The Story Of Def Leppard's PYROMANIA Album (Released 35 Years Ago)
Def Leppard released their classic third studio album Pyromania 35 years ago on this day in 1983.
The band's third studio album had been released on 20th January 1983 in North America and Canada and soon after in the rest of the world.
It reached Number Two on the Billboard Top 200 chart in May 1983 spending two weeks there and eventually sold over 10 million copies around the world. The album sold over 7 million copies in the USA by late 1988 and by 2004 had sold over 10 million earning the band its second Diamond award.
The success of the album was helped by the three singles -, and which all reached the Top 20 or 30 on the Hot 100 singles chart between May and November 1983.
Just under ten years later the album would achieve Diamond status with 10 million sales in July 2004. Their second Diamond Award after 'Hysteria'.
The making of the album began in January 1982 when the band commenced songwriting sessions in Sheffield before meeting up with producer Mutt Lange in London. Unlike the 'High 'n' Dry' album before it, Mutt became a sixth member of the band for the songwriting and arranging on 'Pyromania'.
The recording would begin under a cloud as the band's managers were involved in a legal dispute with the Leber-Krebs company. The band were also heading into major debt of almost £1 million as recording costs spiralled.
Joe also suffered vocal problems during the recording sessions in addition to technical issues. By July 1982 things got worse when original guitarist Pete Willis forced the band into firing him. Fortunately at the same time the band recruited Phil Collen who had recently left Girl and the year long recording sessions would be completed by December 1982.
The end result was their best album to date which would end up selling over six million copies in the USA during 1983. It defined a new era for hard rock bands and was copied by many artists including Bon Jovi and Ratt. Mutt introduced a new electronic snare drum sound that would become the band's trademark over the new few years.
Two old song ideas resurfaced on the album. The first was the main riff and intro section of 'Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)' which were taken from the 1980 song 'Medicine Man'. A track that was performed live for much of the 1980 'On Through The Night' tour.
The second was 'Too Late For Love' which was a reworking of the live song 'This Ship Sails Tonight' which the band had debuted on the December 1980 club tour of England. 'Die Hard The Hunter's main riff was written in 1980 during the band's debut US tour.
'Rock Of Ages' contained some extra hidden parts buried in its mid-section. The backwards vocals included Joe saying "Suck it" and two lines jokingly aimed at the then Russian president Leonid Brezhnev and the Cold War attitudes of the time. "F**k the Russians" and 'Brezhnev's got herpes' were both embedded in the middle before the guitar solo. Brezhnev died in November 1982 after these parts were recorded but they were left in.
Read the band and Mutt Lange's story of how the album was made taken from the 1987 Animal Instinct biography book. With contributions from then co-managers Peter Mensch and Cliff Burnstein.
Joe Elliott 1983 Interview Quotes
"On Pyromania, Mutt was able to give us his undivided attention. We did a lot of the songs live in the studio, and we kept the overdubs to a bare minimum. What you hear on the record is exactly what we played."
"This album really shows what we're capable of doing. It's a very solid rock and roll LP, but we've been able to incorporate a lot of melody into each song...a little melody isn't going to hurt anybody."
US MTV started playing the High 'n' Dry music videos including 'Bringin' On The Heartbreak' which resulted in extra sales for the album and it re-entered the Billboard Top 200 chart on 25th September 1982. The album was certified Gold on 17th December and the money helped to fund the Pyromania album.
1987 Animal Instinct Biography Quotes
Cliff Burnstein - "The High 'n' Dry album was already history on the charts, But then MTV started playing Bringin' On The Heartbreak. Slowly but surely, we started getting sales reports on the record and it started selling about 5,000 copies a week, which was enough to get it back on the charts. This was a whole new ball game. Before Pyromania came out, High 'n' Dry had gone gold."
Co-managers Cliff Burnstein and Peter Mensch managed Def Leppard from late 1979 to early 1982 whilst working for Leber-Krebs management. Following a legal dispute Cliff was fired and Peter quit.
"Burnstein declared war, threatening to sue Leber-Krebs if the company did not cure its breach of contract. Krebs replied by firing Burnstein on April Fool's Day. Mensch resigned immediately. The unemployed duo then went to Leppard, (Michael) Schenker and Scorpions and gave them a choice - work for us or stay with Leber-Krebs. Schenker and Scorpions elected to stay with the company. Leppard, without hesitation, told Cliff and Peter "Right, where do we sign?."
"Unfortunately, Mensch and Burnstein now managed a band with essentially no income. The pair also had a major lawsuit on their hands. As the band's bank balance plunged into the red - to the tune of nearly $700,000 - Mensch borrowed money from his father and from Burnstein to keep the band fed during the recording of Pyromania. The band's merchandising firm , Brockum in New York, also fronted Def Leppard $100,000 to keep fiscal disaster at bay."
"Thus is was crucial for Mutt and the band to get a quality record, at least three tracks deep in hit singles, out as soon as reasonably possible. Of course, they did nothing of the sort. Pyromania was loaded with hits. It became the model by which future hard-rock chart bands would be judged. But recording it seemed to take forever."
"Forever started in January '82 in the Sheffield paper factory where Leppard had previously cooked up the for High 'n' Dry. This time, however, instead of writing songs that Mutt Lange would dismantle anyway, the band concentrated on developing parts of songs - knockout riffs, drop-dead choruses and soaring bridges which Mutt and Leppard could stitch together into song form later on. Mutt subsequently received co-writing credits of all ten Pyromania tracks."
"We gave Mutt songwriting credits because this time he actually helped us structure the songs, says Joe. "They weren't written songs that he changed. He sat down with us as a sixth member of the band and participated in the whole thing."
"Several Pyromania songs have rather interesting histories. Rock Of Ages was a song without a chorus until one day, during recording, Joe spotted an open hymn book laying on a nearby organ. Right there in front of him was the old hymn Rock Of Ages (Cleft for me, etc etc). He tried singing it over the melody. It sounded perfect. He tested it on Mutt, who said "Yeah!"."
"Too Late For Love had no words at all until Joe trotted out an old set of lyrics left over from an ancient Leppard stage number called This Ship Sails Tonight. Ship had been a staple of the band's disastrous pre High 'n' Dry winter club tour but had never made it to vinyl. Joe had used the words from Ship with another melody for about five shows., then ditched the lot. But they fitted nicely with Too Late For Love, which is where they stayed."
"The basic riff for Die Hard The Hunter was written on the Leppard tour bus during the 1980 US tour. Although commonly thought to be an Elliott salute to Mott The Hoople's Ian Hunter. Joe says the title was inspired by The Deer Hunter, the acclaimed 1978 film about the tragic physical and spiritual costs of America's military involvement in Vietnam. "I was going through a period when I wanted to write about something other than sex, drugs, women backstage and Jack Daniels. I wanted to deal with a serious subject that I didn't necessarily have to be a big expert on. I didn't want to write about the Falkland Islands war because that would have been too mercenary, cashing in on a current event. But I'd already written Billy's Got A Gun for the album, a kind of Death Wish scene, a real New York subway song about a guy that fell into bad company and turned into a troublemaker."
"I wanted to do something similar, but with a different setting. And I though an interesting twist would a be a song about a guy who come home from war and can't adjust to civilisation. Lo and behold, three months after the album was released, Sylvester Stallone came out with the first Rambo movie, First Blood."
While Stallone was making First Blood, Leppard had been sweating blood at London's Park Gate Studios [actually in Battle, Sussex], where they laid the basic instrumental beds for Pyromania, and at Mutt's home away from home, Battery Studios. Mutt's finely tuned hearing and almost obsessive attentiveness to the slightest sonic detail not only made progress slow; it was hard for outsiders to detect any progress at all. After a late-night session, Mutt would often pop into Peter Mensch's house - a short drive from Battery - and play tapes the evening's accomplishments. "Mutt would come in and say 'Listen to what we did tonight' - and three more words would be added to a vocal. It got to a point where I'd keep listening to these tapes and I couldn't tell what was there and what was missing."
After a while even Mutt's ears were beginning to deceive him. "We were going deaf," he confesses. "We were singing a semi-tone sharp, our ears would get tired and we couldn't hear the bass any more. We watched Elton John on Top Of The Pops one night and he sounded really out of tune."
A considerable chunk of the album itself, they soon discovered, was also out of tune. Unlike High 'n' Dry, where Sav's bass was the last instrument to be recorded, it was the first to be cut on Pyromania. That posed a unique problem. Wherever Sav's playing wavered in pitch, the guitars laid on top had to be retuned to match him. If Sav went sharp, every one of the guitars on top went with him. Not surprisingly, when it was time for Leppard to put down the backing vocals, they discovered to their horror, that the guitars were a little out of tune. It was too late to redo them all, so they were put through a harmoniser (an electronic device that approximates a choral effect) to cover the bum notes.
Tempers flared on both sides of the console. Rick Allen remembers one agonising day laying down four bars' worth of cymbal overdubs at Battery. "Mutt's voice would come over the intercom after every take, going 'The timing is brilliant, but the vibe isn't there' or 'The vibe's great, but you haven't quite got the feel.' I was thinking, hang on a minute. I'm only playing four bars."
"I had done this one particular take and Mutt just sat in the control room listening to the tape, analising it for what seemed like ten minutes. I sat there in the studio, wondering what I was supposed to do. So I decided to try and attract his attention. I said 'Mutt? Why don't you play it to me and I'll have a listen, see what I think about it?' He turned around to me and said 'When I want your opinion, I'll ask for it'. Well, I had this handful of drumsticks and they went flying towards the control room window. He did apologise to me after that, though. He knew he was out of line for saying that."
Sav's bass was next. It only took the testing of about fifty different amplifiers to get an acceptable bass sound. The Peavey amp Sav ended up with did a yeoman job for the entire album and then, fittingly, blew up at the end of the sessions.
Then came Steve Clark and Peter Willis' guitars. Something as simple as the key a particular song was in could have Mutt pulling his hair out. "Let's take Billy's Got A Gun. That big orchestral riff is in C, which is a really balls-less key. But the riff only sounded good in C, so we couldn't move it out of there. In order to get a good, cutting sound and still keep the bottom end nice and fat, we had to work on the sound in stages."
That meant, in some cases, working on only one guitar string at a time.
"We'd get a powerful sound with a lot of attack on one string. Then we'd set up a clean harmony on a lower one. After that, we could cut the exact same riff on those strings with a more honky sound to get a solid mid-range. Then we'd do the same riff a third time to get a real booming sound down below. And that would be one guitar - three weeks later."
To be sure, the combustible commerciality of the songs made it that much harder for Mutt and the band to say "enough's enough". Nothing could be left to chance. Ironically, their diligence cost them quite a bit of sound quality in the end. There were so many overdubs, so much winding and rewinding of tape, that the oxide started coming off the tape to the point where Mutt could actually see through it. Rewinding the tape also meant a significant loss of high end in the final mixes.
More alarming was Joe's vocal condition. He recorded his vocal parts in no less than six studios, working on different lines on different days in different studios. After finishing only two songs, his voice was in shreds.
"Screaming things like Stagefright is not a natural way to sing. It would tear my throat up. I'd come in one day to sing normally and leave that evening sounding like Tom Waits.
"He didn't want to be beaten," Mutt says in admiration. "He wanted to carry on even when his throat was stripped raw. But you're not dealing with a guitar string you can change." On Mutt's advice, Joe took voice lessons from his ex-wife Stevie Lange, a talented and well-known session singer. She taught him different ways of vocal confidence. Upon his return, Joe knocked out the entire vocal to Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop) in two hours. That was a good one for me," he insists. "because I could see that I could still do it."
Pete Willis Fired - July 1982
The last straw came the morning Pete stumbled into the studio to record his solo for Stagefright. He was, in Mutt's words. "pissed as a skunk, I could smell it when he walked in. But he was trying not to act like he was drunk. I thought it was funny at first. When he tried to play his solo, I said 'Okay, Pete, here we go' and it was just plink-dah-plink-da-da-plink. He'd try it again - same vibe. He could hardly hit the string right. Finally, for his sake, more than mine, I just chewed him out. I told him 'Go home and don't even show your face in the studio again until you really know your stuff'."
Pete Willis never showed his face in a studio - or on stage - with Def Leppard again.
Phil Collen Joins Band - July 1982
Phil received tapes of a few unfinished Pyromania tracks and was asked to cook up some solo ideas for them One of the songs, ironically, was Stagefright, which had already been Pete Willis' undoing. The day after his first meeting with Def Leppard, Phil arrived at Battery Studios and told producer Mutt Lange that he'd worked up a little something for Stagefright. Phil played the solo for Mutt, cut it in one take and dropped in a couple of extra notes on another go-round. That was it; Phil Collen was a member of Def Leppard. By the time Pyromania was released, it included four other Phil Collen solos on Rock Of Ages, Photograph, Foolin' and Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop). He also added rhythm tracks and a few feedback wails on every track except Too Late For Love to which he also contributed backing vocals.
Phil proved to be invaluable in another way. As Joe put it "He totally brought Steve out of his shell. He was always a very shy guy. And he still is on his own to a certain extent. But he's a lot more lively now that Phil's around. He's definitely brought Steve on by leaps and bounds."
Huge Debt/Finishing And Mixing The Album
Recruiting Phil solved only one of Leppard's three big headaches. There was still the problem of the band's increasing debt, thanks to mounting recording costs and the Burnstein-Mensch suit against Leber-Krebs. There was also the small matter of Pyromania itself, which was still months from completion. According to Cliff's arithmetic, Def Leppard were £750,000 in the hole. The band would have to sell over a million copies of Pyromania just to break even. Joe and the boys frequently arrived at Peter's house in London after recording sessions for grilled-cheese and peanut butter sandwich dinners because there was no money for anything more extravagant.
Fortunately, in September, Cliff and Peter settled with Leber Krebs out of court. Leber-Krebs paid Peter £300,000 for his work with AC/DC, a welcome windfall for the financially strapped Leppard. Cliff and Peter also swapped their interest in the Scorpions to Leber-Krebs for complete control of Def Leppard's affairs. "We swapped a current, Peter says, "for a future."
In the meantime, Mutt Lange, slaved away over a hot console on overdubbing and mixing for Pyromania. Young keyboard wiz Thomas Dolby provided discreet but effective synthesizer parts on several tracks, although he was actually credited as Booker T. Boffin on the album jacket. While using a pseudonym was Dolby's idea, the end result was a Mutt Lange-Peter Mensch collaboration.
"Mutt used to call Dolby 'Book-A-Boffin,' a in rent-a-boffin'." explains Peter. "So I took to calling him Booker T. Boffin, as in Booker T. and the MGs. And that's how he got credited on the album."
In classic Leppard fashion, Mutt mixed the album right down to the wire. The original plan was for the album to be released in time for the Christmas rush. The day before deadline, Mutt still had two tracks to go. Stagefright and Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop).
"I was really tired and pissed off," Mutt admits. "I was told we had to send those tracks off on the Concorde to New York the next day. So I worked right through the night with Nigel Green, because Mike Shipley had passed out again."
But while they were mixing Rock! Rock!, Mutt and Nigel discovered that because of edits on the master tape, some of the handclaps were out of sync. They had to bring everything back into proper rhythm using digital delays. That took all night. With an hour and a half left to go. Mutt and Nigel quickly mixed Stagefright. At one point, Mutt had to wake up Nigel, who had dozed off at the board. They had just finished when the phone rang. it was Cliff Burnstein: "Don't worry, guys, the album's been pushed back to January. At least they got us to finish the thing, though."
There were a few grumbles in the Leppard camp about some of the mixes on Pyromania. Joe was unhappy about the way Photograph and Stagefright had turned out, considering the whole year the band had spent making the album.
Burnstein, however, was so sure of Pyromania's musical and commercial merits that he started the promotional buzz going before Mutt had even finished mixing. He hit the phones with a vengeance, spreading the word among key record company personnel and radio contacts in the US. He also took a few of Mutt's rough mixes back to New York with him after a brief visit to London in the fall.
"I was not supposed to do this, but a Mutt Lange rough mix is beyond what everybody else does with a final mix anyway. What I'd do is got out to dinner with someone from the record company and say 'I got a tape I'd like to play for you.' We'd go back to that person's house and I'd play a few tracks from the album. They'd go crazy - and I'd take it away. But A didn't know I was playing to for B, who didn't know I was playing it for C. Meanwhile, people would go back to their offices, get on the phones and say 'I tell ya, I have it on the highest authority that this Def Leppard album is incredible.' I started this whole buzz going with everybody talking to everybody and nobody knowing where it came from."
'Pyromania' Album Title Origin - Joe Elliott 1992 Quote
"Pyromania got titled Pyromania because a guy called Craig Thomson, who was an engineer on it accused us of being PYROMANIACS because we were having such a bad time trying to get the Marshalls to sound good on the Pyromania album."
"At one stage Steve and Mutt suggested we should take them into the garden and burn them. Craig piped up in a brilliant broad Scottish accent."
"Arck you're awl just a bunch of Pyromaniacs! - and hence it became Pyromania. That is where that album name came from, pure accident. That is outside input of a sort but on a definite inside trait and definitely not 'I've got an idea for the album' sort of thing."
Joe Elliott - 'Pyromania' Postcards from 'Work It Out' Single 1996
"Goodbye Pete Willis, hello Phil Collen."
"We decided to try and do something that no other rock band had tried before - blueprint "Sgt. Pepper" (but a bit heavier)."
"A period of time when we allowed our Pop sensibility to come to the fore...and guess what? Our first major success...huge in the U.S....but nowhere else."
1987 Animal Instinct Biography Quotes
"With Pyromania, the Def Leppard Admiration Society increased its membership by the multi-millions. By September 1983, Pyromania had sold four million copies, becoming the biggest-selling non-soundtrack LP in their record companies history."
"Notably, cassette sales of the album were outstripping record sales three-to-two. Fans were obviously buying Pyromania tapes to play on their car stereos, confirming that the album was great teenage cruising music."
Watch all the Pyromania album promo videos on this
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