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The Record Vault: Def Leppard – Pyromania

In 1983 and 84, it felt like there was “Pyromania” and then there was everything else.

Quiet Riot didn’t have the same success in Australia that they had in the U.S and Motley Crue was a few years away from their “Home Sweet Home” fame in Australia.

The Lep’s wanted to be on top of the pop charts. That was their mission. The rise was slow but gradual.

If you like rock and metal music, you would like this album. If you like pop and other forms of music, you would still like this album.

The “Pyromania” story begins with “High ’N’ Dry”.

The album didn’t sell what the band and the label expected it to sell. And their UK headlining tour had them selling 25% of the tickets. In other words, they were pulling in between 400-500 people in 2000-seat theatres.

Def Leppard was then given a supporting slot on the European Leg of the “Point Of Entry” tour by Judas Priest. But they never had a chance to make an impact, coming on second after Accept, who had massive momentum with “Balls To The Wall”.

The tour finished in December, 1981.

But the band was busy writing riffs on the road and man, they sure had a lot for new songs. They also revisited some older songs and rewrote em lyrically or rearranged em musically.

“Medicine Man” wasnt good enough to make the “High ‘N’ Dry” album but it was beefed up and retitled “Rock Rock (Till You Drop)”. With new lyrics, it became the album opener.

There was another unfinished track which was described as “a dual-guitar pop song” by Joe Elliot in an interview at TeamRock.com. Well that song was also finally completed, and it became known as “Photograph”.

Producer Mutt Lange, was also on board, being listed as a co-writer on all of the album’s 10 tracks which bothered Willis as he believed that wasn’t the case.

When the band was given the green light to record, the budget was tight. Two albums in, the band was in debt to their label to the tune of £700,000, and each band member was on wages of £40 a week.

A cold hard truth on the realities of the recording business and the creative accounting of the labels is that the bands incur debts that could last forever.

The album finally hit the streets in January 1983.

But.

The album was selling slow in the U.K. A showcase gig at the Marquee Club in London on February 9 had a very small attendance.

But in North America, it was a different story.

MTV put the songs “Photograph,” “Foolin’” and “Rock of Ages” on constant rotation.

Suddenly rock and metal bands changed the way they recorded. NWOBHM bands started to sing more melodically and with multi-layered backing vocals.

Joe Elliot once said that he wanted the power of AC/DC mixed with the variety of Queen for Def Leppard. That equals “Pyromania”.

I had the vinyl but it was also in the same box that went missing during a house move however I picked this up on CD.

Rock Rock (Till You Drop)

It’s a sound and groove that Cinderella and Kix and many other U.S acts would put to good use to build careers’ on.

But it was guitarist Pete Willis who wrote the riff to “Rock Rock (Till You Drop)” however he’s not credited.

Willis and Lange didn’t get along at all, constantly clashing with each other in the studio which then also led to tension with the other members.

As a founding member, Willis didn’t believe he could be removed or fired. But removed he was.

Anything goes

Photograph

There is no denying the riff. It’s as good as any of the classic riffs that guitarists play in guitar shops and so forth. Structurally, the song goes all AC/DC style riffing in the verses and pop rock like in the Chorus.

Stagefright

Rick Savage came up “Stagefright”.

It’s got this Sweet “Action” vibe merged with metal riffage in the verses and a pop chorus.

Too Late For Love

As soon as this song starts off, I swear I’ve heard it somewhere else.

Die Hard The Hunter

You feel the sadness as soon as the Emadd9 clean tone arpeggios kick in and it gets even sadder when Joe starts singing “Let’s toast”. Then it goes into a riff that Queensryche used when they wrote “Revolution Calling”.

That section from 4.05 to 5.05 always gets me to stop what I’m doing and start paying attention.

Foolin

The opener to Side 2, with that majestic guitar part.

The magic is in the arpeggiated intro and the eventual build up with the layered backing vocals singing “Is anybody out there?”.

This song stands the test of time.

The lead break begins with a call and response. It reminds me of “Over The Mountain” from Randy Rhoads and Ozzy.

Rock Of Ages

The first time I heard em.

Yeah, it’s better to burn out / Yeah, than fade away

A rock and rollers creed.

Rise up, gather ’round / Rock this place to the ground

Burn it up, let’s go for broke / Watch the night go up in smoke

Rock on (rock on) / Drive me crazier / No serenade, no fire brigade / Just the pyromania, come on

This is the embryo of “Pour Some Sugar On Me” and they take inspiration from Queen, by using songs like “We Will Rock You” and “Another One Bites The Dust” as influences for the verse delivery/structure.

When the Chorus comes in after two verses, it’s well worth the wait. “Don’t Stop Believin’” from Journey also used this kind of song structure.

Rock of ages, rock of ages / Still rollin’, keep a-rollin’

Rock of ages, rock of ages / Still rollin’, rock ‘n’ rollin’

You won’t be able to stop yourself from singing along with the chorus.

Comin Under Fire

This song is a must for any guitarist. It merges 70’s classic rock, with the NWOBHM sound with Scorpions Euro Metal.

The intro alone has it all.

Arpeggiated guitar lines hook you in and then the pedal point riff blasts through the speakers.

When the verses come in, we are greeted with volume swells that outline the different chords.

Like the pre-chorus of “Foolin”, the chorus of “Comin Under Fire” has excellent layered backing vocals. Lyrically, it’s not the best, but musically, it rules.

Billy’s Got A Gun

Steve Clark was a Jimmy Page fan, so it was no surprise that he was the one who created this Zeppelin-influenced epic.

Never underestimate the ability of a song to paint a picture.

This is my favourite Def Leppard cut and it has so many good bits.

The verse bass riff reminds me of “Heaven and Hell”. The backing vocals are so layered, melodic and operatic. The overall drum groove reminds of “Kashmir”. And I guarantee you that Chris DeGarmo, Geoff Tate and Michael Wilton all had this album and paid particular attention to this song as the “Operation Mindcrime” album is musically influenced by “Billy’s Got A Gun”.

And you get an unbelievable solo and an ending that makes you press play again, so you hear the album over and over and over again.

As time marches forward, the greatness and power of this song is being forgotten.

And it’s like the band made a crossroads deal to achieve fame. The success of this album put the band members on different paths than the previous ones they were on and that would lead to different outcomes for them.

On New Years Eve, 1984, Rick Allen went to overtake a car and failed to negotiate the bend. He lost part of his left hand in the accident and surgery to reattach it, led to an infection and then eventual surgical amputation.

And no one knew it at the time, but it was going to be long wait for the next album.

On a side note, Trevor Rabin and Mike Slamer are both thanked in the credits.

Those two dudes are very well known session guitarists, so I’m asking the question; did they actually play on this?

Slamer was used by producer Beau Hill on most of the records he produced in the 80s. If you have an Alice Cooper, Kix, Winger, Streets, Warrant, Fiona, Europe, Twisted Sister and Ratt album, then there is a high chance that Slamer played on it.

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11 thoughts on “The Record Vault: Def Leppard – Pyromania

  1. Awesome review Pete. I really hope in 2022 Willis is still making money off of this album. There’s always something about these kinds of records that were recorded before they became millionaires and still going for it.
    Pyromania is a game changer record…

  2. Great review, Pete! This is Def Leppard’s perfect album, in my opinion. There’s not a bad song on here (no skippable tracks). I, however, have always wondered what would’ve happened if Pete wasn’t fired from the band.

    • That’s always an interesting question that always gets asked.

      What would of happened if a certain thing didn’t happen?

      Like Willis fired from Def Leppard. Mustaine fired from Metallica. Etc..

      From a musical point of view, I’ve seen research when I was Uni (which was a long time ago) that a songwriter has four albums in em, 40 songs in total.

      This can be extended with outside writers and other co-writers. So Pete Willis was already a co-writer with others so he definitely had would have had more material

      • Oh yeah, I didn’t think about it that way. From a musical perspective for other bands, if that band member was a crucial part of the songwriting team, then the band’s sound would dramatically change if that member was gone.

        In Def Leppard’s case though, yeah their sound changed when Pete was fired. But also, he and Steve went through similar drinking problems. So I just think that while Pete’s drinking was out of control, the band could’ve handled the situation better and worked with him on his addiction. That way, the band could’ve had a better idea on how to help Steve. That’s just my opinion though. I’m no expert on the behind the scenes of what went down with Steve or Pete.

      • EXACTLY!!! What a shame though. I mean I’ve seen interviews with the band about the recording of ‘Pyromania’ and they gave Pete numerous second chances, but I’m not sure if they really did anything to help him. They were just like, “go and get better!”

        This quote trips me up every time: “‘Things were going too fast for me.’ he now admits. ‘I was still enjoying it, but I was using drink as a crutch. It wasn’t nice to go that way, but it was something that needed to happen for them and the best thing to happen health-wise for me. If I’d stayed, there was a good chance that I’d have ended up going the same way as Steve Clark.'”

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