Far from being the den of sin and iniquity the name might imply, the Sparkle Lounge was actually a place where Def Leppard could go to escape the madness of its last tour and get some work done.
Hidden from prying eyes, the area was where the band (shown below in a photo by Andrew MacPherson) conceived and fleshed out recordings for its latest album, Songs From The Sparkle Lounge.
“Every day on tour, our road crew would set up a little tuning room backstage where Rick Allen would have a little practice electronic drum kit, and we’d have a couple of Fender amps, and we’d just go in there and kick ideas around, you know?” says guitarist Viv Campbell. “And a couple of the crew guys starting hanging little Christmas lights, little fairy lights, around and then, after awhile, it became known as The Sparkle Lounge because of the lights.”
Armed with a Pro-Tools rig that ran off Campbell’s lap-top, Def Leppard demoed a number of tracks in the makeshift studio, including “Nine Lives,” the first single off Songs From The Sparkle Lounge.
Though it has the usual full-on, sonic bombast and sugary melody that made Def Leppard arena-rock titans in the ’80s, “Nine Lives” features an unlikely collaboration with country star Tim McGraw.
“We got together with Tim because Rick Allen, he knew Tim, and we threatened to do a song together, and it finally became a reality,” says guitarist Phil Collen. “Rick’s brother is Tim’s tour manager, so Rick has been onstage with him a bunch of times and Faith Hill, and stuff, and Tim said, ‘I love Def Leppard. I’d love us to write a song together and one day work together.’ So, I saw him at the Hollywood Bowl. We all met backstage and that was about 2006, actually, and I hummed him this idea for a song I had written on the guitar.”
It came together in about “90 seconds,” according to Collen, and it was recorded by Def Leppard while on tour.
The thought of Def Leppard recording with a country artist would have turned the metal world upside down in the ’80s. Nowadays, such genre-hopping exercises are common — see The Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Alison Krauss.
Still, for the boys who grew up in working-class Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, idolizing glam-rock champions T-Rex and Mott The Hoople, as well as Led Zeppelin and Queen, a project approaching anything resembling country might seem a little far-fetched.
The band that would become Def Leppard was formed by bassist Rick Savage and guitarist Pete Willis — both in their teens at the time — in the late ’70s. Soon, singer Joe Elliott would enlist, bringing with him a name, Deaf Leopard. Switching a few letters around to get the name Def Leppard, the trio began playing local clubs. Not long after, guitarist Steve Clark would be added to the mix.
In 1978, the group released the EP Getcha Rocks Off on its own label, Bludgeon Riffola. The BBC took notice and gave it airplay. From there, word of mouth spread, and Def Leppard, who had hired Allen as drummer after putting out the EP, became the darlings of the New Wave of Britis