The SmarK Rant for Classic Albums DVD: “Hysteria”
– Well, it’s a bit of a departure for yours truly, as I review a DVD not
having anything to do with wrestling, but having everything to do with one
of my all-time favorite rock groups Def Leppard. You’ve probably seen the
Classic Albums series on VH1 (or MuchMoreMusic in Canada), and they’ve
issued a lot of them on DVD over the past year, with this one being the
latest. However, being that it’s Def Lep and they release the most
absolutely STACKED DVDs I’ve ever seen for what is usually a fluff release
genre, you’d expect a little bit more out of this one and you get it.
– Background on the actual album for those who aren’t children of the
80s: Def Leppard had an insanely huge hit album in North America with
“Pyromania” on the strength of hits like “Photograph” and “Rock of Ages”,
which are still played on radio today. The album was the vision of Robert
John “Mutt” Lange, who had previously done AC/DC’s “Back in Black” among
other huge albums, and who brought a very pop sense to the rock scene with
BIG vocals and BIG choruses. To date, Pyromania has sold close to 7
million units as a result of that vision. The next step was crossing over,
however, into the mainstream, and breaking through in England. To that
end, they began working on “Hysteria” in 1984 without Mutt Lange, who was
busy working with The Cars at the time and couldn’t produce Lep’s new album.
Part one: The Program.
– Joe and the band talk about Mutt Lange’s philosophy of creating a
“Greatest Hits” package before the album is even released, by crafting a
series of radio-friendly hit singles while still making a rock album. They
wanted to be the biggest band in the world, and they were for a while.
– The cost of making the album was HUGE, into the millions, and they needed
to sell 5 million units just to break even. Thus, they wanted (and needed)
the perfect rock album and wouldn’t settle for less.
– Recording and writing began in 1984, as they were all living in a shitty
house and drinking lots of booze.
– Our first song dissection (which the Classic Albums series is known for)
is “Animal”, as we hear a VERY early version, from a four-track recorder,
with Rick Allen playing real drums.
– Right at the beginning, Mutt bowed out of the project and left them
without a producer, which left the group reeling.
– Management heard “Animal”, even in early forms, and was immediately
optimistic about the record’s success. This was of course 3 years before
it actually got finished, and it got tougher from there.
– First attempt to replace Mutt: Jim Steinman, who wrote Meatloaf’s
material, but wasn’t well-known as being a producer. In particular, he was
far too laid-back for the “Lange-ized” Def Lep, who were used to doing 300
takes and splicing together the best parts. After arguments over direction
of the record, Steinman was bought out of his contract for millions and let
go, thus adding another 2 million units to the target needed for the album
to break even. “High level bullshit” was needed to keep the money flowing in.
– Things were getting frustrating because they couldn’t nail down what was
wrong with their sound, and then it really got bad when Rick Allen was in a
car accident and lost his left arm, thus setting them back another year or
so. Rick’s desire to keep drumming, however, led to the creation of an
electronic drum kit that allowed him to drum with his feet.
– Finally, Mutt Lange was convinced to come back on board and finish
producing the album for them, which gave them the shot in the arm they needed.
– Clip of Def Lep on “Top of the Pops” from 1987, lip-synching “Animal”,
which was the first single from the album everywhere except North America.
– The group talks a bit about how everyone contributes ideas for songs,
which leads to Rick Savage playing the acoustic demo for “Hysteria”, and a
clip of Joe & Phil doing their own acoustic version of the song.
– Clip of the “Hysteria” video. I’ve always loved that song the chorus
and melodic guitars (which they talk about here as well) is amazing to
listen to, as you can find different things each time. It’s not just two or
three voices harmonizing, it’s three guitars complimenting each other, as
– Phil demonstrates the layered guitar sound of the song and how he and
Steve Clark would play over top of each other to get the desired effect.
– They talk about Steve, as he often skirted the line between genius and
stupidity when it came to songwriting his thing was writing little guitar
riffs for intros and solos, but he couldn’t be bothered with full songs
most of the time.
– Case in point: The introduction to “Gods of War”, which is nearly an
epic in itself and just gives you this really heavy vibe coming into the
song. Phil demonstrates the guitar sound backing the verses, and how it
was actually another version of the chords making up the Police’s “Message
in a Bottle”, just slowed down a couple of notches. Better hope Sting
doesn’t sue now.
– Sav uses the mixing board to demonstrate the AWESOME chorus of “Gods of
War”, with voices flying in all over the place on multiple tracks. One of
those things where you don’t quite realize all the stuff going on in that
song until it gets broken down into components like that. That’s why this
album is so perfect for the “Classic Albums” series.
– Onto “Rocket”, the last single from the album and Lep’s tribute to 70s
glam bands. Joe’s idea for the song came from listening to a drum loop
from a group called Brody Black. Phil & Joe play the original four-track
demo to show how different the original form was.
– More with the mixing board, as they talk about coming up with the lyrics
as a tribute to the 70s (starting with Lou Reed’s “Satellite of Love”), and
the backwards portion from the middle. The backwards chanting is “We’re
fighting for the gods of war” played backwards, by the way. Steve’s solo
is backed by the guys chanting like monks in time with the guitar, which
just sounds goofy on its own. I didn’t even notice the extra voices before
– Clip of “Armageddon It”, the song that made me buy the album in
1989. The guys talk about Rick’s new drumming style actually helping to
slow him down and improve his stuff. Mutt’s advice: “Keep it
simple. This is rock n roll, you’re not a jazz band.”
– Rick wasn’t sure about drumming on the road again, so they did some
“rehearsal” concerts to prepare for the Monsters of Rock tour, which earned
Rick massive ovations from the crowd. This gave them yet another boost to
push towards the end of the album.
– Onto “Love Bites”, a song which I’ve never been a big fan of. It started
out as Mutt’s take on country and turned into a heavy guitar ballad with a
big chorus. It turned out to be Lep’s only #1 single in the US. Joe talks
about the “Simon LeBon bits” at the end of each line that show what a
sensitive dude he is.
– Mutt talks about how they just needed that one more song to put the album
over the top, and Def Lep was absolutely insistent that they only had 11
songs in them, and no more. So one day Joe is fooling around on a coffee
break and comes up with the basic riff for “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, which
they basically recorded in a hurried frenzy to keep the record company from
having them all killed to pay for the debts.
– The lyrics came about from Mutt & Joe fooling around on tape recorders
and trying to translate each other’s nonsense lyrics.
– Joe wasn’t impressed with the idea of releasing “Women” as the first
single in North America, and the record label started to panic and released
“Pour Some Sugar On Me”, which proceeded to send the album into the
stratosphere it sold 4 million units off the success of that song alone,
and 450,000 records in one DAY when the single first broke.
– The various managers, critics and band members summarize the success of
the album and their ensuing ride to the top of the charts as a result of it.
The main program is about an hour by itself but wait, there’s more!
Part two: The Bonus Material.
– In addition to the stuff that made the show, you also get the extended
interviews and other bits that were edited down for the show, which totals
ANOTHER hour of material.
Initial Recordings of Animal: Phil and Joe fool around with the four-track
version of Animal and analyze the changes from the original version to the
album version. There’s no vocals because they only had 4 tracks and used
them all for the instruments. It actually sounds pretty close to the final
version, all in all.
Rick Gets Hysterical: Rick Allen relates the story of how he’s credited
with naming the album.
Hysteria (Acoustic): Phil and Joe play a full acoustic version of the
song, which is quite neat.
Drumming Return to the Status Quo: The group talks about the warmup shows
in Ireland to prep Rick for drumming again. They played a show with Jeff
Rich of the Status Quo as a backup drummer, in case Rick screwed up or
couldn’t handle it. Fate intervened and Jeff missed the next show, so Rick
had to handle it by himself and they were off and running again. Cool story.
The Album According to Joe: The full 5-minute interview with Joe, edited
down into soundbites for the show, as he talks about the influence of the
album and being the big rock band on the block.
Sugar Stripped Down: Phil breaks down the guitars on “Pour Some Sugar On
Me” and how they evolved from the original form of the song. The REALLY
horrible original video is also shown (not much of it, thankfully), along
with Phil & Joe at the mixing board, isolating the vocals so you can hear
the “Huh! Hey!” that’s mixed into the chorus under the guitars. I just
think this stuff is so cool to watch and listen to. One of the best bits
on the DVD.
Pour Some Sugar On Me (Acoustic): Phil and Joe again, doing an acoustic
version of everyone’s favorite rocker. I have multiple versions of the
whole band doing acoustic versions of this song, but this is the first
two-man version I’ve heard.
Guitars, Guitars, Guitars: Another featurette in itself, as the “Def
Leppard sound” is analyzed by Rick Savage and Phil Collen, and various
guitar parts are demo’d. More really cool stuff here.
Windmill II And The Gods Of War: Joe tells a story about recording “Gods
of War” in a shitty little studio.
Mutt’s Vocals in the Mix: Funny mixing board bit, as Joe & Phil talk about
Mutt’s anal-retentive mixing sessions, and a demonstration of the original
version of Love Bites, with Mutt’s harmonizing with himself in two
different voices left intact. Trust me, thank GOD they fixed it before
releasing the album. Another controversy cleared up by Joe: The very end
of “Love Bites”, with the demonic voice, is Mutt saying “Bloody hell” in an
imitation of Joe’s accent.
The Album Is Finally Released: Another interview with band members, and
the title should explain this one.
So there you go, almost two hours of material total covering just about
everything you’d ever want to know about the making of “Hysteria”. This an
absolute must-buy for Def Leppard fans, and a worthy companion to the
Historia and Visualize DVDs that they’ve already released this year. It
took them a while to get on the DVD bandwagon, but once they did, they did
The Video: Shot for TV so it’s a bit fuzzy compared to film, but that’s to
be expected. It’s done in 1.77:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, which is due
to it being a British export, and it’s a very nice transfer, with
everything looking about as clear and sharp as it’s going to considering
the source material.
The Audio: Plain old 2.0 stereo, but fear not: This is the Lep we’re
talking about. Trust me on this, I’ve heard 5.1 mixes that can’t touch Def
Lep’s DVD audio sound, as they somehow manage to get every bit of power
possible out of the 2.0 mix. Not as aggressive in the surrounds as the
Historia and Visualize discs (where they were mixed to insanely crank-able
levels), but the stereo is appreciated for the vocal mixes, where you can
actually hear the voices popping from left to right, as intended. A 5.1
mix of this stuff would be neat, but unnecessary for most of the way, as
it’s mainly an interview disc. It does the job intended, and does it well.
The Packaging: Plain jane Alpha case and one-page insert with chapters
Special Features: ****
Overall Score: ****