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Def Leppard: A Musical Progression

deflepphoto.jpgAs Def Leppard continue to work on their next album, tentatively called Songs from the Sparkle Lounge , I thought it might be appropriate to take a look at the Leps career through the ages. When you mention Def Leppard to someone on the street, they usually get really animated and say "The band that sang that 'Sugar' song!" Indeed, Def Leppard recorded "Pour Some Sugar on Me" for Hysteria , but there are so many other songs - better songs - that provide a true representation of the band's career.

Way back in 1979, the young lads recorded the Def Leppard EP, including the three songs "Ride Into the Sun," "Gethca Rocks Off" and "The Overture." Studio musician Frank Noon played drums on this release, and Pete Willis played guitar (Phil Collen would replace him during the Pyromania sessions. Willis was fired from the band for alcohol abuse).

A record deal with Polygram came fast, and in 1980, the band released On Through the Night. That album included straight-up rock songs, including "Hello America." It's groovy in a late 70s, decade crossover sort of way.

Back in the day, rock bands had to record and tour constantly to gain a following. Just over a year later, Def Leppard released High and Dry. Like it's predecessor, High and Dry included hard rock anthems, like the masterful "Bringin' On the Heartbreak," "Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)" and the album's title track. Here's the video for "High n' Dry (Saturday Night).

A producer switch and massive commercial success came with Pyromania. Thanks to good looks, catchy riffs and MTV, the Brits were suddenly a household name. Most American households own a copy of Pyromania in some form. The album includes the overplayed "Photograph," "Rock of Ages" and "Stagefright." Here's the video for "Too Late for Love," my favorite Def Leppard song (other than, of course, "White Lightning").

After four years, raging alcohol abuse and drummer Rick Allen's horrific car accident that left him with only one arm, the band finally got together to release Hysteria. Just about everyone knows at least one song from Hysteria, and for good reason: the album is RIAA certified diamond, and that's a lot of units sold. The massive commercial success of Hysteria is thanks to singles like "Pour Some Sugar on Me," "Love Bites," and "Armageddon It." Here's the video for the album's title track.

After the seemingly never-ending "In the Round, In Your Face" world tour supporting Hysteria, the band went on a hiatus. During this hiatus, wonderfully talented guitarist Steve Clark drank himself to death (former Dio guitarist Vivian Campbell took his place in the band). Many critics say that when Clark died, so did the band. I think this is an unfair comparison. Yes, the height of the Leps commercial appeal came during Hysteria, but the music scene was changing as well. By the time Adrenalize was released in the early 1990s, grunge was gripping the music world. Adrenalize included "White Lightning," (a tribute to Clark), plus "Let's Get Rocked," and "Make Love Like a Man." Here's the video for "Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad."

Despite grunge and the loss of Clark, Adrenalize was a hit album, clutching the number one position on both U.S. and U.K. album charts (and sold around seven million units immediately after release). To follow-up on their success Def Leppard released a B-sides collection, called Retro Active. This unique collection included "Two Steps Behind," from the film Last Action Hero, as well as "Ride into the Sun," and "Only After Dark." Here's the video for "Miss You In A Heartbeat," one of the Leps best ballads.

After Retro Active, came the greatest hits package Vault. By this time, the band was ready to experiment with a new sound to combat the grunge wave. In 1996, Def Leppard released Slang, a grittier version of pop metal. I remember that Eric bought me Slang the day it was released. He was a senior in high school then, and we hadn't been dating so long. I just made it pretty clear the first time he came over to my house that I was fanatical over Aerosmith and other bands, namely Def Leppard. So he produces Slang and I pop it in my stereo. I was impressed, even if critics didn't like it. The guitars were louder and crunchier and Joe Elliott's voice was raspier than I remembered. Slang includes the songs "All I Want Is Everything," "Breathe a Sigh" and “Gift of Flesh." Here's the video for the album's title track.

While fans today complain that Def Leppard takes too long to record albums, I think the band is just enjoying a slower pace thanks to success. In 1999 Def Leppard released Euphoria. That album only spawned one hit single to speak of, "Promises."

After the semi- disappointing sales of Euphoria, the band tried again with X. I recently picked up X at a used record store for about five bucks. It's not bad, and I really like the postmodern concepts used in the video for "Now." The album also includes the songs "You're So Beautiful," "Cry" and "Girl Like You." Here's the aforementioned video for "Now."

The bands most recent release is Yeah! - an album of cover tunes. Critics and fans seem to really like Yeah!, but diehards are still clamoring for an album of all-new material. The boys covered "20th Century Boy," "Street Life" and "Waterloo Sunset." Here's the video for "Rock On" -- my favorite Def Leppard video in nearly a decade.

So, if you took the time to read this article and listen to the music, what are your thoughts on the Mighty Lep's musical progression? I hope Songs from the Sparkle Lounge see the band returning to their early rock roots, but only time will tell.

Reader Comments (17)

That was a good write up Allyson. I am a huge Def Leppard fan to...we'll just have to wait and see on the new album.

September 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenteraXe mAn
i love lepp's music except slang and the covers cd im so sick of covers, no more than 1 per cd. high and dry kicks ass, even though later cds are sugary there are some decent rockers and good songs on them people should give them a chance
September 2, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterglam rocker
I *love* Def Leppard, I saw them last year in LA. I personally like Pyromania the best, but I'd agree that they more recent albums still show artistic growth and are good in their own right.

September 2, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterChristian Graus
Believe it or not, I actually liked their covers album. Typically, I find those things boring, but Def Leppard went back to the songs they loved when they first got into rock n roll. Instead of doing covers of everyone else's favorites to sell more albums (like most bands do), they gave us a glimpse of their roots.

That being said, I really don't like much of their stuff after Hysteria and even that album is way too polished for me. While Mutt Lange helped them over the hump with songwriting on High and Dry and Pyromania, it was all down hill from there as they lost sense of who they were and became more concerned with record sales than good music. I can't believe that everyone didn't welcome grunge with open arms when a band as good DL was put out an album as bad as Adrenalize.
September 2, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterbob_vinyl
For me it's been downhill since Hysteria. I love the first four albums but Adrenalize was such a disappointment with White Lightning being the high point. Slang I felt was a bit of an ill-judged attempt to alter their sound for the changing musical tastes and X had too much pop oriented material. Euphoria was okay though - reviewed this at Rock Of Ages a while back and also caught the live show (maybe that helped?) - Paper Sun is one of their best songs ever.

Unlike Bob, I didn't take to the covers album that well as I thought the Kinks cover was awful although sitting here thinking about it I quite liked their take on Rock On and No Matter What so maybe I should dig it out again.

I live in hope that despite the title, Songs From The Sparkle Lounge will be a return to a rockier sound and a return to form.

September 3, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterBill
Good article, but no only they lose clark, they lose mutt lange that was the brain of the group. I hope the new albu, be a back hard rock and not the pop/ ballad boring sound of the last years. They are really one of the best hard rock bands of all time.
September 3, 2007 | Unregistered Commenterpingster
Nice writeup. Glad to see someone else who liked Slang, one of the most interesting entries in the Def Lep catalog. I hated X--might has well have been called The Ballad Album. I didn't know they were already working on a new one--looking forward to it.
September 3, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterJoe
I did a career review on Def Leppard a year ago at my site. The first 3 albums are classics but the band got poppier with Hysteria. I was 15 when Hysteria was released so I'm a fan of the album but, after years of wisdom, I barely reach for it anymore. Same with Adrenalize.....both are a little too processed. I thought Slang was good and Euphoria a solid "retro" album but their last studio album, X, was really good. It has quality material that has basically been ignored.

I have Yeah!, I even reviewed it, but I have no use for a covers album. They've toured twice promoting this and it just seems unnecessary. I'd rather hear new material, good or bad.
September 4, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterRhodeislandrock
December 5, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCLARKIE'S GIRL
I am huge Def Leppard fan. They are Freakin awesome. I would love to see them in concert again. P.S. They are all so cute.
December 26, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle Ortega
this band's an embarrasment, and went downhill after pyromania. the first three cds are excellent, but the rest is money-grubbing nonsense. all the leps ever cared about was their wallets and following trends.
February 10, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterbill
this is in response to bill's comment(made Feb 10 2008)Do you know the story behind the band? They all started the band so they wouldn't have to work in a factory in Sheffield, England anymore. Sav and Pete had a group together, but needed a lead singer. On a chance roadside meeting, Joe and Pete were talking and pete happened to mention they needed a lead singer. Joe, anxious to get in a band said, "well, I'll do it!" and the rest is NO, they are not money grubbing nonnies, they wanted to MAKE something of themselves, They have extremely great song writing capabilities. Most rockers just write a chorus, a guitar lick and then add some nonsense to fill in the verses. DL writes songs to show their roots, their feelings, their experiences. Joe wrote "Hello America" in the basement of a factory, he had to look at a map to make the cities rhyme! MTV is credited to their success because of video play time. They were young, and willing to launch themselves in the new direction of putting a face with the name that previous bands refused to do. These guys are the perfect example of friends trying to make it as rockers, because that is what they were BORN to do!! Rick Allen suffered the loss of his arm, and the band lost Steve Clark, I think that they are still THE BEST example of rock n' roll period. Long live Def Leppard!!
PS I have seen them six times in concert, and met them once. Perfect gentlemen, and outrageously them!!
sorry to post again, but bill, did you ever consider the fact that they KEEP writing music even though their records sales have dropped, they KEEP touring, and KEEP producing new stuff. Why would they do that if they were in it for the money? They obviously love what they do, and the money is just a bonus. I asked Joe when I met him if they didn't sell another record, would he keep writing...he said, "yes, I'll keep writing as long as their is music to write." i think he was refferring to the fact that he'll write until their is nothing left inside him to come out. The group will probably stay together until that day give them a chance. They are the real deal!
March 27, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjoeelliottroxmysox
April 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterANONAMOUS
I ve the song that are played by Def leppard and i wish i could meet them or atleast go to one of there concerts some time
April 17, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterANONOMOUS
Def Leppard is truly the greatest I've ever heard and they have done well from in their prime to now and above all else I was over joyed with the return of the thunder god but The riff master will be missed :(
April 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterStevewillbemissed
Really awesome writing. Truely!
May 27, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJulio Lacey

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