September , 1983
By Greg Garrett
Def Leppard - Def Leppard, Krokus, Jon Butcher - Def Leppard's " Pyromania" Tour
Def Leppard Burning Up the Airwaves with Pyromania
When guitarist Pete Willis was fired from Def Leppard in 1982 for excessive alcohol abuse, the band was in the middle of recording their third, and perhaps most critical album, Pyromania.
The group’s previous effort, High ‘n’ Dry had started the process of defining the band’s pop-metal sound. That shift was best demonstrated with the hit single, “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak.” Under the meticulous tutelage of producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, Def Leppard was just now tapping into its enormous potential. Willis, unfortunately, chose another path to follow the other members of the group considered a dead end.
On July 11, 1982 founding member Willis was asked to leave - permanently. The next day his replacement, Phil Collen, picked up where the former guitarist had left off. He contributed guitar solos and other parts that had not yet been recorded by Willis, whose rhythm guitar tracks would remain a part of the album. On the original LP release, Willis is visible in the background of the photograph of singer Joe Elliott, while Collen is given his own personal photo as the new full-time member of the group.
"Phil joined the group the day after Pete left,” explained Elliot. "Pete had been having a lot of personal problems. While we were laying down basic tracks, it was decided he should leave. Phil had been in the know on Leppard's problems and the group had known him for years. In 1979, Saxon, Iron Maiden and Phil’s band Girl were all breaking in England. Of all of those groups, we were most friendly with Girl. Within that band, we got on best with Phil. It seemed natural to us that he should join the band."
The devastating lead guitar work by Collen, especially on the lead single “Photograph”, as well as the melodic rock hooks found in songs like “Foolin’” and “Rock of Ages” propelled Pyromania to the top of the charts. The lead single, "Photograph", turned Def Leppard into a household name. Their album proved to be a serious challenger to Michael Jackson’s dominating mega-hit record, Thriller, for the top spot on the Billboard charts.
Mutt Lange’s productions skills brought Def Leppard to a level that even surprised them. Best known for his work with AC / DC and Foreigner, Lange is also a noted songwriter in his own right.
“Mutt had a great effect on our music,” noted Elliott. “He’s probably the best producer in the world. Just look at his accomplishments. On top of that, he is very musical, plays a variety of instruments, and on top of that, Mutt’s an excellent songwriter. He wrote 'Do You Believe in Love' for Huey Lewis and the News. His studio skills were such that he helped us a lot with all our arrangements, so we credited him as a songwriter on all the songs. In reality, Mutt has become like the sixth member of the group."
Def Leppard hit the road once “Photograph” created demand for the band in the U.S. They started their tour last March opening for Billy Squier. Later this month, they will headline Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. The tour demands a hit album creates on a band are quite daunting. On one hand, you’re living a dream for those two hours when you are the center of attention. The other 22 hours is nothing but travel, in-store appearances, constant interviews with radio and press. And now, with the advent of MTV, video is another serious consideration all bands must focus on.
"Video is important,” noted Elliott, “but it'll never replace touring. We did videos for ‘Rock of Ages’, ‘Photograph’ and Foolin’. At the same times we also wanted to create the atmosphere that we're a live band. Video showcases the band’s talents and showcases some of the stronger cuts on our album. Producing these mini films is an expensive proposition for a band, but the exposure you get once it’s released is worth every penny."
Pyromania begins with a rock anthem, "Rock! Rock! Till You Drop!" Elliott calls the track a call to the troops that has become a great live song to perform. "Photograph" follows that track. The singer says that the unparalleled success of the song has astounded everyone in the band. That cut is followed by what Elliott calls the ‘groupie’ song, "Stagefright". The song is punctuated by what many in the group believe is the best guitar solo on the album. "Too Late For Love" was intended to create a lot of atmosphere, and has become a concert favorite. The opening side to Pyromania closes out with "Die Hard the Hunter" an ode to mercenaries. It's about a soldier that can't readjust to peacetime.
The record’s second side starts off with a double barrel band, “Foolin'" and “Rock of Ages.” Elliott describes “Rock of Ages” as a 'three minute piece that is a parody of any anthem.’ Recent fundamentalist religious groups have claimed that the spoken introduction to the song translates to "I serve Satan, follow me." Others claim it is German for "running through the fields." Elliott laughs off the speculations explaining that the only thing the band wanted to do on the song was “have something that sounded like that Swedish chef from the Muppet Show.”
"Comin' under Fire" is a good example of the band's two guitarists, Collen and Steve Clark, working well together. "Action! Not Words" has "a real loose feel to it akin to something perhaps the Rolling Stones would do. Elliott admits the song has a great deal of the Stones influence written into the song, but lyrically, it's just a song about making pornographic movies.
Billy's got a Gun" is the singer’s favorite cut, and is the final song on the recording. The theme of the tune revolves around a normal guy that for whatever reason just loses it. The drumming of Rick Allen and the throbbing bass of Rick Savage are particularly evident on this cut. Elliott insists that Lange got the best drum sound in history on this record, and this particular track is a primary example of what he’s talking about.
As of this writing, Pyromania is still charting in the Top Ten eight months after its initial release. Though it is by no means in the category of Dark Side of the Moon, which is still on the Billboard Top 200 ten years after its release, Def Leppard’s third album still has very strong legs. The video for "Foolin'" has just been released and is receiving strong rotation on MTV. There is little doubt that Pyromania will become one of the top selling rock albums on 1983 when this year is all said and done.
"We've never been this high on the charts before,” said a pleasantly surprised Elliott. “It's quite a thrill to be doing so well in America. We're doing quite well in France; it's our second biggest market, and fairly well in England. We're still growing musically, and as we mature as a band, hopefully our fans will still be there besides us supporting our efforts. This was a special record to make. We just have to make sure the follow-up is equal, if not greater, than the work we did here.”
The odds may be stacked against Def Leppard repeating the heroics they accomplished with this disc, but if I were a betting man, I’d wager the best is yet to come from these pioneers of the pop-metal movement.