Def Leppard’s Hysteria album was released 32 years ago today.
Def Leppard Hysteria
There’s much to celebrate about Def Leppard’s landmark Hysteria album, including its meticulous production, seemingly endless amount of hit songs, incredible chart longevity, and stratospheric sales performance.
But wait…there’s more!
If you’re a frequent reader of this site, you’re likely aware of some of the in-depth dissections that have been done on Def Leppard’s albums — examples include On Through The Night, High ‘n’ Dry, Adrenalize, Slang, Euphoria, X, and Songs from the Sparkle Lounge.
But this time around, let’s take a slightly different approach.
We’ll still dive deep, but to properly commemorate the Hysteria release and truly appreciate the album for what it is, it’s also important to recognize the album for what it’s not…and could have been.
Def Leppard Hysteria Memories
Def Leppard’s Hysteria album is a fine example of how when even things go wrong, the end result can still be oh so right.
The challenges and detours that delayed the making of Hysteria — including the unimaginable tragedy of drummer Rick Allen losing his arm in a car accident — further brings into focus the mantra that everything happens for a reason.
Def Leppard’s Hysteria is not only iconic and the band’s most commercially successful album (by far), it’s also one of the top-selling albums of all time. Not surprising, as the album is practically a greatest hits compilation in and of itself.
Even decades after its release, the album and its timeless songs remain a favorite among many fans. Of course, no Def Leppard tour would be complete without a healthy dose of Hysteria representation — fans demand it, the band knows it and they happily oblige.
Hysteria helped define music in the late ’80s; it was nearly impossible to get through a day and not hear a song from the album on the radio or see a video on MTV.
It’s an album ingrained in the youth of countless fans and part of so many great memories, making repeated listens all the more joyful and satisfying.
From opening track “Women” to closer “Love and Affection,” listeners are gleefully taken on an adventurous journey that lasts an unforgettable 62+ minutes.
By the summer of 1988, Def Leppard had become one of the biggest bands in the world, and it was all the result of what they accomplished with Hysteria. It’s no coincidence the album’s massive world tour lasted years; it was a wild ride (over stony ground) many didn’t want to end.
But let’s delve deeper into Hysteria to truly appreciate the classic album it ended up becoming…
Animal Instinct…When You’re Near
For some Def Leppard fans, simply saying “Hysteria” immediately brings to mind a certain feeling, mood or memory. That’s the kind of impact the album had, even still, decades after its release.
Hysteria was also such a fitting title for the album, not only for reasons to be discussed but because of how it conveniently matched up with the band’s other “ia” titled album, Pyromania.
It’s hard to imagine referring to the Hysteria album by its original title, Animal Instinct. It just doesn’t have the same feel nor does it garner the same response (though David Fricke’s excellent, rare Def Leppard book from the era did retain the Animal Instinct title).
Def Leppard Hysteria: The Singles
Let’s touch on some of the singles that made the Hysteria album so memorable, including one that was a complete misfire, yet still ended up paying off for the band in the long run.
The album’s first U.S. single was “Women,” not the track the band wanted to have launch the album (they preferred “Animal,” but their management disagreed), yet they went along with the decision nevertheless.
“Women” barely made it onto Billboard’s Top 100 Singles chart, peaking at #80. (It fared better on Billboard’s less popular Mainstream Rock Chart.)
From an industry perspective, though, its huge under-performance as the first single slowed Hysteria‘s sales right out of the gate.
Yet regardless of chart performance, “Women” — and its fist-pumping chant of “Women! Women!” — remains a crowd favorite whenever it’s performed on tour.
It wasn’t until “Animal” was released as the second single that some album sales momentum returned. (Even though “Animal” wasn’t a bonafide chart-topper — it narrowly cracked the Top 20 — it remains one of the best songs Def Leppard has ever recorded.)
It’s been repeatedly said that Hysteria had “7 hit singles,” which isn’t quite true. While “hit” is a subjective term, the album did have seven singles released — actually, almost eight with “Excitable” — but, ultimately, it had 5 “hit” singles, including three Top 3 singles. Still quite a feat!
(By the way, if you would like to read a more in-depth look at Hysteria’s individual tracks, check out the Def Leppard Report Song Ranking section.)
The song “Hysteria” was the album’s first single to reach the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart. And to this day it remains one of, if not, THE standout track in Hysteria‘s crowded field of classic songs — “Hysteria” remains mesmerizing, living up to its “magical mysteria” lyrics.
Def Leppard’s Hysteria Alternative
As difficult as it is to envision, the album we could have been celebrating today might not have been anything like Hysteria.
Instead, it could have been an album along the lines of… Retro Active.
Well, quite a few songs that ended up on Def Leppard’s Retro Active release were songs recorded for the band’s fourth album.
If things had worked out differently, we’d be discussing songs like “I Wanna Be Your Hero” and “Ring of Fire,” as well as tracks that were left unfinished (after the album completely changed creative direction) like “Desert Song” and “Fractured Love.”
These were the songs that were going to be the foundation of Pyromania‘s follow-up.
Since Mutt Lange wasn’t returning to produce the fourth album, the band attempted to work with Jim Steinman (of Meat Loaf and Bonnie Tyler fame) as producer…and things quickly went downhill.
Here’s Joe Elliott describing Def Leppard’s working relationship (or lack thereof) with Jim Steinman back in 1987:
“We were a million miles apart in our ideas about sounds, style, timing. And he couldn’t adapt to the band. It was a mismatch from the start.”
Joe further explained the band’s disconnect with Steinman, and the epiphany they had about him to Billboard.com:
“He wrote [Meat Loaf’s] ‘Bat Out of Hell.’ Todd Rundgren produced it, and we quickly learned there was a difference.”
The band returned to the drawing board and tried again, this time producing the album themselves with the help of Mutt Lange’s engineer Nigel Green. But things quickly took an ominous turn when Rick Allen’s car accident happened just weeks into the new collaboration.
Everything came to a grinding halt on the band’s fourth album….again.
The irony about Rick’s horrific accident is that it afforded Mutt Lange the time to return and produce the album.
Mutt’s arrival also resulted in all the songs initially recorded for the fourth album to be scrapped and put on the back-burner, some consequently becoming b-sides for Hysteria‘s singles…
Mutt Lange: Def Leppard’s 6th Member…Again
Mutt Lange is synonymous with Def Leppard’s massive, multi-layered album productions.
The same can be said about Mutt Lange’s indispensable involvement with Hysteria.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that without Mutt Lange, Pyromania and Hysteria would not have happened, or at least been the classic albums they turned out to be.
It was only after Mutt Lange agreed to join the project that Hysteria slowly began to take shape.
How immense were Mutt Lange’s contributions to the album?
First and foremost, he co-wrote every single song.
The album’s exceptionally polished production — even recording one note at a time in parts to capture the perfect sound — was all driven by the genius of Mutt Lange.
“Love Bites,” which ended up being the first (and only) #1 single in Def Leppard’s career was a Mutt Lange creation. And the song’s backing vocals? Once again, Mutt.
Here’s guitarist Phil Collen describing how “Love Bites” came about in an interview with SongFacts.com:
“That was really a Mutt Lange song – he brought it to us and he played it on an acoustic guitar to me and Steve. It sounded more like the Eagles. He sounds like Don Henley. Mutt’s got an amazing voice and most of the backing vocals on that song are actually Mutt singing. We are on there but you can’t really hear us – that’s all Mutt’s vocals.”
Phil also explained the origins of the song “Hysteria,” a track which he and bassist Rick Savage thought had a chorus initially…until Mutt Lange intervened:
“It started off, we were in Dublin and Rick Savage started playing this tune, so I immediately started singing, “Out of touch, out of reach.” That was literally the first thing that came out of my mouth. He said that was cool and he goes, [singing] “I got to know tonight,” this whole other section. We glued it together and we got very excited… We sat down and were playing acoustic guitar, singing over the demo, and we thought that was going to be the chorus. And Mutt Lange said, “Okay, that’s a great verse, a great bridge. Now we need the chorus.” Uh, okay. [Laughs]”
Revisit the track “Hysteria” and its infectious “Oh can you feel it, do you believe it?” chorus. Those harmonies have Mutt Lange’s trademark backing vocals all over them, something also heard throughout the album.
“That whole album, [Mutt] really taught us how to sing and play. I think we’d been an okay band, we’d been a good band, but he made it something great. He deserves all the credit.”
Rick Allen’s tragic accident was not only devastating, but it could also easily have been career-ending, not to mention life-threatening. But it was Mutt Lange who helped motivate and inspire Rick to conceive of a new approach to drumming via an electronic drum kit, one which incorporated the use of his left leg to compensate for the loss of his left arm.
Rick Allen discussed the idea in an interview with Billboard.com:
“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.”
Those are just some of Mutt Lange’s immeasurable contributions to Hysteria and the overall band.
How about one more example?
After (finally) finishing up the recording of Hysteria, it was Mutt Lange who approached Joe Elliott upon hearing him mess around with a catchy melody on the acoustic guitar while on a studio break.
Though Joe initially dismissed it, it was Mutt Lange who insisted it be pursued further, believing a hit song resided in Joe’s impromptu jam session. And thus, “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was created.
The song ended up being a game-changer for Hysteria and career-changing for the band. It would end up taking Def Leppard’s popularity to extraordinary heights. (Have you ever heard the demo of “Pour Some Sugar On Me” with Mutt Lange’s original vocals? Check it out here.)
Rick Allen: Tragedy & Triumph
Rick Allen’s unfathomable tragedy of losing an arm not only changed his life but Def Leppard’s as well.
The band’s sound fundamentally changed upon Rick’s return to the band, forever changing — and establishing — what is now Def Leppard’s trademark sound.
Rick’s triumphant return to the band not only exemplified how he coped and overcame tragedy, it also inspired so many others who themselves had lost limbs, suffered hardships, and had to overcome a disability. (Many of whom Rick would meet with personally, and privately, before shows.)
On a personal level for Rick, it was life-changing and provided a whole new outlook on life…in many different ways.
Rick discussing his mindset before the accident is quite revealing:
“The irony…is that before the accident, I’d pretty much lost interest in playing drums. ‘Cause I felt I didn’t have anything else to prove as a musician…and boy was I wrong about that one.”
He continues, discussing how his tragedy actually turned into a blessing:
“Before my accident I was a little too…selfish and self-absorbed and for me, to be at the place where I can kind of give back and inspire people. I’m blessed. I’m really blessed.”
Life works in mysterious ways, and Rick’s accident is a prime example. It not only ended up changing Def Leppard, it also changed Rick’s view of life.
Hysteria: Bad Timing = Good Timing
Let’s not forget how some of Hysteria‘s challenges and delays ended up working in the album’s favor.
Even though “Women” struck out as the album’s first single, it laid the groundwork in extending Hysteria‘s single release strategy.
After single #3 (“Hysteria”) had peaked, the band’s record company had to make a difficult decision — cut their losses, or spend additional money to release one more single to see if it would make a difference.
As legend has it, the option to try a fourth single was decided: “Pour Some Sugar On Me.”
The song ended up catapulting Hysteria‘s album sales tremendously.
Timing-wise, it all worked out perfectly. “Pour Some Sugar On Me” was THE song of the summer of 1988. Not only that, it breathed new life into the album and became the springboard for more singles: “Love Bites,” “Armageddon It,” and “Rocket,” which collectively maintained the album’s momentum into 1989 — two and a half years after Hysteria‘s release!
Other seemingly minor things also contributed to Hysteria‘s uniqueness — all the result of timing which ended up working in the album’s favor.
“Gods of War,” as powerful as it is, was taken to a whole other sonic level when snippets of speeches from Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were interspersed throughout the sound effects of war.
Thanks to yet another fortunate stroke of serendipity, the band (and Mutt Lange) had these speeches at the ready during Hysteria‘s recording sessions. After all, “Gods of War” just wouldn’t be as chill-inducing without its grand finale filled with lines like: “They counted on America to be passive. They counted wrong.”
Meanwhile, one other event also had a major impact on Hysteria…
Are You Getting It…On CD? (Perfect Timing)
We’ll never know what Def Leppard’s fourth album would have ended up as if it had been released years before its eventual 1987 date, nor do we know how it would have sold.
But one thing’s for sure: the album’s delays absolutely worked to its advantage with the introduction of a new music format: the compact disc. That product alone helped maintain (and grow) Hysteria‘s sales momentum.
In 1985, compact disc sales were barely a blip. But by 1988, there was a whole new revolution in the industry when it came to music consumption: CD sales that year were approximately 150 million and growing exponentially!
By 1989, CD sales were exceeding 200 million units and were nearing 300 million by 1990.
This created a new sales resurgence for Hysteria.
Surely, I’m not the only one who originally purchased Hysteria on cassette, then wore it out and bought it on cassette again (also handy for playing in the car), and then bought yet another copy on compact disc.
The new CD format and the opportunity to squeeze over an hour’s worth of music onto a disc did not go unnoticed either, most notably by Mutt Lange.
Phil Collen spoke to Goldmine about it:
“One of the big things that a lot of people don’t realize Mutt was doing with ‘Hysteria’ was that he was making the album for CD buyers. He knew the CD thing was going to take off…”
In the end, the new CD format allowed fans two (love) bites at the Hysteria apple.
Hysteria…Still When You’re Near
There are many reasons why Def Leppard’s Hysteria was, is, and always will be such a special album (aside from the somber reminder that it was also Steve Clark‘s final album with the band).
It took almost a year for Hysteria to reach #1 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart. And when all was said and done, it ruled the chart for a total of 6 weeks. Furthermore, its life on the chart lasted an astounding 136 weeks!
It’s just another example of how the end justified the means.
Hysteria ended up selling 12 million copies in the U.S. alone and 25 million albums worldwide.
Quite an amazing accomplishment, especially when reminded that the band’s average age at the time of its release was about 27 years old. (Joe Elliott was 28; Steve Clark, 27; Phil Collen, 29; Rick Savage, 26; Rick Allen, 23!)
Hysteria‘s struggles encapsulate many of the things that still represent Def Leppard — ups and downs, overcoming tragedy, persevering and undeniably succeeding. Decades after the album’s release, the band continues pressing forward, making music and selling out arenas.
Ever the optimist, here’s what Joe Elliott had to say in an interview with the Los Angeles Times back in 1987, soon after Hysteria‘s release:
“All those delays helped the new album. It would have been more in the vein of ‘Pyromania,’ more than we wanted it to be. With the added time, we’ve been able to expand our musical horizons. ‘Hysteria’ has more variety to it and it’s more mature.”
In the end, the years of struggles, delays, and hardships while making Hysteria were NOT roadblocks — they were merely a part of what ultimately made Hysteria the album we continue to celebrate to this day.