Def Leppard drummer, Rick Allen, lost an arm a 1984 to a car accident. Joe Elliot stated “We’re never going to fire him!” Rick Allen, despite his new found disability, overcame his obstacles. Allen came back, invented a new style of drumming using his feet and some electronics, and became a better drummer than he was before his accident. Why am I telling you this? This story is just one of the things that make Hysteria the best hard rock album of the 80s.
Def Leppard wanted Hysteria to be a Hard Rock answer to Micheal Jackson’s Thriller. With seven singles – Def Leppard certainly succeeded in their goal. The critics seem to agree. Hysteria finds a place in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die (right after Trio by Dolly Parton with Linda Ronstadt & Emmylou Harris – interesting juxtaposition). Hysteria found the number one spot in the US, UK and Australian charts. So – let’s look at the seven singles of Hysteria. What makes them great? Wow did these songs make Hysteria the best hard rock album of the 80s?
I’ll admit, Woman is not my favorite Def Leppard song. It starts out slow and makes you want to bop your head, but for being the opener for what I claim to be the best hard rock album of the 80s, it’s quite slow.
At the chorus we get a bit of a speed up, but the tempo is still pretty slow. Having said that – Woman is not a bad song. In fact, Woman was the perfect song to open the album. Woman warms you up to the greatness that comes up with the rest of the album.
Wit Rocket, we get into something just amazing. We’ve got a song that starts out with a bunch of backmasking vocals, the sounds of a rocket launch, and a faster tempo than woman. The drums sound almost military in beat. All in all, while not the best song ever written, Rocket simply sounds good.
As we examine the the lyrics – we realize Rocket might just be partly a tribute to all of those rockers that went before them. The lyrics include 15 separate references to other bands songs. Everything from Benny and The Jets by Elton John to Satellite of Love by Lou Reed. At one point, the guitars even mimic the melody of I Feel Free by Cream.
Still – while Rocket might pay tribute to some of the best music of the 60s and 70s, this song also pays tribute to the feeling that rock and roll itself gives you. Rock and roll rockets you to the sky and beyond. Rocket wants us to blast off with Def Leppard and all the rest, and just have a good, spaced out time with the music.
Animal, a song about the animal instinct of passion and love, takes its theme to a place most songs wouldn’t bother visiting.
Let’s start with the sound of the guitars. At the beginning of the song, we hear some high guitar sounds, almost like a howling beast. Throughout the song, we hear this and similar sounds. When we hear a more mid or low guitar sound, we hear a growling animal. In the bridge, we even get the two guitar sounds back to back – as though the beast growls, and then howls at the listener.
The lyrics also put a nice, animalistic feel to the song. The lyrics use a lot of words that seem primitive – summoning our inner caveman. Lyrics such as wild, lust, hungry, fire. flame. burn. lightning. These lyrics make us think of our base instinct: survival (ie avoid fire et al), hunger (we need to eat), and lust (we need to reproduce).
The chorus, or rather how Def Leppard sings the chorus, even sounds like they cry for these basic needs and instincts. Every phrase is broken into three syllables (and I want, and I need, and I lust, animal). The three syllable sentence is one of the simplest forms of communication. This is why toddlers as they learn to talk use these types of sentences. This is also probably how the first languages sounded – the languages that cavemen used. They didn’t have time for long sentences. Their sentences were very short and primitive.
The very last words of the song cement everything. After the last chorus, Def Leppard sings “Cry Wolf.” While this phrase usually involves someone who’s told a lie too many times, in this case we get the feeling the phrase means howling like a wolf. A perfect ending to a song that sounds so simple, yet in reality has so many layers of complexity.
Love Bites just might be my favorite hard rock ballad. What makes the song special? Why should it have a place on the best hard rock album of the 80s? Firstly – Love Bites feels like a continuation of Animal, but from a different perspective. We get a feeling the one pursued in Animal might be the one singing Love Bites. There’s the phrase where the we get the song’s title, “Love Bites, Love Bleeds.” The singer of Love Bites, tells us they were essentially attacked in an animalistic fashion.
Love bites also deals with passion differently than Animal. While Animal deals with urges and instincts, Love Bites deals with logic and emotions. Animal acts immediately – Love Bites thinks and weighs the pros and cons before jumping into action.
There’s also the tempo and style of the two songs. Animal moves has a decent pace – Animal has a goal and the tempo reflects that. Love Bites, however, wants to slow things down and shows us this with the power ballad format.
Pour Some Sugar On Me
Pour Some Sugar on Me’s fast firing of lyrics in the verses owes itself at least partly to “Walk This Way” by Run DMC and Aerosmith. According to lead vocalist, Joe Elliot, “All of a sudden, rock and rap did mix, so we wrote our own.”
Ultimately – the results produce an amazing piece of music. Pour Some Sugar on Me is a radio friendly song that makes us want to dance and lip sync into whatever we use as a substitute mic. Certainly such experimentation is worthy of the best hard rock album of the 80s.
Armageddon It sounds like two different songs smashed together – and that’s what makes it my favorite song on the album. We have the verses and the bridges. They sound like pretty standard rock fare. They’re something I definitely headbanged to in the late 80s. A nice beat, a lot of guitars, and all around a good feeling. A feeling of everyday life.
Even the subject matter of Armageddon It’s verses seems standard. The verses tell us about a woman who really isn’t interested in doing anything more than teasing the singer. The singer wants her to be part of his world. Still the girl just plays around, as though a cat with a mouse.
The verses of Armageddon however, sound almost transcendent. There’s an upwards key change, and we feel like we’re in a different world. It’s absolutely one of the most breathtaking moments in rock history! The key change serves to show the woman how their love will be – if she would just stop playing games. She would see a different world – a better world if she would just give the singer a chance. And yet – she seems to not get it – despite the singer’s pleas. She’s not getting it – despite being asked “are you getting it” repeatedly.
The title track, Hysteria, brings us yet one more power ballad. I remember slow dancing in the gym to this very song in high school. While I don’t remember which girl I slow danced with – I do know that the feeling of hysteria as described by this song – was exactly how I felt about the girl I danced with.
Maybe I can’t be objectionable on this specific song. Like I said, this song transports me to back to high school. Then again, some might call that the mark of a good song. I’ve talked about the nostalgia factor before, and (the song) Hysteria certainly carries this very factor for me. From the mellow rhythm guitars, to the downtempo drum beat to Joe Elliot’s urgency in his vocals (especially in the chorus), Hysteria gives me the warm fuzzies.
The “filler” tracks are pretty good too!
Most albums, even an album full of radio friendly singles, have at least four songs that just don’t quite make it. These songs often times serve as filler material for the rest of the album. The five “filler” tracks on Hysteria, however, are more than just filler. They add value to what has already become the best hard rock album of the 80s.
Firstly, let’s look at the politically charged “Gods of War.” For a song that talks so much about love and romance, this song might seem out of place. Gods of War talks about the fears of living in a world dominated by warmongers. Be it a terrorist faction, a prime minister, or the president of the United States.
Run Riot, while not released as a single might just be the most high energy track on the album. Honestly – if Woman hadn’t eased us into the album so well, I feel Def Leppard would have put this as the opener. It riles us out of our seats and makes us throw our fists in the air. Run Riot makes us want to chant “Long live rock and roll!”
Don’t Shoot Shotgun and Excitable might be the weakest tracks on the album. On some albums, that’s a pretty low thing to say. On the best hard rock album of the 80s, that’s comparing the coffee you drink everyday to the best coffee you’ve ever drank. They’re both good, one is just better. These two songs might not be the best on the album, but I can certainly get into them. That’s not an easy feat to accomplish.
The best hard rock album of the 80s ends strong!
The final track on Hysteria, Love and Affection, should have been released as the eighth single. Another power ballad – yet more high energy than the other power ballads on hysteria – I really wished I had a chance to slow dance with a girl in a high school gym to this song! I’m sure dancing to this song would have been just as magical as dancing to the title track.
The almost choral like sounds of the background vocals in the chorus, coupled with Joe Elliot’s falsetto, makes me want to scream the chorus with the band. Still – the song would be nothing without the lead guitars, stringing the slower and faster parts of Love and Affection together with a few good and steady riffs. A fitting end to the album, not to mention a fitting last dance to guitarist Steve Clark.
Yes – Hysteria was sandwiched in tragedy. Rick Allen’s accident and amputation, and Steve Clark’s death before they could record their next album, Adrenalize. While they could not have known about the latter, the former surely showed the band that with greatness comes a sense of urgency. You have to act quick or the greatness might disappear. Maybe this is what truly drove Def Leppard to make Hysteria. Maybe this is why Hysteria is the best hard rock album of the 80s.