Def Leppard’s High ‘n’ Dry album was released on January 11, 1981.
Def Leppard High ‘n’ Dry
Yet many fans still consider the High ‘n’ Dry album to not only be the band’s best, but the band at its best.
If debut album On Through The Night planted the proverbial seeds of the band’s impressive, budding talents, High ‘n’ Dry saw those seeds break ground (pun intended) and bloom — not only showcasing what Def Leppard was capable of but taking their music to a whole other level.
High ‘n’ Dry: A New High For The Band
High ‘n’ Dry presented a more finely crafted version of the band compared to On Through The Night.
Whereas On Through The Night introduced Def Leppard’s ability to rock hard, High ‘n’ Dry confirmed that it wasn’t a fluke, and it did it on a much grander scale: bigger production, bigger sound, more ambitious, more energy, and exuding a lot more confidence.
Def Leppard’s High ‘n’ Dry charted the band’s course, guiding them into a direction that would reward them with major successes for years (actually, decades) to come. It was also the first time the band collaborated with producer extraordinaire Robert John “Mutt” Lange.
Mutt Lange brought out the best in the band as only he could: Joe Elliott’s thick vocals were stronger than ever before, the crunchy guitar parts were tighter, and the bass and drums more prominent in keeping the tempo.
The album’s overall production maintained a raw, hard edge throughout, all the while sounding much less polished and multi-layered compared to future albums.
And it worked out beautifully.
High ‘n’ Dry engulfed listeners with its brand of hard rock mixed with just the right amount of melody to “hook” listeners in.
A SEVENTH Band Member…?
It’s been said many times that producer Mutt Lange is Def Leppard’s unofficial sixth band member. I’d go a step further and say that High ‘n’ Dry actually featured a seventh member…in the form of guitars.
Yes, I’m being a bit sarcastic, but the album absolutely showcased Def Leppard’s guitars unlike any of their other albums, courtesy of the dual guitar assault from Steve Clark and Pete Willis.
I encourage you to revisit the High ‘n’ Dry album and pay extra attention to the guitar parts throughout all the songs. I’m not just referring to solos (or “Switch 625”), but how the guitars actually complement and interact with Joe Elliott’s vocals; they are so prevalent and practically have a voice of their own.
Mutt Lange’s influence and involvement definitely played a part in that, but the majority of the credit goes to Steve Clark and Pete Willis, two of the most important contributors to the High ‘n’ Dry album.
High ‘n’ Dry: Not About The “Singles”
Even though High ‘n’ Dry left an indelible mark, the album surprisingly does not contain a bunch of chart-topping singles.
Yes, it did have some radio support: “Let It Go” (originally titled “When The Rain Falls”) did get some radio play and ended up charting (#34) on Billboard‘s less popular Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart.
The first time “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” was released as a single, its music video featured a straight-up concert performance by the band.
Joe Elliott fit the part of rockstar lead vocalist well…
…and Steve Clark and Pete Willis handled their dueling guitar parts as only they could:
But it wasn’t until 3 years later (due to the success of Pyromania) that “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” was remixed and re-released (along with the track “Me and My Wine”).
Timing-wise, it worked out to the band’s advantage (mostly due to the support of up and coming cable channel MTV).
Not only did the second version of the “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” music video feature what some might call an entertaining storyline, it also provided the opportunity to showcase Pete Willis’ replacement, Phil Collen. (Coincidentally, Pete Willis was fired from Def Leppard one year to the day after High ‘n’ Dry‘s release.)
In the updated “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” video, Joe Elliott still had his rockstar look down pat, albeit with straighter hair…
The song also helped introduce the band to international audiences.
Japan, for example…
…but it wouldn’t be until Pyromania when the band discovered the true meaning of commercial success.
Another High ‘n’ Dry album? Let It Go!
High ‘n’ Dry remains THE go-to album for many Def Leppard fans.
Some still long for those days, hoping the band would return to that harder, more raw sound.
But is Def Leppard even capable of making another album in the spirit of the High ‘n’ Dry album?
Sure, there are songs the band has recorded since then that have a High ‘n’ Dry vibe. (“Four Letter Word,” “Forever Young,” and “Broke ‘N’ Brokenhearted” are just a few examples.)
But, realistically, could Def Leppard create another High ‘n’ Dry type of album ever again?
Well, a couple of reasons come to mind: it just doesn’t seem like the type of album the band is interested in making, and without Mutt Lange’s repeat involvement, it becomes all the more out of reach.
But there is one very important — and matter of fact — reason why it simply cannot be done.
The band no longer includes the two band members who were essential in creating High ‘n’ Dry: Steve Clark and Pete Willis.
Steve and Pete played an integral part in the overall sound and the album’s end result.
Aside from all the brilliant guitar licks, riffs and solos each contributed throughout, Steve and Pete also co-wrote NEARLY EVERY SONG on the High ‘n’ Dry album. (By the way, two other songs from the High ‘n’ Dry recording sessions that were left unfinished and saved for Pyromania were “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” and “Photograph.”)
Here is a breakdown of the High ‘n’ Dry album’s tracklisting — along with who wrote each song (bold emphasis added to further make my point):
- “Let It Go” (Writers: Pete Willis, Steve Clark, Joe Elliott)
- “Another Hit and Run” (Writers: Rick Savage, Joe Elliott)
- “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night)” (Writers: Steve Clark, Rick Savage Joe Elliott)
- “Bringing’ On the Heartbreak” (Writers: Steve Clark, Pete Willis, Joe Elliott)
- “Switch 625” (Writer: Steve Clark)
- “You Got Me Runnin'” (Writers: Pete Willis, Steve Clark, Joe Elliott)
- “Lady Strange” (Writers: Pete Willis, Steve Clark, Rick Allen, Joe Elliott)
- “On Through the Night” (Writers: Steve Clark, Rick Savage, Joe Elliott)
- “Mirror, Mirror (Look into My Eyes)” (Writers: Steve Clark, Joe Elliott)
- “No No No” (Writers: Rick Savage, Pete Willis, Joe Elliott)
So revisiting the magic created during that earlier era isn’t possible minus the input and immense contributions of Steve Clark and Pete Willis.
But that’s okay. Best to savor the album for what it is…and was, and leave it at that.
High ‘n’ Dry Still To This Day
The band still includes High ‘n’ Dry‘s songs on tour, some more than others.
“Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” is usually a given, and over the years songs like “Let It Go,” “Another Hit and Run,” and “High ‘n’ Dry (Saturday Night)” have made it onto their setlists.
Even “Switch 625” has remained a staple in recent years, though I will selfishly say that I wish it wasn’t — that song was Steve Clark‘s epic from start to finish, and without Steve performing it, it’s just not the same.
It’s easy to think that “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” is the High ‘n’ Dry‘s standout track (actually, it’s the only song from the album that made it onto the band’s first greatest hits release, Vault), but that would be doing the album a disservice.
The High ‘n’ Dry Album Experience
Ultimately, it peaked at #38 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart and ended up going double platinum — a far cry from the albums that followed it. Yet make no mistake, it paved the way.
You can easily choose 3 songs off of Hysteria (let’s say “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” “Animal,” and “Hysteria”) or Pyromania (“Photograph,” “Rock of Ages,” and “Foolin'”) to sum up or represent those albums.
High ‘n’ Dry is different.
Though all of High ‘n’ Dry‘s songs can stand on their own, the best way to truly appreciate their intensity is to listen to the entire album — that’s how well they all flow into each other. Choosing only a handful of select songs (or singles) would sell the album’s experience short.
No No No (As In No Pyromania, No Hysteria…)
Commercial success or not, High ‘n’ Dry opened up the band’s eyes to what they were capable of and laid the groundwork for them to build on going forward.
It also marked the beginning of a career-changing collaboration: working with Mutt Lange.
Fortunately, we’ll never know.
But that’s how significant and vital High ‘n’ Dry was in directing Def Leppard’s career path.
It was also the band’s first foray into “power ballad’ territory, something that would serve them well in future albums. (Actually, I consider “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” to be more of an anti-power ballad: its slow, moody tempo early on subtly becomes much more urgent as it leads into an intense hard-rockin’ chorus, capped off with a fiery crescendo of Joe Elliott shouting “NO!” before it’s all over.)
High ‘n’ Dry: Classic Def Leppard
Def Leppard’s High ‘n’ Dry is an excellent sophomore effort, to put it mildly.
Not only is it a classic, it’s also in a class by itself. It was transformative and pivotal in defining who Def Leppard was as a band, and what more they could (and would) become.
I’m reminded of an old 1981 Rockline interview featuring Joe Elliott and Steve Clark promoting the High ‘n’ Dry album.
Here’s how a young Joe Elliott humbly explained what they tried to capture with recording the album:
“We’re just trying to get energy across really, that’s all. We just like playing rock ‘n’ roll. That’s the music we’ve grown up on, that’s the music we’ll always play. And we’re just an energetic band live, and we try to get it across on record…”
That statement perfectly sums up what the band accomplished with High ‘n’ Dry…and it’s never been truer than on any other Def Leppard album.