Def Leppard: Then and Now
Vanilla, vanilla, vanilla is what you’re thinking. Def Leppard is who this dude grew up on? To that I respond with “I’ll thank you to hold your tongue and let me tell this story. Much appreciated.” So, Def Leppard was a late sort of obsession in my childhood. The summer after middle-school. For much of my youth, I’d listened only to what my parents did, as many kids do, but in my case that wasn’t a bad thing. They had pretty great taste! A lot of 60’s Soul, 70’s Punk, Surf Rock, British Invasion, Springsteen, and both Elvises played in the house, as well as a myriad of other CDs they had in their arsenal. That was much of what we listened to. And that was fine.
Then a couple of things happened. First and foremost, my parents had another baby by the name of “SiriusXM Radio”. I had never seen such a thing! The songs showed up on the radio and you could listen to whatever and whenever you wanted! There were so many different musical genres out there I had no idea about, and they were talked about with such passion by the DJs! I believe my father got it as a gift from work, so remind me to ask, and perhaps thank Kellogg for opening my eyes. So I was able to find new music on a daily basis--though by new music, what I mean is the hits of the 1980s. 80s On 8 was my station. Again, hold your tongue. From there, I found Def Leppard. “Photograph” came first, and then all of their Hysteria output… their Vault compilation at the library... and from there it was all downhill.
That’s where our story begins.
Years earlier, my brother and I had been furious at the younger one for “ruining The Beatles.” All this kid played was The Beatles. You wouldn’t believe it. You know there’s a Magical Mystery Tour movie? I wish I didn’t. Regardless, my point is that I went and did the exact same thing with Def Leppard. Morning, noon and night. I had a t-shirt I wore to school. I changed the cover art for every song in iTunes to the art of its corresponding single--and most egregiously, after receiving a copy of Euphoria (their 1999 pop outing) for Christmas, I made it my de facto favorite just because it was no one else’s.
See, by all accounts, Euphoria is a dog’s dinner. It’s not a remotely good album. Def Leppard lost the plot in many people’s eyes, and while no one thinks it’s their worst, it’s by no means a keeper. But I loved it at the time, and with heavy heart, I love it now. It was the album of my early high-school experience. Now, nostalgia is a thick pair of specs, so it wasn’t until recently that I was able to see the album for what it was, but some of my favorite songs at the time… may still be jams. Ask me in a few years.
The first track, “Demolition Man,” is a raucous opener. I still remember the first time that I heard it. I was in the habit of--and excuse me if my brain works differently than everyone else’s--coming up with TV shows in my mind that I was convinced I’d get made one day. This song in particular I envisioned as being the climax of the episode wherein a little blob man (the comic relief) would smash his enemy’s house to smithereens with a baseball bat. Very Family Guy, I know.
From there, we get the hair-raising “Promises,” which really spoke to me as a young man with no girlfriend. You feel Joe Elliott’s emotions like a thousand little knives through the synths of that song, and it really packed a wallop! All of their love songs did! Their love songs are all among the best they ever wrote, and out of all of the songs on that album, this one and “Kings of Oblivion” I am confident enough to say stand among their best.
“Back in Your Face” though… that was embarrassing. Even at the time. It had no edge, cringeworthy lyrics, and a powerfully lame chorus… but most of the others I was convinced were great. “21st Century Girl” in particular is one you may catch on the show to this day. It isn’t very good, but the power that song held over me cannot be underestimated. I envisioned this one in a movie series I was crafting as well… the name of which I shan’t say because I later found out it was a racial slur--but this was the crown jewel of the album to me. The riffs, the integration of that hair-metal growl into a song that was pure power-pop… it was just stunning stuff. Sure, it’s a little lame, but the whole album is. Def Leppard does pop? What?!
And again, I’d not necessarily recommend you chasing this album. It found me at a very specific place in life, and because of that I’m stuck with it. I love Euphoria unapologetically. You hate to see it. That said, it was this album that paved the way for my music-tastes now. It’s edgy, unique pop. I like Wheatus, for Christ's sake! There is no way I’d be such a fan if not for Euphoria! And it’s possible I’d still be listening to Def Leppard today if high school didn’t work out the way it did. I had some (what could only be described as) stalkers, back in the day. Yes. I was by no means popular, but I had a few of those. They followed me home on walks, stole the doodles I threw in the trash, and though I had never said a word to these girls, I later found out that I was their iPhone background. My yearbook photo was. They worked on the yearbook--and this was very strange! So, being someone who didn’t know how to handle such a thing, I stopped listening to Def Leppard when I found out that they were too, and I forged a new path, to coin a phrase.
Led me down some dark little alleyways, yes, but never would I ever have discovered the music I know and love now if that hadn’t happened. So thank you, Chloe, Morgan and Adrienne. Thank you. But not you, Josh. You enabler. Because if all I had now was Euphoria… I’d probably already be bald. I’m not someone who thinks everything happens for a reason. That’s dumb. But if I can chalk all that up to the reason I found all these artists I like more, then hey… maybe it’s time to take the knife out from under the pillow.