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35 Years Ago, Def Leppard’s Hysteria Lived Up to Its Name: Joe Elliott and Phil Collen Reflect

"We wanted to make something very different when we were doing it”

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    There have been a handful of highly-anticipated albums by renowned rock artists that took a long time to see the light of day. One of those that proved to be truly worth the wait (from both a commercial and artistic standpoint) was Def Leppard’s fourth album overall, Hysteria – selling 12 million copies in the US alone, topping the Billboard 200, and spawning six Top 20 singles.

    Several reasons can be pointed to for the four-year lag between Hysteria and its predecessor, Pyromania – among them, the album’s original producer not working out; having to wait for their preferred producer to become available; and most seriously, having to overcome a horrific accident to one of the band members.

    Hailing from Sheffield, England, Def Leppard’s first two albums (1980’s On Through the Night and 1981’s High ‘n’ Dry) helped build a worldwide following among headbangers. But it was on 1983’s Pyromania that the band (singer Joe Elliott, guitarists Steve Clark and Phil Collen, bassist Rick Savage, and drummer Rick Allen) became one of rock’s top acts. With super-producer Mutt Lange helping the group hone their sound, Pyromania went multi-platinum, spawned several hit singles and videos (“Photograph,” “Rock of Ages,” and “Foolin’”), and made them an arena headliner.

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    When the tour in support of Pyromania wound down in February of 1984, work soon began on a follow-up. However, with Lange not available at the time, Def Leppard opted to enlist Jim Steinman — best known for writing Meat Loaf’s classic Bat Out of Hell album — as the producer of “album #4.” Things didn’t go so well. “It was a mismatch, sadly,” recalled Elliott in the exclusive video interview with Heavy Consequence above. “He’s great at what he does, but we weren’t one of the artists that it was ever going to work with.”

    “It didn’t work at all,” added Collen in the same interview. “[The songs] just sounded terrible. He didn’t really get how we were working. It just sounded ordinary and flat. It wasn’t until Mutt came back into the fold that they started coming alive, really. Some of the songs we wrote with Mutt initially we tried to record with Jim Steinman, and they just didn’t sound as good as the demos. So it was like, ‘This is not working’.”

    A total of three recording studios would ultimately be utilized for the recording of Hysteria — Wisseloord in Hilversum (in Holland), Windmill Lane in Dublin (in Ireland), and Studio Des Dames (in Paris). Collen recalled the band looking outside of just hard rock and heavy metal for inspiration: “There were elements of new wave, Prince is in there, Frankie Goes to Hollywood is in there. It’s all these different influences and they all came out. Most rock bands wouldn’t have done that.”

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    Elliott added, “We were stuck in Holland. While all the other bands that people often compare us to were kicking off in the States doing the Sunset Boulevard thing, we were living next to a windmill in Holland, making this album! Isolated. It was a four studio complex, and Mick Jagger came in, and he brought Jeff Beck along with him. He took us all out to a nightclub, and it just happened to be a gay nightclub that played loads of disco. That inspired us to write ‘Excitable,’ and it all came about from the little bit of networking that we did.”

    He continued, “But the rest of it, you’re just listening to the music that’s happening at the time. When we first got together in 1984 in Dublin to start recording, Frankie Goes to Hollywood were just kicking off, and the sonic sound that they achieved with producer Trevor Horn’s sounds … we would sit there listening to this, and even Mutt would be going, ‘Wow. This is something else’.”

    However, just when it appeared as though the band was getting back on track, a tragic accident occurred — a car wreck on December 31st, 1984 that resulted in drummer Allen losing his left arm. Admirably, the band stuck by their bandmate, who soon discovered he could still supply drums via an electronic kit that utilized pedals in which the drummer could play parts with his left foot he would have previously played with his left arm.

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    Lange finally reunited with the band and resumed production duties, and Collen recalled some important advice the producer offered to the band: “Don’t do Pyromania Part II. As successful as that was, everyone else is copying that.” The group did heed the advice, and focused on a more electronic and sonically layered approach than their previous efforts.

    Material-wise, Hysteria features tunes that would eventually become arena anthems (“Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Armageddon It,” “Animal,” “Rocket”), tracks that would help popularize the era’s “power ballad craze” (“Love Bites,” the title track, “Love and Affection”), and songs that satisfied their rock following (“Run Riot,” “Don’t Shoot Shotgun,” the epic “Gods of War”).

    However, what people tend to forget looking back on Hysteria was that it was not an instant massive hit upon its August 3rd, 1987 release — as evidenced by the underwhelming chart performance of its first single/video, “Women,” which peaked at only #80 on the Billboard Hot 100.

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    But to the band’s credit, they knew they had a bona fide smash hit single up their sleeve with “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (a song that was penned and recorded towards the very end of the album sessions). And instead of issuing it as a single straight away, they let momentum build via touring and issuing another single (“Animal”), before unleashing “Sugar.”

    And the move paid off — MTV placed the video for “Pour Some Sugar on Me” in brainwash rotation, and the single nearly topped the Billboard Hot 100 (peaking at #2) and went gold in both the US and UK. As a result, the album’s success also led to strong ticket sales for the arena tour, which saw the group perform “in the round” — which you see in the videos for both “Sugar” and “Armageddon It.”

    It would appear as though Def Leppard had finally put all their hard times behind them with the impressive comeback/mega-success of Hysteria. But behind the scenes, Clark was struggling with alcoholism and substance abuse — which seemed to exacerbate after the album’s tour wrapped up in late 1988. Despite the band encouraging the guitarist to seek help, he was found dead on January 8, 1991 in his apartment in Chelsea, from a mixture of alcohol of prescription drugs. Clark was only 30 years old.

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    “It comes down to the individual,” Collen said about his bandmate’s passing. “Yeah, you can get help…he was actually getting help, as well. And as we were going along, we were understanding a bit more about the whole thing. I was able to stop drinking…it’s been 34 years or something like that since I stopped.”

    “It’s a personality issue more than anything else,” added Elliott. “With all the tools that we’ve got now that we didn’t have 30 years ago, there are still people falling the same way Steve did – exactly the same way. I don’t know whether it’s an inner-strength thing or whether it’s because of your DNA that you physically cannot shake certain aspects of addiction.” The band would continue on with former Dio/Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell taking Clark’s place, and that lineup remains intact to this day.

    35 years later, Collen still holds Hysteria as a high-water mark for Def Leppard. “It’s the most successful album of our career, obviously. Our biggest seller. And I think artistically, it cemented something. You heard so many other bands and artists copy that kind of sound – and inspire other people, as well. We get that. And we wanted to make something very different when we were doing it.”

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    Watch our full interview with Joe Elliott and Phil Collen about Hysteria above, and also check out the other part of our chat with the singer and guitarist, in which they discussed their 2022 album, Diamond Star Halos, at this location.

    Def Leppard are currently in the midst of a co-headlining stadium tour with Mötley Crüe, which runs through a September 9th show in Las Vegas. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster.

    Trouble viewing the video interview above? Watch on YouTube.

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