Week 3 : 20th January 1983 : No Serenade, No Fire Brigade, Just a Pyromania

Accompany music : Photograph

Its January 1983 and I am 15 years old and should be in the height of rebellion…. Im not. The closest I get is growing my hair long and listening to particularly loud music. I hung around with a bunch of great mates who were all metal fans and (as we would now be classed) school geeks. We were all very pleasant, far removed from the hell raising, drug, drink, satanic, idiot stereotype which was being expressed about Heavy Metal at the time. As I have mentioned before in the blog, I loved soft rock/pop music (ELO, Supertramp, Kate Bush) and these friends introduced me to a range of music which built on these. They showed me that I actually liked rock music and we all started to link to old folk music, classic american rock and music that could get much heavier. And my musical tastes started to change.

img_2020In 1982-83, I was introduced to a number of bands who in the previous years were known as the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal (NWOBHM), among them Motorhead, UFO, Tygers Of Pang Tang, Raven, Saxon, Judas Priest, Angel Witch, Girlschool…. What really caught my imagination with these bands were the heaviness, the rawness, the pace and simple hooks (everything I didn’t like about punk). The movement had essentially been going on since the mid seventies and took off between 1979 and 1981. By the time, me and my mates turned up in 82-83, the movement was already declared as finished but some of the bands had become huge. I found myself really liking Iron Maiden. I loved their first 2 albums but was not sure at the time about their new singer. I also had heard a couple of albums by a band from Sheffield called Def Leppard.

I heard first, their debut ‘On through the night’ which I thought was okay, pretty generic metal/rock with the odd catchy hook song like Hello America and Rock Brigade. Their follow up ‘High and Dry’ a year later was a different matter, the band had hooked up with ACDC producer Robert Mutt Lange, and produced an album with slightly more polished rock songs, a lot still generic NWOBHM but also had some great tracks which had started to cross over into commercial  rock. The epic ‘Bringing on the Heartbreak’ I heard first on the Friday Rock show, combined great emotional songwriting with the essential riffs and power chords from Clark and Willis. During these two albums Def Leppard were accused of selling out and targeting an American market, but the band continued to evolve and change.

img_2023In late 1982, Elliot, Savage, Allen, Clark and Willis returned to the studio with Mutt Lange to record their 3rd album. During the recording Willis left the band and was replaced by Phil Cohen from another NWOBHM band Girl. With the changed line up the band continued to build on their previous album with more accessible songs, more polished performances and production. So on 20th January 1983, ‘Pyromania’ came out. I heard the album a week or two later and was blown away. On February 3rd, the single ‘Photograph’ came out and became at the time the most requested video on MTV. Pyromania shipped 6 million sales of the album in that first year, only being held off the top of the US album charts by ‘Thriller’. Def Leppard on the back on this album become household names in America, although strangely less famous at home (well until Hysteria appears in 1987). So why was it special…. lets give it a spin.

To be honest, bar the big orchestral power chords at the start, Rock Rock (Till you Drop) starts from where ‘High and Dry’ left off, solid hard rock track with chanting chorus. But there are differences: the production seems cleaner and the band seems tighter. I can see why ‘Photograph’ was so popular. Its a stunning, breathtaking, fabulous pop rock track. From the opening riff, its a brilliant piece of songwriting with the way it rolls along within the verses and lifts up in the chorus (with added harmonies), I love the bridge and Collens solo and the uplifting finish with that last guitar flourish… Yeah this is still great.
I have always had an issue with the false crowd start to Stage Fright. I understand it links to the songs theme about performance but it is a pity because its another good song with pace, power and unexpectedly emotional choruses. The emotional roller coaster starts to go downhill, with the opening chords of Too Late of Love, Elliots opening lyrics set the scene into slow paced juddering verses and chanting chorus. The choir herald a change of pace and further angsty reflections. The helicopter sound effect at the start of Die Hard the Hunter, on the other hand is well placed. Again Elliot introduces it with opening verse, with the chorused responses. Suddenly we leap into the rolling, galloping structure of this track dragging us through a journey. Especially when the solo kicks in which seems to go off at tangents before returning to the central theme.

img_2024I always thought the track ‘Foolin’ was the heart of this album, as well as being one of my favourite Leppard songs. There is a certain desperation about love in this track which fitted perfectly with the psyche of a 15 year old teenager. I especially like the slow build up with acoustic song corresponding to lyrics that are trying to logically work out what is wrong. As it builds towards choruses, Steve Clark power chords and more desperate expressive rants are evident. Mutt Langes non-sensical “Gunter glieben glauchen globen” introduces Rock of Ages. The songs feels like a close relative of Queens ‘We Will Rock You’ . Elliots spoken bits are fun and the lyrics a little cliched but also very tongue in cheek. The responding chanting sounds like it was fun to do and makes this track into an anthem at gigs.

Comin Under Fire, starts with an almost echo guitar riff, before delving into another slow emotive simmering verses. I love the constant changes of pace in this track from verse, to chorus, to bridge, to solo whilst every so often returning to that initial riff and harmonised responses. Action Not Words, great song which is more upbeat. more pop/rock and for the only time on the album, has stereotypical dubious rock subject matter (Women, Sex, Cameras). The final track Billy’s Got A Gun is a great atmospheric song which builds by leaving space between elements, to start there’s no shredding or riffage just atmospheric power chords and the choir adding harmonies. It builds the intensity and pace  along with the story. The last minute is fab from solo to a beautiful filled bridge with Allen’s drumming to Elliot’s last desperate lyrics to the final choral responses. Only leaving the minutes drum loop at the end.

When I first heard Pyromania I thought it was brilliant. For someone who was changing my music style, this album hit the centre ground between the music I grew up with and the music I was currently listening to. It was safe but had enough for me to go on and explore more rock and metal, whilst waiting for the next Def Leppard album to arrive. It was a bit of a wait, not at least for the band who went through so much trauma to get into the studio. In 1987, Hysteria arrived and again raised the bar in Def Leppards journey.  It lifted production and songwriting quality to new levels making use of new technology to build on the always great musicianship in the band. It would bring more fame in the USA and deservedly some in Britain. I would get to see them on the tour for the first time with Tesla (in my top 10 gigs) and a few more times after. I don’t think they ever achieved the heights of Pyromania and Hysteria again, although the band have continued to be excellent live and have released some great tracks since but not the consistent quality. My favourite band member was Steve Clark, who sadly passed away after Hysteria.  I loved the way he played guitar. He had a great staggering, swaying motion, that every so often produced a kick in time with one of his awesome power chords. I used to replicate it whilst air guitaring at the Mayfair, sort of like pretending to be Michelle Platini whilst playing football in the school yard. Pyromania continues to be one of my favourite albums and I am grateful for it being part of my rock evolution.

img_2021Def Leppard and the Union Jack seem to be intrinsicly linked at this time. Look at the video for Photograph with Joe Elliot wearing his sleeveless t-shirt or the Foolin video with Rick Allen’s shorts. One infamous photo shows the whole band decked out in the same Union Jack t-shirts and shorts. It seems the band were a) proud of where they came from and b) trying to respond to the earlier pro-American criticism.

The Union Jack for Great Britain & N. Ireland has faced criticism itself. At best it represents being together and Union. The flag itself is a combination of England, Scotland and N. Ireland flags. Some see it proudly as a symbol of a true, fair place of many nations, cultures & beliefs. Alternatively others may see it as a flag of oppression and of an old age of empire. In the worst cases, it has been adopted by far right groups as a flag of division, oppression and hatred. Like the use of the flag of St George, it is unfair to blame the flag for the actions of a few idiots.

So a Union Jack card was made. Lyrics for all the songs were printed onto red and blue card. Getting the right colours was really tough,so much so I settled for these darker shades (I really like the toned down contrast). A template was made of the flag and each element is cut out separately (The cross of St George is cut in two). The templates were transferred onto the coloured lyrics at different angles and cut out. Some elements were glued straight onto a plain white card background whilst others are slightly raised. It gives the flag a ripple effect and the effect of something in Britain that’s changing and evolving. For better or for worse.

Billy (aged 15 at time of album release)


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