By Jeb Wright
In honor of the release of “Viva Hysteria,” Def Leppard’s concert performance of its 1987 landmark “Hysteria” album in its entirety, lead guitarist Phil Collen shares these behind-the-scenes tidbits with Goldmine.
I start that song; it’s the lead-off track. We did the demo with Mutt, and when he came back in, then we redid a lot of it. We redid the solo section. There is something really interesting about it. We wrote the song with Mutt initially when we were in Dublin. It really stayed close to form. It was a traditional Def Leppard-style song. By the time the album was released, it had been over three years since we had released an album; we wanted to start off with something that was kind of similar to the album before, which was “Pyromania.” The rest of the tracks were way off. There was pop stuff on there, like “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Animal” and “Love Bites.” There were no songs like that at all on “Pyromania.” I think that was part of the reason we released “Woman” first. Overseas, it didn’t work. It actually died a quick death.
Joe had heard this African thing with these tribal drums, and we kind of based the song on that. We talked about all of our heroes growing up: T. Rex, the Stones, David Bowie. It was an ode to the music we loved. We had no guidelines for that song. It could be anything that it wanted to be, and that was really cool. It was really experimental. This was a real struggle to play live, because it’s got this entire tribal rhythm thing going on, and the vocal is f**king huge. We finally figured it out, and it sounds huge live. We’ve been playing that one live for years, so it’s not a problem.
That was the hardest one to do. That song took three years. We wrote the song; actually, I came up with it. We tried to make it sound … we were listening to all of these great sounding records of the day, like Frankie Goes to Hollywood. We didn’t want “Animal” to be a straight-sounding rock song. There was something that didn’t quite work. We recorded it, and Joe sung it, and then we had to change studios. We went to Paris to a studio there. Joe did a really great vocal on it, and Mutt said, “This backing track sounds out of date. We’re going to scrap it, but keep the lead vocal.” We re-recorded and re-wrote the whole song around the vocal, and it really worked, and it really sounded like we wanted it to. The guitars were a little bit like The Police, and the song had this Frankie Goes to Hollywood vibe to it, but on top of that it was a rock song. It was our first hit in England, so that is quite special, as well. It went Top 10 in England.
That is our only No. 1 American single. “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was No. 2, even though it is our most successful song. I played the demo for “Love Bites” for my mom, and she started crying, so right away I knew we had something special. “Love Bites” was a Mutt Lange song. He played it to Steve and me on an acoustic guitar, and it really sounded like the Eagles. Mutt has a voice that sounds a lot like Don Henley. We took the song and put some electric guitars on it, and it ended up sounding like Def Leppard.
“Pour Some Sugar On Me”
Every time we play that song, even to this day, it turns every woman into a pole dancer. We don’t get it, but it is so funny to watch, and it happens all the time. That was the last song on the record. We had finished the record, and Mutt said that we should wait two more weeks before we turned it in. We did that song in two weeks, which was by far the quickest song we did on the album. The rest of the album took three-and-a-half years. The album really needed that song, and it was our breakthrough. “Hysteria” actually tanked, initially. We didn’t even break even. Eventually, we threw that song out there, and it went over. What happened with that song is that it became very popular with strippers. They started requesting it on the radio, and it really took off. This happened down in Florida; it was a Florida stripper thing. All of a sudden it just spread across the country. We had sold 3 million albums and we were still in debt. When “Pour Some Sugar on Me” came out, then the album went back in the charts and ended up going to No. 1, twice. You hear this song all the time; it is on everything. It was the last song we recorded for the record. We pretty much had everything done. Joe was goofing around on the guitar and played the main riff. We went, “What was that?” He said it was a new idea he had. Mutt said we had to record it.
If you go back to some of the real ’60s pop songs, then the lyrics could be really silly. This one was like that. It was really about the fun, that one. The important thing was the image
of the song. We went back to the ‘60s lyrically on that. I think it went to No. 3. This was an ode to T. Rex. It was very much in the “Bang a Gong” style. You could really see our influences coming out on this song.
“Gods of War”
That is a deep song. I think we played every note on the fretboard. Everyone had ideas, and we all went for that. The songs had literally, like, three choruses. We just kept adding parts to it, and it worked. There were a lot of things going on in the world at that time. We were still dealing with the Cold War, and it was still really scary. We had Margaret Thatcher
and Ronald Reagan quotes in the background of that song. We tried to make the song sound like The Stones, but we could never really get it to work out. We listened to the album one time when we were at Joe’s house and we admitted that we really didn’t get this one right. It was really going good, but we f**ked up on the chorus.
“Don’t Shoot Shotgun”
That is the hardest song to play because of the weird timing issues it has. It has this weird, Charlie Watts-type thing where the kick and the snare are in the wrong place. It is tricky to play live. The guitar part and the vocal on the bridge section are really complicated. I’ve had to practice that one for a while, actually.
We never really finished that song off. I think we could have made a better song out of it. It is cool. It actually has some great parts in it, but I think the chorus could have been a little harder. The chorus is in a major key, and in hindsight, it would have been cool if we’d experimented with something a little edgier. It is what it is. This really is the weakest song on the album.
We pieced together that song. I remember we were sitting in Dublin, and Rick Savage goes, “Oh, I’ve got this riff.” He played it, and I literally just sung the first verse. It was the first thing that came out of my head and I was like, “Write this down; record it.” We did the next bit. It literally happened so quickly that we had half of the song. We took it to Steve, Mutt and Joe, and it turned out to be something else. It was pretty cool. You try things, and sometimes they don’t work, but that is where Mutt was so brilliant. He is not only a brilliant songwriter, he is a brilliant singer. He sings backing vocals with us on the entire album. “Love Bites” is mainly him on backing vocals.
Because it was such a different album, we were able to do some different things. This one borders on being a dance track. Michael Jackson had a song called “State of Shock,” and this one had that kind of flavor. It wasn’t just another rock song.
“Love And Affection”
I don’t know why that was not a hit, because it was a really good contender that never really happened. Everyone I speak to says, “Why didn’t you release that as a single?” We had two record labels — it was the same label, but there was the English version and the American version. The English side of the label didn’t want to release the same songs that the American label was releasing; we kind of had a little thing going on. We were releasing track after track off of it, and this one just never saw the light of day, which is a real drag. I think it would have been a huge song. This one should have had a shot, too. We already had seven singles off the album, so I guess you have to draw the line somewhere. GM