Def Leppard’s Hysteria defined 1980s rock
Bon Jovi was rock king of the airwaves of 1986 and 1987 with its multi-platinum Slippery When Wet album in full swing, the source of some of the New Jersey band’s most famous hits – Livin’ On Prayer, Wanted Dead Or Alive and You Give Love A Bad Name.
Jon and friends were simply filling a void left by a British band which had lost its commercial inertia. Def Leppard was riding high with the a pop rock formula from 1983’s Pyromania, conquering United States but not quite home turf.
But at the height of Def Leppard’s popularity, drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car accident. Throwing in the towel would have been easier, but coupled with his desire to play again and the band rallying behind him, Allen employed a partially electronic drum kit and was soon back in the saddle.
With renewed vigour, the band teamed up once again with Robert “Mutt” Lange, the South African producer with a Midas touch, the man behind AC/DC’s Highway To Hell and Back In Black albums, and Pyromania, too.
Released on Aug 3, 1987, Hysteria contributed to a rock explosion that has hardly been paralleled. From a 12-song long player, the band released seven of those tracks as singles, all of which can easily be heard on any classic rock radio station today – Animal, Women, Rocket, Hysteria, Love Bites, Pour Some Sugar On Me and Armageddon It.
Lange, from the start, sought to mould the album to become a rock band’s take on Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which also spawned seven hit singles. So, from the ground up, Hysteria was designed to be a hit machine.
The Sheffield outfit always knew how to write great hooks, but that approach was turbo-charged with Lange’s fine-tooth comb approach, which explored every musical possibility in pop music – layering guitars, drums, vocals and even synthesisers.
Opening track, Women, sets the tone for a pop metal guilty pleasure, immediately indicating Def Leppard’s new sound and style, pop hooks topped with lead singer Joe Elliott’s fast-growing, trademark howl.
Rocket, unbelievably, even found inspiration from a rare British hit from 1971, Burundi Black, by Mike Steiphenson, which incorporates the drumming of the Ingoma tribe from Burundi. But Rocket itself is pure pop confection, with its ear candy melodies.
But three of the most enduring songs from Hysteria remain Billboard No 1 hit, power ballad Love Bites, dance floor ditty Pour Some Sugar On Me and singalong Animal. In the late 1980s, even the most casual music fan would’ve known them … that’s how much they were blasted on radio.
The album was largely about having fun, but like a number of albums from that period, the Cold War and global tension remained a concern, and the epic Gods Of War was a stern reminder of life’s fragility.
Hysteria, arguably the best pop metal album of all time, spent 96 weeks in the US Top 40 and has sold 25 million copies to date. In the end, Lange got his wish with his defining, slick, polished production – a rock version of Thriller, and like MJ’s classic, Leppard would never repeat this feat, also because founding guitarist Steve Clarke lost his battle to alcoholism in 1991.
My eldest brother bought Hysteria on cassette in 1987, and between then and sometime in 1988, we must have heard it at least a couple of hundred times. It was the best rock album I had heard … until Guns N’ Roses came kicking and screaming with Appetite For Destruction!