Def Leppard vs. Bon Jovi
The topic so controversial, it's banned from many
"When we had Pyromania, everyone was copying us… Bon Jovi, they were all doing a karaoke version of it." Phil Collen speaks to Guitarist magazine, 2002.
HOW THEY STACK UP:
Def Leppard Bon Jovi
Album sales: 46 million 93 million
US Top 40 hits: 15 17
UK Top 40 hits: 21 27
Gimmick factor: One-armed drummer "Blood on Blood" image; pretty boy lead singer
Year of debut album: 1980 1984
Nationality: British American
Mention Bon Jovi in a Def Leppard message board and the response will be so crazy that eventually the moderator will close the thread. Bon Jovi fans don't go as nuts. They get a bit cagey, tell you that Def Leppard are mediocre '80s has-beens, and then drop the subject, hoping it will go away. The rivalry between Def Leppard and Bon Jovi is not just a creation of their fans or the media; it really exists. Phil Collen is forever saying things like the above quote, such as a radio interview where, when asked what band he felt had copied Def Leppard, he responded, "I can't tell you because we're friends with them." That kind of sums it up; it's a serious rivalry, yet one between friends.
The reason for the rivalry is that the line between them is so obvious. Sound-wise, the similarity is undeniable; any open-minded person who likes one of them should enjoy the other. They both were at their commercial peak from 1987-1990. They both were leaders of the hair metal genre who, unlike the rest, survived into the '90s. Most importantly of all, they are, and have always been, on the same record label, leading to intense scrutiny from fans about who is favoured more by the record company with promotion and such.
The reason for the rivalry is simple: Bon Jovi have been and continue to be more successful than Def Leppard, but, and this is fact, Bon Jovi owe their sound to Def Leppard. Even his egoness Jon Bon Jovi has admitted it. Rolling Stone writer David Fricke observed that, in the gap between Pyromania and Hysteria, "Heavy-melody bands like Bon Jovi were practically minting money with stadium rock mix of Top 40 hooks and glam metal crunch that sold six million copies of Pyromania. They hadn't just copped Leppard's action, they'd Xeroxed the sound." This irritates Def Leppard fans no end. It just doesn't seem right that Def Leppard could invent a sound with Mutt Lange and then have Bon Jovi sweep in and take all the glory. Okay, so Def Leppard aren't exactly starving artists, but they've put out more albums than Bon Jovi and sold half the amount, getting in recent years virtually no promotion in comparison to Bon Jovi. Bon Jovi fans aren't too eager to discuss it. Those old enough to remember 1983 can barely deny that every rock band in America wanted to be Def Leppard and Bon Jovi was one of them, but no fan is going to admit that their heroes are following someone else's glory.
One critical difference between Bon Jovi and Def Leppard is their nationality. Def Leppard, with their Yorkshire accents, were able to play a little on American Anglophilia. Bon Jovi, however, are American, and that is a massive advantage in the extremely patriotic United States. Americans love their heroes; they love rags-to-riches stories of Americans who made it great and are living the American Dream. Bon Jovi have made the transition to American heroes. For Def Leppard, well, there is no such thing as the British Dream for them to live, and the British public don't support their home-grown bands like their American counterparts do.
At one time, however, Lep and Jovi were on essentially level terms. Slippery When Wet and Hysteria sold almost exactly the same numbers in the US, both certifying 12x platinum. As time went by, however, the distance between them grew. What happened?
"We've never had an A&R man unless we've actually gone to them and asked them to sort something out for us," explains Joe Elliott. "Mutt always used to say, 'Keep those people away from you, they'll just destroy you. They'll kill your soul and try to tell you what they want." All very well in 1989 when Def Leppard were cool, more popular than a supermodel at an all-boys' boarding school, and enjoying seven hit singles. Not so good in 1999 when the whole world is against you. Besides which, no one needs an A&R man when they've got Mutt Lange. Mutt is a music industry supremo. He knows a hit single a mile off, is one of the best producers in the business, and knows how to market a band. Mutt started pulling out of the Leppard project after Hysteria, though, because the album was the masterpiece that realised the full potential of the Lange-Leppard partnership. While he was in contact with the band through Adrenalize to give input on the songs, Leppard weren't the same proposition without the unique relationship they had with Mutt. Bon Jovi's Keep the Faith and Lep's Adrenalize both surfaced in 1992, an extremely bad year for the '80s rock bands, who were all dropping like flies. Initially, Adrenalize outsold Faith in the US, going triple platinum to Jovi's double. Worldwide, however, Keep the Faith annihilated Adrenalize and set Bon Jovi up for a decade of continued prominence. The consciously dumb humour of "Let's Get Rocked" and "Make Love Like a Man" from Def Leppard yielded hits at the time but did them no favours in the long run, with critics, particularly in America, interpreting the band's wit as outmoded and clichéd rock sexism. Bon Jovi had completely changed their sound and image in tune with the '90s. Def Leppard's hair was bigger than ever and their album was their slickest slice of pop-metal yet. For the first time, Def Leppard looked out of date; it was an image they would never shake.
Since then, Bon Jovi have made a series of very smart moves and Def Leppard a series of major miscalculations. Leppard's management Q-Prime had taken on the Red Hot Chili Peppers, forcing the Leps to play second-fiddle. Bon Jovi, on the other hand, set up their own management company dedicated exclusively to the interests of the band and its members' solo projects. The mid-nineties proved a critical time for both bands, when their brand of '80s rock was at its most reviled. Bon Jovi's "These Days" was stripped down, lyrically less hopeful, and musically mellower, but essentially true to the Bon Jovi that had begun to emerge with Keep the Faith. Bon Jovi had learned exactly how to evolve their sound without alienating their fans. Leppard figured that anything they put out in the '90s would bomb, so they put out Slang, an album which was influenced more by grunge, industrial, and R'n'B as any past Def Leppard. They were just following trends; they were equally seeking to explore new creative avenues and distance themselves from the sound of their lesser imitators. The grunge crowd didn't buy it, of course, and many of their core fanbase felt betrayed by the sudden change. Def Leppard were proving themselves to be excellent musicians but useless marketers. Adrenalize had misjudged the rock audience at large, while Slang misjudged their own fans.
With Crush, Bon Jovi found themselves with another multi-platinum album in the USA. Def Leppard's Euphoria, meanwhile, had been a conscious effort to regain the fans put off by Slang. The album failed to crossover to the mainstream, and sold less worldwide than Crush did in the USA. They tried another radical rethink and came out as Def Leppard, pop/rock band in 2002 with X. With far more promotion than Euphoria, the album nevertheless sold more slowly. It seems that they yet again misjudged their core audience's taste. Def Leppard fans feel frustrated and not without reason; Lep were there first and have continued to put out fine albums. When it comes down to it, though, Bon Jovi have made all the right moves to keep themselves on top. Of course, all of this neatly ignores that fact that, sorry Jovi, Def Leppard's last three records crap all over Bonj's most recent trio. But this is hardly a consolation for Leppard fans.
Jon Bon Jovi's looks and acting career, Richie Sambora's guitar hero status (and high-profile marriage to Heather Locklear), and the band's appearances at movie premieres all mean that their star status extends beyond just music. Def Leppard, on the other hand, keep themselves to themselves and only surface to release an album. Back in the '80s, they got a good deal of attention for having a one-armed drummer too. It's not like they tried to cash in on it, but that's how it worked out. These days, the very same thing is used by their detractors as ammo for cheap jokes. And, good intentions or otherwise, let's not forget that appearances at September 11th concerts have done nothing to harm Bon Jovi's desired image as American heroes.
Sorry Lep; sometimes life just ain't fair.
Articles Like this article? Discuss it in the forum!