Def Leppard – from the Sparkle Lounge to the Rock Hall of Fame?
(No. 30 in a continuing series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
By Phill Marder
When it came to success in the 1980s, Def Leppard had few equals.
The British five dominated record charts and concert arenas around the world. Were they heavy metal? Hard rock? Those who must place music into neat little boxes have referred to them in each category. I can’t tell you what they were, but I can tell you one category they definitely belong in…and that is Hall of Fame inductees.
Lead singer Joe Elliott and bassist Rick Savage have been there from the outset, with drummer Rick Allen joining soon after the band’s formation. Steve Clark and Phil Collen formed the twin lead guitar attack that helped make Leppard’s sound so distinctive, Collen still with the band today while Clark was replaced by Vivian Campbell as the ‘90s opened. Guitarist Pete Willis, who was there from the start, was replaced by Collen during the recording of 1982’s breakthrough album, “Pyromania.” Willis does play some rhythm guitar on some of the recordings and, more importantly, helped write some of the tracks.
Though the group’s debut LP “On Through The Night” placed nicely on the charts in the United Kingdom, the U.S. and Australia and the follow-up, “High ‘n’ Dry,” was also a success, it was “Pyromania” that made the band superstars, climbing to No. 2 in the U.S., No. 4 in Canada and placing nicely in several other countries. The only thing that kept “Pyromania” out of the top spot was Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.“
Today, the album is usually found highly rated in most lists of top heavy metal albums.
By the time the 1983 release was through, it had been mined for three hit singles in the States – “Photograph,” “Rock Of Ages” and “Foolin’” and Leppard was named No. 1 in a US Gallup Poll, beating out the Stones and Journey for favorite group. Strangely, the success was not duplicated in Leppard’s homeland where “Pyromania” barely squeaked into the top 20 and the band still had failed to gain a hit single.
1987’s “Hysteria” would change all that.
Allen’s well-documented car wreck cost him an arm, but his mates’ refusal to look for a replacement made an indelible impression on fans and when they returned with “Hysteria,” four years in the making, the result was…well, hysteria. The second single, “Animal,” became their first British Top 10 hit and the album soared straight to the top of the UK charts. By the time the LP’s run was through, six of the cuts had been British hit singles and six had reach the U.S. top 20. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and Armaggedon It” each climbed to No. 2 in the U.S. and “Love Bites” topped the singles’ chart.
“Hysteria” wound up reaching the top 10 in nine countries, coming in at No. 1 in six and No. 2 in two others, selling over 20 million copies and helping Def Leppard become the biggest selling band in the United States during the 1980s.
An album of “Hysteria’s” magnitude is often the kiss of death. Falling short on the next release, no matter how well it does, is looked at as a decline. Then Clark passed away. But, the band soldiered on as a four-piece.
Finally, in 1992, “Adrenalize” appeared. The anticipation was tremendous and the album entered the UK & US charts in the No. 1 position. It remained No. 1 in the U.S. for five weeks, just one short of “Hysteria’s” run and produced their biggest British single, “Let’s Get Rocked,” which hit No. 2. In addition, “Adrenalize” topped the LP charts in Australia, Canada, Switzerland and New Zealand and stopped at No. 2 in Norway.
The success rate was impossible to continue, but the band released five more studio albums, all of which became best sellers, culminating with 2008’s “Songs From The Sparkle Lounge,” which reached No. 5 in the U.S., No. 10 in the U.K. and charted highly in almost every other country that keeps charts proving the Leppard is far from finished.
Stephen Thomas Erlewine, writing in the allmusicguide.com, said “Def Leppard, in many ways, was the definitive hard rock band of the ’80s. There were many bands that rocked harder (and were more dangerous) than the Sheffield-based quintet, but few others captured the spirit of the times quite as well.” The site rates six of Leppard’s 10 Lps (not including compilations) in the four-star or more range. Even (The New) Rolling Stone Album Guide gives “Hysteria” five stars, “Pyromania” 41/2 and “Adrenalize” four, J.D. Considine calling them “the era’s most popular metal band.”
This summer Def Leppard will be touring with Heart, profiled earlier in this series, and a live album, “Mirrorball,” is slated for release in June. I have my tickets in hopes that I will be seeing two future members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on one stage at the same time.