I suppose that everybody has an album that defined their childhood, the one that caused them to spend countless hours playing air guitar (or air ukulele, if you live in Hawaii) in front of the full-length mirror. Most white people my age probably started with KISS, and I knew more than a few black kids who spent an awful lot of time trying to master the moonwalk and Michael Jackson's voice back in the early 1980's. Hey wait, I think I did too for a brief time.
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In 1983, Def Leppard was the coolest group of white dudes on the planet for me. In fact, I seem to remember that Bringin' On The Heartbreak was the first video I ever saw on MTV, so the Leppard and I have always had a special relationship. After Pyromania, my nerdy, scrawny, bespectacled self made numerous private attempts to ape the mannerisms of singer Joe Elliott. For Christmas that year, I wanted nothing more than a pair of Union Jack boxer shorts, like the kind Rick Allen wore in the video for Photograph.
Pyromania was more than just a metal album- it was one of the most successful examples of hard rock battering its way into mainstream music. Except for Thriller and Synchronicity, Pyromania was the top-selling album of 1983, and one that made them superstars everywhere except for in their native Britain, where they were largely reviled and regarded as poofy bubblegum rockers. However, over here and everywhere else, Joe and the boys could pretty much drilled most women under age 30 from that point on.
Things began a little tentatively for Leppard as they went in to record this album (though things would get far worse shortly thereafter, when people started losing their arms and dying from drugs and drink). Guitarist Pete Willis got the boot during the recording process and was replaced by the far more talented Phil Collen (not to be mistaken with the bald guy from Genesis). Robert "Mutt" Lange, who produced AC/DC's Back In Black and was highly in demand, proved more than a little demanding and made the recording process (Elliott has whined repeatedly about how he was forced to sing outside his range by the vocally-obsessed Lange). Yet at the end of the day, Pyromania erased the debt incurred while making their first two albums AND made everyone a multi-millionaire (presumably even Willis, who co-wrote several tracks).
There are few hard rock albums that sound so thought out as Pyromania. Everything from the subtle synth parts (played by Thomas "She Blinded Me With Science" Dolby under the alias of Booker T. Boffin) to the pounding and monstrously gated drums (a sound which just about every rock band tried to duplicate thereafter) to the thickly-layered harmony vocals speak of tender loving care, a massive budget, and undoubtedly lots of screaming matches and frustration in the studio (Lange would literally force the guitarists to record one note at a time in certain places). I once read that by the end of the recording process, the master tape had nearly been worn through from such constant use.
You know several of these tracks, as they've been radio staples for nearly twenty-five years and used to see the same kind of treatment on MTV that Timberlake does now. Even without the quaintly cheesy video clips, Photograph, Foolin', and Rock of Ages still stand on the strength of their catchy riffs, dense harmonies, simple beats, and Joe Elliott's instantly recognizable sexy shriek. For pop songs, some of these tracks (Foolin' in particular) are rather epic in arrangement. By the way, when they thank Russ and Charlie for "the clap" in the credits, I think (and hope) they're referring to what we hear in Rock of Ages.
The album probably wouldn't have made such an impact if the rest of it sucked, but Pyromania is solid the entire way through. Rock Rock (Till You Drop) bears more than just a little resemblance to AC/DC (again, think of who was behind the board), Too Late For Love is dark and pulsing with theatrical imagery, and Die Hard The Hunter is a long, ornate, and multi-part look at a veteran who's "brought the war to his neighborhood". I do believe that the somewhat jolly Action! Not Words is about making one's own porno film, which is something everybody ought to try at least once, if only to develop a respect for the professionals in that field.
While Def Leppard had a decadent side, it came out more in their off-stage lifestyles than it did on the album. Oh sure, Stagefright (which was NOT recorded live, despite the presence of crowd noise in the beginning) has Joe informing us that a headline act around the back is what I'm thinkin' of, most of the songs have little to with the thrust of lust. The ominous final track, Billy's Got A Gun, has some angry bloke blasting people around the town and ends with some weird backward drum loop that is unofficially known as the "March of the Dreaded Zultrons". Comin' Under Fire is probably one of my favorite Lep tunes ever, and is a perfect fusion of pop, metal, and that unaccountably dark vibe that sprawls across much of the album.
If you don't own Pyromania, you either despise rock music or just emerged from your quarter-century seclusion in a fallout shelter. This is one of the greatest rock albums every made, even if it did almost cause my "death by genitalia rippage" one time when I attempted to do Joe Elliott's spread-eagle jump. Heavy metal has rarely sounded, before or since, so carefully groomed and thoughtfully pieced together. A five star affair over two decades on; I pity that poor Billy Squier, who had to go on after such a stellar opening act (a situation that obviously didn't last long).
And "gunter glieben glauchen globen", that mystical and German sounding phrase that starts off Rock of Ages, doesn't actually mean anything (my friends used to tell me that it meant "running through the forest on a dark stormy night"- those idiots). Lange just got tired of counting songs off with the usual "one two three four".
On Through The Night http://www.epinions.com/content_218061639300
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