By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
DEF LEPPARD – PYROMANIA (1983)
As I set to writing this article I was trying to come up with some new kind of angle that hasn’t been covered ad nauseum over the 36 years since Def Leppard first released Pyromania. But whether it is talking about the big hit songs from this album that launched the band into the stratosphere of rock royalty or the painstakingingly intense recording of the album as spearheaded by Mutt Lange, there’s not a whole heck of a lot that hasn’t been written about the album.
Yes, Pyromania is the album that truly launched the band’s career. Their two previous albums are really good. There’s no doubt about that. But in comparison to this album and then the even more massive success of Hysteria, both On Through The Night and High ‘n’ Dry somehow come off as relatively overlooked. For all the talk about how intense the collaboration with Lange was for this album, you can’t fault the finished product. There’s ten songs on the album and even though three songs are recognized as all-time rock classics, there is not a single bad track on the album (Okay, to be honest, I hate the outro on the album closing “Billy’s Got A Gun”). To this day, how can you not get a little shot of electricity when you hear “Photograph”, “Rock of Ages” or “Foolin'”?
But I love songs like “Stagefright” and “Die Hard The Hunter” as well. And the opening salvo of “Rock! Rock! (Til You Drop)” still gets me all keyed up to listen to the album in full.
See what I mean? It’s nice to read that stuff, but I’m not exactly saying anything that hasn’t been written before.
So instead, I thought I’d just go into a little bit of my own experience with the album instead. Pyromania was one of the first albums I ended up with as I took my initial foray into what has become a passionate love of rock and metal.
I can’t remember exactly how I came to possess my cassette copy of the album, but I am pretty sure that my parents bought it for me. Which is quite amusing when you consider that they wouldn’t buy me REO Speedwagon’s Hi Infidelity or Twisted Sister’s Stay Hungry albums when I asked for them because of the cover art. But if you take a look at the cover art for Pyromania, you might wonder why that was an okay piece for them to buy me.
Anyway, I still have that very cassette but for some reason I do not have the original case or the liner notes card that came with it. Instead, for years it has been stored in holder that was originally for blank cassettes (which were usually used to tape songs off the radio of course!). The liner card was flipped inside out and the track listing was written in hand in blue ink. And the album still plays wonderfully. I’d have to check because I think I did finally upgrade to a CD version of the album but I still love that cassette.
I’ve seen the band in concert twice, once in 1993 and then again in 2000. My sister was a big fan of Def Leppard at one point and I took her to that 2000 show. Rock fandom didn’t quite stick with her though as she’s more of a country music fan these days.
One of the coolest memories I have that is associated with the days of Pyromania is opening gifts that Christmas. My parents had managed to buy me not only an album cover art T-shirt but they had found a Def Leppard Union Jack painter’s cap. Let me tell you, I was pretty stoked when I opened that particular package.
Over the years, there has been an ebb and flow to my fandom for the band. I hated the Slang, Yeah! and Songs from the Sparkle Lounge releases, but I also loved Euphoria and truly raved about the 2015 Def Leppard album. But when I find the band has really hit on all the high marks that define their career, they are a vastly underrated rock act. Yes, I know that they seem to shy away from even being called a rock band, but that’s what they are and that is why I remain pretty devoted to their music.
Hysteria may be the band’s highest benchmark in terms of commercial success (more than 25 million albums sold). But for me and I’m guessing many others, that success wouldn’t have been possible without the breakthrough the band experienced as they worked on what would become Pyromania. It is an album that never fails to entertain me and stands up strong against whatever you might want to throw at it.
NOTES OF INTEREST: English musician Thomas Dolby, best known for the hit pop song “She Blinded Me With Science” played keyboards on the Pyromania album. He’s credited under the pseudonym Booker T. Boffin.
Producer Mutt Lange provided backing vocals on the album and did the spoken word intro on the song “Rock Of Ages”.
Despite being fired from the band before the completion of recording Pyromania, guitarist Pete Willis played the rhythm guitar tracks for all ten songs on the album.