The rock genre Joe Elliott hated: “They missed the point”
(Credits: Far Out / Tidal)
For all of the hard rock bands emerging in the 1980s, no one could touch Def Leppard. Outside of the band’s penchant for massive hooks, their way of honing their craft in the studio led to songs that would become standalone anthems from the time, from the excitement of ‘Photograph’ to the balladry of ‘Hysteria’. While Joe Elliott may have been able to sing with the same ferocity of rock idols that came before him, he thought that a handful of his contemporaries were making a mockery of rock and roll.
Before Leppard had fully come together, they were still a bunch of working kids out of Sheffield. Warming up to the sounds of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin, Elliott had the idea of forming a band with a bunch of friends that he knew, culminating in the band’s first EP made on a shoestring budget.
While the project did little to nothing on the charts, it earned the band enough money to score their first major album, cutting On Through the Night while most were still in their teens. Although the band knew they had something special on their hands, it wasn’t until they hooked up with hotshot producer Mutt Lange that they started sounding like the rock institution most people know today.
Working as an overseer of the band’s material, Leppard would learn how to become rock and roll stars through Lange, turning songs into anthems like ‘Bringing on the Heartbreak’. By the time the band hit their next album, Pyromania, they had become one of the biggest names in music, scoring major hits as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal started to wane.
Although the band may have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams, another musical movement was happening overseas. In the wake of acts like Van Halen climbing the charts, the hair metal movement exploded out of the Los Angeles club scene, bringing up-and-coming bands like Poison and Winger trying to notch their hits on the charts.
Even though Leppard had been brought up in between two different musical movements, they often found themselves competing with the likes of Poison on the charts, being lumped in the same category of hair metal bands. Although Elliott was proud to compete with any prospective band on the charts, he admitted that a handful of them didn’t have the same drive as they did.
When talking about the rising hair metal movement, Elliott thought that most of the hair metal bands didn’t have any kind of staying power to them, saying, “If you look at the way that the ‘glam’ bands, from Los Angeles, dressed themselves up, they totally missed the point. They didn’t have any substance musically, I don’t think, in comparison to us. The only band that did pull it off was Hanoi Rocks. So much better than Mötley Crüe or Poison or any of those bands. They were real, the rest of the guys, it was all a bit fake for me”.
While many may have confused Leppard with the various Los Angeles bands at the time, they left most of their competition in the dust with the release of Hysteria, crafting every song into a future classic to create a hard rock equivalent to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. Leppard did have a few commonalities with the hair metal movement in some respects, but there was no chance that any other band would make songs as enduring as ‘Rock of Ages’.