Def Leppard’s Retro Active album was released in the U.S. on October 5, 1993. (The U.K. release was October 4, 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, an impressive achievement but still nowhere near the sales heights or chart dominance of previous albums Hysteria and Pyromania.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest movie Last Action Hero was also being released in the summer of 1993. Def Leppard had been 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 afford them the time to record a new song. So the band ended up sending over a leftover B-side from the Adrenalize recording sessions for consideration, a Joe Elliott-penned ballad titled “Two Steps Behind.”
Not only would the track end up on the Last Action Hero soundtrack, but a new layer of orchestral strings (courtesy of music conductor Michael Kamen) was strategically added to further sweeten and enhance Def Leppard’s song offering.
Being part of an Arnold Schwarzenegger summer film presented a great opportunity, at least until critic reviews and word-of-mouth universally panned it, resulting in the movie grossly underperforming expectations at the U.S. box office.
As for where “Two Steps Behind” was placed in the film, interested viewers and Def Leppard fans would have to wait…and wait…and wait to hear it, as it was slotted at the very, very end — deep into the film’s end credits.
From a marketing and publicity perspective, it was a great selling point to tout that Def Leppard’s song would be included in Arnold’s latest release, but having it play so late in the film — literally when most of the audience had already left the theater — was a disappointment.
Nevertheless, there was a bright spot: The soundtrack, featuring acts such as AC/DC, Megadeth, Tesla, Aerosmith, and Def Leppard was a hit, unlike the film, and ended up going platinum, which helped bring further awareness to “Two Steps Behind.”
The song would end up peaking at an impressive #12 on Billboard’s Top 100 Singles chart. For comparison, “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad” also peaked at #12 on the same chart a year earlier; only “Love Bites” charted higher in terms of the band’s ballads. (Though it wasn’t realized at the time, “Two Steps Behind” would become Def Leppard’s last major hit single, in terms of mainstream chart performance.)
The impact of “Two Steps Behind” went beyond chart performance, though, as it brought about an even more significant result: it inspired Def Leppard to put together a compilation album filled with B-sides and other previously unreleased material…which brings us to Retro Active.
Def Leppard: Retro Active
Retro Active featured an eclectic mix of Def Leppard material — B-sides, newly recorded tracks, even alternate versions of songs. The unique compilation was also noteworthy for another important reason: it provided the band with the opportunity to reflect on and close the book on a previous era, specifically the Steve Clark years.
Retro Active‘s release occurred about a year after guitarist Vivian Campbell had joined the band, so what better time to release a collection of material that included Steve’s work to add a bit of closure.
To be clear, the band wasn’t putting out unreleased tracks onto an album to just get them out; frankly, there wasn’t that much material 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 newly introduced to fans, most notably “Desert Song” and “Fractured Love.”
As for most of the other tracks on Retro Active, previous versions had already been released — whether as B-sides on singles from the Hysteria album or songs included on international releases of Adrenalize.
Retro Active: Song Breakdown
Putting aside minor remixes and overdubbing tweaks done for the album, here’s a quick recap of where Retro Active‘s songs had already been 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 named 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.
While the vast majority of songs had been previously available in some form or another, Retro Active was still a solid compilation, especially for Def Leppard fans who didn’t collect earlier releases that included some of its material.
Retro Active: Release Strategy
Even as a one-off compilation, Retro Active included tracks that were radio-ready and worthy of being singles. Unfortunately, though, the album lacked 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), there was some hope Retro Active could right some of those wrongs.
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.
Moreover, “Two Steps Behind” was released as a single in August 1993. If fans wanted to own it (and many most certainly did), they could have immediately bought it as a cassingle or a CD single…or bought the Last Action Hero soundtrack, since it was already available.
What about simply buying Retro Active? Not possible, since its 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 most popular track was available to buy elsewhere.
That doesn’t mean hardcore Def Leppard fans still weren’t looking forward to Retro Active‘s forthcoming release — even those who already had most of the compilation’s tracks in their collection were still eagerly awaiting new tracks “Fractured Love” and “Desert Song.”
Retro Active: Radio Strategy
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 powerful punch and overall sound that immediately harkened back to the band’s Pyromania era.
“Desert Song” was promoted to AOR radio stations the month of Retro Active‘s release, and it reached a respectable #12 position on Billboard’s niche-specific Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.
As for standout track “Fractured Love”? It was never released as a single, not even to rock stations.
Retro Active‘s overall release strategy would ultimately rely on “Two Steps Behind” (a single which benefited the Last Action Hero soundtrack most), a limited push to rock stations for “Desert Song,” and only one additional single: the ballad “Miss You In A Heartbeat,” which would peak at #39 on Billboard’s Top 100 Singles chart, the last time a Def Leppard single would crack that chart’s Top 40.
Let’s go a step further…
Retro Active and its harder-edged sound signified the end of a Def Leppard era, one which the band would never return to due to Steve Clark’s death, and featured numerous tracks — albeit many previously available — from the “Steve years.”
“Fractured Love” (co-written by Steve Clark) would have effectively put a wonderful exclamation point on the closing of this Def Leppard chapter. Instead, the two official singles given a wide release were “Two Steps Behind” and “Miss You In A Heartbeat.” Unfortunately, the prominent rock music aspect of Retro Active was brushed aside in the promotion of the album.
While Retro Active was not a new original studio album, and the band was still touring in support of Adrenalize — an album that had been out about a year and a half by this point and all of its singles had been released — Retro Active could have effectively provided a stronger second tailwind for Def Leppard.
“Two Steps Behind” Music Video
Retro Active‘s most well-known video is “Two Steps Behind,” which centered around Joe Elliott walking down a street while everyone around him seemingly moves backward:
It was a neat and memorable visual. In reality, Joe was the one being filmed walking backward as the action around him happens.
The music video was topped off with live footage of the band performing the song in front of a concert audience. (“Two Steps Behind” still lives on to this day, most notably in acoustic form, when Def Leppard performs it on tour.)
The band had also recorded an electric version of “Two Steps Behind,” but that was 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 TV 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 effectively promote the “Two Steps Behind” electric version.
“Miss You In A Heartbeat” Music Video
One of the most memorable things about the “Miss You In A Heartbeat” music video was fans 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:
It was a unique approach to the music video’s presentation, but it also exposed the fact that the band wasn’t performing the song together. Having all the parts filmed separately resulted in relying on post-production editing tricks to help provide more fluidity to the band’s performance.
Hence, 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 living room floor…
…and Rick Savage being filmed in his home resulted in Vivian Campbell’s footage appearing in his window, while Rick Allen’s showed up on his wall:
The challenge of making all the individual band member footage work together succeeded for the most part, but, frankly, also came across a bit lackluster and low budget at times, especially when the video would periodically superimpose Joe Elliott’s translucent face over scenery to help maintain some semblance of continuity…
It was quite evident that 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.
It’s not a bad result, but it could have been better. Much better. But, hey, check out those beautiful views from Joe’s and Sav’s homes!
You can view the video and 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, looking at herself in the mirror.
When viewed from a distance, the woman and her surroundings create the eerie illusion of a human skull.
The visual is an effective, fitting choice, especially for an album titled Retro Active.
Retro Active: Reception
Retro Active debuted at #9 on Billboard’s Top 200 Album chart and ultimately reached platinum status. Not including Def Leppard’s greatest hits releases Vault and Rock of Ages: The Definitive Collection, Retro Active would be the band’s last pseudo-new release to achieve platinum sales 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. A lyric from “Two Steps Behind” fittingly comes to mind: You can run but you can never hide. From the shadow that’s creepin’ up beside you. Similarly, Steve Clark and his influence will always remain a part of Def Leppard.
Retro Active celebrates Steve Clark and the band’s earlier years, and still remains a worthy standalone Def Leppard release to this day.