Yes. You are not hallucinating. This actually the album art for Hysteria by Def Leppard.
Hello readers. How are we? Glorious, I hope.
Yeah. I know what you’re thinking. Just what in the name of fuck is the album art for Hysteria by Def Leppard doing as the main image for this article?
I know the optics do not look good but hear me out. Please and thank you.
Since I have taken on this mantle of being a quasi-serious (But seriously, this is soo much fun.), fledgling rock music journalist, I’ve tried to maintain an open mind when listening to music lately. So, I have decided to take that ethos to the limit by actually listening to albums that I could not stand when they came out.
And I picked a great place to start. (Gulp) Hysteria by Def Leppard.
Released August 3, 1987, Hysteria did not stand a chance with me. At that time, I was balls deep into thrash metal. Bands like Exodus (Fabulous Disaster), Death Angel (The Ultra Violence), Slayer (Reign in Blood) and that band we all know…METALLICA (Master of Puppets). Honorable mentions go out to: Queensryche (Operation: Mindcrime), Metal Church (The Dark), D.R.I. (Thrash Zone) & Testament (The Prophecy). Those tapes dominated my car and home stereos.
It should be noted that my parents were very tolerant and encouraging when it came to my sister and this writers’ music exploration. And with the levels I played this stuff at, I'm very sure that their ears bled a few times. My eternal thanks my Pop and Mom.
The aggression levels of those bands..it was like they totally understood where I (& it) was at. With song titles like And Then There Were None, Over The Wall and Damage Inc. just fit my mental state perfectly. Looking back on it now, I was doing okay. Not really happy. Not really sad. Annihilation by nuclear war was very forefront in my mind. It made me feel angry/sad/vacant. What was the point of getting to know someone or having a career when life could all be over in a flash of white light?
Back in High School, I was really into Def Leppard. They had just released Pyromania. It was a production departure from their previous release, High n’ Dry. High n’ Dry is a great example of pop-orientated NWOBHM. And Pyromania sounded soo much better. Which I thought at the time was nigh on impossible. Photograph is a great song. But it sounded….cleaner..than High n” Dry. Cleaner. It's the only word I could think of at that time. Hmm…but it was still Def Leppard.
After graduating High School, the feeling that going to college then was a waste of my time but really not knowing what to do with that time if I had the time was very present. Then I entered the working world of adults and all that it comes with. My music tastes changed. I wanted to feel something. I didn’t want to be one of those smiling buffoons that thought they were rocking out by listening to White Lion, Cinderella or Poison.
Was it healthy? Probably not. But that was part of the rush. To listen to those songs and lyrics really set you apart from the rest of the smiling, glowing, diet Pepsi guzzling masses. Those people with everything together. Driving the latest cars. Buying Compact Discs at Warehouse 10 at a time then smiling as they singed the credit card form. Albeit that those CD’s were mostly of really shitty music. And this one time the douche who piled his haul onto the register countertop, the first Disc he gave to the cashier, was (Yeah.) Hysteria by Def Leppard.
Tragedy struck Def Leppard when their drummer lost an arm in a near-fatal car accident. Def Leppard was suddenly faced with two choices. Get rid of their drummer (Rick Allen) or keep him and try to work around his injury. I’m very sure that for the band, there was only one choice- they opted to keep their drummer. And synth drums were considered edge-of-the-envelope technology at that time. That’s a very ballsy move to keep a one-armed drummer around when conventional wisdom would clearly say to bid him adieu. Being descended from hard working Birmingham, UK stock, Def Leppard found a way.
They also had lost their affinity for lugging around tube guitar amplifiers and speaker cabinets. They started to use the Rockman by Tom Scholz
A classic Rockman.
(Boston founding member and the technology nerds’ technology nerd.) on their demos. Finding that they liked what they heard, they began to record the album tracks using this small device. And VOILA! Those non-tube amp guitar sounds melded perfectly with the new synth drum kit Rick Allen had devised.
And that is your free rock history lesson, Readers. The pleasure was all mine. You’re welcome.
I’ll admit that I was curious enough to listen to the tracks being played on KNAC when they released it. And that album sounded nothing like I thought it would. It wasn’t a matter of how clean it sounded. This album was so clean it was sterile. And this evolution in their sound did not sit well with me. I still have a distaste for over-produced albums. I prefer that the artist allow me to see them warts and all, sonically speaking.
My favorite examples of perfect production and composition: Sex, Love & Rock n’ Roll by Social Distortion. Girlfriend by Matthew Sweet. And most recently, Bliss by Decent Criminal. Are all those albums polished and well executed? Absolutely! Are they over-produced? Not even close. We are allowed to hear the artist at that point in time. But their collective spirit is not crushed nor subjugated by the producer.
But “warts and all” was not the goal for all involved in the process of creating Hysteria. The sound and aesthetics of Hysteria was perfection beyond perfection. Recorded over three years and in studios from Holland to Ireland to The City of Lights (Paris, France), Hysteria was a stop and go affair. Yet one can hardly tell from the way the album flows from the first note to the last guitar solo.
The genius of this album is that it is neither too heavy nor too light. The lyrics are (no pun intended) sugary sweet. I will admit that all the strip clubs I patronized during that time (Which were MANY) had at least one lady of ill repute delivering a show-stopping, spready to the Gods routine to Animal, Exciteable or..Yes, you’re correct. Waait for it! Pour Some Sugar on Me.
The main focus of my ire was that this album had no soul. The soul and spirit that were very evident from On Through The Night to Pyromania was nowhere to be found. This album had no beating, bleeding heart. In its’ place, was a smooth and steady circuit board. The sound felt like robots were used instead of the actual band members. And those..drums! Drums? Could they seriously be called drums?
This album was not meant to be played live in bars or clubs. This album was meant to be played in arenas or coliseums. In front of thousands upon thousands of salivating, ecstatic fans. Along with the accompanying elaborate, multi-million-dollar stage set/lighting rigs that used at minimum 7 big rig trucks to lug all that gear around. And I do not want to even think about how many tour busses or private jets.
Def Leppard on the Hysteria tour stage. (L to R): Rick Allen (Drums) Joe Elliot (Throat) Rick Savage (Bass) Phil Collen (Guitar) Steve Clark (Guitar) Photo Credit: Ross Halfin
And time marched on…
Don’t ask me why but I got curious. And as we all know, curiosity killed the cat. The reasons escape me as to why this kitty wanted to listen to Hysteria a few days back. What the fuck was I thinking? Was this for real? Was there anything wrong with me? Or maybe I’ll blame it on the excessive heat that has overcooked my brain. I found Hysteria on Apple Music. I looked around to make sure nobody I knew was around to see me doing this. I cringed a bit when I pressed the play icon.
At this point, the lyrics are a perfect encapsulation of the over-sexed mindset of that time. To the point that the opening track is thusly entitled, Women. The guys know their audience well at this point and it shows. What really bowls me over is that the songs are so well thought out and executed. There’s a good mix of guy and girl orientated songs to please everyone.
Tongue in cheek sexual innuendos are Def Leppards’ strong suit. The lyrics dart and dash playfully around the person in the songs’ need to get laid. And the production? If you need an example of perfect production, this would be a great place to start. Every note has its place and is meticulously mixed down perfectly.
But does this album still have relevancy? Yes. Some albums do not age well. Like Crest of a Knave by Jethro Tull or Wildside by Loverboy. Hysteria is not one of these or those. This album can be played at any occasion and still get the crowd moving. And that is the reason why it sold over 20 million copies worldwide. But I still don’t have a copy in my collection.
Now I’m done.