Hidden In Plain Sight: Hysteria

Even now, people still go on about Pyromania, as though that was the definitive Def Leppard album of the 1980s. While completing missing the obvious. That Hysteria was a million times better, more advanced, more successful, musically and commercially.

Let’s stay with the music. For me, Hysteria is the definitive rock album of the 80s. Not Appetite For Destruction or Master Of Puppets or whatever else the conventional wisdom currently is. That was niche music that somehow seeped into the mainstream like blood through the bandages.

Hysteria was designed and built for the widest possible audience, and it found it. Except it did more than that. It also delivered a new, far more elevated form of rock, one that the world had not seen before. Nor, arguably, has seen since.

And it was all down to the producer, Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange. Mutt was already a superstar, of course. Had guided AC/DC through their two best albums, in Highway To Hell and Back In Black, had lifted Foreigner and The Cars to heights they could never have dreamed of otherwise. Had even, way back, transformed the Boomtown Rats from a second division pop-punk band into an act of real substance with ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’. And had also, it’s true, produced the second and third multi-platinum Leppard albums.

Now, though, in 1987, both Lange and Leppard were poised to take a great leap together into the sonic unknown. They didn’t have to. Another Pyromania would have gone down just nicely thanks. But no, because of Lange, Leppard were about to go through the looking glass into a place neither they nor Mutt would ever be able to find again.

With the 12 tacks – all killer, no filler – on Hysteria.

It wasn’t immediately obvious. No ‘Photograph’ to instantly fall in love with. No ‘Rock Of Ages’ to charge around to. Instead there were the almost subliminal rock joys of tracks like ‘Animal’, which took 10 plays to really get but then never let go, and ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’, which seemed a more instant hit, until you’d also heard that 10 times and realised it was probably the greatest rock anthem of its age, in much the same way that ‘All Right Now’ had been in its time.

But that was the obvious stuff. The best though was in tracks like ‘Love And Affection’, ‘Love Bites’ and the sublime title track. They all worked as great songs but that wasn’t what made them genius. It was the production, the subtlety, the fact that Phil Collen was recording one string of his guitar at a time and Joe Elliot was singing one line, sometimes one word, at a time, again and again and again – and again – until a year had gone by along with a lifetime of production techniques until they were left with the thrice distilled magic of a million golden moments all somehow fused – into one.

The drums were all electronic too. But not because Rick Allen had lost his arm between albums. The drums on Pyromania were all done by machine too. The reason things were done the way they were on Hysteria was because Mutt was looking to take this one to the other side of the rainbow, just to see how far the rocket could really fly, when injected with the right fuel. The special gear he’d been developing in secret all these years in his night lab, alone and crazy and far too far gone.

And in Leppard, unlike those moody bastards in AC/DC or those egomaniacs in Foreigner, Mutt finally had the right band to make it happen. To do what they were told. Because they were young and still on the upswing too, and looking for adventure. Not just another hit album – they’d already seen all that could be seen in terms of giant hits by the time they were 24 – but something beyond the beyond.

They found it in Hysteria.

11 thoughts on “Hidden In Plain Sight: Hysteria

  1. I am huge fan of work. Everything that is published in Brazil i read it. I don’t if you are the type of guy who respond coments or something like that, but i really would like to see you write something about Mick Taylor’s years in The Rolling Stone. Or maybe about The Who, especially the years of Tommy.

  2. At 15 years old my first ever gig was seeing them at the Odeon in September 1987. Turned up in a fake Lyle and Scott polo shirt and jumbo cords, fuck I was in for a shock.
    I was hit so hard by the wall of sound when Tesla opened. Leppard didn’t disappoint & I pulled a rock chick on the way out.

  3. I do remember reading an interview with Jim Steinman at the time of the albums release (may even have been one of yours?) in which he claimed that Rick Allen hadn’t played drums on Pyromania & thinking that it sounded a little like sour grapes after he was booted off the initial Hysteria recording sessions. You say he didn’t play on either album?

    I feel for the guy (yeah I know, multi-millionaire rock star, he must be sobbing all the way to the, well you know). I’ve seen them live, and unless they’ve got some next level jiggery pokery going on he can obviously cut it, so to have your name & face as the drummer on two of the biggest albums of the 80s and know that you didn’t play a note on them, must be somewhat soul-destroying, n’est pas?

    • Lange was always a stickler for drums. He was also a tech-genius. The only really sad part is that Rick was determined to play on Hysteria, but then lost his arm and was lucky to learn to play again at all. But all the guys had to make sacrifices on those albums. And just look at the rewards. Over 20 million sales combined. That’s more than most famous British bands manage in an entire career. And look what happened after Mutt left…

      • Well indeed, and point taken, but at least the other guys can put their hands on their hearts and say that that’s them on the albums, even if it is one-note-at-a-time. And yes, I’ve found it slightly surprising they haven’t worked with Mutt since, and as you say, there’s some ok to decent stuff there, but nothing that comes close to Pyromania/Hysteria, that said I don’t recall Mutt being attached to anything comparable since then either.

          • Fair enough, I was aware of the Shania Twain link, but only because they were married. Not being a fan of any of them I wasn’t aware he was their producer.

          • Man I Feel LIke A Woman… straight from Hysteria. In fact, the Come On Over album sold more copies than Hysteria. Why do you think she married him?

  4. These days I prefer listening to bands like Radiohead, Tool, or Nine Inch Nails but you made me getting out this album after a long time and giving it a proper listen again.

    It brought me straight back to the day of it’s release when I could finally hold it in my hands 4 years after the amazing Pyromania I liked so much.
    I remembered exactly where I was and how I listened to it for the very first time expecting a newer better Pyromania. But what came out of the speakers was nothing like it. I didn’t get it but I was aware that I listened to something special and I played it over and over again for the next couple of years.

    And you are right the combination of the band and M.Lange was 1+1=3
    The production still sounds amazing even dated at some points more than 25 years later.

    Thanks for reminding me of that great album and that time in my life


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