The SmarK Rant For Classic Albums DVD: Def Leppard: Hysteria

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

well.

– 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

hearing that.

– 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

it RIGHT.

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

listed.

Film: ****1/2

Video: **1/2

Audio: **1/2

Special Features: ****

Overall Score: ****