Def Leppard: ‘Pyromania’

Released on January 20, 1983 (Vertigo / Mercury Records)

Review by Tyson Briden:
When I think of Def Leppard’s Pyromania album, I am actually reminded of its successor Hysteria. The reason being that I didn’t actually become a Def Leppard fan until Hysteria was released. It was a neighbor who first introduced me to this great band from Sheffield, England. Thinking back, my introduction came just before the release of Hysteria. The lead off song “Women” had just been released on our local Toronto radio station, Q107. My neighbor had heard it as well. We quickly struck up a conversation about the band. He mentioned that he had the band’s previous three albums and he would be more than obliged to lend them to me so I could tape them.

A day or two later, I had the cassette tapes in my hands. Being that I was on a limited budget, I ventured off to Bargain Harold’s, a local retail store in the mall close by. Once there, I bought three 60 minute Memorex blank cassette tapes. I quickly ventured home — on my bike of course — and proceeded to my bedroom where my Emerson, all in one cassette deck/turntable, was set up in my room for the ultimate listening experience. I will add that this was a stereo I had purchased at the Woolco department store a year prior with money saved from my Toronto Sun paper route. I will also make note that Woolco is no longer courtesy of Walmart. Some twenty years ago, Walmart purchased the chain, changing Woolco into the brand we have all come to know and love, depending who you ask. Getting back to our task at hand, I peeled off the wrapping from the blank cassette and put it into deck two, then popped Def Leppard’s Pyromania into deck one. I quickly hit play on both machines. I thought since I was going to be copying three tapes, I should switch on the ever so wonderful High Speed Dubbing. Who remembers this awesome process? If you listened back to it as it was duplicating, it sounded like your favorite artist sung by The Chipmunks. Pretty cool stuff.

Over the years, Pyromania still stands as third on my list of favorite Def Leppard albums. Of course, Hysteria is and will always be my favorite. High N’ Dry is second I think purely due to the structuring of the songs. The aggressive attack really is captured throughout. The one thing that all three of these albums have in common though is that they were all produced by one of the greatest rock producers of all time, Robert John “Mutt” Lange. What is that I love about Lange you may ask? Simply put, he is a genius. He has a knack for helping a band formulate a hit song. He has a vision of what he wants; making the artist do multiple takes until it is perfect. To me, that is the way music is meant to be heard. Perfect. No flaws. When listening to albums he has produced, there is usually no filler. Each song meshes together into the next. It all comes together cohesively to form a masterpiece.

As I am about to begin, I’ve decided to review this album from the vinyl perspective, rather than my standard CD format. I am one of those people that believes vinyl is the superior listening form. It could be a little more difficult to rewind certain parts, but it just means I have to listen to each track repeatedly. I am a firm believer that when doing a review, I need to focus on each track to try and give the reader an accurate evaluation of what is really going on.

Side One:
Pyromania, starts off so distinctly. “Rock! Rock! (Til You Drop)” is a harmonious musical composition that speaks to the listener and gearing them up for what is to come. When I had first heard this song, I thought of singer Joe Elliott’s vocals as being a rip off of Cinderella’s Tom Keifer. Of course it was the total opposite, being that Cinderella’s Night Songs did not arrive until 1986. It was indeed Keifer who was being influenced; indirectly I am sure, by Elliott. Let’s remember, I was just recently introduced to Def Leppard in 1987. I had already been listening to Cinderella for the past year. Overall, this song is the perfect introduction to what would follow — “Photograph.” I repeat — “Photograph”. If you don’t know this song you’ve been living under a rock. A pure classic Leppard song that starts with a great introductory riff. What I love about Lange’s production is the fact that he could take a heavy metal riff and turn it into a catchy hard rock pop song. The only downfall in terms of this song is the drum sound. This is pre Rick Allen’s infamous car accident. The use of the Simmons drum pads really do make it sound slightly dated. In some ways though, the natural progression into Hysteria is evident. The question being, had Allen not lost his arm, what would Hysteria’s drums sounded like? Not that I am playing on the tragedy, it’s just a question I ponder. Considering what they sound like on this track, chances are regardless of Rick Allen’s accident, I think Lange would have used the same approach. Either way, the drums on this song may sound dated in 2018, they still fit with what was being done in 1983.

“Stagefright” starts abruptly with Joe Elliott proclaiming “I said a welcome to my show”. I love the riffing that comes in the intro. The simple chording in the verse gives Elliott the room he needs to allow the vocal to be heard. Moving to the chorus a superb gang vocal accompanies Elliott. This straight ahead rocker keeps the momentum of the album moving. “Too Late For Love” is a classic Leppard sounding track. The clean guitar in the intro has a syncopated feel to it. Just as Elliott sings over top of the perfectly calculated guitar progression, the band slips in over top building the track up slowly. The background vocals in the chorus are so huge sounding and in your face. The portion of the song that really captures me is the sections after the choruses where an eerie, medieval chant is heard, which then segways into a perfectly formulated guitar piece. Finely crafted.

“Die Hard the Hunter” is a great guitar driven track. The biggest disappointment for me on this song is the snare hits. They sound so digital. They really splash which becomes slightly annoying. The drum fills in spots are not so desirable. The various space noises throughout are an unwanted distraction. A keyboard line also follows the bass, which to me is totally unnecessary. If not for these various nuances that really date the song, this would be a killer track. Let’s be honest here though, we need to have the 1983 mentality. This was new technology that Lange was trying to incorporate. The main riff in the verse is brilliant. It’s nothing too heavy, very subtle, but creates a great vibe. The guitar solo is so amazingly generated. Steve Clark at his finest.

Side Two:
“Foolin” is the perfect lead off to side two. It starts off slowly with a great acoustic bit that Elliott desperately sings over top of. It builds into this perfect rock song. Those great gang vocals are heard once again. I love how each part builds into the next. Another great example of Lange perfectly formulating a hit song. I am astounded at Lange’s structuring sensibilities. As the guitar solo hits, the intro piece leading in wavers back and forth between the speakers giving the listener a great stereophonic experience. “Rock Of Ages” is an anthem for the ages. The bass, drums and synth drive the song as Elliott does his best to own the listener. The phrasing within the lyric make for the perfect anthem. In listening to this song it becomes apparent that Lange is a master at creating guitar sounds that aren’t overly distorted. The texture is so colorful. It’s like a painter putting paint to the canvas using various colors to create the masterpiece. This may be very well why early Leppard fans could not accept the band’s change in sound. Let’s be honest, had Leppard continued to have the same sound as they did in 1980, they would have just faded into obscurity like many of the other NWOBHM bands.

“Comin Under Fire” starts with more nicely textured guitar. To me this is the perfect example of Def Leppard in 1983. The bass and drums help the verse to build. The great background vocals are followed by a killer guitar line in the chorus. It builds and meshes perfectly. The snare on this song is more realistic sounding. A nice change. It’s obvious to me that Steve Clark’s legacy will live on forever as I listen to the genius guitar parts that complement each song. “Action! Not Words” is a refreshing change for Leppard as slide guitar drives the intro. Another perfectly executed composition. The guitars once again add the dynamic. The subtleties of the guitar are excellent — used when necessary. “Billy’s Got A Gun” closes out this superb piece of vinyl. It starts off slowly. Unfortunately those annoying snare hits are back. The bass line in the verse has a nice tone with very articulate notes being heard. As the song builds, the guitars mesh perfectly with the vocals. The riffing mixed with the soft chords adds such a great feel. Such a dynamically driven piece of work. Than the ending… oh boy. That annoying electronic percussion piece that seems to go on forever. Totally unnecessary.

As I close out from this review, I have to say this, don’t read too much into the fact that this is third on my list of Def Leppard albums. The three albums I have mentioned are all amazingly well done. The production, songwriting and musicianship are second to none. I wish that Leppard could still recreate something even remotely close to what these albums are, but I know many variables are different. This is 2018. Steve Clark is no longer with us. Mutt Lange has moved on to other projects. The band is older and wiser. So the best thing to do is embrace the previous work and let it live on forever.

Review by John Stoney Cannon:
By the time anthem “Rock of Ages” first assaulted my ears courtesy of a local rock station during a joyride in a friend’s “new” ride, I was already well-versed in the music of Def Leppard. This band, who added heavily to my soundtrack of 1983, became an additional excuse for why a rocker such as myself would hang out at the skating rink where the running gag revolved around the fact that never once would I be caught dead actually in a pair of skates. But then again what red-blooded American male teen needed wheels to find a cute girl, dark corners, or even the center of the rink for the ultimate in air guitar madness. That year, Pyromania would be pretty much responsible for ripped jeans and skinned knees as a result of every knee-led air guitar slide across the slick floor as skaters veered and spun in an effort to try and avoid “that crazy rock kid.” Yeah, looking back, those still stand out as some of the coolest memories ever but my introduction to Leppard was far from what I would call “cool.”

Merigold, Mississippi is about as far from Def Leppard’s homebase of Sheffield, England as any rocker could get and chances are the band haven’t stepped within a hundred miles of the town but in 1982, I found myself there visiting relatives. As was usual, I was picked up by my grandmother a couple days before my parents would head over so that I could hang out with her stepson Eddie, an older kid who would always let me tag along to join in football games with the neighborhood kids. That year, he talked up the area college, Mississippi State, so much that my grandmother suddenly became obsessed with buying me a State football jersey which in a town the size of Merigold could pretty much only be found at the mall. It became obvious pretty quickly that my attention was more drawn to the record store than any quest for a football jersey and a deal was struck. If I would participate in hunting down the jersey, I would afterwards be able to pick out a couple of albums from the record store. Needless to say, while it seemed like a lifetime, my efforts to get to the records quickly resulted in finding that jersey in record time. The entire mission resulted in a shiny new import copy of Def Leppard 12” “Bringin’ on The Heartbreak” with “Me And My Wine” and “You Got Me Runnin’” on the flipside. This would eventually prompt me to pick up the band’s High ‘n’ Dry album followed by the not quite as glorious but still kinda cool On Through the Night.

As 1983 slowly faded into history, with each passing day, I filled my days with the sounds of the ScorpionsBlackout, KISSCreatures Of The Night, and other cool recent releases by the likes of Whitesnake, Krokus, Van Halen, Rainbow, Motörhead, Vandenberg, and more with most of them tipping the hat to some of my early faves like Deep Purple and AC/DC. When I first heard Def Leppard the previous year, I was immediately taken by a pounding beat already in my soul courtesy of AC/DC and Whitesnake topped with guitars seemingly designed to invoke air guitar, and a powerful mix of energy and melody. It was like someone took the Bay City Rollers and gave each of them a huge set of balls — catchy, hooky, and impossible not to sing-a-long to. Hearing “Rock Of Ages” on the radio not only cemented my desire to go out and grab what would turn out to be one of my top three albums that year, but the deejay’s announcement that Def Leppard would be hitting town with Krokus and former Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore nailed down what in my mind would be the event of the summer.

Yeah, eventually Augusta, Georgia would find a place in rock and roll folklore as the place where Tommy Lee was arrested for dropping trou but in all honesty, aside from Ray Charles refusing to play for a segregated audience, little in the way of rock and roll had happened in Augusta especially in the way of big rock concerts so needless say a triple bill with Leppard, Krokus, and Gary Moore was a pretty big deal. Especially when at the time the biggest concert news was the 45-minute sell out of Bob Seger at the same arena just prior to Def Leppard’s visit that year. Needless to say, by the time Lep rolled into town, my friends and I had digested so much of Pyromania that we could have sang AND crapped it out by heart. All that was left to do the afternoon of the show was to find a way to get beer and smokes and make sure we had a solid copy to rock in the car on the way downtown. That day, when we pulled out of the driveway, you couldn’t help but notice us with the windows rolled down as the opening track of Pyromania blared through the neighborhood.

With the building power chords of “Rock! Rock! (Til You Drop)”, rock fans were welcomed into the new more streamlined world of Def Leppard. After a half decade of growth over two albums, the group would once again exhibit improvement and continuing maturity with the creation of an album blending the best parts of the group’s recorded work to that point. This is never more obvious than on Pyromania’s kickoff track as the band throw in everything including the kitchen sink in an opener that brings together the best in melody and power in creating an anthem as perfect for the stereo as for the concert stage. Far more rock and roll than rocket science, “Rock! Rock! (Til You Drop)” is a no-holds-barred anthem that in the summer of 1983 doubled as a battle cry for teens in the southeast United States as much as frustrated youth in Sheffield, England. There were few places a kid could go on Friday or Saturday night and escape this now legendary rock anthem and with it brought impossible to ignore desires to raise a fist and raise hell.

When “Photograph” hit MTV early on, most rockers were sucked in by the infectious flow of words in not only the chorus but the verse even if they weren’t exactly sure what the song was about. Despite being hook laden, the song is deep in content for a hard rock song at the time lamenting on the fact that the only connection left to legendary film star Marilyn Monroe is found in photographs. Pretty heady material for the average teenage rock fan circa 1983 but still the tune remains a Def Leppard classic and setlist mainstay to this day. Featuring a sound closer to what attracted fans early on, ”Stagefright” is the very essence of the riff-heavy power chord AC/DC influenced style that originally broke Def Leppard into the rock world. Full of blasting vocals, chant loaded anthem style chorus and of course killer solo complete with animated breakdown and second kick-in section, this is one of the spots where the band show the transition from the greatness of High ‘n’ Dry to the mature brilliance of Pyromania.

Not only my favorite song on this release but maybe my all-time favorite Def Leppard track, “Too Late For Love” in my opinion is the ultimate Lep masterpiece fielding everything that was great about “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” while adding in early traces of what would help the band explode on follow-up Hysteria just a few years later. By early traces, I mean the small touches hidden underneath that would boost tracks not so much the overuse of melody found on Hysteria. While the world obviously went gaga over Hysteria, it remains an ear sore for me full of overblown production and songwriting that on my ears sounds like an obvious attempt to cash in on the tiny commercial additions that could be found on Pyromania. Not saying that I don’t have fond memories and fave songs from Hysteria, just saying that in the grand scheme of classic Def Leppard, their biggest selling album of their prime is my least favorite of that period. Luckily in 1983, those minor nuances were merely the band gaining the traction to be able to add more to the killer rock and roll they already had under their collective belts. Maybe it was growth, perhaps the addition of scene veteran Phil Collen on guitar or a combo of both, who knows but it somehow worked. And man, did it work. Pyromania as a whole is killer rock and roll and “Too Late For Love”, for all its balladry, is every bit as powerful as the heaviest tune on the album. This possibly explains why it picked up just as many spins at the roller rink as any of the other tunes on the album.

Another of my top tracks to blast, “Die Hard The Hunter” kicks with just about everything I love about Leppard — chucky guitar riffs, pounding beat, blaring vocals and melody-infused energy. The climbing solo just adds a bit of icing and before you know it, you’re right smack into the infectious chorus again. While it’s true that over the years, the songs I find most dear contain very personal connections to my heart, this track remains a piece of my musical history simply for the energy it provided at the time. In the midst of my teen angst of ’83, music that provided a simple release carried just as much weight as music I could relate too on a deep and personal level and “Die Hard The Hunter” falls into the former category. Far more for rocking than thinking, at least for this rocker.

Getting back to the roller rink (and girls and maybe even dark corners), “Foolin’” as I recall was played over the sound system easily more than any other song on Pyromania and before I continue, let me add that in this case (and the case of any other tune the deejay played), this was surely no small feat as in 1983, this involved far more than just picking a track off of iTunes or a thumbdrive filled with MP3s. This meant swapping out a big slab of beautiful vinyl between a pair of turntables for each track and in some cases, I ended up being the one doing it. Of course, this also meant having the stroke to bring my own records to the rink but that definitely is a whole other story but it just meant even more rock got spun at the Redwing Rollerway in 1983. I must confess, “Foolin’” more than likely received a few more spins than it was already being given from the regular deejay. But seriously, can you blame me? “Foolin’” is just a badass song and one that is impossible not to get into. To this day I’m still an air guitar sucker for that chucky rhythm guitar during the tasty bits of “Fa-fa-fa-foolin’” and the lead break is so air guitar worthy that I could understand why a thousand hard rock bands back then would have been totally jealous.

“Rock Of Ages”, a tune so well known and loved that every bit of it has been aped in some way over the years by so many artists including The Offspring sampling the opening gibberish for their own hit track “Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)” is while a “borrowed” tune, also one the band really can’t complain about. Leppard themselves reference the classic hymn of the same title as well as the Bible and classic rocker Neil Young. Further proof that in great music, the world can be found and killer rock and roll need not reference the devil to have an edge although some may refute that statement with the belief that Neil Young is also proof that bad music CAN prevail. Just maybe ol’ Neil somehow managed to drag his soul to the crossroads… but anyway. Enough about aging Canadian rockers. This is about… well aging English rockers. Bottomline — “Rock of Ages” is a classic hard rock anthem and has found a place in not only pop culture, but the all-time soundtrack for ’80s hard rockers everywhere.

When I was a kid, my friends and I always thought of “Comin’ Under Fire” as sort of “Foolin’” junior. The song contains so many of the cool things found in “Foolin’” but while we felt they were similar, we loved it no less and the chorus probably helped us get more arm exercise raising a fist than even the best of hits on other albums out at the time. Even cooler at the time was that when we weren’t just blasting Pyromania in its entirety on vinyl or cassette, we often found ourselves playing “Comin’ Under Fire” and “Action! Not Words” back to back. They always seemed like a perfect fit which of course could explain why the band chose to put them in that order on the album but once again, having stroke at the skating rink meant that when one of the two was requested, the rollers usually got both.

If there is a “serious” track on Pyromania, it has to be “Billy’s Got A Gun” — a track that surprisingly in the midst of all the suicide and gun issues in America at the time didn’t garner more attention from the likes of the PMRC and religious crazies of the day. Every bit as powerful as say Skid Row’s “18 And Life”, “Billy’s Got A Gun” is a stirring commentary on the state of youth in the early 1980s when on one hand, the sky was seemingly the limit yet for everyone, the American dream revitalized by the Reagan regime was not dreamy for everyone involved. A rock anthem band the likes of Def Leppard closing an album with a track filled with just as much lyrical substance as musical energy went a long way to show that the band wasn’t just a bunch of wild long-haired guys only capably of spouting out simple dumb downed rock. This multi-faced ability would prove beneficial for the band over the years and along the way allow them to overcome many odd and unplanned obstacles that now are rock folklore.

In 1983, Pyromania represented not just a next step for Def Leppard but what turned out to be a giant leap. The fact that you have original guitarist (and co-writer of many of the albums songs) Pete Willis and new recruit Phil Collen both present surely only adds to the perfect blend of where the band had been and where it was going. In doing so, Def Leppard created close to the most complete album of their career and one that to this day, is an amazing listen from start to finish. So awesome that multiple copies are required — yeah, the CD sounds great in the car but man does it feel great to pull out the vinyl and hear the needle hit the wax.

And when I put it on, my girl gets just as excited as all those girlies did back in 1983. And she ain’t “Foolin.’’

Track List:
01. Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)
02. Photograph
03. Stagefright
04. Too Late For Love
05. Die Hard The Hunter
06. Foolin’
07. Rock Of Ages
08. Comin’ Under Fire
09. Action! Not Words
10. Billy’s Got A Gun

Band Members:
Joe Elliott – vocals
Steve “Steamin” Clark – guitar
Phil Collen – guitar
Rick Savage – bass
Rick Allen – drums

Additional Musicians:
Pete Willis – guitar
Thomas Dolby (credited as Booker T. Boffin) – keyboards
The Leppardettes (Joe Elliott, Mutt Lange, Rick Savage and Phil Collen) – backing vocals
Rocky Newton – backing vocals (7)

Produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange
Engineered by Mike Shipley

Band Websites:
Official Website

Reviewed by Tyson Briden and John Stoney Cannon for Sleaze Roxx, January 2018

Def Leppard‘s “Photograph” video:

– YouTube

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Def Leppard‘s “Foolin” video:

Def Leppard – Foolin

Def Leppard – Foolin