How Def Leppard Avoided Making ‘Pyromania II’ With ‘Hysteria’
Def Leppard was navigating an arduous path to complete 1988’s Hysteria album, facing both tragedy and long delays. But in a recent conversation with UCR, frontman Joe Elliott cast parts of the process in a different light. He also revealed the lengths they went to in order to avoid repeating what they’d done with their previous album, Pyromania.
Def Leppard worked democratically as a group, with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange overseeing the ultimate quality control, and they were confident about emerging with the sounds they envisioned. Now, they are re-envisioning some of those moments with Drastic Symphonies. Classic songs have been enhanced with orchestration but unlike similar projects, the orchestra wasn’t just pasted on. The band worked painstakingly on each song, using the original tracks where appropriate while also recording new parts as necessary.
Some songs have been radically reimagined, with the staple “Pour Some Sugar on Me” being one particular example. The “Stripped” version finds Def Leppard interpolating Emm Gryner’s ’90s cover. The Canadian singer-songwriter shares vocal duties with Elliott on the new recording.
They also enjoyed digging into deeper tracks, including songs from later albums like Slang and Songs from the Sparkle Lounge. Elliott unpacked the experience of working on Drastic Symphonies, and the science of how they chose the tracks to revisit.
One of the tracks featured on this new Drastic Symphonies album is “Gods of War.” I can’t imagine what it was like putting that song together back in the day. It’s very complex.
Well, I’m told – not that I’m an expert – but the only note that’s not played in [the original version of] “Gods of War” is an E flat. In other words, every single note in the scale of notes is used in that song. You talk to Tobias [Forge] from Ghost and he’ll say, “It’s the one song where people like me, we hear it and we hear the second bridge and we think it’s the chorus. Then you go back to the verse and we hear the first bridge and the second bridge and then we hear the chorus for the first time, three minutes into the song.” It’s like, where the fuck did that come from? We were always aware of that, with this song, the bridges were as strong as the chorus. At that moment, we were flush with riff and chord sequence ideas when we were piecing the song together on that particular day. It just all fell into place. It didn’t take a long time to write.
I think Steve [Clark] had the initial riff. Sav [bassist Rick Savage] and Phil [Collen] added bits in the bridges and stuff like that. [Elliott sings a melodic section.] That’s all Steve, but then the “here it comes” bits, were possibly Sav or Phil. And it’s like, “Well, I’ve got an idea that will go on the end of that.” Mutt’s sitting there with us and we just brainstormed. He’d be the guy that would go, “No, take that bit out.” We wouldn’t really argue too much, because he’d be right. It was an intense writing period, that whole beginning of Hysteria, the six months in Dublin – but it wasn’t uncomfortable. We’ve always been aware when something’s outstanding and when something’s just okay. That’s why things like “Fractured Love” and what turned into “Desert Song” and “I Wanna Be Your Hero” – which was originally called “Love Bites,” actually, but we nicked the title for a different song and then that got re-written – and “Ring of Fire,” these songs were all in the initial songwriting, but over the writing and recording of Hysteria, they just fell to one side.
It was like, “Yeah, I think we can do better than that.” And they’re alright; they’re okay songs. They were Pyromania II songs, if you know what I mean. What we were trying to do was make an album that was a leap and bound beyond Pyromania [in the same way that] Pyromania was the leap and bound beyond High ‘n’ Dry. We just get hyper-critical with our choices, but the actual writing of the songs is not that hard. The string version of “Gods of War” really keeps all of that into perspective, I think. Because it was a very important song on Hysteria, and I think it remains an important song on Drastic Symphonies.
Listen to ‘Gods of War’ From ‘Drastic Symphonies’
It would be great to see how Steve Clark would have reacted to “Switch 625.” What you guys have done with that song on this album is pretty cool.
Yeah – and “Gods of War” – I think he would have been really happy with that as well. Because “Gods of War,” in itself, was very epic. The Hysteria version, the whole thing at the beginning, we kind of went down that road a little bit with “Die Hard the Hunter,” where it sounded a bit like Vietnam or Korea, somewhere like that, with the helicopters and stuff. The beginning of “Gods of War” was a bit more of a mature version of that. It was less Sylvester Stallone and a bit more Robert De Niro. It’s got a subtle beginning to it and then the song kicks in. At the end, it goes bombastic with [Ronald] Reagan and [Margaret] Thatcher doing their thing. When it came to doing the strings version of it, we said to [arranger] Eric [Gorfain], “We’ve got to keep that kind of mystique. We don’t want it to be overly obvious where we’re going with it.” So he’s like, “Yeah, the use of tympani is going to be pretty pivotal to the beginning of this song and the way it builds up” – because we did need the drums on this one. We did need some guitars, but a lot of those real cool Steve Clark odd time changes and weird notes that he used to play sound incredible on the strings. The two of them together, it’s hard to pick which one I think he’d like best. I think he’d love “Switch” because it rocks – but it rocks in a James Bond way, if you like. I think there’s a bit more thought process that went into “Gods of War,” because there had to be. It’s a bit more of a complex tune.
A song that I’m surprised is not here is “The Overture” from The Def Leppard E.P. That song showed a lot of maturity for where you were as a band at that point.
Yeah, it did. Now that you mention it, if you think of it like that, it’s a very symphonic song. I think the thing with that is that we’ve got three guys in this band that didn’t play on it. I think it would be doing it for the sake of it. Yes, I’m well aware that reading this article when it comes out, a couple of my mates are going to be going, “Yeah, you should have done ‘Overture’!” There will be a few people that bought into that whole On Through the Night period more than anything we’ve done that say the same thing. But I just think, if you look over our career, the 46 years, I think it’s a little pushing the point if me and Sav sit there going, “Oh, we’ve got to do ‘Overture’” and Vivian [Campbell] and Phil and Rick go, “Why?” [Laughs.]
I mean, I get it, because I was always annoyed that Fleetwood Mac wouldn’t play “Oh Well” until Mike Campbell joined the band, because Lindsey Buckingham wouldn’t play it! I think he did when he first joined the band and then he moved on: “I’m not doing that Peter Green stuff!” So you know, listen, the other guys aren’t facetious in that way. “Oh yeah, everything that you did before I joined is crap.” They’re not that kind of people. Hence, Phil being the one that’s always saying, “We should play ‘Let It Go’” and Vivian’s always saying that we should play ‘Wasted’” – because they’re just fans of the songs, you know. But I must be honest, it never entered my head to think that we should be doing “Overture” or even “Sorrow Is a Woman” off of the first album. [Laughs.] I’m trying to think of something that’s relatively symphonic off of that record.
It was quite logical, really, that we were going to stick with – we went deep, but we went deep to [albums like] Slang which is where the five of of us went. We went deep with “Paper Sun,” which was [also] this lineup. So you’ve got to take that into consideration that there’s a team here. There’s a love and an affection for each other, for the work that we’ve done as a team. There’s also an acknowledgement of respect from Vivian, for example, for anything on Hysteria, and Phil’s fine doing stuff off High ‘n’ Dry. So yeah, me, Sav and Rick [Allen] were the only ones that have been on everything – except the EP, which Rick wasn’t on – but I think the fact that we’ve gone deep in the sense of more recent material just makes the record sound a little more current. Even including two tracks off Diamond Star Halos, which were originally scored for orchestra anyway.
Listen to ‘Paper Sun’ From ‘Drastic Symphonies’
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Underneath it all, they are fans of music. That love and belief in music – other people’s as much as their own, and sometimes more – always seems to bring Def Leppard home.
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