Def Leppard’s Retro Active album was released 26 years ago today.
Original U.S. release date: October 5, 1993
What’s Old Is New
The year was 1993.
Def Leppard had released their fifth studio album Adrenalize the year before, which performed splendidly out of the box but lost sales momentum in the months that followed. That’s not to say it didn’t sell well — 4 million albums sold in the U.S. alone was an impressive achievement, but it was still nowhere near the heights (or longevity) of previous album Hysteria.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s movie Last Action Hero was also coming out in the summer of 1993.
Def Leppard was approached about contributing a song to the film’s soundtrack, but the band’s relentless touring in support of Adrenalize — a tour that would last nearly a year and a half — didn’t allow them any time to record a new song. So they ended up sending over a leftover B-side from Adrenalize titled “Two Steps Behind.”
Not only did the song end up on the Last Action Hero soundtrack, a layer of orchestral strings was added onto the track (courtesy of conductor Michael Kamen) to further enhance Def Leppard’s offering.
Being part of an Arnold Schwarzenegger summer film presented a great opportunity (at least until critics’ reviews universally panned it, resulting in the movie severely underperforming at the box office, at least, domestically).
As for where “Two Steps Behind” was placed in the film, well, I still recall watching Last Action Hero in a theater the day of its release and waiting…and waiting…and waiting to hear “Two Steps Behind.”
It was disappointing the song was slotted at the end — the very end — well into the film’s end credits.
From a marketing/public relations standpoint, it was great to tout that Def Leppard had a song in Arnold’s latest film, but having it play so late into it — when most of the audience had already left the theater — was a disappointment.
But I digress.
Nevertheless, there was a bright spot: The soundtrack, featuring acts such as AC/DC, Megadeth, Tesla, Aerosmith, and Def Leppard was a hit and ended up going platinum! And end credit placement aside, it still helped bring awareness to “Two Steps Behind.”
The song peaked at #12 on Billboard’s Top 100 Singles chart. For sake of comparison, “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” peaked at the same #12 position; only “Love Bites” charted higher in terms of Def Leppard’s power-ballads. (Although it wasn’t realized at the time, “Two Steps Behind” ended up being the last of Def Leppard’s high-charting singles.)
The song’s success also inspired the band to put together a compilation album filled with additional B-sides (and more)…which brings us to Retro Active.
Def Leppard: Retro Active
Retro Active featured an eclectic mix of material — b-sides, newly recorded tracks, and even alternate versions of songs.
The album was noteworthy for another important reason: It closed the book on Def Leppard’s earlier era, specifically the Steve Clark years.
The album’s release came just one year after new guitarist Vivian Campbell joined the band, so what better time to release a collection of tracks that included Steve to add a little bit of closure.
To be clear, the band wasn’t just putting out remnant unreleased tracks onto an album just to get them out. In all honesty, there wasn’t even that much on Retro Active that was truly “new” or never heard before — at least to Def Leppard collectors.
But there were definitely a couple of gems that were indeed brand new to fans, notably “Desert Song” and “Fractured Love.”
Retro Active: The Songs
Not taking into account minor remixes and overdubbing tweaks, here’s a breakdown of where Retro Active‘s songs had already been included (aka available) prior to its release:
New track (from the Hysteria era), never released until Retro Active.
New track (from the Hysteria era), never released until Retro Active.
A cover of a Sweet song; previously released as a B-side on the “Make Love Like A Man” single.
Two Steps Behind (Acoustic)
Released first on the Last Action Hero soundtrack (with orchestral strings added); also a B-side on the “Make Love Like A Man” single.
She’s Too Tough
Miss You In A Heartbeat
Previously released as a bonus track on the Japanese version of Adrenalize; also released as a B-side on the “Make Love Like A Man” single. (In case you weren’t aware, a previous version of the song was also released years earlier by a band called The Law.)
Only After Dark
A cover of a Mick Ronson song; previously released as a B-side on the “Let’s Get Rocked” single.
Ride Into The Sun
Previously released as a B-side on the “Hysteria” single.
From The Inside
Previously released as a B-side on the “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” single.
Ring of Fire
Previously released as a B-side on the “Pour Some Sugar On Me” single.
I Wanna Be Your Hero
Previously released as a B-side on the “Animal” single.
Miss You In A Heartbeat (Electric version)
“Electric version” new for Retro Active.
Two Steps Behind (Electric version)
“Electric version” new for Retro Active.
Miss You In A Heartbeat (Piano version)
New (hidden) track for Retro Active.
But even though the vast majority of tracks had been available in some form or another before, Retro Active was still a solid compilation and an extra special treat for Def Leppard fans who never collected the previous releases it included.
Retro Active: Release Strategy
Even as a compilation album, Retro Active included tracks that were radio-ready and worthy of being singles.
That being said, the album did not end up having an optimum single release strategy.
After some missed opportunities with Adrenalize‘s single releases the previous year (which caused the album’s commercial success to stall early on and never quite recover), a second chance to right some of those wrongs was there for the taking.
Let’s take a closer look…
“Two Steps Behind” was already a well-known track courtesy of the Last Action Hero soundtrack –which came out FOUR MONTHS BEFORE Retro Active.
In addition, “Two Steps Behind” was released as a single in August 1993. If fans wanted to buy it (and there were certainly many who did), they could buy it immediately via a cassingle, CD single…or the Last Action Hero soundtrack, since it was already available.
And why wouldn’t they? Retro Active‘s release date was still two months away!
So the wind was taken out of Retro Active‘s commercial sails (and sales!) right off the bat since what would likely be the compilation’s top-performing track was already available to buy elsewhere.
With that said, that absolutely did NOT mean Def Leppard fans weren’t looking forward to Retro Active‘s release, even those who already had the majority of the album’s songs in their collection. They were still eagerly awaiting gems like “Fractured Love” and “Desert Song.”
And while “Desert Song” was tailormade for album-oriented rock radio (AOR) stations, “Fractured Love” was the more radio-ready track of the two, packing a punch (and sound) that immediately brought to mind the band’s classic Pyromania era.
Retro Active: Radio Strategy
The decision was made to promote “Desert Song” to AOR stations the month of Retro Active‘s release — it reached a respectable #12 on Billboard’s (limited) Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
As for standout “Fractured Love”? It was never released as a single — not even to rock stations.
Basically, Retro Active‘s release strategy relied on “Two Steps Behind” as a single (which benefitted the Last Action Hero soundtrack most), a limited rock station push for “Desert Song,” and Phil Collen’s quaint little ballad “Miss You In A Heartbeat.”
When all was said and done, “Miss You In A Heartbeat” would be the last time a Def Leppard single would crack the top 40 on Billboard’s Top 100 Singles chart (it peaked at #39).
But let’s go a step further…
Retro Active signified the end of a Def Leppard era, one which would never return due to Steve Clark’s death, and featured numerous tracks — albeit many previously available — from the “Steve years.”
“Fractured Love” (co-written by Steve) would have effectively put a wonderful exclamation point on the closing of this Def Leppard chapter.
Instead, the two official Retro Active singles given a wide single release were “Two Steps Behind” and “Miss You In A Heartbeat.”
It’s a shame more wasn’t done to promote the rock aspect of Retro Active, which also would have helped the album reach greater heights.
Granted, Retro Active was not a brand new studio album, and the band was still touring in support of Adrenalize (though the album had been out about a year and a half by this point and all of its singles had already been released).
Retro Active could have provided a stronger second wind for Def Leppard. There’s no question it was helped by “Two Steps Behind” and its placement on the Last Action Hero soundtrack, but the album certainly deserved more promotional attention from the band’s record label.
One final point to put things into perspective…
Adrenalize‘s first single “Let’s Get Rocked” and “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” (its third single) were the album’s biggest, most impactful hits. Every other Adrenalize single underperformed: “Make Love Like A Man,” “Stand Up (Kick Love Into Motion),” “Tonight,” and “I Wanna Touch U.”
To follow that up by solely releasing two ballads off of Retro Active did a disservice to Def Leppard’s brand of rock music as well as their fans.
Retro Active: Video Strategy
The most well-known (and popular) music video from Retro Active is easily “Two Steps Behind.”
As you may recall, it mostly centered around Joe Elliott…
…more specifically, Joe walking around while the world around him moved backward:
It was a neat and memorable visual. (In reality, Joe was the one filmed walking backward.)
The music video was topped off with live footage of the band performing “Two Steps Behind” in front of an audience. (“Two Steps Behind” still lives on to this day, most notably in acoustic form, as the band still performs it on tour.)
The band had also recorded an “electric version” of “Two Steps Behind,” but that alternate version has always been more of a one-off for the sake of offering a little more variety (and freshness) to Retro Active.
The only time the electric version received any type of push was during a short promo spot in 1993 the band filmed for Monday Night Football. In case you never saw it, enjoy:
No doubt it was fun to see the guys playing ball (and refer to a football as a “saw-seege”), but the promo spot was much too short of an opportunity to adequately promote the “Two Steps Behind” electric version.
Miss You In A Heartbeat Video
As for “Miss You In A Heartbeat,” one of the most notable things about the song’s music video was that viewers got a nice peek into some of the band member’s homes.
While Joe Elliott played piano in his living room…
…Rick Savage played bass from the comfort of his own home…
…as did Rick Allen and so on.
Sure, it was a unique approach to filming the music video, but it also exposed the fact that the band never performed in it together.
All the parts being filmed separately resulted in relying on video editing tricks to help provide more fluidity to the band’s performance.
Consequently, Joe performing alone in his living room resulted in Rick Savage’s footage appearing in Joe’s window (and Phil Collen’s footage appearing on Joe’s floor):
Rick Savage filmed in his home resulted in showing Vivian Campbell’s footage in his window, while Rick Allen’s footage appeared on his wall:
The challenge of trying to make all the individual band member footage work together succeeded for the most part, but, honestly, it also came across as a bit hokey and low budget, especially when the video would periodically superimpose Joe Elliott’s face over footage to help maintain some semblance of continuity…
In reality, it was pretty clear the video was filmed during a time when the band was on a break — and each member was enjoying time on their own — so a quick video shoot of each of them at home dutifully performing their part of the song for the video obviously sufficed.
Not that it’s bad, but it could have been better. Much better.
But, hey, check out those beautiful views from Joe and Sav’s homes!
By the way, you can view all of Def Leppard’s official music videos here.
Def Leppard Retro Active: Album Cover
Retro Active‘s album cover was inspired by artist Charles Allan Gilbert and his 1892 piece “All is Vanity,” which featured a woman seated at a vanity table and looking at herself in the mirror.
When viewed from a distance, the woman and her surroundings create the illusion of a human skull.
Pretty neat…and a rather interesting album cover choice for an album titled Retro Active.
Retro Active: Reception
Retro Active debuted at #9 on Billboard’s Top 200 Album chart and ultimately went platinum.
Not including Def Leppard’s greatest hits releases Vault and Rock of Ages: The Definitive Collection, Retro Active would end up being the band’s last pseudo-new release to achieve platinum certification.
Retro Active ultimately accomplished what the band set out to do: Put out an album of (mostly) older material in order to close the book on an era they wanted — and needed — to move on from.
Even though Retro Active puts an end to the band’s Steve Clark chapter, it’s virtually impossible to ever truly leave behind Steve’s legacy and the incalculable contribution he made to Def Leppard.
And for anyone who thinks otherwise, I’m reminded of a “Two Steps Behind” lyric which would be quite fitting: You can run but you can never hide. From the shadow that’s creepin’ up beside you.
Steve Clark and his influence will always be a part of Def Leppard. Period.
Retro Active is more of a celebration of Steve Clark and the band’s earlier years…and still remains a worthy standalone release to this day.