Def Leppard, like many of their contemporaries in the bigger-is-better 1980s, started with only a small goal: to be the biggest band in the world. It's a close call because their peak coincided with the height of Bon Jovi's success and the arrival of Guns n' Roses, but it's fair to say that they achieved it at one point or another. They were the biggest rock band in America with Pyromania (1983); Hysteria went diamond (10x platinum) in the US and Canada en route to worldwide sales of around 17 million. Adrenalize in 1992 topped the US and UK charts on release, staying at number 1 for six weeks and memorably holding off Bruce Springsteen; in Japan and Mexico it became their most successful album. If you care about Leppard you'll already know all this but Def Leppard are comfortably my favourite band and these are statistics I draw a huge amount of satisfaction from repeating.
Def Leppard were the last truly great international hard rock band from the British tradition that gave us the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, the Sex Pistols, and Queen. Until then, Britain's rock & roll pedigree was peerless. No band since Def Leppard has kept up the streak of world-conquering British rock bands. People who see them as just another hair band should remember that. These no-nonsense working class Sheffielders were always too down-to-earth to go in for all that posturing and preening -- besides which, hair metal was both an American phrase and an American scene. Def Leppard's image played a big part in their success, but it was secondary to the music. Hysteria the album was four years in the making, but the photo shoot and videos were afterthoughts. Def Leppard were music fans first who were always very real with what they did. When you saw them on MTV, that was the real Def Leppard -- no glitzy stage names, no chasing the trend just to get big. They set the trend by making music they liked. America goes for working class heroes and they went for Leppard bigtime.
The Leps have also come in for much criticism for their work with Mutt Lange. "They were manufactured for success" claimed yet another ignoramus characterising them as the studio svengali's stooges who mindlessly did his bidding. This is not an accurate portrayal of events. Writing for Hysteria was initially done without Lange and many songs were nearing completion before he joined the project. An early demo of "Animal" on the Hysteria DVD shows how much of the song was the band's own idea. The truth is that Mutt Lange was not a boss but an equal. They recognised his huge gift for songwriting and they didn't let their egos stop them from using his ideas when they were good. That's not to say all of Lange's ideas got used; he was just made one-sixth of the Leppard equation, equal with the band. The truth is that any band could have employed Mutt to produce their records but most bands are too proud to admit that they can learn from someone more experienced than themselves. Def Leppard were prepared to take Mutt's advice and reaped the rewards. They should be praised for being canny enough to see the potential of this, not criticised. It does not lessen the enormity of Leppard's achievement in any way; it merely heightens it.
My point is that Def Leppard should be rock legends. I know I'm biased and a fan but get out Hysteria -- buy it if you don't have it -- and then tell me they aren't rock heroes. Don't get the greatest hits set Vault and then think there's no point in owning Hysteria. You'd be missing out on first single "Women", the epic "Gods of War", the fist-pumping "Don't Shoot Shotgun" and several other strong tracks. After listening to this magnificent opus, you can't tell me they aren't a great band. Then there is their legacy to music. With producer Mutt Lange they took intricately layered production and stacked vocal harmonies to new levels. They crossed over and appealed equally to pop and rock fans. As a result, today you can hear their sound in the music of everyone from Creed (who attended a recent NYC Def Leppard concert) and Three Doors Down, Simple Plan and The Darkness to the Backstreet Boys, not to mention Faith Hill or Shania. Then there's VH-1's Ultimate Albums: Pyromania special in which members of Lit and System of a Down rave about the greatness of Def Leppard. Oh, and have you ever seen a stage show with the band playing in the middle of the arena? Def Leppard were the first rock band to do that.
Oh, and, for better or worse, Def Leppard kicked open the door for both the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and the hair metal scene. By definition, you can't be "just another hairband" if you did it first.
That's all very well, you may say, but just because they were once great doesn't mean they still are. Well, to that I suggest that you give any of their last three albums a listen; they all have plenty to recommend them.
Best album: Their best album is definitely Hysteria. It's technically flawless, every song's a winner, and the production is Mutt Lange's finest hour -- this from a man with more 10 million selling albums to his name than you can shake an multi-layered, overdubbed vocal track at. It's superb. My favourite album is Adrenalize though, because it's so much fun, and it's a more straight-ahead rock album than Hysteria.
Official website: www.defleppard.com There are many great fan sites out there, and www.lephoo.com is a great guide to all of them.
Further reading: Def Leppard vs. Bon Jovi.
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