Anyone who grew up in the 80s can remember the “Def Leppard hysteria” that started with “Pour some sugar on me”. Let’s take a look at one of the biggest, and best-selling rock bands in music history.
In January 1979 Def Leppard, the band that nobody wants to admit to listening to, debuted with their self-titled E.P. They have sold 100 million records in the world, and had two platinum records in the United States alone – a record shared with only 5 other bands. Yet in the world of rock, I have noticed a strange phenomenon: You won’t hear a lot of people naming them as their favorite band.
It must be because of their super clean and ultra licked sound, the pinnacle of a certain type of sound made in the USA in the 80s. That sound is sort of the antithesis of dirty and scratchy rock. But, people tend to forget how big the Def Leppard histerya was worldwide. A band that for many is a guilty pleasure, playing a style of rock that would look good in a Coca-Cola commercial, yet with a history so rich that they deserve a movie (which has been done).
Who are Def Leppard?
Def Leppard are a British musical group formed in 1977 in Sheffield. Initially within the New Wave of British Heavy Metal at the turn of the late seventies and early eighties. Their music became a reference especially for the US heavy metal scene, rich in melody and Arena Rock elements.
In their 40-year career, they have sold more than 100 million albums worldwide. They were included by VH1 at number 31 in the “100 Greatest Hard Rock Artists” chart and at number 70 in the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” list. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.
The birth of the Leppard
The core of Def Leppard formed in 1977 under the name of “Atomic Mass” at the Tapton School in Sheffield. Rick Savage played the bass, Pete Willis was the guitarist, and Tony Kenning played drums. After the founding, the group searched for a second guitarist and auditioned Joe Elliott. However, they were not convinced of his performance with the instrument, and instead, they chose Elliott to be the lead singer. The band made their debut with a concert in an old cutlery factory, in front of just six people. Their first major performance took place in the dining room of Westfield School in Mosborough, Sheffield.
Shortly thereafter, Elliott proposed changing the name to “Deaf Leopard”. Tony Kenning suggested that the name be changed into “Def Leppard” to make it less like that of a punk band.
In January 1978 guitarist Steve Clark joined the group. In November of the same year, Tony Kenning was fired due to his lack of commitment to the band. Def Leppard replaced him with drummer Frank Noon during the recordings of The Def Leppard E.P., an amateur produced record containing the first three original songs written by the group. Joe asked Noon to join the band on a permanent basis, but he politely declined his invitation. Fifteen-year-old Rick Allen was therefore officially enlisted on November 27, 1978. Sales of the EP soared after BBC Radio’s famed DJ John Peel began broadcasting Getcha Rocks Off relentlessly.
Early success (1980–1983)
During 1979, Def Leppard built a large following, coming to be considered among the flagship bands of the new New Wave of British Heavy Metal movement. Their growing popularity led them to sign a contract with the major record company Mercury Records that same year.
On March 14, 1980, the group’s first album, “On Through the Night”, was released. It achieved excellent critical and public success in the United Kingdom. However, the band wanted to focus above all on the American market. For this reason, they preferred to tour the United States, opening concerts for Pat Travers, AC / DC, and Ted Nugent.
The band attracted the attention of producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who agreed to work on their second album High ‘n’ Dry, released on July 11, 1981. Despite Lange’s meticulous work, which had helped Leppard a lot to develop their own sound, the album did not replicate the previous sales in the UK. However, it helped to increase the group’s fame even more in the United States, thanks in particular to the video clip for the single “Bringin ‘On the Heartbreak” which became one of the first metal videos broadcast by the newborn MTV.
Bigger than the Stones
On 12 July 1982 Phil Collen, former guitarist of Girl, replaced Pete Willis, who was fired due to his excessive alcohol abuse. The change took place during the recording of the third album Pyromania, released on January 20, 1983. The first single from the record, “Photograph”, pushed Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” from # 1 MTV’s most broadcast video and dominated the American rock charts for six weeks.
Def Leppard had finally achieved fame in the United States and were able to go on their first headlining tour. The record became an unexpected commercial success and went on to sell 6 million copies in 1983. At that time, Def Leppard were more popular in the United States than bands like AC / DC, Journey, and The Rolling Stones.
The golden years (1984–1989)
In February 1984 the band moved to Dublin to escape the taxman and begin the production of the sequel to Pyromania. The group started a collaboration with Jim Steinman, former composer of the famous Meat Loaf album Bat Out of Hell. However, the band found it difficult to adapt to Steinman’s way of working, so they decided to fire him after a couple of sessions. This delayed the process of making the new album and significantly increased costs
Rick Allen’s injury
On the night of December 31, 1984, Rick Allen suffered a very serious car accident on his way to a New Year’s Eve party. The drummer was aboard his Corvette when he engaged in a duel with a motorist who kept bothering him preventing him from overtaking in any way. Allen didn’t see a curve ahead of him and kept going straight, ending abruptly in an adjacent field. The drummer was immediately thrown out of the car due to a defective belt, resulting in the immediate loss of his left arm. Doctors initially tried to reattach his limb with surgery, but then had to give up due to a septicemia.
Moved and shocked, the rest of the band did not want to fire him. The drummer made a pact with Simmons for the production of electronic drums, also began to increase the use of the legs, which did part of the work of the arms.
For a few months, Allen practiced in complete solitude with his new instrument, before showing his progress to the other members of the group by playing the intro of “When The Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin. Def Leppard temporarily hired drummer Jeff Rich to support Rick Allen on a mini-tour of Ireland, but after Rich was accidentally forced to miss a gig, they realized Allen was still capable of playing on his own. On August 16, 1986, the band performed at Donington Park’s Monsters of Rock, when Joe Elliott introduced Rick Allen to a thrilling ovation from over 60,000 spectators. The event represented a real turning point for the drummer and the band.
The $4.5 million album
Taken by the newfound enthusiasm, Def Leppard completed the process of working on the new album with Mutt Lange. Lange found the material recorded by the band to be of low quality, so he ordered them to start all over again. The producer wanted to perfect the work done in Pyromania and recorded each instrument individually, recording the sound of the individual strings on tape. The processing time of the album had in the meantime exceeded three years and had come to a cost of about 4.5 million, which made it one of the most expensive albums of all time.
The long-awaited fourth album from Def Leppard, Hysteria, was released on August 3, 1987. Def Leppard finally managed to breakthrough in the UK as well, thanks to the single Animal which entered the British top 10 best-selling singles. The album debuted directly at # 1, staying 105 weeks on the charts.
The record made a big splash in the US only after the release of the single “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, which reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100. This prompted the album to sell half a million copies in just one week.
New Events (1990–1999)
After the gigantic success of Hysteria, Def Leppard quickly got back to work to release the fifth album as soon as possible. But Steve Clark’s drinking problems slowed the band down again after he went comatose in a Minneapolis bar in late 1989. Doctors miraculously managed to save him after finding his blood alcohol level double the one that killed Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.
His friends urged him to start a rehabilitation program, giving him six months’ leave from Def Leppard. The rest of the band had to continue their work, unaware of the tragedy that was about to hit. Clark would never see the work that the band had completed. In fact, he died on January 8, 1991, crushed by an accidental mix of anti-depressants, analgetics and alcohol in his London home.
Def Leppard moved forward momentarily with a four-man lineup, having Collen also record Clark’s guitar parts. On March 31, 1992, the fifth album Adrenalize was released. The album debuted at # 1 in both the UK and the US, holding the top spot on the US charts for 5 consecutive weeks. The immediate success was mainly guaranteed by the first single “Let’s Get Rocked”, accompanied by an innovative video clip shot with the CGI technique, which, that same year was nominated as MTV Video of the Year.
On April 20, 1992, Def Leppard introduced their new guitarist Vivian Campbell, a former member of Dio and Whitesnake, during the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert live on television from Wembley Stadium.
On October 23, 1995, Def Leppard entered the Guinness Book of Records for having managed to play three concerts in one day on three different continents (Tangier in Morocco, London in England and Vancouver in Canada).
On May 14, 1996, their sixth album “Slang” was released, which marked a drastic change with experimental sounds and much darker lyrics than in the past. It was also Def Leppard’s first work in which producer Mutt Lange did not participate in any way since On Through the Night.
The band members preferred this time to play together in the same studio rather than recording the individual instruments in separate rooms, thus providing the album with a rougher and more direct sound. All these changes displaced the old fans of the group and decreed the failure of the album.
On June 21, 1998, the VH1 dedicated one of the first episodes of its new program Behind the Music to Def Leppard. The episode proved to be one of the most followed in the series, allowing the group to regain some of its lost popularity;  was even parodied within the famous Saturday Night Live television program. Taking advantage of the new moment of grace, the group decided to return to its classic musical style by releasing, in June 1999, the new album Euphoria. The launch single Promises reviewed the group teaming up with Mutt Lange, and it remained at the top of the Mainstream Rock Songs chart for three weeks. Despite the successful return to old sounds, the album failed to produce further hit singles. That same year the group received the first diamond disc for the more than 10 million copies sold by Hysteria in the United States.
Def Leppard Hysteria (2000 – present)
On September 5, 2000, Def Leppard was inducted into Hollywood’s Rock Walk of Fame by their friend Brian May of Queen. In 2001, VH1 produced Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story, a documentary focusing on the history of the group between 1977 and 1986.
On July 30, 2002, the group’s eighth album was released, entitled “X”, which featured calmer sounds closer to the pop universe. The record initially received good feedback, however, it was not as successful as other Def Leppard albums. The band continued to garner an important following, especially in concerts, as demonstrated by its promotional tour which lasted eighteen months.
Towards the end of 2004, an updated collection called Best of Def Leppard was released, later reissued in North America under the title Rock of Ages: The Definitive Collection and different tracklists. The record achieved platinum in the United States, gold in the United Kingdom, and double platinum in Canada. In 2005 Def Leppard took part in Live 8 in Philadelphia and went on a summer tour with Bryan Adams.
On May 23, 2006, “Yeah !”, a collection of covers that paid tribute to artists such as David Bowie, The Kinks, Blondie, Electric Light Orchestra, and others, was released. The album debuted at the 16th position in the charts in the United States, giving the band its 10th consecutive album entering the top 20.
The Sparkle Lounge
On April 25, 2008, it was the turn of the ninth album, Songs from the Sparkle Lounge, which followed the typical sounds of the band in a more modern way. The first single Nine Lives featured country singer Tim McGraw. The record debuted in fifth place and was followed by a successful summer tour.
During a February 2011 interview, Joe Elliott announced the release of a new record titled Mirrorball: Live & More, scheduled for the summer. Released on June 7, 2011, it was a live album recorded during the Songs from the Sparkle Lounge tour, which also featured three previously unreleased tracks and a bonus DVD with behind-the-scenes footage. One of the three previously unreleased songs, Undefeated, premiered on Planet Rock on April 12, 2011.
After years of intense live activity, the English band returned to record between 2014 and 2015. In July 2015, Phil Collen officially confirmed the release of a new album scheduled for October. Simply titled “Def Leppard”, the album debuted directly in the US top 10. A new tour around the UK with Whitesnake follows in December of the same year.
In January 2016 the band embarked on a particular series of concerts called Hysteria on the High Seas aboard an MSC Divina cruise ship.
Def Leppard Hysteria today
In 2018 Def Leppard started a new tour with Journey in American stadiums. Concerts sell out at ten baseball stadiums and the band plays to over a million fans in North America. On October 12, the band announces the release of a new two-disc collection, “The Story So Far – The Best Of”. In addition to Def Leppard’s biggest hits, the collection also features a new cover of “Personal Jesus” by Depeche Mode and an unreleased Christmas track entitled “We All Need Christmas”.
The concert of “The Stadium Tour” scheduled for Tuesday 18 August 2020 at Miller Park in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, became the fastest sold out in the history of the stadium after MÖTLEY CRÜE, DEF LEPPARD, and POISON tour tickets had been put up for sale.
The hysteria that was created around Def Leppard, the fame, and all the fuzz were not for nothing. We have to remember that Def Leppard is one of only five bands to have had two albums that have sold over 10 million copies in the US. The others are The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Van Halen. Among these, Def Leppard was also the only band capable of doing so with two albums released in the same decade. Both Pyromania and Hysteria appear on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 best albums of all time.
Just reading these facts is enough to understand the magnitude of the Def Leppard hysteria, let alone listening to the many masterpieces thay have created during their long carreer.
- 1980 – On Through the Night
- 1981 – High ‘n’ Dry
- 1983 – Pyromania
- 1987 – Hysteria
- 1992 – Adrenalize
- 1996 – Slang
- 1999 – Euphoria
- 2002 – X
- 2008 – Songs from the Sparkle Lounge
- 2015 – Def Leppard
- 1979 – The Def Leppard E.P.
- 1993 – Live: In the Clubs, in Your Face
- 1993 – Retro Active
- 1995 – Vault: Def Leppard Greatest Hits (1980-1995)
- 2004 – Best of Def Leppard
- 2005 – Rock of Ages: The Definitive Collection
- 2009 – Hysteria/Adrenalize
- 2018 – The Story So Far – The Best Of
- 2011 – Mirrorball: Live & More
- 2013 – Viva! Hysteria