Phil Collen: 30 Years of Def Leppard’s Hysteria

Phil Collen, photo by Helen L. Collen

In 1983, American music fans had another wave of British music thrust upon them, thanks to five lads from Sheffield, England.

Collectively, they were known as Def Leppard. Joe Elliott (vocals); Steve Clark (guitars); Rick Savage (bass); Rick Allen (drums); and new kid on the block Phil Collen (guitar) released their third and breakout album ‘Pyromania.’ Thanks to a trio of singles”Photograph,” “Rock of Ages,” and “Foolin'”which all were in heavy rotation on MTV, Def Leppard was everywhere and American kids were eating it up. Soon you saw fans sporting the Union Jack shirts and shorts made famous by the band. As the old saying goes, all the guys wanted to be them and all the girls wanted to be with them.

When all was said and done, Def Leppard’s ‘Pyromania’ went on to sell 10 million copies and that was just in the United States alone.

“When I was in Girl [Collen’s previous band], I knew the guys in Def Leppard. We would gig around in the same clubs. We were both doing alright, so when they asked me to audition for the band, I knew what I was getting into. But we had no idea what was ahead of us with ‘Pyromania.’ You can’t prepare for something like that,” lead guitarist Phil Collen said of joining Def Leppard 30 years ago this year. “I think even if I didn’t join Def Leppard, I’d still be a in a band because it was what I really wanted. I had such a drive and hunger to be in a band. Around that time, too, other bands were asking me to audition, like Thin Lizzy, who had John Sykes at the time. There was also some talk about Iron Maiden, then that thing happened with Randy and there was talk about me going to audition for Ozzy Osbourne.”
Editor’s Note: Ozzy Osbourne guitarist, Randy Rhoads died in a plane crash on March 19, 1982.

Obviously, Collen made the right choice with Def Leppard.

After all the hype pf ‘Pyromania’ died down, the now certified rock stars headed back into the studio to try and capture magic in a bottle one more time with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange, but Def Leppard’s fairytale story started to unravel quickly.

The band went into the studio with the working title of the album ‘Animal Instinct’ but things got off on the wrong foot when Mutt Lange was only able to give the band six months because he had a prior commitment to work with the Cars on their massively successful album ‘Heartbreak City,’ which included the hits “Hello Again;” “Magic;” “Drive;” and “You Might Think.”

Phil Collen, photo by Helen L. Collen

“We knew we only had a certain amount of time with Mutt, so we tried to get as much done as we could, but it just didn’t work out because we were trying to do so much in such a small timespan and we couldn’t keep Mutt from his gig with the Cars…that wouldn’t have been right”

The mates in Def Leppard brought in Meat Loaf songwriter Jim Steinman, who had written ‘Bat Out of Hell.’ Steinman’s plan for the new Def Leppard album was to capture their raw live energy. Steinman’s idea and the band’s idea of their new album were totally different and soon Steinman was gone. The band took over production themselves, but that didn’t work out either and all the songs were scrapped.

“I think we were so married to the idea of working with Mutt that no matter who we brought in, it probably wouldn’t have worked. It’s nothing again Steinman, hell we tried to do things ourselves but the further along we got, it was clear we needed Mutt back in the studio. He was the architect of this album and he had the foresight on where to take it.”

Starting back at zero, things only got worse for Elliott, Collen, Clark, Savage, and especially Allen.

On the afternoon of December 31, 1984, 21-year-old Rick Allen, along with his then girlfriend Miriam Barendsen, were in his Corvette C4 driving along the English countryside just outside of Sheffield. Allen lost control of the car due to excessive speed and hit a stone wall, flipping his car into a farmer’s field. Allen’s left arm was torn from his body as he was thrown from the car. Allen’s arm was found by the farmer and his wife and was reattached by the doctors at the hospital, but infection set in and they had to amputate his arm for good. Barendsen was not harmed in the accident.

“I was in Paris with Steve [Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark] and our girlfriends at the time of Rick’s accident. I remember getting the phone call from our then manager Peter Mensch. He said Rick was in a car accident and his arm had been severed. I couldn’t comprehend what he was telling me. I asked him, ‘what do you mean, severed’ and he told me Rick’s arm was torn off his body in the accident, and he was without an arm at the hospital. Then it hit me. I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. He had just turned 21 and was a drummer who lost his arm. You have no experience to deal with something like that, no one does.”

Although Allen had his doubts about drumming again, his band mates encouraged him to try, and eventually, with a special drum kit, Allen was back in the recording studio with the band working on the new album.

The band’s downtime waiting for Allen to recover and learn how to play the drums again worked in their favor as Mutt Lange came back on board to produce. Soon after Allen returned to the studio and began learning his new drum kit, Lange was injured in a car accident then front man joe Elliott caught the mumps, delaying the band’s recording into 1986.

“Rick’s accident…in this weird way…it was a blessing in disguise. I wish he hadn’t gone through that, but it immediately made us a stronger band, stronger people. You could feel it when we were in the hospital with him. Rick was trying to recuperate and learn how to live, I mean he couldn’t tie his shoelaces. He had to learn to walk again because his balance was off since he didn’t have two arms.

“Then Mutt came back in and here we were in the recording studio with our friend building this amazing drum kit and learning how to become a drummer again. Everything started coming together. Rick was so driven, we all were.”

Finally, in January of 1987, Def Leppard recorded their last song “Armageddon It” for the now long-awaited album. During the last minutes of the recording session, Lange suggested the band record another track, which happened to be “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” After recording was done, Lange spent three months on mixing the new album, which was now called ‘Hysteria,’ inspired by the aftermath of Allen’s accident.

“The album became a lot of pressure,” Collen said. “It was financial and career suicide for us. From the time we went into the studio until they time we got ‘Hysteria’ done, the world was drastically changing around us.

“We were lucky with our label, Mercury Records. Of course, they wanted something sooner than four years. It is a business agenda. But back then, labels were more nurturing than they are now. They saw the art in the band, not just the money. The labels helped bands grow. We did have the luxury of ‘Pyromania’ being a big seller for them, but they never asked us to release an album just to release an album. We wouldn’t have done that anyway. We aren’t that type of band. We had a vision for ‘Hysteria’ no matter how hard and how tedious it was; we stuck to our guns.”

Def Leppard: Hysteria promo photos; 1987

Nearly five years after ‘Pyromania’ was released, Def Leppard officially released the follow up, ‘Hysteria,’ on August 3, 1987. And like when Collen joined the band, there was no way to prepare for what would happen next.

“It really didn’t hit me that we finally got this album done until me and Steve were sitting down to listen to the mixes. I was living in Holland at the time and when we heard the final mixes, we both knew we had something special. We thought the album was the best thing we had ever done and frankly we didn’t care if only our parents heard it, because we got to that point with going through everything we went through to get ‘Hysteria’ done we were so proud of it. We knew this was a unique thing. It’s very rare thing to have that commitment from a group of guys to make something so special.”

At the time of its initial release, ‘Hysteria’ was the most expensive album to be made and the band had to sell five million copies just to break even. If the reaction to the initial single was any indication, it looked to be a hard sell.

Def Leppard and their label released “Animal” as the first single overseas, and it put ‘Hysteria’ at the top of the UK charts. However, in North America, things were a little different. The label released the heavier song “Women” as the first single and it did not fare too well. Fans weren’t ready or expecting the new polished, layered sound ‘Hysteria’ offered.

“It flopped,” Collen said bluntly about “Women” as a single. “The label and Cliff Burnstein, our management, thought “Women” was more of a rock song to fit in with our previous singles. Whatever happened, [“Women”] wasn’t the immediate choice in the States, “Animal” would have done better, but it doesn’t matter now looking back on it. It just took some time. In all honesty, we almost tanked. I wasn’t worried, more annoyed really because we made this spectacular record and people weren’t getting it.”

Four months later the title track was issued as a single in the U.S. and fans started coming around to the more mainstream pop of the band. “Hysteria” rocketed to the top spot on the singles chart, but all hell broke loose when “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was released as a single on April 16, 1988. The balls-out rocker, with Joe Elliott’s rapid-fire sexual innuendo lyrics and the sing-a-long chorus was infectious. The video was on all the channels seemingly every hour. It caught the ear of long-time fans, new fans, teens, and lonely old housewives. The arena-rock anthem was a global hit and probably can still be heard today in strip bars across the country and of course at every Def Leppard live show.

Phil Collen, photo by Helen L. Collen

“I never get tired of playing “Sugar.” Why would I?” Collen said. “The song is like a best friend or your child. We go out and play it at every show and every time we do, I look out into the crowd and see thousands of people rocking out and singing the song back to me. It’s such a powerful experience, no matter how many times you play that song.”

As if “Pour Some Sugar on Me” wasn’t big enough, the band and label played their cards perfectly, releasing the power ballad “Love Bites” four months later. It went on to top the charts, too. It looked like Def Leppard was unstoppable. ‘Hysteria’ was flying off the record store shelves at a record pace so two more singles were released (“Armageddon It” [November 1988] and “Rocket” [January 1989]). In a span of two years, ‘Hysteria,’ which only had 12 tracks, birthed an astounding seven singles.

In addition to the rotation of hit singles, Def Leppard started the “Hysteria Tour” on June 24, 1987, and it finally came to an end on October 27, 1988. After all was said and done, Joe Elliott, Rick Savage, Rick Allen, Steve Clark, and Phil Collen had played 236 live shows to promote their fourth album.

“We just wanted to succeed. We did one round of touring in the States and it didn’t do well. Then, I remember this so clearly. We went to Rupp Arena in Kentucky on Halloween and there were only 3,000 people. Then the next time we played there, it was like 23,000 people. The same thing happened in Kansas City, Tacoma, Seattle, soon all the shows were selling out. Touring was a lot like recording the album, just work hard, keep at it and soon it will pay off.”

‘Hysteria’ went on to rule the charts, topping them in the US, UK, and Australia, just to name a few. The album has sold over 30 million copies worldwide: United States (12-times platinum); Canada (10-times platinum); Australia (4-times platinum); United Kingdom (2-times platinum). Needless to say, ‘Hysteria’ is Def Leppard’s best-selling album and will never be matched.

“We set out to do something special and I think we accomplished that. We wanted ‘Hysteria’ to sound like this. This was the sound we were striving for. I certainly wanted to be original. It took everyone contributing and none of us wanted to duplicate another band’s sound. You take everyone’s ideas and carve it into the songs. Mutt was a huge part in this. He was a genius. He made us not be average.”

On August 4, 2017, nearly 30 years to the day, Def Leppard will release a 30th anniversary edition of the album in four formats: single CD, 2LP with poster, 3CD Deluxe, and a Super Deluxe Box Set (5CD – 2DVD), which will contain the audio to ‘Live: In the Round, in Your Face.’ A collection the band and label helped put together.

“It was a combination of both, the band and the label, who put this special edition together. The label would ask what we had in the archives, but to be honest. I don’t have much. I have a few CDs and a couple of magazines in a cupboard I’ve kept, but Joe, Joe is the archivist of the band. He has kept everything and it is all in order in groups and he remembers everything. He will say something like, ‘hey, remember when we did this or played that song’ or whatever, and I tell him I don’t even remember the conversation about doing that, let alone actually doing it.

“But yeah, Joe’s the man when it comes to that. We all did give our ideas and put little things in here and there so it is a full band effort. We wanted to give the fans as much as we could, because, I mean that record made us. Here we are 30 years later still talking about ‘Hysteria.’”

Def Leppard Hysteria 30th Anniversary Box Set



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