Def Leppard are an English rock band formed in 1977 in Sheffield as part of the new wave of British heavy metalmovement. Since 1992, the band has consisted of Joe Elliott (lead vocals), Rick Savage (bass, backing vocals), Rick Allen(drums, backing vocals), Phil Collen (guitars, backing vocals), and Vivian Campbell (guitars, backing vocals). This is the band’s longest lasting line-up.
The band’s strongest commercial success came between the early 1980s and the early 1990s. Their 1981 album, High ‘n’ Dry, was produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who helped them begin to define their style, and the album’s standout track “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” became one of the first rock videos played on MTV in 1982. The band’s next studio album, Pyromania, was released in January 1983, with “Photograph” and “Rock of Ages” as the lead singles. In the U.S., Pyromania was certified diamond (10× platinum), making Def Leppard among the most popular music groups at the time. In 2003, the album ranked number 384 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Def Leppard’s fourth album Hysteria, released in 1987, topped the UK and U.S. album charts. As of 2009, it has reached beyond the success of Pyromania, having been certified 12× platinum for sales of over 12 million in the U.S. and has gone on to sell over 25 million copies worldwide. The album spawned seven hit singles, including the U.S. Billboard Hot 100number one “Love Bites“, alongside “Pour Some Sugar on Me“, “Hysteria“, “Armageddon It“, “Animal“, “Rocket“, and “Women“. Their next studio album, Adrenalize (the first following the death of guitarist Steve Clark), reached number one in UK and U.S. charts in 1992, and contained several hits, including “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad“. Their 1993 album, Retro Active, contained the acoustic hit song “Two Steps Behind“. Their greatest-hits album Vault, released in 1995, featured the UK hit “When Love & Hate Collide“.
As one of the world’s best-selling music artists, Def Leppard have sold more than 100 million records worldwide, and have two albums with RIAA diamond certification, Pyromania and Hysteria. They are one of only five rock bands with two original studio albums selling over 10 million copies in the U.S. The band were ranked No. 31 in VH1‘s “100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock” and ranked No. 70 in “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. Def Leppard will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2019.
Rick Savage, Tony Kenning, and Pete Willis, all students at Tapton School in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, formed a band called Atomic Mass in 1977. The band originally consisted of Willis on guitar, Savage on bass guitar after briefly playing guitar, and Kenning on drums. Only 18 at the time, Joe Elliott tried out for the band as a guitarist following a chance meeting with Willis after missing a bus in November 1977. During his audition it was decided that he was better suited to be the lead singer. Their first gig was in the dining hall in A Block in Westfield School in Mosborough, Sheffield.
Elliott proposed the name “Deaf Leopard” which was originally a band name he thought up while writing reviews for imaginary rock bands in his English class. At Kenning’s suggestion, the spelling was slightly modified in order to make the name seem less like that of a punk band. In January 1978, Steve Clark joined the band. According to Elliott, he successfully auditioned for the band by playing Lynyrd Skynyrd‘s “Free Bird” in its entirety.
In November, just prior to recording sessions for what would be a three-song release known as The Def Leppard E.P., Kenning abruptly left the band; he would later form the band Cairo. He was replaced for those sessions by Frank Noon. By the end of the month, Rick Allen, then only 15 years old, had joined the band as its full-time drummer. Sales of the EP soared after the track “Getcha Rocks Off” was given extensive airtime by renowned BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, considered at the time to be a champion of punk rock and new wave music.
Throughout 1979, the band developed a loyal following among British hard rock and heavy metal fans and were considered among the leaders of the new wave of British heavy metal movement. Their growing popularity led to a record deal with the major label Phonogram/Vertigo (Mercury Records in the US). Def Leppard’s original management, MSB, a local duo consisting of Pete Martin and Frank Stuart-Brown, were fired after Martin and Joe Elliott got into a fistfight over an incident on the road. The band approached Peter Mensch of Leber-Krebs management, who had booked them on a tour of the UK supporting AC/DC. Mensch, who admitted that he had had his eye on the band, became their manager.
Def Leppard’s debut album, On Through the Night, was released on 14 March 1980. Although the album hit the Top 15 in the UK, many early fans were turned off by the perception that the band was trying too hard to appeal to American audiences by recording songs such as “Hello America” and touring more in the US (supporting Pat Travers, AC/DC, and Ted Nugent); a performance at the Reading Festival in August was marred when audience members expressed their displeasure by pelting the band with beer cans and bottles filled with urine. This incident was partially blamed on a cover story in Sounds music newspaper by the journalist Geoff Barton titled, “Has the Leppard changed its spots?”, accusing the band of selling out to the American market. In a documentary on the band recorded for BBC 2, Barton recalls feelings of guilt over the story and having a “stand-up row” with the band’s manager, Mensch, backstage at the show. In the documentary series Metal Evolution, Joe Elliott says that the media had exaggerated the event and all bands on the day had experienced ‘abuse’ from the crowd.
The band had by then caught the attention of AC/DC producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who agreed to work on their second album, High ‘n’ Dry, released on 11 July 1981. Lange’s meticulous approach in the studio helped them begin to define their sound. Despite the album’s unimpressive sales figures, the band’s video for “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” became one of the first metal videos played on MTV in 1982, bringing the band increased visibility in the U.S. The band continued to use the up-and-coming music television industry to reach fans over the years with their unique videos and the extravagance of their concerts. After the album’s release, European and American tours followed. The band opened for Ozzy Osbourne and Blackfoot.
Pete Willis was fired on 11 July 1982 due to excessive alcohol consumption on the job and was replaced by Phil Collen of Girl the next day. This personnel change took place during the recording of their third album, Pyromania, which was released on 20 January 1983 and also produced by Lange. The cover artwork depicted an animated picture of a huge flame emerging from the top floor of a skyscraper, with a bullseye aimed at the flame. The lead single, “Photograph“, turned Def Leppard into a household name, supplanting Michael Jackson‘s “Beat It” as the most requested video clip on MTV and becoming a staple of rock radio (dominating the US Album Rock Charts for six weeks), and sparked a headline tour across the U.S.
Fueled by “Photograph” and subsequent singles “Rock of Ages” and “Foolin’“, Pyromania went on to sell six million copies in 1983 (more than 100,000 copies every week in that year) and only was held from the top of the US album charts by Michael Jackson’s Thriller. With the album’s massive success, Pyromania was the catalyst for the 1980s pop-metal movement. In 2004, Pyromania was certified Diamond having sold over 10 million copies in the US.
The Pyromania tour began in England at the Marquee Club in Oxford Street, London in February 1983. Def Leppard’s US tour in support of the album began in March opening for Billy Squier and ended with a headlining performance before an audience of 55,000 at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California in September. As a testament to the band’s popularity at the time, a US Gallup poll in 1984 saw Def Leppard voted as favourite rock band over peers such as The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, and Journey.
Following their breakthrough, the band moved to Dublin in February 1984 for tax purposes to begin writing the follow-up to Pyromania. Mutt Lange initially joined in on the songwriting sessions but then suddenly declined to return as producer due to exhaustion. Instead, Jim Steinman (of Meat Loaf‘s Bat Out of Hell fame) was brought in.
On 31 December 1984, drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash on the A57 in the hills outside the band’s home city of Sheffield. Allen was driving with his Dutch girlfriend, Miriam Barendsen, when his Corvette swerved off the road on a sharp bend and went through a drystone wall. Despite the severity of the accident, Allen was committed to continuing his role as Def Leppard’s drummer and realised that he could use his legs to do some of the drumming work previously done with his arms. He then worked with Simmons to design a custom electronic drum kit. The other members of the band supported Allen’s recovery and never sought a replacement. Allen was placed in a separate studio to practice his new drums. After a few months, Allen gathered the band together and performed the intro to the Led Zeppelin version of “When the Levee Breaks” to showcase his progress to the band. Joe Elliott reports this as being a “very emotional moment.” During this period, Mutt Lange returned as producer. Def Leppard brought in Jeff Rich in August 1986 to play alongside Allen during Def Leppard’s warm-up mini tour of Ireland. When the band couldn’t fit two drum kits on stage at a gig, he and the band realized Allen could drum alone. Allen’s comeback was sealed at the 1986 Monsters of Rock festival in England, with an emotionally charged ovation after his introduction by Joe Elliott.
After over three years of recording, Def Leppard’s fourth album, Hysteria, was released on 3 August 1987. One of the first singles from the album, “Animal“, became the band’s first Top 10 hit in the UK, reaching No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart. “Animal” also started their run of ten consecutive U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 singles.
Hysteria immediately topped the UK Album Charts in its first week of release, and has since spent 105 weeks on the chart. Initial US album sales were relatively slow (compared to Pyromania) until the release of the fourth single, “Pour Some Sugar on Me“. The song hit Number 2, and Hysteria finally reached the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 in July 1988. Often regarded as the band’s signature song, “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was ranked No. 2 on VH1‘s “100 Greatest Songs of the 80s” in 2006.
The band’s UK success saw them nominated for the 1988 Brit Award for Best British Group. In October 1988, the power ballad “Love Bites” reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. In January 1989, the band scored another US Top 5 hit with “Armageddon It“, and by spring of 1989 the final single “Rocket” was in the Top 20. Wanting to give fans something new after the massive radio and video airplay for not only the seven singles but also the Album tracks that Radio DJs were playing off the album, the band performed “Tear It Down”, a Hysteria B-side at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards. Due to positive fan reaction the song was reworked for their following album Adrenalize.
Hysteria is one of only a handful of albums that has charted seven singles or more on the US Hot 100: “Women” (#80), “Animal” (#19), “Hysteria” (#10), “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (#2), “Love Bites” (#1), “Armageddon It” (#3), and “Rocket” (#12). It remained on the charts for three years and has sold over 25 million copies worldwide. Equally successful was the accompanying 16-month tour, in which the band performed in the round. This concept proved wildly popular with fans (as seen in the videos for “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Armageddon It”) and was used again for the Adrenalize tour.
At the 1989 Brit Awards held at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Def Leppard were again a nominee for Best British Group, and the band performed “Pour Some Sugar on Me” at the ceremony. At the 1989 American Music Awards, Def Leppard won Favorite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Artist, as well as Favorite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Album (for Hysteria).
- 80s Studio albums