It’s 1984 and MTV had changed the way people all over the world were exposed to new music. For the first time you might hear Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money” immediately followed by Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher” and this was not only – not - unusual, it was expected.
In those early years of MTV bands like Duran Duran and Human League were able to find international audiences that they never could have found had they been limited to the tightly formatted radio stations that were the rule of the day. The artists that had already been around for a while were mostly slow to adapt to the new medium of the music video but when they did, the party grew at a staggering rate so that you simply couldn’t be a music star without a video to go along with your latest single.
One of the biggest of those early MTV fueled acts was Def Leppard who went from being a loud, young and brash bunch of rockers from the city of Sheffield, England to one of the biggest bands in the world on the strength of songs such as “Rock of Ages,” “Foolin’” and of course, “Photograph.” Def Leppard had already been around for a few years when they came to the attention of legendary producer Robert “Mutt” Lange and that was a combination that combined to produce equally legendary results.
Pyromania, the second album with Lange on board, went to the number two spot on the charts while selling over ten million copies only being held off from the top spot by Micheal Jackson’s epic hit Thriller. Def Leppard had truly arrived.
Now that Def Leppard was at the top of their game and the charts the band, entered tax exile in Ireland to write and rehearse new material for the follow-up album. On New Years Eve 1984, the unthinkable happened for the biggest rock act of the day. Drummer Rick Allen wrecked his Chevrolet Corvette on a rural road in the process, losing his left arm.
For easily understood reasons, the future of Rick Allen and the band was in serious doubt.
In a highly unusual move for a band of the stature of Def Leppard in the early 1980′s, or any band for that matter, they all decided to wait for Allen to heal and to see if their friend would be able to continue as a drummer or even as a member in some other position. Rick Allen did not disappoint.
Allen started working with electric drum manufacturer Simmons and with the wonders of then cutting edge technology as well as a complete relearning of how to play the drum set with only one arm, they developed a system where Allen could use multiple foot pedals with his left foot to duplicate what his left hand had done before. After a dry run concert with a back-up drummer on site, ( just in case,) Allen was so enthusiastic and solid behind his hybrid drum set that the back-up drummer was not only not used, he was dismissed and the thought of a back-up drummer never came up again.
That’s when Def Leppard returned to the studio again with “Mutt” Lange behind the console. The third collaboration between Daf Leppard and Lange produced the biggest album of their career. Hysteria.
To describe Hysteria as a big album would not quite do it justice. It has sold in excess of twenty million copies and was a number one album in England, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Canada as well as the United States. This time there had been not only a three year wait between albums but there also was no Michael Jackson Thriller to keep them out of that number one spot.
After such a long wait that included Lange taking an additional three months just for mixing, Hysteria was one of the most highly performed and polished albums of the rock era. And more importantly, it truly rocks from front to back.
“Armageddon It” was the final song recorded for the project and there’s perhaps a bit of overflowing enthusiasm in it. Lange has always been one of the most difficult and demanding producers to work with and even when producing musical miracles, most bands and artists can’t wait for the process to be over with – to get away from Lange.
Opening with a quick guitar riff, “Armageddon It” soon flows with Rick Savage’s bass and the wholly electronic sounds of Rick Allen’s new kit. Lange had spent enormous amounts of time perfecting the drum sounds to take the harsh edge of of the computer generated sounds and succeeded marvelously. They don’t sound like the electronic drums of the day, I know because I still have my early Simmons set in my garage, but they don’t sound like a conventional acoustic set either. Lange had made them into something else, almost a new instrument.
Allen’s playing style to my ear, actually improved from his earlier work. He’s tighter with his fills and the back beat is more consistent while also finding new ways to do things rhythmically that perhaps couln’t even be done the same way with a conventional drum set – and two arms.
“Ya better come inside when you’re ready to
But no chance if ya don’t wanna dance
You like four letter words when you’re ready to
But then you won’t ‘cos you know that you can.”
Now this of course is not terribly apocalyptic. It’s more of a silly poppy love song with a threatening name. So I think the Armageddon must really come from the music since the words never quite arrive at disaster.
“Yeah, but are you gettin’ it? – Armageddon it!
Ooh, really gettin’ it? – Yes, Armageddon it!”
OK, so not much real Armageddon here lyrically.
Once we arrive at the chorus this is really where the fun starts. Steve Clark and Phil Collen’s guitars are layered together with both picking through chords in opposition to the other. The fullness of the guitars is impressive while Savage keeps plowing straight through ignoring everything else in his path. Allen holds it all together with his well placed kick drum and tom-tom fills.
All in all, quite satisfying to listen to even twenty five years later.
When the time comes for Steve Clark’s guitar solo, (right about the 3:05 mark,) his guitar initially sounds like it got dropped in from another record. Lange keeps the listener quite off balance in this mix which adds to the excitement. Starting out with what sound more like chord riffs from James Honeyman Scott of The Pretenders’ first two albums, Clark’s guitar then develops into a quick flourish of fast and intricate picking that you would expect from a heavy metal guitarist. Then something else interesting happens to Clark’s guitar sound. Right about the 3:20 mark the tone changes and his guitar sounds nearly orchestral. It’s a very wild transformation of styles and sounds.
The remainder of “Armageddon It” runs and flows along for another two minutes of powerful flash and show while also being one of singer Joe Elliot’s best vocals. Another thing to really relish in “Armageddon It” is the multi-layered harmony parts that Elliot and the guys put together. It’s exceedingly tight and instantly identifiable as Def Leppard.
“Mutt” Lange may be difficult to work with but the results, whether with AC/DC and their Back in Black album or any of the three albums Lange produced with Def Leppard in their prime, the depth of sound in the mix and the extremely high standards of musicianship that Lange required of the bands pay out huge dividends. All these years later they still sound fresh and exciting. (If not very apocalyptic.)