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Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’: 10 Things You Didn’t Know

How nightmarish setbacks, astronomical budgets and one ultra-obsessive producer shaped the band’s 1987 pop-rock smash.

When Def Leppard‘s Hysteria came out 30 years ago, it made itself known as a massive achievement, its wall-to-wall sonics and skyscraping harmonies sounding like a turbo-charged version of the metal-edged pop the band had laid down on their prior LP, 1983’s Pyromania. “Every track sparkles and burns,” Kurt Loder wrote in his Rolling Stone review of the album. But the journey the band took to Hysteria was long and at times calamitous, marked by producer conflicts, lengthy recording sessions, record-company debts and a near-fatal car accident suffered by drummer Rick Allen. In advance of a new deluxe Hysteria reissue, available now, here are 10 facts about the album’s genesis and its current place in music history.

1. Meat Loaf producer Jim Steinman was originally slated to produce the album.
“When we first got together to follow up Pyromania – which was basically what it was; it wasn’t Hysteria at the time, it was just going to be the next album – we hadn’t a clue [as to] what we were doing,” lead singer Joe Elliott says in Step Inside: Hysteria at 30, a documentary produced by the band in honour of the album’s 30th anniversary. Def Leppard initially wrote songs with producer-songwriter Mutt Lange, who’d worked with them since 1981’s High & Dry. His packed schedule, though, meant that he couldn’t produce the album. For that, the band initially chose Jim Steinman, whose recent credits included Bonnie Tyler’s hit-spawning Faster Than the Speed of Night, Air Supply’s smash “Making Love Out of Nothing At All” and, most famously, Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

But the two parties clashed over the record’s direction – Steinman wanted the album to have a live-band feel, while Def Leppard was hoping to make an even more sonically extravagant album than Pyromania. “Jim just came from a completely different school of thought that was more vibe- and song-oriented, whereas we’ve always been more about the sound of the record,” bassist Rick “Sav” Savage says in Step Inside. “We go into great detail on every element that makes up the song.” The band bought him out in November 1984, before recording a single note, putting themselves in a hefty amount of debt. “He may be good for other acts, but he was hopeless for us,” Elliott told the Toronto Star in 1987. “We were a million miles apart in our ideas about sounds, style, timing. And he couldn’t adapt to the band. It was a mismatch from the start.”

The band turned to Nigel Green, who had engineered the Lange-produced Def Leppard records, but the sessions resulted in songs that hewed too close to Pyromania. Two weeks after Green and Def Leppard began recording together, Allen’s horrific 1984 car accident in rural England, which resulted in him losing his left arm, put the band on hiatus.

2. Rick Allen’s hospital bed helped him dream up his new custom drum kit.
“There’s no way he’s gonna get fired,” Elliott recalled in the Def Leppard episode of Behind the Music. “I mean, he’s like a brother, he’s … he’s part of the family. It’s up to him to tell us that he can’t play.” Allen instead returned to the band six weeks after the accident and began designing his drum kit, which used electronics to allow him to play his left hand’s parts with his left foot – and which he had devised the initial plan for while still in the hospital. “The hospital staff put this big piece of foam rubber at the foot of the bed to stop me from sliding down,” he told Modern Drummer in 1988. “I could push myself against it to hold myself up, and as I sat there, I eventually started tapping away on it, thinking, ‘Yeah, that could come in handy. …’ I was working ideas out with my feet. I got my brother to bring down my stereo system, and I started playing all my favorite albums again, as I sort of tapped along to them. There were a few things that were a bit difficult because I had only played a single bass drum, so it took a lot of concentration to get my feet working right.”

Allen plugged away over the coming year and a half, relearning his drumming skills while also teaching himself how to do other things. “It was pretty amazing to watch that happen,” guitarist Phil Collen told Guitar World in 2012. “Especially considering all the other stuff Rick couldn’t do – he couldn’t tie his shoelaces, he couldn’t cut a loaf of bread, he couldn’t even stand up properly because all of a sudden he was now unbalanced. But he practiced and practiced and practiced, just trying to get the coordination going between the left leg and right hand. And it was remarkable.” In the summer of 1986, Def Leppard was invited to play a handful of gigs on the Monsters of Rock Tour with Ozzy Osbourne and Bon Jovi. As a warmup for the tour, they scheduled a few smaller gigs in Ireland that would double as the first tests for Allen and his kit; the band invited Jeff Rich, then the drummer for the British rock stalwarts Status Quo, to be Allen’s backup. Three dates into the tour, Rich showed up late, and Allen had to go it alone – and “After the gig Jeff came up to me,” Allen recalled in Behind the Music, “and he just said, ‘Well, it’s been nice knowing you. I think you can do this on your own.'”

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3. Mutt Lange’s studio perfectionism added to the album’s delays.
Lange ran the guys ragged in the studio, multi-tracking songs more than a dozen times in order to create the album’s cavernous sound. “The idea was that this record was not gonna come out until it was an absolute bona fide classic record,” Joe Elliott told VH1. “It was creating a sound that nobody had heard before,” Savage says in Step Inside. “And to get through that process, sometimes, you could spend three or four days solely on one little thing to realize, ‘That’s not the right way to go.'”

“A guitar player friend of mine came in the studio to say hello, and I was sitting there going ‘bing, bing, bing’ on one note, and then I am tracking it and then going back and doing another note, ‘ding, ding, ding,’ and tracking it and he goes, ‘What the fuck are you doing?’ We were like, ‘Wait ’til you hear it all together,” Collen told Goldmine in 2013. “It really had this really unique sound. It was not painstaking, because we were doing something that had never been done. Every time we put a new part on, we got excited about it. We had to play things that would assist the song and not affect the groove or the melody. It went on a long time, and sometimes it was exhausting, but, at the same time, it was groundbreaking, which made it really exciting.” Lange’s perfectionist tendencies and other maladies suffered by both him and the band meant that the album’s recording wasn’t completed until early 1987. (The band apologised for the delay in the album’s liner notes.)

4. “Love Bites” originally had a bit more twang to it.
“Love Bites,” the band’s first (and only) Number One on the Hot 100, began its life as a country track – not the most surprising beginning for what would become a massive power ballad, although the layers of backing vocals (inspired by the R&B of the time) and guitars and keyboards the band added in the studio made it unmistakably Leppard–ian. “That was written by Mutt,” Collen said in the mid-Nineties, around the time Lange was making waves for producing albums by his then-wife Shania Twain. “When he first showed it to us, it sounded a bit country-and-western. … We just added Def Leppard guitars to it.”

5. “Animal” had a three-year gestation period.
“Animal,” the first single from the album outside of the U.S. and the record’s first hit here, took three years to finish, in part because of Lange’s impossibly high standards. “We used … my original demo, but it took three years before we actually completed [the song],” Collen told SongFacts. “I had done this demo and it was okay and there was a song in there we just couldn’t quite get. We’d revisit it and I remember we were recording vocals in Paris for something and one day Joe had done this vocal and Mutt Lange had said, ‘Wow, this vocal’s killer. Let’s rewrite the song around that.’ … He said, ‘Yeah, this is okay but this can be great.’ That’s always his thing. ‘Yeah, it can be alright and it can be an okay song but we want to make it great.’ And I think we achieved that.”

6. The band saw “Pour Some Sugar on Me” as their early foray into rap-rock.
“With rock bands in general, they’re usually not very open-minded; they’re kind of genre-specific and like to stay in their little boxes,” Collen told Guitar World in 2012. “I think the whole thing with Mutt was he wanted to open it up and do a hybrid thing, which obviously he’s amazing at.” Hysteria draws inspiration from a lot of the biggest-sounding pop records of the early MTV era – Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s aggro New Wave, Human League’s synth-pop splendour, Queen’s maximalist gravitas – but adds massive guitars and Allen’s rumbling beats to the mix. “The thing we wanted to do in Def Leppard is just be a hybrid of a lot of other things,” Collen said in Greg Prato’s 2011 MTV history MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years of Music Video. “In England, you don’t really do the ‘cover band thing.’ When you start up, you start writing songs before you can even play an instrument, in most cases. … We were creating our own thing, and I think it was going to combine a lot of different rock bands – Thin Lizzy, T. Rex, and the glam thing, along with the punk stuff, and Zeppelin. It was a total combination.”

The genesis of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” (the last song written for the album) came, in part, from the success of Aerosmith and Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way,” which became the first hip-hop single to hit the Top Five shortly after its release in 1986. “When we did ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me,’ it was only written because Run-DMC and Aerosmith had done ‘Walk This Way,'” Elliott said in 2000. “All of the sudden, rock and rap did mix, so we wrote our own.” Elliott’s verses were laid down as abstract syllables at first, then massaged into actual (yet still somewhat obtuse) words.

7. Hysteria stretched the limits of how long an album could be.
Hysteria‘s 12 tracks ran just under 63 minutes, testing the new upper limits of album lengths allowed by the CD era. “One of the big things that a lot of people don’t realize Mutt was doing with Hysteria was that he was making the album for CD buyers,” Collen told Goldmine. “He knew the CD thing was going to take off. We had 10 tracks and Mutt said we needed more. All of us, including the record company said, ‘What are you talking about? Quality will suffer from too many songs, and no one will buy the record.'” But it worked out: “If they can put a man on the moon they can press a 63-minute record, especially with all the new technology about,” Elliott told the Toronto Star in 1987. “Besides, I hate defeatists.”

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8. Lange envisioned the album as a singles machine.
Hysteria‘s length also jibed with Lange’s vision of the album becoming a rock version of Thriller – a pop powerhouse, packed with radio-dominating singles. “The opening lines at the beginning of the project was, ‘Why can’t a rock band do an album like Thriller?'” Joe Elliott said in 2000. “It had six hit singles. Why can’t a rock band have six hit singles off of an album?” Hysteria wound up spawning seven singles. Although the soft landing of the first single in the U.S., the album opener “Women,” seemed like a bad omen, the record eventually took off, bringing Def Leppard back to MTV’s heaviest rotation and launching three Top Three singles in the U.S. – “Armageddon It,” “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and the chart-topping “Love Bites.”

9. Hysteria became extremely popular, but it was first known for being very expensive.
The Steinman debacle and other delays, along with the meticulous recording process, helped to push Hysteria’s costs near the $5 million mark, an extravagant amount at the time. “If we’d started really dwelling on stuff like that, maybe it would have never got finished – we would have panicked,” Savage says in Step Inside. “I remember seeing the bill when we finished the album, and it was like, ‘Well, this is what you owe the record company,'” Collen recalls in Step Inside. “I was in tears, almost – I was like, ‘Oh, my God, what’s sundries?’ ‘Well, that’s what you spent at the studio cafeteria.””

“We’d spent so much money making the record that for it to fail would have been disastrous for this band,” Allen recently told Billboard. And the cool reception to “Women” in the U.S. had people nervous: “The first single didn’t do well and we were very concerned,” PolyGram senior VP of U.S. marketing Jim Urie told Billboard. “The promotion guys were getting a huge amount of heat. It only got up the charts as far as it did because it was a maximum effort by the whole company, the promotion staff, and everyone involved to try and get it up there. It really was a quasi-stiff, which was a surprise because it was a good song.”

But “Hysteria” and, most crucially, “Pour Some Sugar on Me” became massive, and the album’s eventual run of smash singles and impressive sales – currently at 25 million worldwide, with 12 million of those coming from U.S. record buyers – allowed Def Leppard to clear their debt with the record company and then some. “After that, the word ‘can’t’ isn’t in Def Leppard’s vocabulary anymore,” Elliott said in an Eighties interview. “I mean, we’ve got a one-armed drummer, took a ludicrous amount of time and money on [the album] – and we’re still here. So we have this attitude that nothing’s impossible – except, maybe, making a six-week album.”

10. Hysteria is one of the best-selling albums to not be available on digital music services.
In recent years Def Leppard have released re-recordings of some of their biggest songs, the result of the band being at odds with Universal, which now owns the rights to their early catalog. Because of that conflict, Hysteria and other albums from the band’s early catalog aren’t available for online consumption on sales or streaming services, and there’s no timetable for when they will be – if you want to hear the B sides and live versions that are coming out on the 30th-anniversary Hysteria reissue this Friday, you’ll have to shell out for a physical copy. “The main thing is, music has been devalued so much, and it’s really hard to see how it could ever climb back up to its old pinnacle,” Elliott told Rolling Stone in 2015. “In the past, music became a part of you. You spent time with a song or a record. Now you can hit a button and delete it and it’s gone. It never gets into your DNA. … It’s a spectacular system. I get it. I just wish they’d pay the artist a bit more.”