Def Leppard Vocals: A Sonic Touchstone for Rock-N-Roll

Big guitars, big drums, not-so-big hair and big choruses about women with big...uh...personalities. These are the elements of any great Def Leppard song, to be sure. But the wings that give these songs flight are as obvious as they are overlooked: Def Leppard's incredible vocal sound (both recorded and live).

Anybody not living on another planet for the last 30 years has heard Def Leppard sing their way into rock stardom. The first few albums were more akin to AC/DC than the sound we're used to now, but once mega-producer Mutt Lange got involved, big, gritty harmonies like the ones found in 'Photograph', 'Bringin' on the Heartbreak' and 'Die Hard the Hunter' became a benchmark by which all rock vocal acts were compared.

It was at the point where Leppard's 'Pyromania' album became an absolute phenomenon, that they found themselves at business end of a double-edged sword. They had created a masterpiece...but how would they follow it up (and could they)? The years going into the release of 'Hysteria' were tumultuous to say the least. Initially without the mastermind, Mutt Lange, the band floundered with Meat Loaf composer, Jim Steinman. Catastrophic injuries, substance abuse, massive record label debt all plagued the band. And even with the much-anticipated release of 'Hysteria', the band still was not out of the woods financially. It wasn't until the big vocal choruses of 'Pour Some Sugar On Me' that the album blasted through the 'Pyromania' ceiling and headed for truly massive sales.

def leppard vocals a sonic touchstone for rock n rollAnd 'Hysteria' really cemented the vocal sound we associate with Def Leppard. Dozens and dozens of raspy harmonies layered on tape (often using Lange's stellar singing as well), tracks like 'Armageddon It', 'Women' and 'Love Bites' are a must-hear for any rock act's vocal education.

By the time 'Adrenalize' rolled around at the start of the grunge era, it was a monumental task for Def Leppard to chart new territory. The vocals on 'Heaven Is...' and 'Tonight' were spectacular, but Kurt Cobain's Nirvana was body-slamming anything that had to do with 80s excess, and the band definitely felt the pinch. While continuing to expand their vocal sound on later cuts like 'When Love and Hate Collide' and the awesome 'Promises', Leppard was additionally hounded by accusations that they could not and did not reproduce their vocals live without the aid of tapes and samplers.

It wasn't until guitarist, Phil Collen led a stunning a capella intro to 'Armageddon It' on VH1's Storytellers in the late 90s (followed by Joe Elliot's rebuke of all the doubters) that all challengers were silenced. Def Leppard really could sing onstage, and cuts like 'Love' and 'No Matter What' just cemented the band's place has having one of the best vocal sounds ever crafted in rock-n-roll.

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by Michael Pickett; Sunday, May 1, 2011 @ 08:34 AM [2137]

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