Early years (1977–1979)
Rick Savage, Tony Kenning, and Pete Willis, all students at Tapton School in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, formed a band called Atomic Mass in 1977. The band originally consisted of Willis on guitar, Savage on bass guitar after briefly playing guitar, and Kenning on drums. Only 18 at the time, Joe Elliott tried out for the band as a guitarist following a chance meeting with Willis after missing a bus in November 1977. During his audition it was decided that he was better suited to be the lead singer. Their first gig was in the dining hall in A Block in Westfield School in Mosborough, Sheffield.
Elliott proposed the name "Deaf Leopard" which was originally a band name he thought up while writing reviews for imaginary rock bands in his English class. At Kenning's suggestion, the spelling was slightly modified in order to make the name seem less like that of a punk band. In January 1978, Steve Clark joined the band. According to Elliott, he successfully auditioned for the band by playing Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Free Bird" in its entirety.
In November, just prior to recording sessions for what would be a three-song release known as The Def Leppard E.P., Kenning abruptly left the band; he would later form the band Cairo. He was replaced for those sessions by Frank Noon. By the end of the month, Rick Allen, then only 15 years old, had joined the band as its full-time drummer. Sales of the EP soared after the track "Getcha Rocks Off" was given extensive airtime by renowned BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel, considered at the time to be a champion of punk rock and new wave music.
Throughout 1979, the band developed a loyal following among British hard rock and heavy metal fans and were considered among the leaders of the new wave of British heavy metal movement. Their growing popularity led to a record deal with the major label Phonogram/Vertigo (Mercury Records in the US). Def Leppard's original management, MSB, a local duo consisting of Pete Martin and Frank Stuart-Brown, were fired after Martin and Joe Elliott got into a fistfight over an incident on the road. The band approached Peter Mensch of Leber-Krebs management, who had booked them on a tour of the UK supporting AC/DC. Mensch, who admitted that he had had his eye on the band, became their manager.
Rise to fame (1980–1983)
Def Leppard's debut album, On Through the Night, was released on 14 March 1980. Although the album hit the Top 15 in the UK, many early fans were turned off by the perception that the band was trying too hard to appeal to American audiences by recording songs such as "Hello America" and touring more in the US (supporting Pat Travers, AC/DC, and Ted Nugent); a performance at the Reading Festival in August was marred when audience members expressed their displeasure by pelting the band with beer cans and bottles filled with urine. This incident was partially blamed on a cover story in Sounds music newspaper by the journalist Geoff Barton titled, "Has the Leppard changed its spots?", accusing the band of selling out to the American market. In a documentary on the band recorded for BBC 2, Barton recalls feelings of guilt over the story and having a "stand-up row" with the band's manager, Mensch, backstage at the show. In the documentary series Metal Evolution, Joe Elliott says that the media had exaggerated the event and all bands on the day had experienced 'abuse' from the crowd.
The band had by then caught the attention of AC/DC producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, who agreed to work on their second album, High 'n' Dry, released on 11 July 1981. Lange's meticulous approach in the studio helped them begin to define their sound. Despite the album's unimpressive sales figures, the band's video for "Bringin' On the Heartbreak" became one of the first metal videos played on MTV in 1982, bringing the band increased visibility in the U.S. The band continued to use the up-and-coming music television industry to reach fans over the years with their unique videos and the extravagance of their concerts. After the album's release, European and American tours followed. The band opened for Ozzy Osbourne and Blackfoot.
Pete Willis was fired on 11 July 1982 due to excessive alcohol consumption on the job and was replaced by Phil Collen of Girl the next day. This personnel change took place during the recording of their third album, Pyromania, which was released on 20 January 1983 and also produced by Lange. The cover artwork depicted an animated picture of a huge flame emerging from the top floor of a skyscraper, with a bullseye aimed at the flame. The lead single, "Photograph", turned Def Leppard into a household name, supplanting Michael Jackson's "Beat It" as the most requested video on MTV and becoming a staple of rock radio (dominating the US Album Rock Charts for six weeks), and sparked a headline tour across the U.S.
Fueled by "Photograph" and subsequent singles "Rock of Ages" and "Foolin'", Pyromania went on to sell six million copies in 1983 (more than 100,000 copies every week in that year) and only was held from the top of the US album charts by Michael Jackson's Thriller. With the album's massive success, Pyromania was the catalyst for the 1980s pop-metal movement. In 2004, Pyromania was certified Diamond having sold over 10 million copies in the US. With their music videos becoming a staple of MTV Rolling Stone named them among the artists of the Second British Invasion. The Pyromania tour began in England at the Marquee Club in Oxford Street, London in February 1983. Def Leppard's US tour in support of the album began in March opening for Billy Squier and ended with a headlining performance before an audience of 55,000 at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego, California in September. As a testament to the band's popularity at the time, a US Gallup poll in 1984 saw Def Leppard voted as favourite rock band over peers such as The Rolling Stones, AC/DC, and Journey.
Hysteria era (1984–1989)
Following their breakthrough, the band moved to Dublin in February 1984 for tax purposes to begin writing the follow-up to Pyromania. Mutt Lange initially joined in on the songwriting sessions but then suddenly declined to return as producer due to exhaustion. Jim Steinman (of Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell fame) was brought in. However, Steinman only worked briefly with the band, and the recording work was not released.
On 31 December 1984, drummer Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash on the A57 in the hills outside the band's home city of Sheffield. Allen was driving with his Dutch girlfriend, Miriam Barendsen, when his Corvette swerved off the road on a sharp bend and went through a drystone wall. Despite the severity of the accident, Allen was committed to continuing his role as Def Leppard's drummer and realised that he could use his legs to do some of the drumming work previously done with his arms. He then worked with Simmons to design a custom electronic drum kit. The other members of the band supported Allen's recovery and never sought a replacement. Allen was placed in a separate studio to practice his new drums. After a few months, Allen gathered the band together and performed the intro to the Led Zeppelin version of "When the Levee Breaks" to showcase his progress to the band. Joe Elliott reports this as being a "very emotional moment." During this period, Mutt Lange returned as producer. Def Leppard brought in Jeff Rich in August 1986 to play alongside Allen during Def Leppard's warm-up mini tour of Ireland. When the band couldn't fit two drum kits on stage at a gig, he and the band realized Allen could drum alone. Allen's comeback was sealed at the 1986 Monsters of Rock festival in England, with an emotionally charged ovation after his introduction by Joe Elliott.
After losing his left arm in a car accident, drummer Rick Allen
used his legs to do some of the drumming
After over three years of recording, Def Leppard's fourth album, Hysteria, was released on 3 August 1987. One of the first singles from the album, "Animal", became the band's first Top 10 hit in the UK, reaching No. 6 on the UK Singles Chart. "Animal" also started their run of ten consecutive U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 singles. Hysteria immediately topped the UK Album Charts in its first week of release, and has since spent 105 weeks on the chart. Initial US album sales were relatively slow (compared to Pyromania) until the release of the fourth single, "Pour Some Sugar on Me". The song hit Number 2, and Hysteria finally reached the top of the U.S. Billboard 200 in July 1988. Often regarded as the band's signature song, "Pour Some Sugar on Me" was ranked No. 2 on VH1's "100 Greatest Songs of the 80s" in 2006.
The band's UK success saw them nominated for the 1988 Brit Award for Best British Group. In October 1988, the power ballad "Love Bites" reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. In January 1989, the band scored another US Top 5 hit with "Armageddon It", and by spring of 1989 the final single "Rocket" was in the Top 20. Wanting to give fans something new after the massive radio and video airplay for not only the seven singles but also the Album tracks that Radio DJs were playing off the album, the band performed "Tear It Down", a Hysteria B-side at the 1989 MTV Video Music Awards.
Hysteria is one of only a handful of albums that has charted seven singles or more on the US Hot 100: "Women" (#80), "Animal" (#19), "Hysteria" (#10), "Pour Some Sugar on Me" (#2), "Love Bites" (#1), "Armageddon It" (#3), and "Rocket" (#12). It remained on the charts for three years and has sold over 25 million copies worldwide. Equally successful was the accompanying 16-month tour, in which the band performed in the round. This concept proved wildly popular with fans (as seen in the videos for "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and "Armageddon It") and was used again for the Adrenalize tour.
At the 1989 Brit Awards held at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Def Leppard were again a nominee for Best British Group, and the band performed "Pour Some Sugar on Me" at the ceremony. At the 1989 American Music Awards, Def Leppard won Favorite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Artist, as well as Favorite Heavy Metal/Hard Rock Album (for Hysteria).
Adrenalize, Clark's death, and change in musical direction (1990–1999)
Following Hysteria, the band quickly set out to work on their fifth album, hoping to avoid another lengthy gap. Steve Clark's alcoholism worsened to the point that he was constantly in and out of rehab. Recording sessions suffered from this distraction, and in mid-1990, Clark was granted a six-month leave of absence from the band. Clark died from a mix of prescription drugs and alcohol on 8 January 1991, in his London home.
The remaining band members decided to carry on and recorded the album as a four-piece, with Collen mimicking Clark's style on his intended guitar parts. Def Leppard's fifth album, Adrenalize, was finally released on 31 March 1992. The album simultaneously entered at number one on both the UK and US album charts, staying on the latter for five weeks. The first single, "Let's Get Rocked", was an instant hit, and the band performed the song at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards where it was nominated for Best Video of the Year. In April 1992, Def Leppard appeared at The Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium, London, performing a three-song set of "Animal", "Let's Get Rocked" and Queen's "Now I'm Here" with guitarist Brian May. Joe Elliott later performed "Tie Your Mother Down" with the remaining members of Queen and Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash.
In a period between late 1991 and early 1992, auditions for another guitarist commenced. Among the guitarists who auditioned included Adrian Smith, John Sykes, and Gary Hoey. Ultimately, the band chose Vivian Campbell in February 1992, formerly of Dio and Whitesnake. Another world tour followed but the band's fortunes began to be affected by the rise of alternative rock, including grunge. Amidst the increasing popularity of alternative rock, the band decided to balance their original image as rebellious rock stars with a slightly friendlier energy, combining heavy metal with melodies and hooks more reminiscent of pop music. On 6 June 1993, Def Leppard performed the first ever rock concert at the Don Valley Stadium in their home city Sheffield before an audience of over 50,000.
A collection of b-sides and unreleased tracks recorded between 1984 and 1993, called Retro Active, was released in October 1993, preceded by the success of the acoustic ballad "Two Steps Behind" (from the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Last Action Hero). Another single, "Miss You in a Heartbeat", hit the Top 5 in Canada, becoming one of their biggest hits there. Retro Active has sold 3 million copies worldwide to date. In 1995, Def Leppard issued their first greatest hits collection, Vault: Def Leppard Greatest Hits (1980–1995), which reached number 3 in the UK, and sold over 5 million copies in the US. Alternate track listings of the album were issued for North America, the UK, and Japan. The compilation included a new track, the power ballad "When Love & Hate Collide", which became their biggest ever hit in the UK, hitting No. 2 on the UK Singles Chart.
On 23 October 1995, the band entered the Guinness Book of World Records by performing three concerts on three continents in one day (Tangiers, Morocco; Sheffield, England; and Vancouver, Canada). Slang, released in May 1996, marked a drastic musical departure for the band by featuring darker lyrics and a stripped-down alternative rock edge. The band rehearsed and played the songs together in the studio instead of recording parts separately, resulting in a much more live-sounding album. The US audience reception for Slang and its subsequent tour was a major dropoff from a decade earlier, but Q Magazine nonetheless listed Slang as one of their Top Ten Albums of 1996.
VH1 revived the band's fortunes in the US in 1998 by featuring them on one of the first episodes of Behind the Music. Reruns of the episode yielded some of the series' highest ratings and brought the band's music back into the public consciousness (following years of burial by the alternative rock climate). The episode was even parodied on Saturday Night Live. In an effort to capitalise on this new momentum, Def Leppard returned to its classic sound with the 1999 album Euphoria. The first single, "Promises", reunited the band with Mutt Lange and hit the US Mainstream Rock charts at No. 1 for 3 weeks.
On 5 September 2000, Def Leppard were inducted into Hollywood's RockWalk on Sunset Boulevard by their friend Brian May of Queen. In 2001, VH1 produced and aired Hysteria - The Def Leppard Story, a biopic that included Anthony Michael Hall as Mutt Lange and Amber Valletta as Lorelei Shellist (Steve Clark's girlfriend). The docudrama covered the band's history between 1977 through 1986, recounting the trials and triumphs of Rick Allen and Steve Clark. Def Leppard's tenth album, X, saw the band's musical direction moving more towards pop and further away from the band's hard rock roots. X ultimately became the band's least successful release, charting at No. 11 on the US Billboard 200, and No. 14 on the UK Albums Chart.
An expanded and updated best-of collection, Best Of, was released internationally in October 2004. The North America-only version, Rock of Ages – The Definitive Collection, was released the following May. Def Leppard participated at the Live 8 show in Philadelphia and toured in the summer with Bryan Adams. In 2005, the band left their longtime management team, Q-Prime, and signed with HK Management. On 23 May 2006, Def Leppard released an all-covers album titled Yeah!. The disc pays homage to classic rock songs of their childhood, originally recorded by Blondie, The Kinks, Sweet, ELO, and Badfinger among others. It debuted at No. 16 in the US, their tenth consecutive Top 20 album.
The band, along with Queen, Kiss, and Judas Priest, were the inaugural inductees of VH1 Rock Honors on 31 May 2006. During the show, The All-American Rejects paid homage to the band with a cover of "Photograph". Soon afterwards, they embarked on a US tour with Journey. That October, Hysteria was re-released in a two-disc deluxe edition format, which combined the original remastered album with b-sides, remixes, and bonus tracks from single releases. Def Leppard began their Downstage Thrust Tour, on 27 June, which took them across the US and into Canada.
Songs from the Sparkle Lounge (2008–2009)
On 28 April 2008, Def Leppard released their first album of new studio material in six years, Songs from the Sparkle Lounge. The album debuted at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 in the US. The first single was entitled "Nine Lives" and featured country singer Tim McGraw, who co-wrote the song with Joe Elliott, Phil Collen, and Rick Savage.
A tour in support of the album began on 27 March 2008 in Greensboro, North Carolina, with Styx and REO Speedwagon joining the band on US dates. The band also played several European rock festivals. An arena tour of the UK took place in June in which the band co-headlined with Whitesnake and was supported by US southern rockers Black Stone Cherry. The band then returned to Europe before coming back for a second leg of the UK tour in June. The first of these dates was at the Glasgow SECC on 17 June. Again they were joined by Whitesnake; however, hard rock band Thunder supported at some of these shows. Black Stone Cherry continued to support most of the dates, including some of the Thunder ones. Six shows which were cancelled during the USA/Canada leg of their world tour due to illnesses affecting Joe Elliott and Phil Collen would be rescheduled and played in August of that year. On 11 June, Def Leppard announced further dates for their 2008 World Tour. The extension saw them visit Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Whitesnake continued to support Def Leppard for their Indian and Japanese dates. Def Leppard toured 41 US cities plus Toronto, Canada, during mid-2009 with Poison and Cheap Trick and also played the Download Festival at Donington Park, England to a sell out crowd of 83,000 with Whitesnake and ZZ Top.
In October 2008, Def Leppard played with country star Taylor Swift in a taped show in Nashville, Tennessee, in a show called CMT Crossroads: Taylor Swift and Def Leppard. This was released as a DVD on 16 June 2009 exclusively at Wal-Mart. The release was the best-selling DVD of week, and the 10th best selling Wal-Mart music release. A fan of the band since childhood, Taylor Swift chose Def Leppard to perform together for the show, and their crossover performance of "Photograph" was up for both Performance of the Year and Wide Open Country Video of the Year at the CMT Music Awards in 2009. Taylor Swift said of the performance, "Performing with Def Leppard was awesome! They are the coolest guys on the planet! It was the coolest thing in the world to have my band on stage with them...It was the most amazing feeling in the world..." Joe Elliott from Def Leppard said, "What an absolute pleasure it was to work with Taylor and her band who are a great set of musicians. Myself and Taylor blended really well together, I think, and everybody, both bands and the crowd, had a great time. I'm really glad we had the opportunity to do this."
In October 2009 the band announced that they would be cancelling the last leg of the 2009 North American tour, a total of 23 shows. The band cited, "unforeseen personal matters", as the reason for the cancellations. At the time, the band denied rumours about a breakup, saying, "We're not splitting. Not at all. We often joke, what else would we do? You just can't imagine doing anything else."
Recent events and self-titled album (2010–present)
After taking a year off from touring in 2010, the band announced on 22 February 2011 that they would be releasing their first live album in the summer. Mirror Ball – Live & More, a two-disc live album, with three new studio tracks, was released in parts of Europe on 3 June, the rest of Europe on 6 June, and on 7 June in the US; it was announced at the same time that Def Leppard would perform at the Download Festival on 10 June 2011. Of the three new studio tracks, two were released as singles, the first single being "Undefeated" released in April 2011.
Def Leppard on stage in Sydney, Australia in 2011
Def Leppard embarked on a two-month U.S. tour in the summer of 2011, with Heart., as well as another seven shows in Australia in October with The Choirboys and Heart, two shows in Japan in November, and six shows in the United Kingdom in December with Steel Panther and Mötley Crüe. The following year, they then toured with Poison and Lita Ford in the US during the summer of 2012 from 20 June through 15 September, dubbed the "Rock Of Ages 2012 Tour".
The year after, Def Leppard played an eleven show residency at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada from 22 March through 13 April 2013. The residency, referred to as Viva! Hysteria, featured a two part show, with the first half featuring Def Leppard opening for themselves, under the alias "Ded Flatbird", (jokingly called the best Def Leppard cover band in the world), when they would then play songs they very rarely play live, going all the way back to "Good Morning Freedom", a b-side from the single "Hello America" released in February 1980, an era usually left untouched by the band. The opening set varied each night, from playing the best hits from albums like On Through the Night, Slang, and Euphoria, to being the entire first half of High 'n' Dry. The second half, and "main event" was Def Leppard, as themselves playing their best-selling album, Hysteria, from start to finish. A live album, also titled Viva! Hysteria was released on 22 October 2013. This was the first time the band has played an album live from start to finish. The band has re-recorded several hits and even the entire album Hysteria in an effort to circumvent their record label from future royalties, though of these re-recordings, only "Rock of Ages", "Pour Some Sugar on Me", and "Hysteria" have been released.
Def Leppard playing an acoustic set at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois on 19 July 2012.
In June 2013, Vivian Campbell announced that he had developed Hodgkin's lymphoma, a malignant form of cancer that affects the Reed-Sternberg cells, located in the lymph nodes. He continued performing with Def Leppard, and no shows were cancelled or rescheduled. The sole idea of cancelling any shows and not doing anything disgusted Campbell, believing performing would be the best way to remain optimistic. In November 2013, he announced he was in remission. However, the cancer reemerged, and he received chemotherapy once again.
On 11 February 2014, the band released a remastered deluxe edition of their 1996 album Slang after much delay. The album, still coveted by many loyal fans of the band, now features 30 tracks including demos, B-sides, and unreleased material. From 23 June 2014 to 31 August 2014, Def Leppard and Kiss toured 42 cities, with a dollar per ticket donated to such military charities as Wounded Warrior Project. Def Leppard contributed one song, “Helen Wheels”, to the Paul McCartney tribute album The Art of McCartney released on 18 November 2014. Joe Elliott also contributed another track, “Hi, Hi, Hi”. At certain recent points in time, the band had projects, such as a cartoon and a documentary in development. However, these projects seem to be shelved indefinitely. The band had originally planned to do another residency in Las Vegas, this time in honour of Pyromania (called Viva! Pyromania), but due to the "Heroes 2014" tour with Kiss, and the recording of their new studio album, the project had been pushed back indefinitely. The new album was originally planned to be an EP, but the set-list increased to 15 songs by June 2014. The album was released on 30 October 2015 with a tour following.
In December 2014, the band announced a 13-date Canadian tour in April and May 2015. This was followed in February 2015 with the announcement of a 2015 US summer tour with Styx and Tesla from June to October 2015. The tour was then extended to include dates in Japan and Australia throughout November, and a tour of the UK and Ireland with Whitesnake in December. Def Leppard then returned to North America with REO Speedwagon and Tesla in early 2016.
The eleventh studio album, titled Def Leppard, was recorded in 2014 and 2015, and released on 30 October 2015. The band released the lead single from their self-titled album on 15 September 2015, titled "Let's Go", with a music video for the song being released on 30 October. The 14 track album debuted at number 10 in the U.S. and number 11 in the UK.
During the break following their 2015 tour, Def Leppard led the Hysteria on the High Seas concert cruise aboard the MSC Divina in January 2016. Joe Elliott became ill with laryngitis on the night of their cruise performance. This led to the band performing without Elliott for the first time in their history. Vivian Campbell and Phil Collen sang lead vocals on two songs of the shortened seven song set in addition to two songs with vocals by Andrew Freeman and two more with Eric Martin and Kip Winger. in addition to this, Campbell and Freeman's Last in Line bandmate Jimmy Bain, former bassist of Dio died of lung cancer aboard the ship the same night, causing Last in Line to cancel their show the following day. Back on land, Elliott struggled through the first concert of the 2016 tour, resulting in Tesla's Jeff Keith joining Elliott on lead. The following day's concert was also postponed "due to illness", with Rick Allen reporting on Twitter "The Doctor basically said that if Joe continues to sing without resting his throat for a month he might do permanent damage." By July 2016, the band were performing regularly again and intended to complete 48 dates. When the tour stopped at DTE Energy Music Theatre in Clarkston, Michigan on 15 July, the show was recorded for future release. On 10 February 2017, the band released And There Will be a Next Time... Live from Detroit, a double live album and concert video. In August 2017 the band celebrated the 30th anniversary of Hysteria by releasing a collectors edition box. The singles were also re-released on vinyl.
In January 2018, Def Leppard announced it would embark on a 58 date North American tour with Journey. The tour included 10 dates in baseball stadiums, a first for the band, with special guests, Cheap Trick. The tour was highly successful, as the bands played in front of more than one million fans in North America in just 3 months, marking the tour out as one of the most successful in 2018. In addition, the group's discography was made available for streaming and digital download after a deal was reached between the band and Universal Music Group.
On 30 November 2018, the band released a new 2-disc best of compilation, The Story So Far – The Best Of. In addition to 34 of Def Leppard's greatest hits, the collection featured the band's new cover of the Depeche Mode hit "Personal Jesus" (which was originally released in July 2018 for Spotify Singles), the new Christmas track "We All Need Christmas", and the new remix of "Rock On". On the same day, a new limited edition, 10-disc vinyl box set featuring all of the 7" singles from the Hysteria album was released. The band finished the year off with a sell out tour of the UK and Ireland titled Hysteria & More Tour. They embarked on a world tour in 2019 beginning with the Sweden Rock Festival on 6 June. In March 2019 it was announced that the band would undertake a second Las Vegas residency titled Def Leppard Hits Vegas - The Sin City Residency.