Def Leppard

Def Leppard's 'Hysteria' Turns 30: An Oral History of the Album's Painful Path to Victory

In 1984, Def Leppard was coming off the massive success of its third album, 1983’s Pyromania. On the strength of such hits as “Photograph,”  “Rock of Ages” and “Foolin’,” the set had turned the five lads from Sheffield, England into rock stars around much of the world, especially in the U.S., where they ended the American portion of the tour playing before 55,000 fans at San Diego’s Jack Murphy Stadium. 

Eager to get back into the studio, the band went straight from its final tour date in Bangkok in February 1984 to Dublin to write new songs with Pyromania producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. The plan was to release a new album toward the end of 1984 or early 1985.

But then almost everything that could go wrong did, from the catastrophic car accident that cost drummer Rick Allen his left arm to spending eight expensive, and ultimately wasted, months with the wrong producer. Costs ballooned to nearly $5 million and almost four years passed by the time Def Leppard released Hysteria (so named after an off-the-cuff comment by Allen) on PolyGram imprint Mercury in the U.S. and Phonogram in the U.K. 

“We didn’t quite know how the response was going to be because they were out of the marketplace for so long and when we last left them, they were a hard rock band in 1983 with a hard rock audience,” recalls Cliff Burnstein, who managed the band with Peter Mensch.

Hysteria, a meticulously crafted rock masterpiece infused with elements of pop, new wave, glam, and even rap, turned into one of the defining albums of the '80s, certified 12x platinum by the RIAA and named the No. 25 biggest album ever on the Billboard 200 chart in 2015. The album spawned an extraordinary seven hit singles on the Billboard Hot 100 -- including an impressive six top 20-charting smashes. Among those: the top 10s "Hysteria" (No. 10), "Pour Some Sugar On Me" (No. 2), "Love Bites" (their sole No. 1) and "Armageddon It" (No. 3). In the end, Hysteria spent 78 weeks in the top 10 of the Billboard 200 chart -- the most weeks spent in the top 10 for an album by a rock band in the chart's 61-year history.

However, its success was far from certain when it came out Aug. 3, 1987.

In all new interviews, the remaining band members -- guitarist Steve Clark died in 1991 -- and others involved in the album’s creation and marketing talk about the long road fraught with doubt, pain, joy, drama, misadventures and, ultimately, tremendous triumph. For the first time since Hysteria’s release, recording engineer Nigel Green discusses the groundbreaking, innovative wizardry devised in the studio long before the existence of Pro Tools. 

On Aug. 4, the band will release Hysteria (Remastered 2017), an anniversary edition in numerous formats ranging from a 2-LP colored vinyl edition to the Super Deluxe edition with 5 CDs, 2 DVDs, four books and a tour poster. 

Courtesy of Donovan PR
Def Leppard Hysteria 30th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition

Joe Elliott, lead singer/co-founder: We set up shop in a house in Dublin and invested in a few little four-track recorders. We barely had any money. Pyromania had done great but I don’t think we’d gotten the royalties in yet, so we were probably still on a wage.

Cliff Burnstein, co-manager: We only put out three singles from Pyromania because we thought, “Why go further? You’re going to have a new album out in a couple of years.” We probably left a lot on the table with that record.

David Simone, Phonogram Managing Director: When I came in to Phonogram, they were already working on Hysteria. They’d had albums that had been enormous in America. Nobody had heard of them in England. I remember Joe Elliott said to me, “My mum goes to the hairdresser every Saturday [in Sheffield] and the other women in the hairdressers make fun of her because she’s told them I’m a rock star and none of them have seen me on Top of the Pops.” The only way you got on Top of the Pops was to have a top 30 single in England and they hadn’t had one, nothing close, in fact. I said, “I will make you a promise, Joe, before I leave here, you will be on Top of the Pops. And your mom will be able to say, ‘See, my son is a rock star’.”

Elliott: For at least the first month in Ireland, we didn’t do a lot of writing -- we did do a lot of drinking. Most rock stars are probably trying to hide it, but they all did it. Even the sophisticated ones probably puked up in somebody’s garden.

Rick Allen: Joe had this car called Dirk and Steve and Phil drove it into town. They obviously ended up at the pub. They woke up the next morning, Phil felt this weight on his wrist and he’d bought this really expensive watch. The store wouldn’t take it back.

Phil Collen, guitarist: Myself and Steve didn't remember a thing. I bought a Rolex, Steve bought a Cartier and we both got our ears pierced, which we also knew nothing about until I looked in the mirror because my ear was sore. 

Ross Halfin, photographer: They’d gotten gold Amex cards and they’d never had credit cards before because they had no real money. I remember Steve was so embarrassed by the watch, a friend of mine owned a guitar store and he took it in and swapped it for some effects pedals.

Elliott: Rick had the downstairs room and he never came out.  All we could smell was weed leaking out under the door and hearing “Rebel Yell” by Billy Idol every day all day.

Allen: Yeah, I loved that record! There was plenty of mind-bending substances around the place to help things along so I wouldn’t doubt that story, not for a moment.

Rick “Sav” Savage, bassist/co-founder: We were very aware of what was happening on the pop charts during that particular point and I think that gave us an early indication of where we were going with the album. It was always going to be a rock album, but we wanted to try to broaden the scope.

Collen: Mutt said, “Look, everyone else is copying Pyromania, so we don’t want to make Pyromania 2. We should do a rock version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller, where it crosses over.” That was the role model that we wanted to use. We wanted to make a hybrid. “Animal,” “Gods of War,” and “Armageddon It” [were] early songs. We thought it was great because it was different from the Pyromania stuff. I was a huge Prince and Police fan, so I was writing elements of that, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Duran Duran, Billy Idol. We were trying to get The Fixx’s guitar sound, which we never did. We wanted to sound like a mixture of that and Andy Summers. We failed miserably, but that’s the sound that’s on “Animal” and “Love Bites.”

Elliott: Mutt came along to help out with the songwriting and the arrangements and to get us motivated. Probably a couple of months in, he said, “I’m not going to be around to make the record.” That was a bombshell.

In August 1984, the band relocated to Holland to begin recording with Jim Steinman.

Collen: The record company owned this studio in Hilversum just outside of Amsterdam. It was a great studio and it was just a great vibe. The problem was we were spending too much money so we ended up going back and forth to a little jingle studio in Dublin. We were trying to be budget conscious because it was running away with us.  [Toward the end], the label’s going “where’s this record?” and we’re in hideous debt, $4.5 million, which is still huge now, but back then was a ridiculous amount of money to spend on an album.

Halfin: It wasn’t like they were living the life of luxury. They stayed in like the local Motel 6 in Hilversum. It was very basic.

Elliott: It wasn’t The Shining (laughs). It was just a regular 2-story hotel on a lake. It was clean, it was neat, it was all we needed. I was in my room one day and I had on my headphones, programming a drum machine or something. I turned around and there was this guy peering in the door and he said “Where is my fucking wife?” I said, “What?” He said, “Where is my fucking wife?” I said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He said, ”Are you a musician? and I said, “Well, not really, but yeah.” He said, “I’m Jaco Pastorius.” He looked at me and went, “Oh, 132, I’m in room 32. Sorry about that,” and he left. Then he came back in and said “I’m 33 years old, married with three kids and everybody wants to kill me,” and he left. He was a nutbag. I remember ringing Phil and going, “You won’t believe what happened to me.”

Burnstein: If we weren’t using Mutt, we needed to do something that was not cookie cutter, so we came up with the name of somebody who had those qualities that Mutt had as a writer, arranger and producer. [Jim Steinman] came from a slightly different world and you don’t want to just make the same album again when you’re coming off of a 10-million seller. We thought Steinman would actually be faster than Mutt. That was one part of it.  

Elliott: Management thought we needed a song seamstress, if you will, more than a producer. I don’t know where their heads were at. We wanted Chris Thomas, who had done the Pretenders. We were turned down flat by his then manager. I’ve met him since and he says he never got [the request].

Savage: We’ve always been more polished than raw and Jim brought more rawness to the recording session and it just wasn’t natural for us, we’d always been a bit more detailed [with] individual texture. It was just a mismatch.

Elliott: We’d be messing around with a song. We’d play it all the way though and he’d say, “Yeah, I think we got that one,” and we’d be like, “We haven’t even tuned up yet. We were just goofing around.” He just wanted to capture the energy.

Simone: They said to me, “Look, it’s not working with Jim Steinman. I said “Well, we’ve already spent on him, forget the record, $300,000.”  This was 30 years ago, that was a fortune. Without missing a beat, either Peter Mensch or Joe Elliott said, “We’ll write a check for that money to Phonogram,” which they did. 

Collen: [Steinman] didn’t want the points. I guess he didn’t think it would do well. [Editor’s note: Steinman’s manager declined a request to interview Steinman]

Nigel Green, recording engineer: They parted ways [with Steinman] and I was brought in for what I thought would just be finishing off recording vocals and final mixing. But it soon became clear that a lot of the record still had to be recorded. I did my best re-recording guitars to beef up the sound and improve certain parts. We plodded on for quite a while, but in the final analysis it was really Mutt they needed.

Amid the Steinman drama, on Dec. 31, 1984, Allen was in a car accident in England that resulted in his losing his left arm.

Burnstein: Time stopped essentially on that day for us.

Savage: I was getting ready to go to a fancy dress party for New Year’s Eve. The phone rang and it was Peter Mensch. He’s not one for beating around the bush. He said, “How are you doing? Rick Allen just had a car accident and severed his arm.” There was no “I’ve got some bad news” or this or that.

Simone: I spoke to Peter Mensch and said, “How do we move forward? Do we bring in a session drummer?”  He said, “The band are emphatic, they’re only going to make this album with Rick.” 

Halfin: On New Year’s Day, four drummers, three of them are well known, rang me up and asked me if I knew who to call to get the gig. I was like “What?” They were all completely serious.

Allen: There were times at the beginning when I really felt like I couldn’t do this anymore. The thing that really helped is Mutt came to visit and he talked me into being able to do this but in a different way. I started to figure out on my own the worst thing for me to do was to compare myself to others or compare myself to how I used to play. As soon as I embraced the idea of uniqueness, then I really started to come out of my shell.

Elliott: I don’t know whether it was visiting Rick or a combination of that and it had been a year now since he’d done anything, but Mutt went, “You know what? Fuck it, let’s go. Let’s do this,” and he came back on board.

Savage: By springtime ’85, Rick was definitely back within the fold. He wasn’t actually recording, but he was with the gang and was part of the troops that was recording in Holland. He’d turn up and be listening to what we were doing. He’d go away and practice, but he was always part of it from that point on. 

Green: When Mutt decided to get [back] involved, Hysteria really got started. From that point on it was two years in the making.

Allen: Mutt was able to put himself in a situation where he could imagine every single instrument that was going to be played on the record. He had a vision that I don’t think any of us got at first. His vision was so clear and he’d stop at nothing to get what he wanted.

Green: On Pyromania, the guitar sounds were recorded using a Marshall 100-watt amp. But they went through a ton of guitar amps and a whole lot of time before they found the right one. Eventually I think the amp blew up. When Mutt finally arrived on the Hysteria album he didn’t want to go through that again, so we decided to go for processed guitar sounds using something called a Rock Box. Other times we would use a Rockman, made by [Boston’s] Tom Scholz. A lot of people couldn’t believe we didn’t use real amps. 

Savage: The difference between the two albums was when we recorded Pyromania, the bass guitar was the first thing that went down. That was mainly because we were struggling so much to get a guitar sound that we were all happy with. The clock was ticking, so in the meantime, it was “Let’s just get a bass guitar down.” 

Green: The air conditioning kept coming on and off, changing the temperature of the room. This would change the tension of the bass strings and, therefore, the tuning of the bass. So if they weren’t constantly checking the bass with a tuner, it could drift out of tune. The end result was the guitars had to be tuned slightly differently between choruses, verses, and bridges on different songs on Pyromania. It was a nightmare. So on Hysteria, we decided to do all the guitars first before we put the bass down. It’s a lot easier to hear guitars drift out of tune. The problem now was we were recording guitar parts to no drums or bass, just a click track to keep us in time. It was very hard to envision what the dynamics and the final sound was going to be like without bass and drums.

Collen: With a lot of two-guitar bands, one plays rhythm and one plays lead and then the rest of the song they’re playing exactly the same thing. Steve and I wanted to get more inventive. On the song, “Hysteria,” there are sometimes four or eight different guitar parts going off at the same time. On “Love Bites" chorus, Mutt said “I want it vibrato as the note hits,” so as I’m hitting the strings, he had Steve hitting the whammy bar at the same time. You couldn’t really do that live because it takes two people playing one guitar. Little things like that were so much fun for me and Steve. It was probably four things like that on the whole record. Everything else was totally isolated, recorded totally separate.

Green: Steve Clark was a really funny guy to work with. You had to have a sense of humor working the hours we did or you’d go crazy. We’d be working on part of a song for hours at a stretch and suddenly he’d say, “Well, we’ve got all the notes... now we just need to get them in time and in the right order.” He’d have us rolling around laughing.

Savage: By the time we get to the bridge on “Hysteria” it really opens up into a shiny, chordal part and in order to achieve that, we would actually record every individual string of the chord itself. It was things like that we were exploring. Very, very tedious to record but when done right, the end result and the overall effect can be quite stunning.

Collen: All the backing vocals have a different flavor to them. “Love Bites” was predominately Mutt on the backing vocals. I’ve got the really loud aggressive voice. The chorus in “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” that’s predominantly me.  Mutt’s a huge Eagles fan and we blended vocals, but instead of singing it sweetly like a lot of American bands do, there was an aggression. “Rocket” was completely over the top: it’s hundreds and hundreds of tracks so it sounds like a sports stadium.

The band took a break from the studio to play Monsters of Rock in Derbyshire, U.K. on Aug 16, 1986, an event Halfin captured for the photo in the Hysteria liner notes, and which commemorated Allen’s first big gig following his accident.

Halfin: It poured rain. They looked like a bunch of drowned rats. They did the show to establish the fact that they were still there as a band because they had been away for so long. It was freezing, it was cold, it was damp, it was the worst.

Allen: I remember Joe introducing me and I was just sitting back there in tears. I couldn’t really contain myself because it was confirmation in a sense that everybody had accepted me. I wasn’t this freak show going out on stage. It was me and I knew how to play and I knew how to do it well.

Elliott: In the studio, Mutt was the king of “Do It Again.” We used to say, “You sound like a chugging train— ‘Do it again, do it again, do it again’ (train whistle)’,” because he wanted the best out of us. Some songs were insanely difficult to nail down to the standard that he thought it should be. When you’re a fan of the New York Dolls, it’s really hard to explain “it sounds fine to me.” But he’s like, "You’re not David Johansen.” David Johansen singing “Love Bites” would have been a bit of a head fuck. 

Collen: When you’re around Mutt, it’s not like, “Why does it take so long, he’s a slave driver.” He’s so inspiring, you’re like, “Oh my god, if we slack off here, we’re the lamest things in the world.”

Elliott: It got awkward for all of us. All of us would throw sticks, throw picks, throw guitars down, storm out of the room, all except for Phil who went through it all because he enjoyed the process more than the rest of us. But it wasn’t easy.

Savage: I found Pyromania really tedious because it was hard work, but it was a very basic album in comparison. The recording process of Hysteria, I found absolutely fascinating. I loved what we were achieving and I loved that we were doing something new and every time we captured something and knew that it was a keeper on tape, it was such a great feeling. I loved every minute of it.

Collen: Amsterdam was a half hour away from the studio. In the ‘80s, it was a crazy place to be. We kind of kept it under control. Mutt was like, “Look, you can’t be messing up here. It’s costing a fortune, you’ve got to have clear heads here because we’ve got a lot to do.” We weren’t in the studio at the same time, so [we’d] go to the pub or restaurants or movies, read, the stuff you do, write more songs. Mutt was in the studio, obviously, all of the time. It was a lot harder for him. Later on, we started taking weekends off so he could have a little bit of a break because it was crazy. 

Elliott:  We used to sit around and watch soccer all the time [in the studio]. At least three months of the Hysteria album was watching soccer over that two-year period. Mutt would go, “There’s a game on” and we’d go in and watch it and drink coffee and stuff or we’d stop to play foosball.

Green: I’m sure Joe will remember things differently but, sorry, I have to admit it, I was the foosball champion.

Green: Over such a long period even trends in music change. At one point we were trying to soften things up a little, guitar wise. Then suddenly Bon Jovi broke with “You Give Love A Bad Name.” We thought, “Shit, now we have to heavy things up again!”

Collen: If it got too sweet and soft, Mutt would go, “No man, you guys are English. You got to add some of that Sex Pistols, Clash, yobby attitude to it.”

Green: Mutt wanted freedom in the studio to change parts of songs any time he thought they could be improved upon musically, and that meant at any time during the recording process. This led him to decide to leave the drum arrangements until last in the whole recording process. The reason is once you have the drum parts set in stone in a recording it’s very hard to change the arrangement later on. Nowadays, changing the arrangement of a song is a lot easier to do using Pro Tools. But we didn’t have Pro Tools back then. 

Collen: After we’d pretty much finished the album, Joe was playing around on the acoustic guitar singing “pour some sugar on me,” and Mutt said, “what’s that?” Within an hour or so, [they’d] formed a song and we recorded that song in 10 days, which was the quickest thing we did on the album…When we started writing the song, Mutt said it should almost be like a rap song. Even the vocal was based on a rap thing, like Public Enemy and all these bands that were coming out at the time.

Simone: They delivered the album to our head of A&R, David Bates. I immediately thought it was an incredible album with hits for the U.K. David said the group want “Animal” as the first single. I said, “I think that’s great.” David, who like all really great A&R guys is a little bit crazy, then came storming down to my office and said “There’s no way ‘Animal’ is coming out as a single with those animal noises,” and screamed and yelled at me. About 20 minutes later, I walked back to his office and said “Dave, you’re wrong. That is the first single [in the U.K].”  “Animal” went to No. 6. They were on Top of the Pops and Joe Elliott’s mom had her son, the rock star.

Collen: The Americans wanted “Animal” as well, but Cliff Burnstein was scared that we’d lose rock credibility in America if we put kind of a pop single out first, so we put “Women” out.

Burnstein: We always thought long term the band would be strongest if they were always associated with being a hard rock band and so we took that hardest rock song on the record. There was virtually no crossover at all. It was generally considered to be a disappointment and the record was generally considered to be a failure (laughs). 

Jim Urie, PolyGram senior VP of Marketing, U.S.: The first single didn’t do well and we were very concerned. 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. It sounded good to us. 

Burnstein: The label was scared as hell [after “Women” and then “Animal” didn’t take off in the U.S]. I wouldn’t tell the band all this stuff. I’d just tell the band, “We’re building this song by song and eventually we’re going to get there.” Fortunately, it turned out I was right for a change. It really was touch and go for a while.

Allen: We’d spent so much money making the record that for it to fail would have been disastrous for this band.

Burnstein: We then looked for another song we could cross over and it was “Hysteria.” We just loved that song, still do. [Hysteria peaked at No. 10 on the Hot 100.] We had gone to rock radio with “Pour Some Sugar On Me” while “Hysteria” was still at pop and it was a complete failure on the rock stations. It was close to being shelved, but Mutt worked up a new mix for us that we could work right to pop. The label said even though they doubted that “Pour Some Sugar on Me” would be successful, that they would give it a full priority. David Leach was the head of promotion then and he loved Def Leppard. The first week [in April 1988], they got 70 pop stations on the record, which was phenomenal, and it just exploded. There’s not a single rock station today -- if any of the stations are still around -- that remembers they stiffed my record out. They all think it’s one of the biggest Def Leppard hits of all time, which it is, no thanks to them.

Collen: Strippers in Florida were requesting “Sugar” on local radio stations and that’s really what kicked that song off. Then it got released as a single and it was “Bang! Off we were!” Then the album was No. 1 and we’re huge again. I’ve probably been in three strip clubs in my life, dragged into them, not really my thing, but I think I’ve heard it in there. It’s a pretty popular song. 

Elliott: Even now, when we start “Sugar,” you’ve just got a feeling that it’s going to work. Sometimes you play songs where you go, “God, do I have to play this again?” But you only think that in rehearsals. You never think that on stage because you get a different reaction every night and you’re bringing joy to people’s lives. “Sugar” is a fun song to play. We were very fortunate that we wanted to write our version of “Jumpin' Jack Flash” or “Brown Sugar” and we did. 

Collen: We still get flashed when we play it— by men and women— so yeah, that’s a bit weird.

Urie: [Cliff and Peter] were their usual difficult selves every step of the way. Basically, we would run the other way when they came in. There were times when I genuinely felt there needed to be more stock in the market, like when “Sugar” really started to explode, and they would not let us discount the record at retail. I don’t think that record was discounted for two years, which was unheard of in that day.

Burnstein: We were real dicks about it. You make less on royalties when you discount the record and, also, we felt that we needed to fight for every sale and do it legitimately and that was the only way we could ultimately know the strength of the band. That’s probably one of the reasons people in general in the business thought that this record wasn’t very successful for the first few months it came out because we didn’t hype it.

After playing some European dates, Def Leppard’s U.S. tour kicked off in Glens Falls, NY, on Oct. 1, 1987. Mensch came up with the idea for the band to play in the round with the stage in the middle of the arena.

Savage: That first night we were playing in Glens Falls and we just did not know how it was going to work because we knew wherever you were on stage, you would always have your back to some part of the audience. It was just such a groundbreaking thing, but it was all tied in with what we were trying to do. I remember half way through the first show thinking, “I don’t even think I’m going to make it to the end because I am just dying up here.” You’re running around, you’re playing, you’re singing, you’re trying to entertain. It was just a challenge doing something different rather than playing at one end. I thought playing at the center of the audience was just the greatest idea ever and it was such a thrill to actually do it that way. 

Urie: They had roadies pick girls out of the audience and they’d take them underneath the stage and ask them to take their blouse off and then take their pants off. As they started saying no, they would get shown out and the ones that would strip, they would get passes to the after party.

Halfin: Look, they were not quite Motley Crue, who were, trust me, way worse. It was more like breasts, breasts and more breasts. Looking at it by today’s standards, it was a bit twee. The only thing that I thought was really strange was how many mothers were willing to get naked under the stage with their daughters. The guitar tech would always do the encores in one of the mother’s dresses— he would put the dress on to bring the guitar out. That became a staple of the encore.

Halfin: Joe and Rick Allen were never involved because they were alone on stage doing “Rock of Ages,” which would last for 20 minutes.

Allen: That kind of stuff embarrasses me anyway so I’m kind of glad I wasn’t part of it. There was some nakedness, but it was pretty light-hearted. I’d look down under the stage and be like, “Ok, there you go.”

Collen:  “Love Bites” went to No. 1 [in October 1988] while we were on tour. We’d never even played “Love Bites” through as a song when we recorded it, let alone together. We had to take two days off and go into a little studio in Vancouver to learn the song. It’s one of the best songs that Joe sings. It was so high and it was such a problem for him, we were all scared of this song.”

On the strength of “Sugar,” Hysteria topped the Billboard 200 49 weeks after its release in the U.S. PolyGram pushed “Armageddon It” and “Rocket” as the sixth and seventh singles before the Hysteria album cycle wound down nearly two years after the album’s release.

Burnstein: People were telling us we had a stiff album and we turned it around on them. We went seven singles in and our biggest singles were singles four and five. As managers, that’s what I’m most proud of —that we fucking stuck it to people who didn’t believe in it. 

Elliott: As much as that album was robotically put together, it was delivered with a heartbeat…The curse of Def Leppard— it’s shite. It’s complete garbage. If there’s a curse it was lifted long ago. We just went through some awful shit. I’ve seen bands split up because they don’t like each other’s sandwiches or they don’t like the way that they comb their hair. We survived some of the biggest traumatic experiences and we’re still here to talk about it.

Collen: The thing that hits me now when I hear the album, it sounds like a new genre of music. It has a bit of everything in there. It worked. It was worth all that effort. When we were doing it, Mutt said, "You can be a good band, but let’s make this great. That means it’s going to take a lot more hard work, so that we can all be sitting here in 20 years and be talking about it.” So here we are in 30 years and we’re still talking about it. He was absolutely right.