Far from perfect: the Def Leppard song that makes Phil Collen “cringe”

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No album can be considered perfect. Although many superfans will be more than happy to tell you about how their favourite bands have had a creative streak that no one has rivalled, nothing in music is entirely spotless. Every group has their fair share of sore spots, and in the middle of Def Leppard‘s Hysteria, Phil Collen admitted that the song ‘Run Riot’ was a dreadful experience for him to look back on.

For any guitarist, though, there’s a good chance that hearing the process of recording the band’s landmark sounds like a trip to production hell. Since producer Mutt Lange was known to be meticulous in the studio, every part had to be studied repeatedly until everyone was convinced that it was as perfect as possible.

That didn’t really apply to Collen, though. Far from being the kind of reckless player Steve Clark was, Collen was the kind of guy you can be when you need someone to play with precision, studying under some of the best guitarists in any genre of music like Ritchie Blackmore and Al Di Meola.

As far as Lange was concerned, this was the Def Leppard album on which everything hinged. They owed so much in debt to their record company that this album would either sink without a trace or have to at least equal what they did the last time. It did neither; instead, it became a second wind for the band and catapulted them into the stratosphere, with half the album becoming hits.

No one gets that way by accident, and singer Joe Elliott remembered how the goal was to write pop songs, telling Classic Albums, “During production, Mutt throws out, ‘Why can’t a rock band have five hit singles off of one album? Let’s practically write a greatest-hits album before it’s even been released.’”

While the group waited and waited until finally landing on the hook to ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’, some of the tracks took an eternity to get right. ‘Animal’ would have to be recorded twice because the mix sounded terrible, and ‘Don’t Shoot Shotgun’ got their first producer fired because he recorded the entire thing out of tune.

When it came to ‘Run Riot’, Collen thought that the whole thing never gelled like it was supposed to, telling MusicRadar, “It went a bit too poppy, a bit too happy. The vocal melody was a little too major scale. It should’ve stayed more rock ‘n’ roll, especially with the title. I remember I came back from Paris to do the solo, and I fumbled it and made some mistakes. I used to really cringe when I heard it, but it’s been 25 years now, so I’ve let it go.”

Still, if this is the slapdash version based on Collen’s assessment, one can only imagine the finished version. Compared to other glam rock acts coming out at the same time, this feels less like the poor man’s AC/DC from the Sunset Strip and more like an answer to a band like Queen, especially with the layered vocal harmonies and up-front guitar figures.

Considering how good they were with their typical sound, it’s a wonder why they eventually gave it up for something more guttural in the 1990s, leaving their producer behind to work on albums like Slang. Every producer and band usually need a break from each other, but when you’re working so well that your downer moments still sound this good, that’s a partnership that shouldn’t be let go.

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