30 Years of Hysteria: DEF LEPPARD'S PHIL COLLEN DETAILS THE MAKING OF ONE OF ROCK'S HUGEST RECORDS

By Gold, Jude | Guitar Player, December 2017 | Go to article overview

30 Years of Hysteria: DEF LEPPARD'S PHIL COLLEN DETAILS THE MAKING OF ONE OF ROCK'S HUGEST RECORDS


Gold, Jude, Guitar Player


WHEN DEF LEPPARD RELEASED PYROMANIA IN 1983, the album was so successful that it was hard to imagine the British arena rockers would ever top it. Featuring radio hits such as "Photograph" and "Rock of Ages," Pyro immediately, ahem, caught fire, and went on to sell more than ten million copies in America alone.

But when it came time to start the next album, Def Leppard's producer the now legendary Robert John "Mutt" Lange revealed surprisingly lofty ambitions for the band.

"Mutt told ns, 'Every other rock band in the world is trying to make Pyromania 2, so let's do something different,'" says Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen. "He said, 'Let's do a rock version of Thriller, where we have seven singles, and we create a genre of our own. Let's make a record we're still talking about in 20 years.'"

The record that would come to pass was 1987's Hysteria, and it shattered even the most optimistic sales forecasts by going 25-times-platinum. And, as Collen points out, we're still talking about it 30 years later.

"We were doing rock without the rock-machismo attitude," explains Collen about the sessions. "I meet a lot of bands who shoot themselves in the foot because they're ego driven. But with us, it was like, 'Whatever makes the song great.' It harkened back to that whole Beatles thing, with George Martin saying, 'We're going to put strings here, and a brass band there.' It's inspiring not having limitations based on whatever genre your band is in. Any artist who's massively successful doesn't stay in a box."

To celebrate its 30th anniversary, Universal Music has re-mastered and re-released Hysteria in single-disc, multi-disc, and boxset formats. As an added treat for Guitar Player readers, the label also booked Studio A at Capitol Records in Hollywood so that Collen could show us how the riffs on the album were put together. When I arrived, Collen was cranking one of his signature-model Jackson Phil Collen PC1s through a Blackstar combo, playing powerful licks that could only emanate from the fingers of a veteran stadium rocker, all the while retaining the joyous abandon of a teenager rocking out in a guitar shop on Saturday morning. It seems that throughout the glories and tragedies of three-plus decades with Def Leppard, the guitar has never let Collen down. [Editor's Note: To hear the audio, listen to Jude Gold interview Collen on Episode 56 of Guitar Player's podcast, No Guitar Is Safe.]

How fun is it to play like that on a big stage through one of Def Leppard's huge P.A systems?

It's the best thing in the world. It's funny. People actually ask me, "Does it ever get old?" I'm like, "Are you insane? I'm nearly 60, and I'm allowed to do this in front of all those people." But, in many ways, what you're hearing right now sounds exactly like my giant rig--which is a Marshall, a Randall power amp that I've had since the '80s, and two EVH cabinets. My ultimate guitar tone is whatever I am playing through. I mean, we did most of the guitars on Hysteria through a Rockman. That album was done on a little transistor box!

So, there you were, with a producer who was already famous for the huge tube-amp tones on AC/DC's Back In Black, and he had you going direct. Did you think he had gone nuts?

A big reason we used the Rockman was we knew we were going to stack tons of guitars, and we didn't want a bunch of noise and hiss to build up. This was before Pro Tools, and as we were often putting 100 or more guitar and vocal tracks on the songs, we had to keep things super clean. For example, the intro lick on "Pour Some Sugar On Me" is four guitars--two tracks using my Jackson Soloist, and two using a Telecaster--all run through the Rockman. Another way we kept things clean was by always tracking the drums last. That was helpful, because once you finish the vocals and counter melodies, you can make sure there aren't any big fills or cymbal crashes getting in the way of things. …

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