By 1983, I was facing a bit of a dilemma. Most of my favorite bands, including Led Zeppelin, my all-time number one, were disbanded or had their best days behind them. As I looked for new acts to follow, one band that stood out to me was Def Leppard, with their third album “Pyromania”. This was the album that propelled them from second-tier opening act to the headline days, although we caught them live in the earliest stages of this transformation. Connecting with AC/DC producer “Mutt” Lange, he was instrumental in helping them transform their sound from a variant of British metal to a much more radio-friendly act. It didn’t hurt that most of the band were handsome chaps as well, which played well to the expanding audience on MTV. This album was released in January of 1983, and with my friend Doug, and one other person who I can’t remember for the life of me, saw them in April of 1983 when they were still an opening act, in front of Billy Squier. I don’t fully recall all of the details, but I’m about 80% sure Doug and I went to see them at a public appearance at our Sound Warehouse record store the day before the show. Today my son was shocked to hear that Def Leppard opened for Billy Squier, but Def Leppard was clearly still on the upswing when they released this album, and Billy Squier had already peaked with “Don’t Say No”.
As noted, this album contains several very radio-friendly hits, and even though they were a far cry from Iron Maiden or Judas Priest, they could rock hard enough to maintain a respectable amount of credibility. The band was in a state of transformation, as founding guitarist Pete Willis was fired during the recording of this album for excessive alcoholism, and even though his work is still on the record, most of the solo efforts were recorded by new lead Phil Collen along with co-lead Steve Clark. Joe Elliott filled the role of the front-man lead singer admirably, and with Rick Savage on bass, and Rick Allen, pre-auto accident on drums, they had a solid five-man lineup in similar fashion to their heavier metal cousins in the UK. In an interesting matter of small trivia, for the augmenting keyboards that are heard on several tracks, those were performed by none other than Thomas Dolby, the man who gave us “She Blinded Me With Science”.
“Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)” is a rousing opener, followed by the album’s first and biggest hit, “Photograph”. The non-hit songs on the album are nothing memorable, even with a couple of fresh listens, but “Too Late for Love”, and “Foolin’”, which opens side two, garnered a lot of airplay and for good reason, as they are among the better songs on the album. The other really big hit from the album, perhaps second only to “Photograph”, was “Rock of Ages”, where they borrow the Neil Young phrase, “It’s better to burn out, than fade away…”.
This album was a huge success, selling over ten million copies eventually, and the days of Def Leppard as an opening act were over, at least for a long, long time. At the end of the day, there wasn’t quite enough depth or top-to-bottom musical diversity for me to latch on to Def Leppard at quite the same level as some of their UK predecessors I obsess over to this day, but they were very talented at what they did, and they were far from done at this point in their career.