Def Leppard guitarist Phil Collen has reflected on making the band’s game-changing record ‘Hysteria,’ twenty-five years on from its release date.
Speaking with Music Radar, Collen said that to this day, he is still gob-smacked by how much the record cost to make. “Four and half-million dollars!” he remarked with a subtle laugh. “Which was ludicrous. Who knows what that would be in today’s dollars? We had to sell three million copies just to break even, and for a while, we didn’t know if we would.”
Collen added that after working on it for three years, he was happy just to have released ‘Hysteria’ and wasn’t particularly bothered about making a profit from it. “I thought, ‘If it sells one copy and my mom’s the only one that buys it, I’ll be happy.”
After hearing the record however, Collen knew Def Leppard was onto something big. “It was the best thing I’d ever heard. I was completely satisfied. I was so proud and pleased. I can still listen to it and feel the same way.”
Def Leppard originally planned to record ‘Hysteria’ with producer Robert John “Mutt” Lange. However, at the same time the ‘Hysteria’ recording sessions were scheduled to begin, Mutt was working with The Cars on the album ‘Heartbeat City.’ As a result, the band decided to use noted Meat Loaf writer and producer Jim Steinman. The partnership, however, was short lived. “It seemed like a good idea at first,” Collen said, “but it just didn’t work out at all. So we waited for Mutt.”
Collen credits Mutt as being one of the reason’s Def Leppard were so successful. “I remember he said to us once, ‘You can be a cool band, a good band or a great band. If you want to be a great band, you ave to work harder than anybody else.’ That was it right there. That explains why we went that extra mile, and it was all because of Mutt.”
Collen recalled that Mutt had a vision of making the album the hard rock version of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’ “Mutt wanted to open us up to any kind of sound, make us like a hybrid in a way, and we thought that was really exciting,” he explained. “A lot of rock albums can sound thin and reedy. But listen to hip-hop albums and R&B records – they sound huge! We found that we could get a lot of crossover appeal by making the songs big and open.”
The innovative producer was even able to convince Def Leppard to stop using their much loved Marshall amps. “Steve and I were working on these elaborate, very intricate guitar orchestrations, and if you’re layering 15 or 16 guitar tracks on a song, Marshalls just aren’t going to work. Using the Rockmans worked very well in that we could fit part upon part upon part, even separate strings. We might have sacrificed some of the hard rock balls element you’d get with a Marshall or something, but the melody and hooks and tone to each part really came through with the Rockmans. It wasn’t all Rockmans, though – there were some parts where we used small Gallien-Krueger amps.”