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Def Leppard Tour History Fan Archive.

The Story Behind The Album - Def Leppard 'Hysteria'




Hysteria 1987.




The mysteria of 'Hysteria' By Michael Heatley

"If money was the motive we'd be churning out albums every three months, not spending nearly three years and two million quid recording one. That's how much we cared. Off the back of 'Pyromania' we could've put out 45 minutes of geese farts and it would have sold." Joe Elliott, 1989

Missed deadlines are something that musicians and journalists have in common - so the reason Def Leppard's screamer-in-chief came up with for the late delivery of their magnum opus 'Hysteria' cuts as little ice one decade on as "my hard disc crashed" or "it must've got lost in the email."

Yet wind the clock back those ten years and it becomes apparent that few albums, let alone classics, are dogged by as much ill-luck, mismatches and false starts as Leppard endured between January 1984, when pre-production commenced in the band's adopted home town of Dublin, and their previous album, 1983's 'Pyromania', had been enough to send them off to the Emerald Isle as tax exiles and, as Joe Elliott has already hinted none too subtly, they'd set themselves up for a major pay-day.

Yet despite mumps, car crashes, producer problems and songwriting hassles, they still emerged with the album you'd put on today to introduce unbelievers to the might and majesty of one of Sheffield's finest. And it's three years in the making are more than understandable when you take into account that, on New Year's Eve 1984, drummer Rick Allen was involved in a car crash that cruelly deprived him of his left arm. But when it comes to explaining why the album release was still two and a half years away, a medical emergency was only half the story...

The accident happened in the band's native Yorkshire as members took a Christmas break from recording at Wisseloord Studios in Hilversum, Holland, where Leppard had been holed up with Meat Loaf svengali Jim Sienman. Rick's accident wasn't the only severance to occur that December: Leppard decided their laison with the man who wrote 'Bat Out Of Hell' was somewhat less than heavenly, and ended the association. His extortation to "go ni there and put it down live" just wasn't the way they worked, and Joe later claimed their pairing was "a complete mismatch - ike going from a Rolls-Royce to a bicycle."

By the time Rick rejoined the ranks four months later courtesy of a specially adapted Simmons electronic kit, using his left foot to do the work of the missing left arm, recording had resumed with engineer Nigel Green.

"If we'd waited for Rick to get well," reasoned Joe. "we'd all have cracked up." But the products of this second session were to be consigned to the cutting room floor when the hero of the hour rode over the hill on his white charger - or maybe that should be Rolls-Royce. Either way, enter Mr Robert John 'Mutt' Lange.

In the time between their lasy Lange-helmed release and the album to come, the Leps would have to sit by and watch other pretenders lay claim to their crown. Most notable was Bon Jovi with 'Slippery When Wet', an album whose musical cues were arguably derived from 'Pyromania'. Teeth were gnashed, but efforts redoubled. Recalling the 'Hysteria' sessions with the late Roger Scott on Radio 1's Classic Albums show in 1989, Joe Elliott revealed the band's aim had been to recapture the commercial hooks of three songs - 'Photograph', 'Rock Of Ages' and 'Foolin'' - that had been the highlights of 'Pyromania'. But to do this required the band, and Lange - a supremely talented multi-instrumentalist in his own right - to go into songwiriting overdrive.

"It's natural for any act to have two, maybe three really good songs on an album," he reasoned, "and seven which are okay but make the other three stand out. We'd write the three good ones and the seven so-sos, then scrap the seven so-sos." They ended up writing 40 songs, four albums' worth of material, of which only 12 titles would see the light of day. Little wonder then that Elliott was always confident the album would do well.

Song ideas were kicked around between producer and band, the writing such a communal experience that credits were a five-way affair that included the producer in Allen's stead. Ironically, 'Women', the number that would kick off the finished album, had been around since their last encounter with Lange in Dublin and was among the first half-dozen songs written. It's staying power made it a popular live song - especially in the States, where it was the lead-off single.

'Love Bites' was another song to have hung around, though in its original form it rejoiced in the title 'I Wanna Be Your Hero' (refer to the 1993 out-takes collection 'Retro-Active' for the original).

It was re-worked after Lange started dishing out songwriting lessons and insisting on the music being built around Elliott's vocal line rather than "writing music and letting me scream over the top in whatever fashion I could muster."

By contrast, 'Pour Some Sugar On Me' was a last-minute addition after the final 11 songs had been selected and vocal overdubs were being completed. Joe had picked up an acoustic guitar while he waited for Lange to return from a toilet break and the producer, entranced, suggested laying down a demo track straight away.

"We put a fresh piece of tape onto the machine, then out this basic drum [machine] rhythm down like what Prince would use," Joe told Roger Scott. "Mutt played bass, then threw down a guitar, then we stood round the mic and did the chorus thing. We both thought we were onto a winner."

In an album whose creation took three years, that final track took just ten days from composition to completion - and would prove to be the single that broke America wide open. Released in May '88, when 'Hysteria' had already passed the three million mark, it made ideal cruisin' music. Its success accelerated sales of the album to a million copies a month, a rate it kept up for the rest of the year.

After all the trauma involved in getting to this point, Leppard were still treading on eggshells, regardless of their gang-style bravado. The turning point where it all suddenly started going right, where self-belief was fully restored, came during the recording of 'Animal'. The band wanted the vocal to be "really attention-grabbing" and, though Joe thought it would take some time to come up with a definitive performance, "I nailed it in two days - which, for me, is pretty damned quick. That was a very inspiring moment, one that gave us all the confidence we needed to carry on with the rest of the record."

Hysteria 1987.

'Hysteria' was the album where the twin-guitar pairing of Steve Clark, who'd been around since the band's formation in 1977, and Phil Collen really took off. The ex-Girl axeman had been recruited during the 'Pyromania' sessions to replace original guitarist Pete Willis, whose drink and drug problems had got the better of him. Ironically, drink and drugs would also prove increasingly problematic for Clark, who Elliott claimed had to be nursemaided through the recording of the album.

"I'm not saying I didn't play on the album, but I didn't really feel involved at all," Clark told Classic Rock's Mick Wall in 1988. Going on to suggest that Lange preferred using the teetotal Collen for most of the intricately layered guitar parts.

That said, Clark's contribution to 'Hysteria' when it could be heard, was substantial - in particular on tracks like the unashamedly Zeppelin-esque 'Gods Of War' (a natural successor to 'Pyromania's 'Billy's Got A Gun') with its Cold-War inspired lyric from Elliott: or, best of all, the Stonesy raunch of 'Armageddon It'.

At six minutes and 37 seconds, 'Gods Of War' was the joint longest track on an album that made good use of the recently popularised compact disc's increased capacity for music, weighing in at a mighty 62 and a half minutes.

But if 'Gods Of War' was serious stuff, the lyrics elsewhere were in more traditional, tongue-in-cheek mode, Not totally surprising when you consider this was a singer who idolised such esoteric songsmiths as Marc Bolan.

"A lot of our lyrics," Joe told me in 1996, "have been written purely as an extra instrument. You can't read them and expect them to mean anything." They just had to sound right.

That changed with 'Slang', the first Leppard album to include printed lyrics in its packaging. But 'Hysteria' hits like 'Armageddon It', 'Animal' and 'Pour Some Sugar On Me' featured nonsense lyrics concocted by Elliott and Lange. In a bizarre forerunner to the 'misheard lyrics' round of TV's Never Mind The Buzzcocks, the singer tried to interpret his producer's half0sung, half0grunted guide vocal with predictably unpredictable results. Joe: "I don't understand 'em - but they sounded good."

Though there was no question of Rick Allen's leaving the band unless he'd chosen to resign, it was a huge relief when he announced his return in the studios by playing Led Zeppelin's 'When The Levee Breaks' at maximum volume on his electronic kit. Suffice to say that certain grown men were seen to wipe away tears. His skills would be tested to the full by songs like 'Rocket', the inspiration for which came to Joe Elliott in a Dutch sauna. He heard a tape of African music decided the rhythms would make a great basis for a song - and again went to the Zeppelin well-spring for inspiration, modelling his creation on Page's epic 'Kashmir' riff.

Most fans were delighted the long-awaited album was a bumper 12-track effort. But on the basis that you could have too much of a good thing, Leppard opted to mark the end of a what would have been the vinyl version by whacking in a musical firework or two to wake people up. 'Don't Shoot Shotgun' - with Elliott at his most Jagger-esque - and 'Run Riot', with its 'School's Out'-inspired message of sheer mayhem, certainly packed a heft double punch.

After nearly 40 minutes of prime Lep, these tracks indicated there was still something lft at the bottom of this particular barrel to take the listener to a new level.

The final three tracks showed different facets of Leppard. The title song was very much a studio creation, an exercise in building up the chorus vocals into a call-and-response epic: Joe even invented a new word, 'mysteria'. It's a song that could never be fully reproduced on stage as the harmonies from Phil Collen and bassist Rick 'Sav' Savage were multi-tracked to an impossible degree. Still as Joe says: "On record you have the opportunity to create perfection - live, you go out to entertain." Even so, then Whitesnake bassist Rudy Sarzo initially thought they must be using tapes.

'Excitable' is the second Stones-inspired rocker, but more a 1980s Jagger-goes-disco type effort: though Joe claimed it was their attempt to mint a new 'Brown Sugar', it sounds more like the man's recent 'State Of Shock' duet with Michael Jackson. 'Love And Affection' was the only track on the album the singer would have cut again, given the chance. If you own the 12-inch or CD single of 'Hysteria', with a live version as one of the B-side bonus tracks, you have a better representation of what was intended.

He reckons it was arguably a mistake to put it as the album's final track, but that can be overlooked given that 25 other running orders had been considered and rejected.

Even when the finishing post was in sight, fate still had something up its sleeve for Def Leppard. Joe came down with the mumps in November 1986, which kept him in quarantine for over a fortnight. Three weeks after that, Lange was involved in a serious car smash while driving to the studio. But despite leg injuries, he was soon back at the console to finish the job.

Last to be done were a batch of B-sides, the recording of which was in total contrast to what had gone before. Rick Savage later desrcribed this last-minute process as "a great release to record everything in a day. We know there will be faults, but it's one of the attractions of us doing that - a different way of recording."

'Tear It Down' (the B-side of 'Animal') would become so popular as a live number it was re-recorded for 'Adrenalize' while 'Ride Into The Sun' ('Hysteria's' flip) was a re-cut of a track on the band's first ever home-produced EP.

Hysteria 1987.

Having finished the album, the problem remained, what to call it? For a long time, it was 'Paranoia' - quite a different emotion to 'Hysteria' - until someone pointed out its visual similarity to 'Pyromania'. While in Dublin, two pieces of paper had been stuck on the studio wall for 'Serious' and 'Stupid Album Titles'. Someone tore the top off the latter, leading 'Sir' Bob Geldof, who was paying a visit, to suggest that "'Album Title' is a good name for an album..." A long-time working title 'Animal Instincts', gave way to the final suggestion, thanks to Rick, who looked back to their first tour of the States in '83. At that point, rampant Lep-mania had necessitated many different tactics to avoid being torn limb from limb by hysterical fans. Ironically, the guy who'd suffered that very fate came up with the appropriate monicker - and doubtless hoped such scenes would be repeated.

The extended absence of the band from the live arena had certainly raised questions as to whether they'd be forgotten.

"We've been hurting to get out there," said Joe, "It doesn't feel like you're in a proper band unless you're out every night playing somewhere."

Whitesnake, Poison, Ratt, Motley Crue and of course Bon Jovi had been among many popluar thunder-stealers before the Hystouria, as they dubbed it, tour could ht the road. The first warm-up show was played a stone's throw from the recording studio in Tilburg, where 'Pyromania' had sold in hundreds in Holland rather than the millions - an ideal spot in which to debut their new set upfront of the official unveiling in Britain a few weeks later.

Happily, any remaining fears were banished mere months after the release when their 'in the round' stage set filled US ice rinks and basketball arenas to the gunwales. Getting to and from the stage by hunkering down in laindry baskets that were wheeled out through the audience as the lights went down (Joe and Steve in one, Sav and Phil in another, and Rick on his own in a third). Manager Peter Mensch came up with the concept of a centrally-placed stage - but only, legend has it, after a conventional set-up had been designed at a cost of $100,000. Whatever, it was a Hard Rock first, following in the footsteps of Yes, Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton and, with imaginative lighting and speakers suspended above the stage for optimum sound, produced a show unlike any other that year. (Checked out the 'In The Round-In Your Face' video - in many ways the visual counterpart to the album it promoted.)

It may have been destined for glory, but 'Hysteria' was far from an overnight hit - in America, at least. Which was in total contrast to previous experience, which showed American fans far keener to embrace them than the folks back home. "It was like starting from scratch," Joe admitted. "We'd kept the cult of 25 year-old males, but [in America] we'd lost the little girls. Now they're coming back."

This, as one reporter remarked at the time, ensured there were "boob tubes in among the beerguts and baseball caps" at each show!

The 1989 American Music Awards saw 'Hysteria' voted best Heavy Metal/Hard Rock album and Leppard Best Group in the same category, but the adulation was soon to be followed by tragedy. In December that year, Steve Clark was briefly institutionalised after being found lying comatose in a gutter in Minnesota, and though he'd play a part in the early sessions for the follow-up album, 'Adrenalize', was found dead from drink and drug related causes in January 1991. Whitesnake's Vivian Campbell filled the breach. Suffice to say, his first job was to learn 'Hysteria' by heart.

As it turned out, the mega success of the album would give the band quite another set of problems - how to follow up an album that defined, in style and content, most people's view of Def Leppard today. Joe Elliott was preaching the benefits of diversity when we spoke back in '96.

"I'm sure there's a few out there who want more of the same - but we need to be able to grow up, too. You're not still wearing the same clothes you wore when you were 18 and we don't want to be doing the same thing."

However, as we now know, he would soon change his tune. 1992's 'Adrenalize' may have been a transatlantic chart-topper like its predecessor, but without scaling the same creative heights, while out-takes, greatest hits and the occasionally grunge-flavoured 'Slang' - Leppard's belated attempt at reinvention - failed to match either the critical or commercial standards of their mid-'80s zenith.

The result: last summer's 'Euphoria', a virtual carbon copy of 'Hysteria' in all but one crucial respect: no 'Mutt' Lange. Or put another way: less truly great songs. But then, as Joe told our own Dave Ling: "Some people will say it sounds like 'Hysteria' or 'Pyromania' - it's supposed to! We've gone back to writing those classic rock songs, those harmonies. Some bands think harmonies are for poofs. What bollocks!"

The 15 million sales achievement of 'Hysteria' is unlikely to be eclipsed by any current rock band, let alone Leppard. Just as well it sold, really. With studio costs at 7000 pounds a week plus hotel and other bills, the expenses incurred in its production had run into seven figures. But as Joe laughingly insists with 20/20 vision, "It was money well spent, in hindsight - we recouped in three weeks!"

When Roger Scott asked Joe Elliott whether he thought 'Hysteria' would ever rank up there with something like Zeppelin's untitled fourth album, his answer was simple.

"Ask me in 2006."

Byt that time, enough time should have elapsed, he said, to make the 19-year-old comparison. I think we can put him out of his misery.

By Michael Heatley @ Classic Rock 2000.