Hysteria – A Look Back on the 25th Anniversary of Def Leppard’s Second Best Album…

Cover of "Hysteria"
Cover of Hysteria

It seems incredible that Def Leppard’s Hysteria album is twenty-five years old.

I might have yoghurt in my fridge that is older than that.

I bought it on the day of release. It was the first album (lead singer Joe Elliott told us at the time) that was made for CD rather than vinyl, clocking in at over an hour. Although I bought the thin-sounding vinyl version (an hour of music is too much for a record to sound great) I soon bought the CD too. I took it home, carefully placed my stereo speakers a couple of yards apart, turned off the lights and sat in the dark, just listening intently to all the sonic tapestries being woven around me in order to get the full Hysteria experience. I was sad like that.

To decide whether Hysteria has stood the test of time you have to put it into context. Compared with, say, Bros or Bananarama it’s like aural Shakespeare. But match side 2 opener Gods of War against Hüsker Dû’s 1987 song Turn On The News – two songs with a similar point to make – then Leppard seem a little less vital. Less Shakespeare, more like Fifty Shades of Gray…

Before Bon Jovi and Def Leppard unlocked the Radio 1 playlist in 1986/7, Britain was engulfed in a torrent of Stock Aitken and Waterman produced Hi-NRG plastic pop. If you ever ask why on Earth Hair Metal appealed you only have to look at the alternative. We couldn’t all be cool Smiths, R.E.M. and Hüsker Dü loving indie kids. Radio didn’t play that stuff either.

Time has been less kind to Def Leppard than the aforementioned bands. Yet Hysteria was forged painstakingly four years after predecessor Pyromaina spent a year on the US charts (peaking at #2 behind Thriller) against all odds. (NB. all albums by Sheffield bands must be described as being “forged”. It’s the law). Difficult to see many bands remaining loyal to their drummer after he loses an arm. He (Rick Allen) was lucky he wasn’t in the Sugababes. They’d have sacked him for breaking a fingernail.

It wasn’t just one-armed drummer issues either. Producer Mutt Lange quit early on, to be replaced by Bat Out of Hell producer Jim Steinman, only for the band to scrap those sessions and revert to Lange again.

Hysteria’s greatest strength in 1987 – its amazing production – is perhaps now its greatest weakness, dating the record. Every note was considered, every arrangement thought through. I loved every tiny detail of it. But listening back to it now is an odd, yet enjoyable experience. Take opening track Women. It’s lyrics are so stuck in the eighties it defies belief.

Singer Joe Elliott reminds us of the story of The Creation. God made the Land, Water, then Creatures and Man (in that order – he sticks to the traditional script).

“Man was born with a passion” Joe continues from the pulpit. “Love and Hate” he adds helpfully (so both Passions, then).

Man needs a mate, so “he came up with the answer” (actual lyrics) “here’s what it cost”: and here he veers from the King James version of events by describing the constituent parts of a Woman as being “love”, “wild”, “lady” and “child”. (No mention of Adam’s Rib, which might have upset the bible belt).

That sound you can hear is Emily Pankhurst spinning in her grave.

But to knock the lyrics, whilst fun, is sort of missing the point. It was in the eighties, to paraphrase David Brent. Before sexism was wrong.

And by the end of the first massive chorus I find myself carried along with the sheer force of the thing. Before I have time to recover, the jungle drums of hit single Rocket kick in, followed by top ten singles Animal (the breakthrough one), Love Bites (the huge bridge and chorus ballad one), Pour Some Sugar On Me (the stripper anthem one, apparently) and then Armageddon It (the bad pun one). That’s just side 1.

I would argue that Hysteria is not just Def Leppard’s second huge hit album (earlier records High and Dry and debut On Through The Night were modest successes by comparison) but producer Mutt Lange‘s umpteenth hit album. A trio of AC/DC albums (including Back In Black), Foreigner’s 4 and Leppard’s Pyromania were all huge and Lange’s winning streak culminated in a hit album with Shania Twain and Bryan Adams’ Waking Up The Neighbours (with Robin Hood hit single Everything I Do). There is a common thread through all these records in the well constructed guitar riffs, the precise production shining like a jewel and arguably the eventual stifling of the raw excitement of the artist, evidenced by the poor third AC/DC record (For Those About To Rock) and the law of diminishing returns (quality-wise) as Lange moved from artist to artist. Some of Adams’ songs might have appeared on Hysteria, and vice versa and no-one would have noticed.

So whilst Hysteria remains one of the planet’s biggest selling albums ever it still doesn’t belong in the same pantheon as Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust (referenced in Rocket, and a favourite of Elliott’s) or AC/DC’s Back In Black. If anything Leppard’s Pyromania perhaps is the better record – knocking off enough rough edges to allow the songs to shine through without the production taking over.

Either way, Hysteria was a landmark album in British Rock and was a Godsend when Stock Aitken and Waterman threatened to take over the airwaves. For that, we can all be grateful.

Record #83 – Def Leppard – Pour Some Sugar On Me

Comments

37 responses to “Hysteria – A Look Back on the 25th Anniversary of Def Leppard’s Second Best Album…”

  1. sirrahh Avatar
    sirrahh

    I like Pyromania better myself, but the songs on Hysteria are hard to argue with: Hysteria, Animal, Love Bites, and Pour some Sugar on Me. Most bands would kill for even one song that good.

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  2. atothewr Avatar
    atothewr

    I know this CD painted them in a corner, but the guys in the band did nothing to try and get out of it. They have for years continued to try and live up to this CD when they should have tried some new avenues.

    I have always and will always love listening to this one, but I almost put it at third or fourth on their list of CDs. High N Dry, Pyromania, and in some ways Slang stand out more to me as I get older.

    Great review.

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    1. Heavy Metal Overload Avatar

      Its a shame that Slang wasn’t that well received or they might have tried to be more adventurous later. I thought it was a great record.

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      1. atothewr Avatar
        atothewr

        I agree. Slang should have been their chance to break the mold and build off of it.

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      2. Heavy Metal Overload Avatar

        Well said. They’v essentially been a nostalgia band ever since.

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      3. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        I think it was a case of right record, wrong time.

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      4. Heavy Metal Overload Avatar

        Absolutely. I guess they were probably terminally unfashionable at that point!

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      5. mikeladano Avatar

        Love Slang!!! I used to play it in-store all the time.

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    2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Thanks – and a fair point – Hysteria certainly marked their commercial peak – and they were the first band to have two consecutive 7m+ selling albums in the USA

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  3. gamgee464 Avatar

    my older sister was way into Hysteria, and my parents were kinda horrified. they sat her down and read her every lyric to every song. because of that (and her extreme mother complex with me), she did the same thing to me when i got into Green Day.

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    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Wow – I know I mocked the lyrics a bit here, but I would have thought Def Leppard were one of the more wholesome bands of the genre at the time. Compared to Motley Crue they were boy scouts. Perhaps Armaggedon It was a bit obvious?
      PS I have a friend whose ten year old loves Green Day…they have had to have a grown up discussion about language I think…

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      1. gamgee464 Avatar

        i think the overwhelming sexuality in Hysteria was what my parents objected to. neither of us ever liked Motley Crue, so they dodged the bullet there. and understand i grew up in a conservative Christian household. the only thing that saved my musical tastes is i had a former rocker for a dad.

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  4. threec Avatar
    threec

    Gotta love whenever you can use a well-placed David Brent quote. I remember this album although hair metal bands were more of my younger sister’s genre. Great retrospective piece!

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    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Thanks! I sent this to The Guardian previously and omitted the David Brent quote. Nice to see it back in…

      Like

  5. Threec Avatar

    Gotta love when you can use a well-placed David Brent quote. Great retrospective piece!

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  6. Heavy Metal Overload Avatar

    Great review! I find it hard to choose between this and Pyromania. Hysteria has so great peaks but Pyromania has less filler. I almost always stop listening to Hysteria when Excitable comes on. Retroactive is well worth checking out as it has many unused tracks from the Hysteria sessions on it.

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    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      I always liked Tear It Down, which was the B-side to Animal, and which the band played as an encore live when I went to see them in ’87. It ended up on Adrenalize…

      Like

      1. Heavy Metal Overload Avatar

        That’s an awesome track! If Tear It Down had replace the last two tracks on Hysteria that would have sealed the deal!

        Like

  7. mikeslayen Avatar
    mikeslayen

    Good post! I rank it their 4th best behind Pyromania, High n Dry and even On Through the Night. They peaked on Pyromania and jumped the shark on Hysteria…

    Like

    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Wow – a 20m selling album that jumped the shark! But fair enough – I won’t argue!

      Like

  8. mikeslayen Avatar
    mikeslayen

    Seems strange. No Pete Willis, over produced, they just really lost their true metal/hard rock edge.

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  9. HipsterApproved.net Avatar

    Great post…though I never really got into Def Leppard myself. I was more of a Zeppelin fan.
    I had a friend that was into them, and I remember when he thought they sold out. They changed their target audience from boys to girls. May be at this release…

    Didn’t Aerosmith do they same thing? When they started putting out all the ballads on Mtv and stuff? Like that song ‘Angel’ and their other hits at that time?

    I believe all that type of music is referred to as ‘butt-rock’.

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    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Hmmm. “Butt rock”. Not heard that term before…

      Like

      1. HipsterApproved.net Avatar

        This is from the Urban Dictionary:

        A style of hard rock from 1986 to 1992 with nothing original to add to the genre of hard rock. Their songs consist of the same over-used series of power chords and corny lyrics and may often contain the use of keyboards or (Lord help us) a keytar , but are just following what hard rock and metal bands have done from 1970’s-1985.

        Butt Rockers have been plastered all over MTV through the late 80’s and early 90’s because of a pretty boy image seen by recording executives as a pre-teen goldmine.

        Butt Rock Pioneers include Bon Jovi, Poison, Warrant, Skid Row and Winger, Lita Ford, Europe and Telsa.

        Performers are usually depicted as having long, “big” hair that is either bleached blond, dyed black or permed to death. Tight, ripped jeans or spandex, bright colored ripped and/or shredded shirts and excessive use of animal print bandanas.

        Butt Rock bands rarely put out more than 2 albums. Their first album was only popular because the sounded like one of their predecessors, then trying to experiment with their own style was grossly insufficient to have any lasting effect on the market.
        Example:
        Motley Crue is still touring after nearly 30 years.
        Warrant (or any member of) hasn’t been heard from since 1991, despite attempts.

        Butt rock has no originality.

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      2. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

        Loving your work, Hipster Approved!

        Like

  10. purplemary54 Avatar

    I kind of think Hysteria has held up pretty well. The lyrics were crap, but it worked for what it was. And for an 80s album, it seems less over-produced than most of the pop from that time, maybe because it was all designed to work together.

    But I like your perspective about British radio. I knew Elvis Costello wasn’t joking in the song “Radio, Radio” but it’s nice to hear it from a fan’s point of view. I can see exactly how much of a breath of fresh air Hysteria was at the time. Over here in the U.S., they just sounded like everyone else.

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    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Good to see someone standing up for Hysteria. It is all about perspective: and you are right – compared to a lot of eighties music it is not at all bad…

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  11. 80smetalman Avatar

    My sentiments exactly, I have always liked Hysteria but I’ve always thought that Pyromania was the better album.

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    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      I thought it might just be me when writing this…

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  12. mikeladano Avatar

    I’m going to stand up for Hysteria. I think High N’ Dry is probably the best Def Lep album, but this one was a strong one for me ever since I was a kid. I have it on 180 gram vinyl today, which has a lot more warmth than those old CDs. I like almost every song on it, and I think the slower ones like “Love and Affection” and “Hysteria” are damn near perfect. Maybe not a great rock album, but to me, certainly a great album.

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  13. THUNDER JEEP! « Pocketful of Joules Avatar

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  14. 29ordinaryguysmusicblog Avatar
    29ordinaryguysmusicblog

    Pyromania for me was the last and best album for the def and maybe I’m a freak, but I love for those about to rock!!! Nice write up!

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    1. Every Record Tells A Story Avatar

      Thanks! There are some good songs on For Those… to be fair – I won’t argue with you!

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  15. THUNDER JEEP! | Pocketful of Joules Avatar

    […] Hysteria – A Look Back on the 25th Anniversary of Def Leppard’s Second Best Album… (everyrecordtellsastory.com) […]

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  16. Eirik Rødberg Avatar

    Fractured love and Ring of fire instead of shotgun and excitable would have made Hysteria a better, more Leppardized sounding album. The songs were both made at the same time and Mutt lange produced. They would have been perfect fits and side 2 of hysteria would have been as good as side 1. Excitable and shotgun could have been on retroactive.

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