Def Leppard – Hysteria
Released August 3rd, 1987 on Mercury Records
Has there ever been a rock band as completely on-the-nose as Def Leppard is on Hysteria? I mean really just taking the idea of Big Dumb Rock and making it Bigger, Dumber, and Rockier. It’s not enough to have an album with the ultimate power ballad, “Love Bites” on it. Not at all. They also had to have the ultimate arena rock anthem, the stripped-down-to-essence rock ‘n’ roll fist-pumper “Pour Some Sugar On Me”. And the sanitized stadium lust of “Animal”. And the pure butter melodies of “Armageddon It”. And the Eighties rock heroics of the title track. And “Rocket”. And “Women”. It was wall-to-wall singles, all chart-reaching arena pounders without any depth beyond having a good time and sticking your fist in the air. And yet it’s coming was as hard-won as any hardscrabble up-and-coming band’s might have been.
In 1983 the band released Pyromania. Their previous two albums had established them as a driving force in the poppier side of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, the sprawling, dank counterweight to the British punk movement that also featured Union Jack-wavers Iron Maiden and Diamond Head, from whose discography Metallica grokked most of their moves. Pyromania was a huge success in America, driven by hit singles “Photograph” and “Rock Of Ages”; the band only released three singles despite selling towering piles of records because they didn’t want to flood the market and undercut the inevitable follow-up. That follow-up, Hysteria, wouldn’t arrive for another four years. The band, who had recorded with Mutt Lange for Pyromania, wanted to go bigger and tapped Jim Steinman, the songwriter for Meatloaf. Steinman wanted to record a more visceral, in-your-face Def Leppard; the band had hired him, however, because they wanted a clean, crisp, gigantic arena rock album. As singer Joe Elliot pointed out, Steinman wrote Meatloaf, but it was Todd Rundgren that produced him. Those early efforts were frustrated by the gap between band and producer and then were cut short in 1984 when drummer Rick Allen flipped his Corvette on New Year’s Eve and ended up losing an arm.
The idea that the drummer from Def Leppard only has one arm is a sort of rock ‘n’ roll cliche now (thanks to the Bloodhound Gang) but getting Allen back up to speed was both time-consuming and technologically challenging. Thankfully the band’s label was awash in money thanks to Pyromania and so the latter proved to be no serious issue. Allen’s kit became a hybrid traditional and electronic kit, with MIDI triggers built in that would play the sounds that Allen would typically have used his left arm for. Learning to use it was the harder part, and most of 1985 was spent just getting the band back into fighting form. By the end of 1985 Allen was on top of his game again, and Mutt Lange had returned to produce new recording sessions. 1986 would also prove to be a challenging year, since Lange himself crashed his car (with less injuries than Rick Allen suffered) and Joe Elliott somehow managed to contract the mumps.
The end result of all of that, however, was a bona fide hit machine, a chart topper that ruled the airwaves for the end of the Eighties. Mutt Lange has said that he and the band wanted to record a crossover album that would have wide pop appeal, like a NWOBHM Thriller, and that’s pretty much exactly what Hysteria is. Def Leppard would hit the Billboard Top 40 with ten consecutive singles, seven from Hysteria, beginning with “Animals”. They would never again achieve such success, although they always managed to pop up in the charts from time to time. Hysteria is about as pop as metal got in the 1980s, scrubbed clean to the point where there’s really nothing metal about it at all. Still, it’s instantly recognizable and a pillar of Eighties production; Mutt Lange would go on to use the tricks he pulled on Hysteria to inform his then-wife Shania Twain’s country-crossover success.
Eric B. & Rakim – Paid In Full
Released July 7th, 1987 on 4th & B’way Records and Island Records
Is Paid In Full the peak of hip hop’s first Golden Age? No, because saying that implies that there has ever been a period in hip hop that couldn’t have been considered a great time for the genre (ok, ok, 1995-1999 weren’t mind-blowing but there was a lot of great stuff going on in the underground, etc. etc.) It is a definite guide-post of the Eighties, however, and it pioneered some stuff that would become standard in hip hop from 1987 onward. Rakim’s rapping is the key thing: he pioneered using internal rhymes, rather than the end-of-the-meter type that had been (and to an extent still is) the most popular way to rhyme in hip hop. Internal rhyming allowed Rakim to paint his words across the beats, rather than tie himself to them, which made his interplay with Eric B’s turntables that much more thrilling. It’s like hearing jazz give birth to itself (fitting, since Rakim was a huge Coltrane fan), and any great lyricist in the past thirty years has mentioned Rakim at least in passing in one interview or another. Rakim and Big Daddy Kane’s more intricate rhyme structures gave Marshall Mathers the inspiration to build his own style, and everyone knows that Eminem is the standard when sneering white boys want to assert that hip hop is just about “lyrics” and “flow”. On second thought, forget it. Rhyming was a mistake.
Eric B, meanwhile, lays down a solid foundation of beats that will rattle the foundations of whatever building you happen to play them in. They are also the product of a serious sampling jones, and the argument over whether sampling is a legitimate form of expression stems from here; James Brown himself sued the group over a sample in “Eric B Is President”. The ideas he put together here – gritty beats, thick bass, soul samples, horns, whistles, etc. – have an obvious if somewhat indirect influence on RZA, who was himself the most influential producer of his era. “Eric B. Is President” is still the funkiest track here, but others more than hold their own, notably “I Ain’t No Joke”, “Move The Crowd”, and the title track.
Ironically, Eric B. sued Island/Def Jam and Russell Simmons in 2003, alleging that neither he nor Rakim had ever been paid in full for the royalties from the album.
Napalm Death – Scum
Released July 1st, 1987 on Earache Records
Back in high school, my English teacher was big into heavy Seventies rock music. He had a cassette-player stereo he would keep in class that he would play old stuff on; incidentally, this is where I first heard the glory that is Master Of Reality. In time of course we put our own generation’s heavy music on, trying to introduce him to the evolution of what he’d grown up on. We put on Master Of Puppets and he remarked that it just sounded like Black Sabbath sped up.
Lord only knows what he would have said if we’d put Scum on. If Metallica took Sabbath riffs (filtered through a thick NWOBHM asthetic, of course) and concentrated them into pure modular speed, then Napalm Death did the same thing but on a hyper level, creating black holes of metal riffs that were played with such speed and power that they, too, ate light. This is where grindcore was born, and if Anal Cunt would later turn the genre into a stupid joke, Napalm Death came barreling out of the gate in all seriousness, spitting politically-inflected fire in all directions. Thrash metal, the scene that birthed Metallica et al., was a fusion of Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and hardcore punk rock. Grindcore was the same idea, only taken to it’s logical, extreme conclusion. The guitar, bass, drums, and vocals all speed by in a corrosive blur that carved out new spaces for metal, often in under one minute. Perhaps the most fully artistically realized moment, “You Suffer”, takes place in the space of two seconds (making it the world’s shortest song, at least according to the folks at the Guinness book).
Scum was not the first grindcore album, technically (the sounds that went into it had been brewing for a few years) but it was the first one to get a slightly more widespread audience than the six guys down at the basement hole that passed as an experimental metal club. It found an audience not only with metalheads unafraid of a little speed, but also among noise/ambient heads and the hardcore weird experimental wing of the jazz cats. It became quite influential in it’s own right, providing a guidestone for bands that thought even the death and black metal scenes in the 1990s was too tame.