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Then And Now: Def Leppard
Def Leppard have been part of the rock and roll landscape for so long that we can't even remember a time when they weren't around. Thereís no use in us regurgitating all the numbers and success, but the band originally written off as bad Rolling Stones imitators have consistently produced multimillion-selling albums for close to thirty years. Thanks to their blend of working-class sensibilities and radio friendly power melodies, they continue to attract a large and more diversified audience even in this new millennium. With an exclamation mark in the title and lots of heavy guitar play, 2006ís Yeah! is their first release in four years, with the band re-invigorated at what they do best.

Def Leppard: Then

Originally known as Atomic Mass, the band formed in 1977 in Sheffield, England and consisted of guitarist Pete Willis, drummer Tony Kenning and bassist Rick Savage. The line up soon became a quartet after vocalist Joe Elliott joined the band, and at his suggestion they changed their name to Deaf Leopard. However in order to clarify that they werenít a punk band (as lots of punk bands had animals in their names at that time) the moniker was further modified to Def Leppard. Willis then met another young guitarist, Steve Clark, and invited him to join the group. Clark agreed only on condition that they would play some proper shows, so in July 1978 the band played their first real gig before an audience of 150 children at Westfield School. Several gigs later, drummer Kenning found himself being replaced with Frank Noon, and a few months after that the band recorded a debut EP for Bludgeon Riffola Records.

Noon quit soon after that and then fifteen-year-old Rick Allen was tapped to join the ranks as the drummer. Less than a year later, the band began opening dates for the Australian giant AC/DC, who were just entering the biggest, most popular stage of their career. That led to their 1980 debut On Through The Night, which hit the Top 15 in the UK, but fizzled off the charts in no time. But the effort was good enough to catch the attention of AC/DCís producer, Robert John "Mutt" Lange, and he agreed to work with them on their follow up album. The result was 1981ís High 'n' Dry, which quickly soared up the charts thanks to MTV constantly rotating the bandís clip of Bringin' On The Heartbreak.

With the band beginning to go places, guitarist Willis was asked to leave, as his drinking problem had grown too unbearable. In his place came Phil Collen, former guitarist with the glam band Girl, as Def Leppard were in the studio hammering out a new record. The end result was 1983ís Pyromania, which not only climbed to #2 in the US album charts but also featured three top 40 hits. The bandís stock shot into the stratosphere. After nearly a year of solid touring in support of that album, Def Leppard soon became one of the biggest bands in the world.

Def Leppard: Now
In the early 1990s the band recruited guitarist Vivian Campbell to replace Clark; the gifted virtuoso fit in like a glove and became a permanent part of their line-up. Retro Active followed in 1993, a collection of outtakes and leftovers that spanned their entire career and is notable for the ballads Two Steps Behind and Miss You In A Heartbeat. A year later the band issued itís first greatest-hits collection Vault, which would go on to sell 7 million copies worldwide on the strength of hit single When Love And Hate Collide, which became their biggest ever hit in the UK. 1996ís Slang didnít go down too well with their long time fans and seemed to mark the beginning of the end of the road for the band.

Taking that into account, they set out to make a classic album with Slang's successor, and surprisingly, that's exactly what they delivered. From the outset, it became clear that 1999ís Euphoria found the band not concerned with having a hit; they just wanted to make a good record. The album reunited the band with their former producer Lange, and first single Promises hit the top of the US mainstream rock charts for three weeks, giving the band their biggest hit in years. 2002 saw the follow up X, and though greeted with generally positive reviews, it quickly disappeared from the charts.

You can read the rest of our feature on Def Leppard in the July 2006 issue of The Record Music Magazine available at your local newsagent.


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