On January 20, 1983, Def Leppard's third album, "Pyromania", was released.
It's Def Leppard's meteoric breakthrough album. An album that sold over 10 million copies in the US alone and was crowned by the RIAA as a "diamond" album (ten times gold). The album jumped straight to number two on the US Billboard charts and it would undoubtedly would have "conquered the summit", had it not been for Michael Jackson's "Thriller" album, which has been around at the top for a very long time.
On this album, the band made a change and transition from the Heavy Metal roots that characterized the first two albums, towards upgraded Hard Rock and even Glam Metal, while adopting a "friendlier" and more accessible style.
The change in sound and style making the band accessible to the masses can be attributed to the magician (no less) producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, who worked with AC/DC's on the album "Highway To Hell" and later on the album "Back In Black" and led them to their meteoric success.
Similar to what he did in his work with "AC/DC", Lange also change Def Leppard's sound and made it more catchy and accessible. In this case, too, Lange pushed "Def Leppard" to excellence with a lot of hard work and considerable studio hours. He even took matters into his own hands and helped the band write some of the songs, for which he also received credit.
In keeping with the formula that worked well with "AC/DC", Lange emphasized the "double guitar" sound of "Def Leppard" and in particular the vocal harmonies of the band members, while also contributing his vocals as a background singer. Although the change began on the previous album, "High N' Dry" from 1981, it was tightened and perfected by Lange on "Pyromania". As it turned out, after two traditional heavy metal albums, Matt Lange helped "Def Leppard" perform the "metamorphosis" needed for a friendlier Heavy Metal/Glam Rock sound, which would lead to their big break in the US and buy them a dizzying global success.
The record company, which expressed faith in the band and the producer, helped Matt Lange and the band achieve an amazing result. They gave them an almost free hand during the recordings, which lasted almost a whole year (from January to November 1982), with a huge budget of about 1 million Dollars. In doing so, the record company took a huge risk, as the huge budget required a minimum sales of one million copies to balance and start making a profit. The risk taken by the record company is largely based on Matt Lange's great results with "AC/DC", on the albums "Highway To Hell" and "Back In Black", as well as the relative success of the song "Bringin' On The Heartbreak" from the band's previous album, which was also produced by Lange and won reruns on MTV.
When Lange and "Def Leppard" began recording the album, esteemed guitarist Pete Willis was still part of the band and recorded all of the rhythm guitar roles on the album. Unfortunately, Pete Willis was fired towards the end of the recordings, due to his alcohol problems. He was replaced by guitarist Phil Collen, who already on his second day with the band contributed the guitar solo for the song "Stagefright".
This album maintains a high standard of musical writing and performance almost throughout. From "Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop)" with the dramatic intro that goes through several variations before Steve Clark's riff kicks in and takes this song to stadium anthem level, to the closing track "Billy's Got a Gun" that really makes us smell the "Danger in the Air" until the melodramatic ending with the "Bang, Bang" and the somewhat hallucinatory electronic drum loop.
One of the main features of this album, which will immediately catch your ears, is the extensive emphasis given to the vocal harmonies. The vocals are brought forward in the mix and serve as an additional musical instrument in the overall production. In our humble opinion, this is what sets this album apart from the rest of the "New Wave of British heavy metal" bands, that were active at the time. Singer Joe Elliott gives an impressive purposeful display that showcases his vocal diversity, which ranges from rough and hoarse to soft and caressing. But the highlight is the background vocals of all the other members of the band plus producer Matt Lange, who form a sort of escort choir for Elliott and well justifies the nickname they received in the credits - "The Leppardettes".
This album has produced some of the greatest songs in the band's huge repertoire, even compared to the mega hits that will arrive on the next album "Hysteria". Songs such as "Photograph", "Rock of Ages", "Too Late for Love" and "Foolin'", became memorable anthems and were played incessantly on various radio stations and MTV, giving the band dizzying success and placing it in the front line of The best-selling bands in the world.
It is interesting to note that the album features two surprising session players. The first was keyboardist Tony Kaye known as one of the founders of the progressive rock band "Yes". The second was Thomas Dolby, the Synth-Pop and New Wave artist who assisted Matt Lange in the production and played keyboards on the album as "Booker T. Boffin". Dolby, who just finished working on his hit "She Blinded Me With Science", so he wanted to hide behind a fake name, so as not to confuse his "Poppy" solo career with the fact that he plays on a Heavy Metal album.