To say that Def Leppard have come a long way since getting together for their very first rehearsal in an old spoon factory in Sheffield England almost 30 years ago is a bit of an understatement. Since that fateful day, the band- Joe Elliott (vocals), Vivian Campbell (guitar), Phil Collen (guitar), Rick “Sav” Savage (bass) and Rick Allen (drums)- has launched countless sold-out tours across the globe and has racked up albums sales of over 65 million copies worldwide. Additionally, the band has received the prestigious Diamond Award (recognizing sales of over 10 million) for both their classic Hysteria and Pyromania albums.
Their first album On Through the Night was released in 1980. The band toured the world with the likes of with Pat Travers, Judas Priest, Ted Nugent, and on Joe Elliott’s 21st birthday Def Leppard played a show at the Palladium in New York City with AC/DC.
In 1981, Producer Robert John “Mutt’ Lange came aboard for album number two, High ‘N’ Dry and the band hit the road with Ozzy Osbourne and Blackfoot. A year later, when the guys were already recording the follow up, Pyromania, a new cable music channel called MTV started playing a live performance video of “Bringing on the Heartbreak”, a song from High ‘N Dry. The band had their first U.S. hit, and the album started selling like hotcakes in the U.S. (20 years later, the song would be covered by Mariah Carey).
In the middle of the year-long recording of Pyromania, Pete Willis left the band when his lifestyle began to affect his guitar playing. Phil Collen (from the London band, Girl) replaced him the next day. Upon the release of the album (and the video for the first single, “Photograph”), all hell broke loose! Radio stations everywhere in the world were playing Def Leppard. The album sold 100,000 copies a week for the better part of the year. They toured relentlessly and started to headline from there on out. If you didn’t have a Union Jack t-shirt in 1983, you weren’t cool.
During the recording of Hysteria the band suffered a major blow. On New Year’s Eve 1984, Rick Allen lost control of his car and was thrown from the vehicle. His left arm was severed. Just months after the tragedy, Rick taught himself to drum one-armed with the help of an electronic kit. Burnt out from recording (and several producer changes, after Mutt initially passed due to exhaustion), the band decided to play a few warm up shows. A triumphant performance at Castle Donnington in August of 1986 confirmed that Rick Allen could wail on his drums with every ounce of his energy and determination to keep Def Leppard’s show just as high voltage and rocking as before. Released in August 1987, Hysteria spawned 7 hit singles and became one of the best selling albums of all time. The band played 227 concerts in support of Hysteria, selling out arenas and stadiums around the world; and resulting in some of the most implausible tales of success and excess in rock & roll history!
In 1991, while in the midst of recording album number five, and after several aborted attempts in rehab, Steve Clark died at the age of 30 from a combination of alcohol and prescription drugs. Devastated, but determined to survive, the four surviving band members persevered. And in April of 1992, Adrenalize was released. That same month, the band asked Irishman Vivian Campbell (Dio, Whitesnake) to join them. Viv’s hazing began with the Freddie Mercury Tribute concert at Wembley Stadium, which was aired live around the world. Adrenalize debuted at #1 and remained in the top spot for 5 straight weeks. After another worldwide tour, the band returned home to Sheffield for a show at Don Valley stadium in front of a sold out crowd of 40,000 fans.
In 1994, Def Leppard started a new chapter with Vivian’s first time in the studio as a member of the band. The band recorded Slang in a house in Marbella, Spain. During the recording, their record label suggested releasing a greatest hits album. Vault is released in Oct 1995, followed by the aforementioned studio album, Slang, six months later. To promote the Vault collection, the band played “3 continents in a day”. They started the day with a set at midnight in Tangiers, Morocco; then flew to London for another hour-long acoustic set; and finished the day with a performance in Vancouver, BC. For their efforts that day, Def Leppard now has an official entry in the Guinness Book of World Records.
In 1999, Def Leppard was honored in the U.S. by the RIAA with the prestigious Diamond Award for their album Hysteria. The Diamond Award recognizes sales of over 10 million. “Hysteria” to date has sold over 18 million albums worldwide, bringing Def Leppard’s total career sales to an astounding 60 million, a feat not many bands and only a handful of British artists have been able to achieve (The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Elton John, Eric Clapton). Four years later, the band received their second Diamond Award for Pyromania making them one of only 5 rock bands in history to reach this plateau (the others are Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Van Halen and Led Zeppelin).
Def Leppard was one of the first bands to be featured on VH1’s popular TV series Behind the Music. In July 2001, VH1 featured the tragedies and triumphs of Def Leppard in movie form entitled “Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story”, which scored the highest ratings for VH1 among it’s 25-34 year old viewers.
X the tenth album, was released in 2002, and the band returned to the road to play scores of sold-out shows. The band’s album Vault has remained in the Top 100 of the Billboard Top 200/Top Catalogue Albums Chart since its release almost 10 years ago and continues to enjoy annual sales of nearly 500,000 copies. Their Platinum-certified second greatest hits collection, Rock Of Ages was released in May 2005.
Now, Def Leppard are getting back to where it all started for them with their twelfth studio album, Yeah!, a fourteen song celebration of the music that made Def Leppard want to become a band in the first place. The not-to-be missed collection includes the band’s take on classic tracks by the likes of Kinks, Badfinger, T. Rex, David Bowie, Sweet, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, Free, Faces, and Thin Lizzy among others.
“This is a documentation of where we came from,” explains Def Leppard frontman Joe Elliott. “This is the music all of us bought when we were between eleven and fourteen years old. These songs are in our DNA- this why we are what we are.”
Produced by the band themselves and recorded in Elliott’s Dublin home studio over the course of 2004, the album pays tribute to the band’s heroes while remaining unmistakably Def Leppard.
“This is an album we just had to get out of our systems,” says guitarist Phil Collen. “We’d all been touched by this era and genre of music where the artists had a powerful image and theatrics, but also great fucking songs.”
The album marks a return to the band’s roots in more ways than one too. For the Yeah! recording sessions, the band eschewed the heavily layered, direct-to-digital recording process that has helped to define their trademark sound over the years, and instead recorded the tracks in much the same way as the original artists probably did.
“We really wanted to capture the spirit of the original tracks,” Collen explains, “so Vivian and I played live in the same room with each other through mic-ed up guitar amps instead of running the guitars direct as we normally do,”
The band was particular in their song selection as well, avoiding the obvious choices in favor of their personal favorites.
“You could take yourself to Waterloo Bridge listening to the Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset,” Elliott recalls fondly. “I had The Best of the Kinks when I was ten years old and Phil grew up right near Waterloo Bridge, so that track really meant a lot to us.”
“And if we were gonna do Bowie, we didn’t want to do ‘Gene Genie’ or ‘Ziggy Stardust.’ And if we were gonna do the Kinks, we didn’t want to just do ‘You Really Got Me,'” Collen adds. “We really wanted to do something different and make it our own.”
The album also features rare lead vocals courtesy of Collen on the Faces classic “Stay With Me.”
“It was a blast to sing that song, though I fucked up my throat,” Collen says with a laugh. “I’ve got a raspy voice so Joe suggested it.”
Not surprisingly, Great Britain’s premiere arena rock band will celebrate the release of “Yeah!” by getting back to doing what they do best with a world tour that kicks off in Italy on June 3rd. Def Leppard will invade the states starting on June 23 at Camden, New Jersey’s Tweeter Center for a summer-long tour with fellow arena rock legends Journey.
Prepare yourself to get rocked.