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Weekend Songs: Def Leppard, ‘Hysteria’

Classic rock is about heavy hooks, power chords and tight harmonies. But it’s also about letting loose and enjoying the good times. And there’s no better time for that than Friday evening, when we pick up our paycheck, punch out of work and enjoy a couple days of much-needed rest and relaxation.

This week, we’re paying tribute to a band that had plenty of good times in 1987 and 1988 — and provided the soundtrack for plenty of listeners’ good times in the bargain — after the massive worldwide success of their fourth album, ‘Hysteria.’ Even though Def Leppard were already one of the bigger bands on the planet in the years leading up to ‘Hysteria,’ they definitely earned their ascension to rock’s upper ranks with this set of songs — not only because they were full of hooks and ready for radio, but also because of the tremendous amount of personal adversity they faced before its release.

‘Hysteria’ took a then unheard-of four years to complete, thanks in large part to a series of setbacks that included losing producer Jeff ‘Mutt Lange, suffering through an aborted series of sessions with Jim Steinman, singer Joe Elliott coming down with the mumps and Lange then coming back to the project, only to end up in the hospital after getting into a car accident. But the biggest hurdle the band faced was undoubtedly the horrific 1984 car crash that left drummer Rick Allen without his left arm, forcing him to learn to play with a new customized kit that allowed him to perform his parts with digital foot triggers.

All this would have been difficult to overcome even if Def Leppard had been attempting a stripped-down album, but they actually had the opposite in mind. ‘Hysteria’ ended up setting the benchmark for epic rock production during the decade, thanks to Lange’s painstaking dedication to wrapping the band’s new songs in the biggest, most pristine sound he could get. From thickly layered vocals to guitar chords that were recorded one note at a time, no sonic element was left to chance.

In a lot of cases, this type of approach would have sucked the life out of the songs, but with ‘Hysteria’ it had the opposite effect, making the band sound larger than life and accentuating the pop-friendly sheen that Lange applied to the songs. All that hard work paid off in a big way on the charts too: The record spawned an impressive seven singles, and although it took some time to build commercial momentum — ‘Hysteria’ didn’t top the Billboard album chart until July 1988, nearly a year after it was released — it became an unstoppable juggernaut once it got rolling, with the final single, ‘Rocket,’ coming out in early 1989.

‘Hysteria’s’ title track, a Top 10 hit, was released just before Def Leppard pandemonium truly struck. When people think about the album today, it’s the next single, ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me,’ that usually comes to mind first. But while it’s hard to argue with the stadium-crushing stomp of ‘Sugar,’ there’s something about ‘Hysteria’ that suits that drive home from work Friday evening. It lacks the crunch of rockers like ‘Armageddon It’ and the dynamic range of a power ballad like ‘Love Bites,’ but the track’s insistent circular riff, coupled with Elliott’s just-rough-enough vocals, contain the perfect amount of energy and attitude.

Coming in the 10th position on the ‘Hysteria’ track list, the song served as a sort of cooling-off number between ‘Run Riot’ and ‘Excitable,’ but it also works in reverse, getting the listener ready to wave goodbye to professional obligations for a couple of days. But why wait? If it isn’t closing time in your office yet, just watch the above video, turn up the volume, and let your weekend start … now.

Next: She Was a Fast Machine, She Kept Her Motor Clean

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