Tag Archives: Def Leppard

Rocks In The Attic #800: Black Sabbath – ‘Paranoid’ (1970)

RITA#800Post number 800 of this humble blog finds us with one of the greatest albums in rock and metal, Black Sabbath’s Paranoid.

It’s one of those cornerstone records, like AC/DC’s Highway To Hell or Led Zeppelin IV, which just feels bigger than the sum of its parts. If the Beatles’ 1969 swansong Abbey Road served as the blueprint for rock albums for the 1970s, then Black Sabbath’s celebrated second album surely served as the heavy metal equivalent. The musical leap from Come Together to War Pigs feels like light years, but the two album openers were released only 12 months apart.

Released in the same year as their doom-laden debut album, Paranoid arrived in September 1970 on the Vertigo label in the UK (and Warner Bros. in the US market). The record company, satisfied with the band’s debut, asked for more of the same. Black Sabbath was recorded in one day, a marathon sprint of twelve hours, but for Paranoid the band were afforded the luxury of a whole six days to record.

Black Sabbath File Photos
Much has been written about hit-single Paranoid being written in five minutes, tossed off to make up one last song for the album. Bassist Geezer Butler claims it was done and dusted in two hours, from the moment Tony Iommi came up with the monster guitar riff, to the band laying down the track to finish off the album. But as good as the song is, its oversaturation on rock radio makes it one of the least interesting things about the record.

Things start off with War Pigs, the quintessential long-form metal song. A languorous opening and ominous sirens announce something big is on the horizon, before the song stops dead. Bill Ward’s hi-hat counts in Iommi’s stabbing power chords, as Ozzy Osbourne sings the opening verse. This leads to the main riff, before it breaks down again. Clocking in at almost eight minutes, the song doesn’t ever get boring.

Black Sabbath File Photos

After the comparatively throwaway title track, the band slips into neutral on the stoner favourite Planet Caravan, before picking up speed again on the album’s other big guitar centrepiece, Iron Man. Across those first four songs, Iommi provides some of the genre’s greatest guitar riffs – War Pigs alone has half a dozen different sections – and it makes for the best ‘side’ of metal until perhaps the second-side of AC/DC’s Back In Black or the first side of Def Leppard’s Hysteria (both of which would have been categorised as metal before history downgraded them to heavy rock).

RITA#800cSilverchair’s debut Frogstomp from 1995 is a good example of a Sabbath-influenced metal album that matches the riffs-per-song ratio of Paranoid. But for the rest of the band’s career, Iommi would be a little less generous with his riffs. Paranoid’s less celebrated second side is therefore more representative of the albums that followed: moderate-tempo doom-based rockers with screaming banshee vocals, usually based around one or two killer riffs per song.

Paranoid was the first Sabbath album I heard, and so it was my gateway into the band. After digesting everything I could from Aerosmith and AC/DC, I skipped the Allman Brothers and shifted to the ‘B’ section of the record shop. But like AC/DC’s albums, I was always a little let down by Sabbath’s mid-90s CD remasters. Aerosmith’s CD remasters had great little fold-out booklets with photos and artwork from the albums’ promotional campaigns. In comparison, AC/DC, Sabbath and Motörhead had nothing in their reissues – usually just a tracklisting. I’d have loved an essay, or some retrospective liner notes, but maybe record companies don’t think heavy metal fans can read?

Hit: Paranoid

Hidden Gem: Planet Caravan

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Rocks In The Attic #407: Huey Lewis & The News – ‘Picture This’ (1982)

RITA#407This is album number two for Huey Lewis and his band. It’s nowhere near a ‘great’ record – but you can tell that the band are getting better and better, starting to gel as they search for that elusive hit. This would ultimately arrive on the next record, Sports, in the form of I Want A New Drug.

The most successful single off this album, the extremely ‘80s sounding Do You Believe In Love, was written by Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange – and you can hear it. If there’s a song in Huey Lewis’ back catalogue that sounds like it could have been lifted off a Def Leppard album, it’s this one. For that reason, it’s the least Huey Lewis & The News sounding song on the album.

The band even cover a Phil Lynott song on the album, Giving It All Up For Love – originally titled Tattoo (Giving It All Up For Love), from Lynott’s first solo album, Solo In Soho. It always strikes me as an unlikely friendship – Huey Lewis and Phil Lynott. It’s like Lemmy from Motorhead being friends with John Oates.

Picture This has to be one of the best record covers to do a ‘sleeveface’ with though. Well, if you want to look like a slightly zombiefied version of Huey Lewis.

Hit: Do You Believe In Love

Hidden Gem: Change Of Heart

Rocks In The Attic #367: Def Leppard – ‘Pyromania’ (1983)

RITA#367This is album number three for the mighty Lep. As far as where this comes in their back catalogue, it’s the album before the band blew up big time with Hysteria four long years later in 1987. It’s also a much more interesting listen than the singles-fest of that later album. It’s the last album they recorded with their original line-up – guitarist Pete Willis would be replaced by Phil Collen on Pyromania, but both appear on the record. It’s also the last album recorded with drummer Rick Allen having both arms.

Of all of Def Leppard’s hit singles, it is Photograph, the second track on this album that I still have a lot of love for. The singles on Hysteria are excellent, but overplayed far too much on radio. Photograph doesn’t get the same level of exposure (pun not intended, but I’ll take it), and so it’s always a treat to hear these days.

The album cover is interesting – as cartoony as all of their album covers throughout the ‘80s, it looks a little less innocent than the others with its depiction of a skyscraper exploding, caught in the crosshairs of a weapon. Perhaps Bin Laden was a big Leppard fan in the ‘80s. Who knows…

The credits note that the album was ‘recorded between bouts of World Cup soccer’. That would have been Spain ‘82, when England won all their games in the first group stage, but failed to score in the second group stage and exited as a result. The only thing that irks me about the credit is that they refer to the beautiful game as ‘soccer’, not ‘football’ – perhaps an early indicator of how Americanised the band was to become.

Hit: Photograph

Hidden Gem: Stagefright

Rocks In The Attic’s buyer’s guide to…AC/DC

  – 3 essential albums, an overlooked gem, a wildcard, one to avoid, and the best of the rest –

“I’m sick to death of people saying we’ve made eleven albums that sounds exactly the same. In fact, we’ve made twelve albums that sound exactly the same.” So says, AC/DC lead guitarist and fifty-nine year old Scottish Australian schoolboy, Angus Young. While other bands have been cursed by following the same formula over and over again (Francis Rossi, please stand up), AC/DC have turned it to their advantage.
ACDC0Over fourteen studio albums, the band have stuck to a blueprint of blues-based heavy rock. 99% of their songs follow the same format – counterpoint guitar riffs from brothers Angus and Malcolm, steady 4/4 drum beats, driving bass lines, soaring vocals and finally, a solo from Angus. There’s no room for piano, no room for strings and the only backing vocals you get are from the rest of the band, who are about as tuneful as an after-hours pub karaoke session.

Lead vocal duties divide the band into two eras – the band’s formative years were helmed by fellow Scottish Australian Bon Scott, but his untimely death in 1980 saw the band enter a more commercial phase under the screams of flat-cap loving Geordie Brian Johnson.

But regardless of what you may have heard, there are differences between their albums. Each of their 1970s albums follow a progressive arc, until they settled on their massive world conquering sound as they entered the 1980s. Albums since that point have struggled to find that same high level of quality, acting mainly as a springboard for the band to go out on the road for yet another world tour.

Start off with: Highway To Hell (1979, Atlantic Records)

ACDC1The album that saw the AC/DC break America was also their swansong with Bon Scott, who would die just months later. Up to this point all the studio albums were produced by former ‘60s Australian beat group stars Harry Vanda and George (older brother of Angus and Malcolm) Young.  For Highway To Hell, the band would enlist the production duties of Robert John “Mutt” Lange – notable amongst other things for producing Def Leppard’s Hysteria, and marrying Shania Twain.

Lange’s production revitalised the band. Overnight they changed from a noisy rock band from the backwaters of Australia into a household-name stadium rock band. Aside from the title track – typically played by the band in their live shows to open their encore – not much else from the album has survived into the band’s live set to this day; but this is probably the most consistent of all their albums.

Follow that with: Back In Black (1980, Atlantic Records)

ACDC2After Bon Scott’s death, the band could have called it a day. Most bands would have, if they’d lost their lead singer. But AC/DC were always more about guitars than vocals. After auditioning half of London for the job (including Gary Holton who would go on to play Wayne in TV’s Auf Wiedersehen, Pet), the band settled on Brian Johnson. The resulting album is a tribute – a relatively sincere one, considering the medium – to their fallen bandmate. Opener Hells Bells sets the scene with a tolling bell, before the band slowly introduce their new banshee vocalist.

Back In Black, also produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, is probably AC/DC’s most commercial-sounding record. Singles such as the title track and You Shook Me All Night Long saw the album become the best-selling rock album of the 1980s. It’s currently tied with Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon as the second best-selling album of all time (after Michael Jackson’s Thriller).

Just like VHS beat Betamax as the consumer’s choice of video in the 1980s (a fact commonly attributed to the pornography industry selecting the fledgling VHS technology as the way forward), Back In Black outstripped all other contenders in record sales by being purchased by every strip club in America. You Shook Me All Night Long has soundtracked a lot of lapdances – it’s not heavy rock, it’s stripper rock! Def Leppard would achieve the same feat later in the decade with Pour Some Sugar On Me, from their best-selling Hysteria album – a song that sounds like it’s describing a sexual act, but was probably written about their one-armed drummer Rick Allen making a cup of tea.

Oh, and Shoot To Thrill? The best middle-eight instrumental section in rock music, hands down.

Then get: Powerage (1978, Atlantic Records)

ACDC3Powerage is AC/DC’s greatest achievement – the last thing they did before they crossed over into the mainstream. At this point, it’s all still them; there’s no ‘hit-making’ hot-shot producer in the background to claim any credit. The album is no-frills rock ‘n roll from start to finish, although it does come with a celebrity endorsement – Rolling Stone Keith Richards earmarked it as his favourite AC/DC record.

Aside from Sin City, not much else from the record has survived into the band’s live set to this day. Still, opener Rock ‘N Roll Damnation is almost the quintessential AC/DC song, and Riff Raff has one of the band’s longest intros, building up for over a minute and finally released when Angus Young bends an open D-chord that sounds as sick as anything.

But it’s the slow-burn of songs like Down Payment Blues that really wins people over, on Powerage, the most introspective of their records.

Criminally overlooked: The Razor’s Edge (1990, Atco Records)

ACDC4In March 1990, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry mentioned to Guitar World magazine that ‘people put us down for [using outside songwriters], but I wonder how an AC/DC record would sound if they’d pull somebody like Jim Vallance into the songwriting process. Would they get another one-song record with Heatseeker, or would you get a whole album that was that cool?”

At the time, AC/DC were actually in the process of doing something along these lines. While that September’s The Razor’s Edge was written in its entirety by Angus and Malcolm Young, it was produced by Bruce Fairbairn – the man who had produced Aerosmith’s successful comeback albums, Permanent Vacation (1987) and Pump (1989).

It’s almost a cliché to disregard any of the post-Back In Black albums as cannon-fodder (pun very much intended); but The Razor’s Edge saw the end of a run of ‘80s albums where the band had very much lost their way. From this point on, with albums produced by the likes of Rick Rubin and Brendan O’Brien, they spent a bit more time and effort on their studio output.

The album’s opener, Thunderstruck, is another contender for the quintessential AC/DC song and concrete proof that they were still as relevant to ‘90s rock music as they were in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

The long-shot: For Those About to Rock (We Salute You) (1981, Atlantic Records)

ACDC5The third and final album produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange fails to match the quality of its two predecessors, but it does have its moments. It’s so close to Back In Black and Highway To Hell in its chronology that you can almost hear some of the magic of those records in its grooves. Of course, on the other side of the coin, the album’s other next-door neighbour is 1983’s Flick Of The Switch, where their mid-‘80s rot really set in.

The album-opening title trackremains a firm live fixture – they’ve closed their sets with the track for the last thirty three years – and the track serves as the true peak of their creative accomplishments. It was all steadily downhill from this point on.

Avoid like the plague: ’74 Jailbreak (1984, Atlantic Records)

ACDC6An EP – usually priced as a full-length album – containing just twenty four minutes of material, ’74 Jailbreak is a cynical cash-in release on the behalf of Atlantic Records. It’s essentially a small collection of leftover songs that didn’t make the international releases at the start of the band’s career (several of these early albums were combinations of songs from more than one Australian release, with some omissions made in the interests of running time).

This really is what you buy only when you have all of the other AC/DC albums, even the questionable mid-‘80s ones.

Best compilation: Iron Man 2 (O.S.T.) (2010)

ACDC7AC/DC must be one of the only major bands in the world without an official ‘greatest hits’ compilation. Sure, there are box-sets – Bonfire (1997) and BackTracks (2009) – but these aren’t compilations in the true sense of the word. The band has avoided issuing a simple collection of their singles – something I really respect them for.

Of the two soundtracks they have released – 1986’s Who Made Who (the soundtrack to Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive) and 2010’s Iron Man 2 – it is the later release that stands as the nearest thing to a ‘greatest hits’ release, split roughly 50/50 between the Bon Scott and Brian Johnson eras.

It’s just a shame the film is so boring!

Best live album: AC/DC Live (1992, Atco Records)

ACDC81978’s If You Want Blood You’ve Got It captured the live sound of the Bon Scott era, but its raw energy was plagued by a muddy Vanda / Young production. 1992’s AC/DC Live doesn’t suffer from that problem. Taken from 1991’s The Razor’s Edge tour, the album offered an authentic live recording of the band. Bruce Fairbairn had got close to capturing that sound on record (on The Razor’s Edge) and was invited back to produce the live record.

Live At Donington, the album’s companion piece video, is also worth checking out. Recording during their third headlining appearance at the British rock festival, it’s essentially the same set as can be found on the AC/DC Live record (and on every subsequent tour for that matter). One nice little bonus extra on the DVD / Blu Ray version is a commentary track comprised of an interview with the Young brothers as they talk though the concepts and directions behind each of their albums. You know, those albums that are supposedly all the same…
ACDC9

Rocks In The Attic #276: Bryan Adams – ‘Reckless’ (1984)

RITA#276You can say what you want about Bryan Adams – and I’m sure you will! – but he can write a decent pop tune. I’m not sure how much of that is because of outside writers though. This album was entirely co-written by Jim Vallance – the songwriter behind some of Aerosmith’s late ‘80s / early ‘90s hits (Rag Doll, Hangman Jury, The Other Side, Eat The Rich and Deuces Are Wild), and his other big album, 1991’s Waking Up The Neighbours, was co-written (and co-produced) by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who had all but ended his world-conquering partnerships with AC/DC and Def Leppard.

Like most successful albums of the early ‘80s, Reckless really is a light and sunny album. There’s an optimism that exists at the start of that decade that you don’t really hear too often in the late ‘80’s, and is virtually non-existent in music once the self-consciousness of grunge swept the boards in the early ‘90s. In hindsight, that optimism now looks misplaced and phony.

I’m unsure as to what kind of rock band Adams was playing in, in the narrative of hit single Summer Of ’69. Judging by his birth-date of 1959, this would have made him ten years old at the time – rock n roll! This small inconsistency really shows how much this album, and Adams’ subsequent career, has all been aimed at earlier baby boomers, five or ten years older than him.

Hit: Summer Of ‘69

Hidden Gem: It’s Only Love

Rocks In The Attic #198: AC/DC – ‘Let There Be Rock’ (1977)

RITA#198This album is such a quantum leap from Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, but it still doesn’t sound like the AC/DC of today. The production is more confident than the band’s previous two albums, but the overall sound comes across as noisy rather than channelled, as though the engineer and the producers made a few bad choices on the day of the recording, in terms of setting up the mics in the studio for the amps.

When I started listening to AC/DC in the early ‘90s they were terribly unfashionable. Just like Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, they were seen as relics of the ‘70s and ‘80s – something that just wasn’t relevant any more, to anybody. I couldn’t believe when I found a friend at college who liked the band too. I truly thought I was alone in liking them.

Then slowly, they started to become less of a laughing stock, and more of a valid influence on people. When I started DJing in the late ‘90s, I would slip the odd ‘DC track into my set, mainly to blank stares. Then something happened in popular culture – I’m not exactly sure what – but they suddenly became a very cool band to listen to. Each week, I started getting requests to play some of their stuff – and not specific songs either, just a “’Ere mate, you got any ‘DC?”, as though anything I could have played by the band would have sufficed.

Now, thanks to films like Iron Man featuring Back In Black (and its sequel featuring an entire set of ‘DC songs), the band seems to be everywhere. Now I just need to wait for that Aerosmith revival to happen…

Hit: Whole Lotta Rosie

Hidden Gem: Hell Ain’t A Bad Place To Be

Rocks In The Attic #175: Def Leppard – ‘Hysteria’ (1987)

The band put a lot into this album, especially the drummer. I’ve driven on the country road, Snake Pass between Sheffield and Manchester, where Rick Allen lost his arm – what a horrible thing to happen to a band. I guess anybody in a band losing an arm would be a horrible thing – it just seems that little bit more horrible that it was the drummer.

Growing up as a rock fan, you tend to see the same facts repeated over and over in magazines. One fact always associated with this album is that is the joint best-selling rock album, alongside AC/DC’s Back In Black. Looking at the R.I.A.A.’s list of best-selling albums, that seems to be a load of bollocks. Back In Black is in there, second only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller, but Def Leppard are nowhere to be seen in the top 30. Perhaps sales to strip clubs don’t count?

It wouldn’t surprise me if that claim was something started by Joe Elliot – Leppard’s lead singer, and chief ambassador for the band. In interviews, he has bragged about the level of alcohol found in former guitarist Steve Clark’s body when he died, being higher than the level of alcohol found in John Bonham’s body when he snuffed it – as though that makes Def Leppard the better band or something. What an odd thing to talk about. Anyway, with this level of misguided self-promotion, I wouldn’t be surprised if Elliot regularly told the press that his band’s 1987 offering was on a par with Back In Black in terms of sales. The big difference though is that Back In Black has aged well.

Hysteria isn’t a bad album, per se. It has a lot of hit singles – seven in total were taken from the album – but it just reeks of 1987. Their albums prior to this are far more interesting, but from this point onwards, all of their songs are mid-tempo to cater for their drummer’s new set-up.

Hit: Pour Some Sugar On Me

Hidden Gem: Women