Interview: Phil Collen on the Making of Def Leppard's 'Hysteria'
Phil Collen discusses the making of Def Leppard's Hysteria.
On an album filled with hit singles, “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was by far the biggest. But it came in right at the end of the Hysteria sessions, correct?
Yes. One day as we were getting toward the end, Joe was sitting in the control room with an acoustic guitar and playing the chorus chords and just singing, “Pour some sugar on me…” And Mutt said, “What’s that? We need to work on that.” By that time we thought we were at the end. Even the record company just wanted the thing out. But Mutt knew there was something there. And he was the one that came up with that country-ish single-note thing before the verses. Then he said that we needed something for the verse, so I came up with chord part. It was actually a longer riff but Mutt said, “No, cut it here, we need gaps.” Then Steve added the middle section. So it was pretty cool the way the song evolved, and it happened rather quickly. It took us three-plus years to do the album, but we did that song in 10 days.
Did you see a distinct shift in the band’s popularity once “Pour Some Sugar on Me” was released as a single?
Yes. That was the fourth single in America, and things changed almost overnight. And it all started because strippers down in Florida were requesting the song at the local radio stations, because they were all using it to dance to. [laughs] But it exploded so big. It really was a turning point. We were out on the road and had been for a while, and you could see the impact of the song in the size of the crowds.
You performed in-the-round on the Hysteria tour, one of the first rock bands to do so. How did that come about?
Our manager at the time, Peter Mensch, had seen Frank Sinatra do it at Madison Square Garden. So he came back and said, “You should do a rock version of that.” I believe Yes had done it too, but they weren’t really animated about it. We were kind of this youngish, MTV-generation band—we always said we looked more like Duran Duran than Iron Maiden—so the in-the-round thing was perfect for us, because we’d just be running around and having fun. And it was fun. But initially it was pretty scary, because you couldn’t hear your guitar all the time. This was before we had in-ear monitors, so you’d have your monitors under the stage and spread out everywhere. You just had to keep moving.
Given how studio-intensive the music was, did you find it difficult to recreate the Hysteria material onstage?
Sometimes. One song that was really hard was “Love Bites,” because it really was a studio song. When we started the tour we had never played it as a band, and it was different from anything we’d done before. It was really vocal-based. Mutt actually came in with that song and played it on acoustic guitar, and it sounded like Don Henley. And it was like, “Wow, this is fucking great. But how are we gonna do it?” And it actually ran away with itself, to put it one way. There were all these different parts and textures, and keyboards and vocals all over the place. So we never played it on tour—we were actually kind of scared of it. But after the success of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” we released “Love Bites” as a single, and it went to Number One. And then it was like, Fuck, we’re going to have to play this thing live! So I remember we took two days off in Canada to rehearse it and try to get a version together. Steve and I basically picked out the most prominent guitar parts and made a collage. I would take two parts and combine them into one, and he would do the same. And we made it work. But it was almost like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
What do you consider the legacy of Hysteria?
To me, it sounds like a classic rock album. And not classic in the sense of classic rock but in the sense of one of those albums that you put on and it takes you somewhere. People always talk about the production element and how long it took and all the tracks and all these things, but at its heart the music means something, and it achieves what it sets out to achieve. Even though it’s got all this stuff going on, it’s very real sounding. And I think over the years people have started to appreciate it for what it is. But you know, I remember when the record was just finished and Steve and I were first sitting there listening to the whole thing. We were so happy. We figured it was a masterpiece, and we felt that even if everyone else thought it sucked, that was okay. We said, “Even if only our mothers buy this album, we’ll be cool with it because we’re so proud of it.” [laughs] Of course, a few other people bought it, as well.
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