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      D  E  F     L  E  P  P  A  R  D


THE BAND

Joe Elliott - born August 1, 1959 - vocals.
Steve Clark - born April 23, 1960 - guitars.
Pete Willis - born February 16, 1960 - guitars.
Rick Savage - born December 2, 1960 - bassist.
Rick Allen (born November 1, 1963 - drums
Phil Collen (born December 8, 1957- guitars, replaced Willis in 1982.
All original members from Sheffield, England.

One of the most successful pop-metal bands of the '80s, Def Leppard became an inspiration to would-be teenage hairspray arena rockers everywhere.

Despite an average age of only eighteen, Def Leppard burst onto the heavy metal scene back in 1980 like a group of seasoned veterans. "This band frequently transcends the mundane through sheer musical energy and playing ability," wrote Jim Schwartz in Guitar Player. In a genre known for clichéd riffs and monotonous beats, these heavy metal heads have created a sound of their own while becoming one of the top-selling groups in rock and roll.

All five original members, Joe Elliott, Pete Willis, Steve Clark, Rick Savage and Rick Allen, come from the steel-producing town of Sheffield, England. Before employment as a van driver, lead singer Elliott used to dream about forming a band in school, creating song lists, logos, and band names while others in his class were studying. 

Guitarist Willis was studying engineering at college when he met fellow axe man Clark. Already playing with Savage on bass in the band Atomic Mass, Willis asked Clark to sit in and he soon joined the group. With the addition of Elliott and drummer Allen, they changed their name to Deaf Leppard and later dropped the a. In July of 1978 they made their debut at Westfield School in Sheffield earning a grand total of $12.00. With a twin guitar assault reminiscent of Wishbone Ash, they began gigging in bars with a repertoire that included 50% of their own originals. 

Britain experienced a new wave of heavy metal as the '80srolled in and Def Leppard was in a prime position to cash in. They recorded a privately-made EP, Getcha Rocks Off, which sold out its initial 24,000 copies. AC/DC manager Peter Mensch picked up the group and convinced Polygram to sign them to a deal. In 1980 the chartbreaking On Through the Night was released, climbing all the way to #51 in the US. "We actually wrote the first album nine months before ever playing a live concert," Willis told Guitar Player. "We wanted to do it right from the start and be polished." Songs like "Rock Brigade," "Hello America," "When the Walls Come Tumbling Down," "Overture," "Sorrow is a Woman," and "Wasted" were recorded in just eighteen days and made for a remarkably strong outing.The band then toured the UK opening for Sammy Haggar and AC/DC before coming Stateside to warm up audiences for Ted Nugent.

Their follow-up LP, High 'n' Dry, was an even bigger seller breaking the Top10. Their sound also expanded as "Bringin' on the Heartbreak" stretched the metal boundaries even further. In 1982 Willis was replaced by ex-Girl guitarist Phil Collen who told Guitar World, "We offer a lot more melody than most heavy rock bands, vocally as well as musically." Def Leppard was now a headline act after only two albums, and Collen's style differed enough from Willis's to create a unique combination with Clark.

They employed the services of ace producer Mutt Lange for 1983's Pyromania, another Top 10 LP which eventually sold over two million copies. The album also included three hit singles: "Photography"(#12), "Rock of Ages"(#16), and "Foolin' " (#28). By now the five members were being featured in teen magazines and ruling the MTV airwaves.

Lange was used again as producer on 1987's Hysteria LP and more hits followed. "Animal," "Women," "Hysteria," "Pour Some Sugar on Me," "Armageddon It," and "Rocket" each received substantial air-play. In 1988 Def Leppard issued a seventeen-cut video entitled Historia providing an excellent summary of their musical career.

It’s hard to believe that arguably the most successful heavy rock band of all time were ever in such a position of unpopularity but that is exactly what Def Leppard faced before they took the world by storm with multi-million selling albums and classic rock anthems. But then Def Leppard’s whole career has been built upon triumph over tragedy and overcoming the odds.

The band’s first hurdle was in the late seventies. The U.K music scene was dominated by disco and punk. Rock and metal had been forced underground and the big labels were just not interested in bands such as Iron Maiden, Diamond Head, Samson, Saxon, Angle Witch and Def Leppard.

In 1979 Def Leppard overcame this problem by releasing their own independently produced E.P, ‘Gethca Rocks Off’. In the space of ten days it sold out and the band were soon forced to reissue the E.P which peaked just outside the U.K charts at number 84.

A big deal was soon signed with Polygram and in late 1979 Def Leppard began work on their debut album. In the space of two weeks lead singer Joe Elliot, guitarists Steve Clarke and Pete Willis, bassist Rick Savage and drummer Rick Allen recorded ‘On Through The Night’. Released to lukewarm critical acclaim, the album peaked at number 15 in the U.K charts and spawned two minor hit singles, ‘Wasted’ and ‘Hello America’. Perhaps it was the title of the second single that influenced British rock fans into thinking that Def Leppard were selling out to the American market. Whilst rivals Iron Maiden were greeted as emerging heroes and conquerors of metal, Leppard were seen as traitors.

It was perhaps therefore not ironic that Def Leppard managed to crack the U.S market before their rivals. In 1980 all the emerging rock and heavy metal bands were grouped together and referred to as ‘The New Wave of British Heavy Metal’.

Of these groups only Def Leppard and Iron Maiden would go onto achieve major international success but in 1980 Iron Maiden were unheard of in the U.S whilst Def Leppard were impressing U.S fans on the A.C.D.C tour. So much so that their debut album was certified gold for sales of 500,000 units and peaked at number 51 on the U.S album chart by the end of the year.

However, this level of success saw the band taking on more responsibility and hard work. Responsibility and hard work which guitarist Pete Willis could not cope with which thus, ultimately, forced him to leave the band under not so pleasant circumstances.

Still his departure saw the arrival of a key member in Def Leppard’s history, Phil Collen. Phil Collen, already a friend of the band, was brought in just in time to finish of work on the third Def Leppard album.

Released in 1983, ‘Pyromania’ was the album that launched Def Leppard to mega star status in the U.S and finally saw a slight reversal of fortune in their home market. ‘Pyromania’ saw the band return to the U.K top twenty and spent two months in the U.K top seventy five album chart.

By December 1984 Def Leppard were in a position few bands ever reach. ‘Pyromania’ had continued to keep on selling with sales in the U.S alone standing at 8 million and the rest of the world starting to pay attention. However, tragedy was just round the corner.

On new years eve Rick Allen 1984, the bands drummer, was involved in a serious automobile accident that for a while saw his life hanging in the balance. Fortunately he pulled through but at the expense of losing his left arm. Through his own extreme dedication and support from fellow band members, Rick Allen would continue to play with the band with the aid of a specially designed drum kit. However it took a few years for this to happen and for a while Def Leppard were ignored by the world which believed the band would never return. But Leppard did eventually return and when they did it was complete HYSTERIA.

‘Hysteria’, the bands fourth album was released in the late summer of 1987, nearly five years after ’Pyromania’. The album was an instant hit all over Europe where the band had been warmly received through some high profile festival gigs during the summer of 1986.

‘Animal’ the first European single debuted at number 36 in the U.K charts giving the band their first top fourty hit in their homeland. Impressively the single went onto climb all the way to number six and helped the album debut at number 1!

Five further top thirty hits would keep the album in the charts for just under two years and allow the band to play some of the biggest arenas in the U.K. This success was repeated in Europe and also Asia whilst in Canada ‘Hysteria’ would go onto become the biggest selling album of all time by a band with 14 platinum discs awards.

As the eighties drew to a close Def Leppard were not just the biggest rock act in the world, they were the biggest band in the world. The international eighteen million sales for ‘Hysteria’ dwarfed the sales of U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’ at thirteen million, Bon Jovi’s ‘New Jersey’ at ten million and their long-term rival Iron Maiden who clocked up six million for ‘Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son’. Def Leppard were now in mega-stars status league with rivals being acts such as Madonna and Michael Jackson. Def Leppard were on top of their profession and on top of the world.

Unfortunately, that meant nothing for guitarist Steve Clarke. During the working of their fifth album he found himself becoming more and more addicted to alcohol. In January 1991 Steve Clarke literally drank himself to death and was found dead in his London apartment by his girlfriend on January 8th. He was only thirty years old.

Still the four remaining members of the band vowed to continue and slowly but surely completed work on the fifth Def Leppard album that fittingly had writing credentials for Steve Clarke and was indeed dedicated to the deceased founding member.

In April 1992, ‘Adrenalize’ was unleashed to the world five years after the release of ‘Hysteria’. The music world had changed a lot in five years, all the indications were heavy rock and metal was dead. Bands such as Poison, Whitesnake, Motley Crew, Extreme and so on no longer reached the charts and were forced to play gigs on postage sized stages in the smallest clubs.

Def Leppard had no such problems. ‘Adrenalize’ shot to the top of the world’s charts and sold a staggering two million copies in its first week of release. In the U.S the album became the first British album by a band to enter the Billboard album charts at pole position and its reign of five weeks was equally impressive.

The success of it’s first single also proved a pleasant surprise, hitting top ten all over Europe, South America and Asia and climbing as far as number 2 on the U.K charts making it the bands biggest hit to date. Only in America was the success of the single slightly disappointing. Though a top ten selling single in U.S, it failed to make enough airplay to reach the top fourty airplay charts. It was a sign of what was coming: grunge!

Nirvana, Green Day and Pearl Jam led the attack on the eighties supergroups that killed off all but the biggest of the big hair rock groups. Def Leppard’s closest rival Bon Jovi suffered particularly badly with their 1992 album ‘Keep The Faith’ managing to hit only number 5 in the U.S and stalling at two million sales. Def Leppard also suffered with ‘Adrenalize’ failing to sell the phenomenal amounts of its predecessors and it’s singles failing to chart as highly as the classics from ‘Hysteria’. Only a further three singles were lifted off the album that managed to make the top fourty. The biggest being the ballad, ‘Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad’ which peaked at number 12 on the U.S Billboard chart.

Nevertheless, with sales of ‘Adrenalize’ at five million in the U.S and a further three million world wide, there was no doubting that Def Leppard had survived the shift in fashion. More importantly the band now more than ever had a large and loyal fan base. This became apparent in 1993 when the band became the first act to play a gig at Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium infront of a sell out crowd of fourty thousand. The home coming gig was an emotional and very enjoyable day for the band that was on 227 date tour for seventeen months with new member Vivian Campbell.

The band took advantage of the show and made a premier live performance of ‘Two Steps Behind’. The song was previously a b-side to a single in the U.K only but was soon reissued as a single in its own right.

The song went on to give the band their eleventh top twenty hit in the U.S billboard charts and became their biggest selling single worldwide. The success of this single led the band to releasing ‘Retro-Active’ in late 1993. The album was a collection of previously released b-sides and rarities compiled and produced by the band whilst on tour.

The album shot to the top ten all over the world, (number 6 in the U.K and number 9 in the U.S) and went onto spawn two more international hit singles: ‘Action’ in the U.K which peaked at 14 and ‘Miss You In A Heart Beat’ in the U.S where the single peaked at number 39 and scrapped the band their fifteenth U.S Billboard top fourty hit.

With world sales now in excess of fourty million albums, the band spent 1994 and 1995 writing on their next album, the first with Vivian and the first since their debut not to have any production input by John Matt Lange. Furthermore, given the change in the music scene it is not surprising that when the album was represented to their record company, everyone noticed how different the album was from it’s predecessors. So much so that the band were persuaded to release a greatest hits collection in late 1995 to put a close to chapter one in Def Leppard’s career

‘Vault’ was unlocked to the world in October 1995 and became a massive hit on a truly international level. The album turned platinum and charted highly in all major territories including at number 3 in the U.K. In the U.K the one new song featured on the album, ‘When Love And Hate Collide’, shot to the number two spot in the singles chart and became the bands biggest selling single spending no less than five weeks inside the top ten. Further more as part of the promotion for the album the band played three acoustic gigs in three continents in the space of twenty four hours and thus earned themselves a place in the Guinness Book Of Records! The only downside to the success of ‘Vault’ was it’s initially poor performance in the U.S where the album failed to hit the top ten and managed to peak only at number 15.

Nevertheless, it would eventually go onto earn the band a further two platinum discs bringing their U.S tally to a staggering 33 discs and clocking up total worldwide sales of the album to an impressive six million.

‘Vault’ was soon followed by ‘Slang’ in the spring of 1996, which was released on Mercury Records. The album was produced by Def Leppard and Pete Woodroffe and was written and recorded over the period of year in the Spanish resort of Marbella.

The album saw the band going from heavy rock to post grunge and thus was critically acclaimed by even the critics. Strangely, or perhaps because of this change, commercial success was luke warm by the bands now blockbuster level of success. ‘Slang’ only managed to turn gold in the U.S and peak at number 14 whilst in the U.K it managed to hit only number 5.

Their most recent album, Euphoria, was released on Mercury in the spring of 1999.

The band are already legends, fifty-five million-album sales is testament to that, and they will forever have a legion of fans. They have outlasted their contemporaries and even the grunge bands that for a while threatened to oust Def Leppard from the world’s music scene.

Though they may never be biggest band in the world again, they can be and still are a force to be reckoned with and one that deserves nothing more than legend status and complete respect.

That respect is now coming with the band ending 1998 with the ‘Life Time Achievement’ award from national music awards ceremony in India and VH1 in the U.S paying tribute to the band as ‘living legends’

But make no mistake, though they have achieved more than what most bands do in their entire life span, the life of Def Leppard is far from over. The best is yet to come!


 

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