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The History of Def Leppard

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Formed in Sheffield, England in 1977, Def Leppard spearheaded the new wave of British metal with their hard rock sound. They had their American breakthrough in the early 80s with the album, “Pyromania,” and continued to make music despite the loss of band members and numerous tragedies. In fact, in 1987, they found even more success with the “Hysteria” record. Though their popularity waned during the grunge movement, they gained new found fame in the new century thanks to VH1 and interest from contemporary artists. In this video, we take a look at the history of Def Leppard.

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They're hot, sticky sweet, from their heads to their feet. Welcome to, and today we're taking a look at the history of Def Leppard.


English rock band Def Leppard formed in Sheffield, England in 1977. Following lineup changes, the band's early personnel consisted of vocalist Joe Elliott, guitarists Pete Willis and Steve Clark, bassist Rick Savage and drummer Rick Allen.


Record labels quickly caught on after the release of their 1979 self-titled EP. With that effort, Def Leppard joined hard rock bands like Iron Maiden to spearhead the New Wave of British Metal in the late 1970s. Their full-length debut, On Through The Night, dropped the next year.

Sophomore Album

However, it wasn’t until producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange joined forces with the band for 1981's High ‘n’ Dry that they began to develop their signature sound. That album yielded the ballad “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak,” which was accompanied by one of the first heavy metal music videos to receive considerable MTV airplay.

American Breakthrough

While recording their next effort, the band sacked Pete Willis due to his drinking problem, and hired guitarist Phil Collen. That move came just in time for their breakthrough American album: 1983's Pyromania. With that record, Def Leppard became pioneers in 1980s hard rock and glam metal, alongside bands like Warrant and Bon Jovi. Their success was further solidified by the platinum-certified single “Photograph,” which eventually sold over 10 million copies.

Rick Allen Accident

As their U.S. popularity soared, Def Leppard embarked on a tour that saw them go from an opening act to headliners. In 1984, the band began recording their next album, when disaster struck: on December 31st, drummer Rick Allen was driving his Corvette when he veered off the road and crashed, leaving him without his left arm.

Thunder God Returns
Amazingly, he stayed with the band and learned to play with his left foot using a specially designed electric drum kit. Within two years, it was clear that the Thunder God was back in fine form when he performed at 1986's Monsters of Rock Festival.


Fans were greeted by Def Leppard's next album, Hysteria, in 1987. In the UK, the Mutt Lange-produced record went straight to number one, but by contrast it had a slow climb up U.S. charts. That was until the release of “Pour Some Sugar on Me.” That popular single went to number two on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and became an '80s rock standard. Once the power ballad “Love Bites” hit number one, this record was on pace to outsell Pyromania. Thanks to Hysteria's three-year run on the charts, it sold over 20 million units and prompted a massive worldwide tour.

Steve Clark's Death

To avoid lengthy breaks between albums, the band was soon back in-studio. But tragedy struck again when Steve Clark was found dead from an accidental drug and alcohol overdose in 1991. This was a massive loss as Clark was behind many of the riffs that formed the band's signature sound. However, Def Leppard regrouped.


Though Collen had lost the other half of the Terror Twins, he played both guitar parts on 1992's Adrenalize. By that time, the music world had changed: the grunge movement was assaulting airwaves, and Def Leppard's characteristic harmonies and effects-heavy guitars were no longer the flavor of the day. The effort was still highly anticipated, but it failed to match the success of their previous two records by only moving seven million copies. Former Dio and Whitesnake guitarist Vivian Campbell joined the band during the ensuing world tour.

Later Albums

Def Leppard continued releasing albums throughout the years, but were unable to duplicate the popularity of their heyday. Following the experimental Slang, they went back to basics on 1999's gold-certified Euphoria. 2002's pop-influenced X sold poorly.

Rise in Popularity

During this period, Def Leppard found fame among younger generations after being the subject of several VH1 television projects and performing with contemporary artists like Taylor Swift. They also returned to the top ten with 2008's Songs From the Sparkle Lounge and released their first live album, Mirrorball, in 2011.

Lasting Success

Their iconic guitar riffs, distinctive vocals and classic lyrics have made them one of the most commercially-successful bands in history. Trends come and go, but Def Leppard has proven that – when it comes to rock – they are an “Animal.”

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