the group released Adrenalize in 1992. “Let’s Get Rocked” became a #15 hit, and its video, which mixed a band performance with computer animation, became an MTV favorite. “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” was a trademark richly-harmonized ballad that also became a Top-20 hit.

After several years, it was time for a long hiatus, and the members of Def Leppard took a break to recharge and tackle individual projects. Although they played the occasional concert, they would be out of action until 1996. In the interim, they released Retro Active, a collection of rarities and B-sides, and Vault, a best-of album. The 1993 Arnold Schwarzenegger flick Last Action Hero also gave Def Lep a chance to show off their balladry on the soundtrack single “Two Steps Behind.” The song hit #12 on the charts, boosted by a memorable video filmed entirely backward (but with lead singer Joe Elliot still mouthing the words in forward motion).

The group returned in 1996 with Slang, which stripped down the group’s trademark big sound to experiment with new styles. For instance, “Truth” toyed with an industrial sound, while the album’s title track was surprisingly r&b-flavored.

As the 90’s closed, Def Leppard released Euphoria, an album that hearkened back to the ‘big sound’ of classics like Pyromania and Hysteria. More albums followed, including a collection of cover songs called Yeah! in 2006. It would become the tenth consecutive Top-20 album for the band. Songs From the Sparkle Lounge was released in 2008 and featured country star Tim McGraw on the first single, “Nine Lives” which he co-wrote. The band would later share the stage with another country big-name, Taylor Swift. And, as of this writing, the band still tours extensively around the world, proving that they can still draw a respectable crowd of adoring fans all these years later, having never burned out, nor faded entirely away. Rock of ages, indeed.

If you consider yourself a fan of Def Leppard, we welcome any of your thoughts and recollections in our comments section below as we tip our hats to a classic rock band still going strong.

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