Album of the Week: Def Leppard’s Hysteria

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Here at Original Rankster, we try to provide you with the quality rankings you seek as often as possible (as a full time college student [at the time of writing] searching for employment, patience is appreciated).  However, all numbers and no fun makes Rankster a dull boy, so to change it up I give you: Album of the Week

Each week, I’ll provide you wonderful readers with an album I’m particularly fond of and delve into what I believe made this record so good.  This week on the dissecting tray is Def Leppard’s 1987 mega-hit, Hysteria.

 

Background:

In the years preceding Hysteria’s release, Def Leppard were already a huge commercial draw.  They had three albums under their belt, with their 1983 release, Pyromania, going platinum several times over.  With producer Robert “Mutt” Lange at the helm (responsible for AC/DC’s Back in Black), Def Leppard set out to destroy the boundaries previously broken by Pyromania.  This would prove to be a more daunting task than originally anticipated by both the band and Mutt.

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Initial recording sessions for Animal Instinct (Hysteria’s original title) were slow and plagued with multiple delays including singer Joe Elliot getting the mumps and producer Mutt Lange being involved in a minor car accident.  Nothing, however, could prepare the band for what was about to happen

On December 31, 1984, drummer Rick Allen went for a joyride in his Corvette convertible on a country rode in Sheffield, England when he swerved to avoid an oncoming motorist.  Allen lost control of his vehicle and flipped several times into a nearby field.  The car rolled on top of the young rocker, severing his left arm and leaving him for dead.  Allen survived, but his limb was not able to be reattached.

The other members of Def Leppard were left with a choice: carry on without their brother Rick Allen, or call it quits right at the apex of their career trajectory.  Allen picked option C, and decided he was going to be a member of Def Leppard, no matter how many arms he had.  He reconstructed his electronic drum kit, using foot pedals as a substitute for what he would’ve used his second arm for and completely re-taught himself the drums.

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This would prove to invigorate and inspire the band, as Def Leppard roared back into the studio with a vengeance.  The album now known as Hysteria took nearly four years total to complete, but when it was finished the band knew they had created magic.

Hype for Hysteria was, ironically enough, slow initially.  Part of this had to do with the band deciding to release two separate lead singles for the album in America and their native U.K.  The first single released in the U.S. was “Women,” a relatively straightforward rocker that didn’t exactly show any growth from the band in the last four years; American buyers were skeptical.  That is, until Def Leppard released their second single, a little number by the name of “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”  At the risk of sounding like a cliche douche, the rest is history.

Hysteria went on to be Def Leppard’s magnum opus, selling a staggering 25 million units worldwide (12 million in the States, alone).  The record produced 7 singles, 6 of which found their way into the Billboard Hot 100 and the album went number 1 in three different countries.  1987 saw a bevy of big sellers in the rock industry, but Hysteria remains the heavyweight champion of them all, and in the next several paragraphs you’ll find out why everyone and their dog owned a copy of this bad boy by the end of the 80’s.

 

Content:

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Def Leppard was known throughout the 80’s and early 90’s as the band chicks and dudes could both like and not be ostracized by members of their respective communities.  Nothing perpetuates this theory more than Hysteria.  The entire album is smattered with songs ranging from over-the-top ballads (“Hysteria,” “Love Bites”), to upbeat hard rockers (“Run Riot,” “Don’t Shoot Shotgun”).  What really sets this album apart from its predecessors, though, is the production quality.  Mutt Lange was with Def Leppard since their 1981 sophomore effort High ‘n Dry, which if listened to with a blindfold on sounds like a slightly more melodic AC/DC record.  The leaps in production quality from High ‘n Dry to Pyromania and then to Hysteria were nothing short of stunning; each record sounded miles ahead of the previous one.

The use of guitar as the primary instrument takes a back seat on this album, and upon initial inspection it can turn a lot of “metal heads” off to this record.  I routinely hear people say that everything Def Leppard released after Pyromania was “soft, cookie cutter crap,” but all that hostility can really be equated to fans feeling alienated towards a glossier approach to producing songs.  Each song on Hysteria is painstakingly crafted from the bottom up.  The attention to detail and layering seen on the album can be credited partially to Mutt’s near obsessiveness in the recording booth and also to the band’s principal songwriters maturing at just the right time.  Every single note pops right out of your speaker and feels purposeful.

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The advent of synths and dubbing instruments multiple times over were principle reasons why this album took so long to produce, but boy was it well worth the wait!  This is Def Leppard’s “hookiest” record on call, as the whole album has more hooks than a commercial fishing boat.  Each song catches you almost instantaneously and never lets go, and the tracks get stuck in your head for days.  Speaking of catchy tunes…

 

Highlights:

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Hysteria plays like a kind of “Greatest Hits Compilation,” as the whole album is stacked with Top 10 chart toppers and beloved deep cuts alike.  Take even the first four tracks off the record and they represent somewhat of a microcosm of the musical spectrum presented by Hysteria.  “Women” took the classic hard rock approach Def Leppard had been known for at the time and “studiofied” it.  “Rocket” is the over the top, glossy, production laden track with all sorts of recording booth tricks that were state of the art at the time.  “Animal” is the slowed down, sultry slow rocker with a soft touch.  Finally, “Love Bites” is the seminal ballad of the album, showing Def Leppard could transition into the era of the “power ballad” better than any band out there.

While the entire album is awesome from top to bottom, and the first four tracks sum up the feel of the record as a whole, it is the middle four tracks of Hysteria that are worth the sticker price alone.  “Armageddon It,” “Gods of War,” “Don’t Shoot Shotgun,” and “Run Riot” are four of my favorite Def Leppard songs ever released, and they all come in a neat little back to back package in the middle of their most grandiose album.  “Gods of War,” in particular is a nearly 7 minute hard rock composition that has nifty hooks and harmonies galore and could quite possibly be the entire group at their collective height, musically and creatively.

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A super deep cut that often gets overlooked in the shadows of its more popular brethren is the oh-so-groovy “Excitable.”  Located at the tail end of Hysteria, this track has both danceability and a hard rock edge that makes it a perfect fit for the late part of the album; a pick me up, if you will, sandwiched between two of the softer, slower songs on Hysteria.

Lowlights:

Speaking of softer, slower songs, Hysteria is a nearly perfect record on almost every account.  It does, however, falter a bit towards the end of the second side (relatively speaking, anyway).  The title track is a ballad that by all accounts gets overshadowed by the earlier “Love Bites,” both in production quality and feel.  It just doesn’t have the same gut punch that “Love Bites” has the first time you hear it.  “Love Bites” makes you feel emotionally drained after hearing it, “Hysteria” just sounds soft.

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While on the subject of inferior clones, “Love and Affection” is nearly identical to “Animal,” but much like “Hysteria” is the lesser version of “Love Bites,” “Love and Affection” is the lesser version “Animal.”  Don’t skip it, because its still a fine song in its own right, just kind of a wimpy way to close out this masterpiece.

Legacy/Aftermath:

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After Hysteria dropped, Def Leppard went from a mere rock band to a group of musical Demi-gods.  Hysteria was the culmination of the band enduring many hardships and working them to their advantage.  The members of Def Leppard became full on rock stars after 1987, in every sense of the word.  Particularly, guitarist “Steamin'” Steve Clark and his alcoholism took on an entirely new dynamic.  While the rest of the band was starting to settle down, Clark went completely berserk, sometimes downing an entire bottle of Jack Daniels just to maintain stasis.

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The band had visions of grandeur for their next album, Adrenalize, and were famously quoted as saying “the next one won’t take us four years.”  Unfortunately, Clark being a part of the band’s future wasn’t in the cards.  On January 8, 1991, Clark succumbed to alcohol poisoning.  The bright yet tormented guitarist who was just entering his prime was dead at the age of 30.

The band soldiered on and released Adrenalize in March of 1992 (ironically, five years after Hysteria).  The album was a smash hit and spawned a few top 40 bangers, but Def Leppard could never live up to the hype they created with Hysteria and subsequent albums all sold progressively less and less units.

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Hysteria marked a band reaching its artistic peak right as the music industry was in the mood for gloss and polish.  The album represented an already great pairing of band and producer catching lightning in a bottle and releasing one of the greatest efforts of the 1980’s.

Def Leppard still tours today, with Whitesnake/Dio guitarist Vivian Campbell taking the place of Steve Clark as the band’s second guitarist opposite Phil Collen and although they have released new material, their set lists are still littered with cuts off of Hysteria.  Turn on the radio today anywhere from adult contemporary to classic rock stations and you can still hear “Love Bites” or “Pour Some Sugar on Me.”  The impact this record made on rock in the 80’s is still being felt today.  Def Leppard will always say they are just a band from Sheffield, but after Hysteria, they couldn’t escape the fame any longer.  And we should all be thankful for that…

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Hopefully you enjoyed Album of the Week! Next week on the docket: Building the Perfect Beast by Don Henley.

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Author: originalrankster

I'll rank anything

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