Review: Definitely: The Official Story of Def Leppard

Disclosure: I received a review copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.

As a classic rock storyteller/historian of sorts, my favourite types of books are classic rock autobiographies. What better source for classic rock stories than from the classic rockers themselves? Def Leppard fans, you’re in for a treat because they’ve released a first-ever anthology with the perfect wordplay title, Definitely: The Official Story of Def Leppard and it’s a really nicely put together hardback full of pictures, perfect for collectors and connoisseurs to display on their coffee tables, quite similar to books like Jimmy Page’s self-titled pictorial autobiography (which also was published by Genesis Publications) on the cover or Brian May’s Queen in 3D (Brian May praised Def Leppard as “original, inimitable” and “immortal” – and he wrote the foreword to the book!), which was something really special with the stereo pics and included 3D glasses. These types of books are like if a documentary was made into a book and they’re my favourite types of rock and roll autobiographies because I’m a very visual person and I love to see the photos alongside the words and the stories. Originally, the book was supposed to be a limited edition release of only 1,500 copies of collectors and deluxe versions, but availability has since been expanded and it’s now available to order online and from bookstores, whichever you prefer. The book has been a success with the original limited edition release becoming the fastest ever book to sell out in Genesis Publications’ history, selling out within days of the announcement. Incredible! Not only that, but Def Leppard are still going strong 40 years since Pyromania with their co-headlining world tour with Mötley Crüe selling out. Just recently the two hard rock bands kicked off the UK leg of their tour in Sheffield.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s get to the book review:

Review: Definitely: The Official Story of Def Leppard

From start to finish, the book is packed full of photos throughout the band’s career with beautiful, on theme graphic design, you can really see the band’s character reflected in it. As you can expect, the journey the book takes you on is chronological, starting with the band’s beginnings in Sheffield in the north of England. There’s a whole section about their early years as a band, balancing day jobs, rehearsing in shut down factories that weren’t being used anymore because of offshoring of jobs, playing Bowie and Thin Lizzy covers, and sharing pints. There are also sections introducing the band members with pictures of those fact sheets that you see in the music and teen magazines.

After years of rehearsing and playing gigs in 1979, Def Leppard released their debut, The Def Leppard EP, which was an investment for the band with them ponying up the £150 to record at a studio and another £450 get the records pressed. 1,000 copies were pressed and Joe Elliott and his mother glued together 900 of the picture sleeves, talk about DIY! From there, they sent a vinyl copy to a record company to get their attention, since they knew everyone was sending cassette tapes that could easily be forgotten about and thrown into a pile.

One thing was missing though, they needed a drummer. Much like The Beatles and The Who, the drummer was the missing puzzle piece before they made it. After the EP came out, Rick Allen joined the band at just 15 years old after seeing an advert the band placed looking for a drummer to replace Tony Kenning. The following year, in 1980, they released their debut album, On Through The Night. From this point onwards there are chapters dedicated to each of Def Leppard’s studio albums from On Through The Night to Diamond Star Halos (the album title being a nod to a lyric in T. Rex’s “Get It On”). The same year they released their debut album, they went on their first American tour, a milestone for every British rock and roll band. If you’ve made it in America, you know you’ve truly made it.

While 1980 was a year of successes, the band weren’t swimming in cash just yet. By the end of the year, there was a lull with dwindling crowds and the band members were flat broke and living with their parents. Still, they didn’t give up and they looked forward. The next album, High ‘n’ Dry, they were working with big names like Mutt Lange. Hipgnosis designed the album cover (a rejected cover for Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma – a common Hipgnosis practice was to recycle rejected album art work and pitch it to other bands). While it didn’t sell as well as their debut in the UK, it sold better in the US. By the next album, Pyromania, Def Leppard knew they needed a new guitarist. Pete Willis was old school and didn’t like the new tech of the 80s and he wasn’t getting along well with the other guitarist Steve Clark. His behaviour on the road was out of control and he was messing up a lot during the Pyromania sessions. In the end, his rhythm guitar parts were used, but he didn’t play lead guitar. Pete Willis was fired in 1982 on the day of the World Cup final. Enter Phil Collen. Now we got a twin lead guitar attack! New album, new guitarist, new look for the album cover and so they went with a comic book inspired album artwork by Andie Airfix. “Photograph” from that album became their first major US hit, reaching #12 on the Billboard charts and topping the rock charts. Funny enough it was a throwaway song from the High ‘n’ Dry sessions. “Rock of Ages” also topped the rock charts and was a top 20 hit in the US. With those songs in the charts, ticket sales increased and they sold out the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit faster than Led Zeppelin did on their last tour. They were one of the few British bands since Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple to sell out the LA Forum and the Oakland Coliseum. They even started touring Asia and Australia, even crossing paths with Duran Duran in Japan.

You’ll already know this if you’re familiar with Def Leppard, but for new listeners, there was a four year gap in between Pyromania and Hysteria and the reason for this was Rick Allen’s car accident in 1984, which resulted in the loss of his left arm. He was only 21 years old when this happened. Still, the band, family, and fans supported him and the band kept going. Hysteria was a long wait, but worth it for the fans with many fan favourites on it like “Pour Some Sugar On Me”, the title track, “Animal”, “Love Bites”, and “Rocket”. It was a truly international album with a recording tour of its own with it being recorded in Dublin, Amsterdam, and Paris. Def Leppard got so many questions about the album and when it would come out that they ended up making shirts that said “Don’t Ask”, “Not Yet”, and “It’s Done”. Once again the band delivered something different, with Mutt Lange encouraging them to broaden their horizons and take some inspiration from 1960s R&B. They went on a big European tour in 1988 to promote Hysteria and in Stockholm, Steve Clark was starstruck when he saw he was standing next to Agnetha Fältskog in the VIP area of a Prince concert. What made the concert special is that they placed the stage in the middle of the venue with fans surrounding it 360 degrees – it got more fans in the venue and they made history by being the first rock band to take this style of stage into arenas. “Animal” was their first top 10 hit in the UK and “Pour Some Sugar On Me” became a hit in America thanks to it being played in strip clubs and then being requested on the radio.

Once again, there was another years long wait between albums with Adrenalize coming out in 1992. However, by this point Steve Clark’s drinking problems were getting worse and he was going in and out of rehab in 1989 and 1990. On January 8, 1991, he died at just 30 years old. His passing was a big blow to the band and they thought they were going to break up because Steve was such an amazing guitarist and an important part of their sound. Once again, the band carried on and stayed strong. The song “White Lightning” was a tribute to Steve Clark. But they were a two-guitar band and they needed a new guitarist. Enter Vivian Campbell, a guitarist from Northern Ireland, who previously worked with Dio, Whitesnake, and Lou Gramm. Influences wise he had a lot in common with the other members with him being a big fan of Marc Bolan. He also stressed the importance of good vocals and introduced Joe Elliott to his voice coach, Roger Love. They played a gig at a small club called McGonagle’s in Dublin the week before the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert. At the concert, Joe Elliott sang “Tie Your Mother Down” with Brian May and the whole band performed “Now I’m Here” with Brian May. Oddly enough Vivian Campbell was more intimidated by playing a smaller gig because of how close the audience were versus with a larger venue, he was used to it and the audiences weren’t so close to the stage. The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert was a star-studded event with lots of famous people there: Mick Ronson, Axl Rose, Elton John, even Liza Minnelli and Elizabeth Taylor were there too!

With the rise of grunge in the 90s, Def Leppard embraced change and they did something different with the cover of their 1996 album Slang. Gone was the classic band logo and in came this Indian-style lettering that would fit perfectly into a Kula Shaker album cover. The band travelled to Spain to record the album (some of the album was recorded in Dublin too). When in Rome do as the Romans do, as the saying goes, and so with this album they went back to basics and took a 60s Motown/Beatles/Stones like approach of recording and record together in one room. Joe Elliott described it as a rebirth album, with less shiny production than before. As people, the band members have grown up a lot, dealing with more grown up life experiences: loss, marriage, divorce, and the songwriting showed the more mature approach. Also, they were at the point in their careers when the record label wanted to put out a greatest hits album. Def Leppard made the release of Vault special by doing gigs in three different continents on October 23, 1995: Tangiers, Morocco (Africa), London, UK (Europe), and Vancouver, Canada (North America). Thankfully by this point, they were well-established and had money so they flew first class on that transatlantic flight with flatbed seats so they could get some shut-eye. With the release of Slang, the tour took them to the Far East, South Africa, and Latin America – places less travelled by American and European rock bands, so those gigs are really special because it’s a special occasion.

With 1999’s Euphoria, Def Leppard wanted to do an album with a thread that runs through the songs, just like a greatest hits album would have. Their goal was to do something like Hysteria, but more grown up. This time they worked with Mutt Lange a bit and they recorded the album in Joe Elliott’s Dublin studio. With the new millennium cane a big milestone for the group: a diamond award for Hysteria – which means the album went 10 times platinum. That same year in 2000, they were inducted into the Hollywood RockWalk. Two years later, they released their 10th studio album, X, pronounced “ten” and it had a poppier Cheap Trick like sound with a contemporary edge and so they branched out and worked with people who specialised in that contemporary sound they wanted to go for. The band were proud of this album and Phil Collen called it a liberating one and Vivian Campbell said it was the best of the three albums he recorded with the band so far. Also in 2002, they played The Queen’s Golden Jubilee tour.

In 2006, they released a covers album Yeah! with each of the band members recreating iconic images of 70s musicians they looked up to: Vivian Campbell as Marc Bolan’s Electric Warrior, Joe Elliott in a phone box like David Bowie, Phil Collen as Iggy Pop on the Raw Power album cover, Rick Allen as Lou Reed on the Transformer album cover, and Rick Savage as Freddie Mercury in the Queen II era. Even cooler, famous photographer of the 70s Mick Rock took those photos, what better person to work with? A fun way to revisit the nostalgic songs that inspired Def Leppard.

Besides a break from touring in 2004, Def Leppard kept releasing albums in the 2000s and 2010s. They played big concerts and festivals and were honoured at the VH1 Rock Honours. They’re a band that like to take chances and not limit themselves even if the rock purists don’t like it and in 2008 they performed with Taylor Swift on the CMT show Crossroads. Taylor Swift and her parents are fans of Def Leppard and she said she’d only do the show with them and so they learnt and performed each other’s songs together. Rick Allen called it a pivotal moment for the band because collaborations were a new thing for them. What do they have in common? They’re both poppier than you think and pop isn’t a bad thing.

In 2019 they got inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and while they don’t see it as a huge deal, it did open doors for them and got people to take them more seriously as a rock band, they’re more than just “Pour Some Sugar On Me”. The book concludes with a section on their 2022 nostalgic album Diamond Star Halos, which was recorded during lockdown. With that album came a new look, which you can see on the book cover. Rock and roll but make it distinguished.

This book is an incredible journey and basically a documentary in a book – no electricity needed! You get a real look at the story of Def Leppard from the band themselves with a look at all their eras. The photos are beautiful and the book is perfectly laid out. It’s definitely something to add to your collection if you’re a Def Leppard fan. You get even more of an appreciation for the band and their work ethic. Well done!

Top 10 Takeaways from Definitely

1. The band’s biggest influences were glam and art rockers like T. Rex, David Bowie, Mott The Hoople, and Sparks as well as hard rock bands like The Who, Led Zeppelin, Queen, Rush, UFO, Uriah Heep, Thin Lizzy, and punk rock groups like the Sex Pistols.

One message I want to spread on this blog is that the various subgenres of classic rock build upon each other, like Legos or building blocks. We wouldn’t have the music of the 60s without the music that came before it in the 40s and 50s and we wouldn’t have the 70s without the 60s and before, and we wouldn’t have the 80s without the 70s and before. To really have an appreciation for the music and make great music, you gotta “respect the classics, man”. Great musicians learn from the music that came before them and then find themselves through that. As Joe Elliott recalled in the book, his first concert at the age of 12 was T. Rex. He was a huge fan of T. Rex and David Bowie in their heyday, and inspired by them he became driven to be a musician and he left school to follow his dreams. By chance after missing the bus from work, he bumped into a friend of a friend named Pete Willis (who he knew through his friend Craig) who played guitar and they formed a band. Thanks to Joe Elliott’s big record collection and passion for music, he, Rick Savage, Tony Kenning, and Pete Willis formed a band. Like a lot of other classic rock bands, they cycled through different names before settling on the one fans know and love. Before going by Def Leppard, they were called Atomic Mass. Similar to the Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and The Byrds tradition, there’s a misspelling of the name, which came from Deaf Leopard, which came from a collage Joe Elliott made at school. What made Def Leppard stand out, according to Rick Savage, is that they didn’t play punk like everybody else when they formed in the late 70s, they played heavy rock music and not a lot of other newer bands were doing that, pretty much them and Iron Maiden. They really did lean into their influences and brought something fresh to the table. But they also love a lot of pop and R&B too and that has an influence on their sound.

2. “Play Freebird” was an important part of the band’s history.

Everyone knows the cliché thing that someone in the audience shouts “Play Freebird!”, and this doesn’t just happen at rock concerts, but also speeches, classical music concerts, whatever type public performance you can think of, some madlad shouts it. Anyway, Steve Clark joined Def Leppard at just 17 years old and he left a good first impression with his love of rock and roll inside and out. His first concert was OG British rockers Cliff Richard and The Shadows at just six years old and as a teenager he was blond, skinny and dressed like a rock star, complete with clogs just like Brian “Robbo” Robertson of Thin Lizzy. While rehearsing someone suggested they play the Lynyrd Skynyrd classic “Freebird”. Everyone in the band knew it, but they never played it together before. Steve Clark seized the moment and played all three guitar parts on his own, blowing away his bandmates to be. That was it, he got the job on the spot! And so Def Leppard became a band with two guitarists, just like their idols Thin Lizzy. But they weren’t going to rest on their laurels and only play covers, they wanted more and so they shoot for the stars.

3. Don’t call Def Leppard New Wave of British Heavy Metal or Hair Metal though!

Joe Elliott clarifies in the book that Def Leppard are not really metal and that he doesn’t like being pigeonholes as a NWOBHM band like Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, as much as he loves those bands. The only similarity they have is really that they have a drummer, bassist, two guitars, and vocals. It’s like saying two people look alike because they have two eyes, a nose, a mouth, two arms, and two legs. Later on, they got compared to groups like Bon Jovi, Poison, and Mötley Crüe. Musically, he says they’re much more like a Queen and AC/DC hybrid because like Queen, they incorporate acoustic guitars, pianos, and orchestras into their sound, but also they have a powerful hard rock sound like AC/DC. Joe Elliott said on their 2006 covers album Yeah! he opted to sing Blondie, ELO, and Roxy Music covers instead of Zeppelin or Sabbath because he feels like more of a pop singer than a rock singer. Rick Savage said the band could be described as melodic hard rock and that they’d rather dress like Duran Duran than Motörhead. In short, they’re kind of a glam version of the Rolling Stones, as Joe Elliott put it.

4. A 1980 concert in Portland was a turning point for Def Leppard.

On their first American tour, Def Leppard opened for Canadian rocker Pat Travers. Most of the shows they played were in theatres with capacities of 2,000 or 3,000 people, but in Portland it was a big show with the stadium seating 11,000 people. Portland is a special city in Def Leppard history because that’s where Gloria Johnson, the first DJ to play Def Leppard in America, introduced the British hard rock band to an overseas audience – that’s was how powerful and important radio was then. That gained them a following there and when they played in Portland, the energy was electric: lighters all over the place, crowd going wild. That was the first time they realised the band had the potential to break America like The Beatles, Stones, Who, Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, and Sabbath did. Joe Elliott said that in the early tours in America when they were just getting started, they were already bigger than their idol, Marc Bolan ever was in America. Also on that 1980 tour, they opened for Judas Priest, Ted Nugent, and The Scorpions. After that, they came back to the UK to play the legendary Reading Rock Festival with artists like Rory Gallagher, UFO, Iron Maiden, Whitesnake, Gary Moore, Slade and Budgie. Contrary to popular belief, they were not booed off the stage. They had items pelted at them, but so did the other acts, according to Joe Elliott.

5. Producer Mutt Lange was basically the sixth member of Def Leppard.

Producers play an important role in music. There’s a lot of people who could be considered the Fifth Beatle, and one of those is their producer, George Martin. Similarly, this can be said about South African expat Robert John “Mutt” Lange. Mutt Lange produced their albums High ‘n’ Dry, Pyromania, and Hysteria – basically the peak of their fame. Steve Clark called him “one of the best producers in rock” and said that when you work with him, you come out a better musician. Phil Collen called him “the most intelligent person” he’s ever met in his life. He taught the band to hear the thread connecting top 40 songs of different eras that may seem dissimilar at first. By making these connections, you understand music better. Joe Elliott said he had the band build their songs from the ground up, like Brian Eno did with David Bowie. He always challenged the band to do something different. He even sang backing vocals on their songs and knew how to play any instrument. He’s not just a producer, he’s a good musician too. Joe Elliott called him “like the sixth member of the band”.

6. The band members all had supportive parents.

Many young people go through phases of not liking their parents and arguing a lot with them. You might think that a band that play hard rock music would be rebellious and hate their parents. Well, that wasn’t the case with Def Leppard. Everyone in the band had parents who supported their endeavours, took an interest in their music, was proud of them, and even helped them out financially when times were tough and in return they flew their parents out to LA to see a concert with them performing in front of tens of thousands of fans. Not only that, the band members’ parents all got along well with each other. They were so proud to see their kids go from working class to superstars.

7. Dublin is another important place in Def Leppard history.

The UK is notorious for high taxes, as George Harrison sang in “Taxman”. Multiple British rock bands therefore moved abroad as tax exiles, one of the most famous ones being The Rolling Stones, whose main recording sessions for Exile on Main St. were done in the South of France while they were tax exiles there. That’s how you know you’ve made it, the taxman wants to take all your dough. Def Leppard also did the same thing in neighbouring Ireland. After the Pyromania tour, they moved to Dublin and rented a house in Booterstown and started working on material for their next album, Hysteria. There, they got to hang out with U2 and Clannad. The band members took a break for Christmas. Rick Allen went home and on New Year’s Eve just outside of Sheffield, he got into a car accident. He lost control of his Corvette C4 and was flung out of the car with his left arm being severed by the seatbelt. Doctors tried to reattach his arm, but it had to be amputated because it got infected. He was in a coma for three weeks and had no idea of his arm being reattached before being amputated. Joe Elliott got a phone call at 4 PM on New Year’s Eve with the bad news, “your drummer’s just lost his arm”. Once again, Rick Savage and Joe Elliott went to Dublin after the Hysteria tour. The albums Adrenalize, Slang, Euphoria, and X were also at least partially recorded in Dublin. Joe Elliott bought a house in Dublin and built a home studio there called Joe’s Garage.

8. Def Leppard didn’t give up on Rick Allen, but rather they stood by him and got him adaptive equipment so he could still drum. This is what solidarity looks like!

The initial thought was that 21-year-old Rick Allen would have to retire from drumming at such a young age, but after some time they thought rationally about it and said they’re going to find a way to make it work. A one-armed drummer? No one’s ever seen that before. In the past you had guitarists who lost fingers or parts of fingers like Django Reinhardt and Tony Iommi, but a one-armed drummer? Someone’s got to be the first! As you can expect, Rick Allen was devastated and wanted to disappear. He felt self-conscious and defeated, but thanks to his family and friends, he got through it. His brother, Robert was by his side the whole time and their strict vegetarian producer Mutt Lange got him some proper vegetarian food made by a Hare Krishna couple so he wouldn’t have to put up with hospital food where he’d have to pick the meat off the plate. The whole ward smelled like an Indian restaurant, delicious! The band took a hiatus from playing shows until August 5, 1986. In the meantime, Rick Allen put a piece of foam at the bottom of the bed and tapped it with his feet to make beats and at that point he was convinced he could still play drums. He beat the odds and was discharged from hospital four weeks later, rather than the six months the doctors estimated. The band had a guy named Pete Hartley make an electronic drum kit with foot pedals special for him, from there, he relearnt how to play drums. He got the space he needed to practice and so he did all day and night, and then he was able to play perfectly through a whole song.

9. Def Leppard weren’t fazed by the rise of grunge in the 90s.

Every decade there’s a shakeup in music and for the 90s it was grunge. Grunge was a response to the excesses of hair metal, a back to basics subgenre, much like late 70s punk was a response to early-mid 70s glam/glitter rock. You can only be the new, revolutionary band for so long before you become part of the rock “establishment” of sorts and new bands take over and become the hip, cool, new thing. By the time Adrenalize came out, bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice in Chains were making their breakthroughs. Def Leppard weren’t fazed by this because a lot of the people getting into grunge weren’t really Def Leppard fans to begin with and wanted something different from what they had to offer. Still though, there were fans in the audience with Nirvana shirts on and there was clear crossover appeal in Def Leppard’s music. Once again, Def Leppard went further with Adrenalize than the predecessor, playing hundreds of dates across the globe, an epic of a world tour. Even though people said the rise of grunge would mean the end of Def Leppard, they still played sold out gigs and Adrenalize was a commercial success. Phil Collen said in the book that any genre of music gets paler the more you dilute it. At first, it’s cool, but then it becomes commercialised and commodified and everyone’s doing it, so it’s not cool anymore. Still, they adapted to the changing music scene.

10. Def Leppard did not just one Vegas residency, but two!

A Vegas residency is pretty much a rite of passage for musicians and nowadays it doesn’t mean your career is dead. Def Leppard didn’t do just one Vegas residency, but two! The first one, Viva Hysteria!, was in 2013 and they were asked to play Hysteria in its entirety in the correct order – something that’s quite common in more recent classic rock concert tours, especially ones centred around concept albums. But here’s the twist, they opened for themselves as an alter ego band, Ded Flatbird – jokingly dubbing themselves the world’s best Def Leppard cover band. As Ded Flatbird, they played obscurities and rarely played songs. Six years later, they came back to Vegas to play the Def Leppard Hits Vegas residency. You’d think since they’re playing a series of shows in one place, therefore no travel and need to unpack and repack that it would be less exhausting, but Phil Collen said that because of the heat it’s more exhausting than being on tour, that plus getting recognised all the time when you leave your room.

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