Whenever I see this clip all I can think of is their Mums crying with joy – they look like five little boys playing. It makes the extremes of their history all the more bizarre. In 1979 when they were finally signed to Vertigo records after their first independently released EP, the line-up was Joe Elliot on vocals, Rick Savage on Bass, Steve Clark on guitar, Pete Willis on guitar and Rick Allen on drums. They arrived on the NWOBHM (my favourite music acronym).
They released their first album, On Through The Night with the lead single, Hello America helping the album climb to No.51 in the US charts. The album reached No.15 in the UK and as 1981 came around their second album, High And Dry saw them slowly building a US following, the album achieving double platinum sales and reaching No.38 in the charts. (In the UK the album made it to No.26). If these young lads from Sheffield were courting an American audience they were certainly making progress but never in their wildest dreams could they have imagined what would happen next.
On release, their third album, Pyromania exploded in America and Canada, selling 17 million records and reaching No.2 in the US charts, in Canada it reached No.4, in the UK No.18. It spawned the Pop Metal classic Photograph. Def Leppard were officially one of the biggest bands in the world and there was more to come, but cruelly their success was marred by awful tragedies.
First of all, due to alcohol problems, Pete Willis was fired during the recording of Pyromania and replaced by Phil Collen from Glam Metal band, Girl. Then, in 1984 Rick Allen suffered the loss of his arm in a terrible car accident. How they stuck by Allen through this dreadful tragedy shows how serious the problem with Pete Willis must have been to let him go – their drummer had lost his arm and they didn’t replace him. (The Mums must have cried their eyes out).
It was four years before they released Hysteria in 1987 – the rest is history. After a slow start, seven singles made the US charts between 1987 -1989 – four of them made the Top 10, two of them the Top 20. The album went to No.1 all over the world, if not, then it was No.2 or in the Top 10. After all their misfortune they had conquered the universe, what more could happen? But before the band got the chance to release their next album, guitarist Steve Clark died in 1991, another victim of alcohol abuse. Adrenalize released in 1992, followed the success of their previous albums debuting at No.1 in the US charts and reaching No.1 in the UK.
In the last 25 years, Def Leppard have continued to make albums and tour. Their love of Mott The Hoople, David Bowie, T.Rex, Badfinger, ELO, Blondie, Free, Thin Lizzy, The Faces, The Kinks and others had them release one of the great covers albums, Yeah in 2006. Then there’s their love of Queen, the harmonies, the guitars but adding their own Glam style mixed with their Sheffield working class Metal. Together with producer Mutt Lange they have found unprecedented success but they have also suffered unimaginable misery. Steve Clark’s replacement in Def Leppard was Vivian Campbell formerly with Dio, Thin Lizzy and Whitesnake but tragedy has struck again as Campbell has announced he has cancer. Here’s to him and hoping he can win that battle.
I always had a soft spot for Def Leppard, their melodic Metal, their down to earth personas, five lads that might have been footballers or worked in Sheffield factories, making music they loved and taking over the world, but beset by tragedy that no-one deserves. For all their foibles and some dubious puerile lyrics they had some irresistible tunes, chiming guitar parts and some dreamy honey soaked harmonies – plus, Photograph was a classic in the genre.