Def Leppard – On Through The Night – 40 Years Old

Text by Phil Ashdown.

It seems incredible that Def Leppard’s debut album was released in the UK forty years ago today.

The band had built quite a reputation as a live band over the previous couple of years and had been booked to support AC/DC on their Highway To Hell UK tour in late 1979. They were recognised as one of the leaders of the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, a movement of young, home grown hard rock and heavy metal bands that had been championed by Sounds music paper journalist Geoff Barton.

Leppard had been signed by Peter Mensch of Leber-Krebs Management, who then became their manager and helped secure a major label recording contract with Phonogram/Vertigo in the UK and Mercury Records in the US.

On Through The Night was released on 14th March 1980 and was produced by Tom Allom who had worked on Judas Priest’s live album Unleashed In The East and in a strange coincidence also produced Priest’s British Steel that was awaiting release.

The album charted at No15 in the UK album charts and featured re-recorded versions of Rocks Off and Overture that had been included on Leppard’s original independently released EP – The Def Leppard EP.

 

Wasted, Hello America and Rock Brigade were released as singles, although this version of Wasted is a different recording to the one that appeared on the album, as is its B-side Hello America.

The album received very positive reviews with Canadian writer Martin Popoff praised the album for being “one of the most polished and savvy of the NWOBHM”, evoking the sound of “acts like Thin Lizzy, Queen, UFO and even Mott The Hoople”.

Rolling Stone’s David Fricke reviewed the album favourably stating “guitarists Pete Willis and Steve Clark shoot from the hip, packing their licks into tight, three-minute pop arrangements”, and that lead singer Joe Elliott “wails wonderfully in a resonating tenor, fortified by backup harmonies and Tom Allom’s battering-ram production.” He concluded that the band “displays a wisdom beyond their years” in mixing melody and heaviness, coming up with an album that “is awfully impressive for a band making its vinyl debut.”

The spoken word intro to “When the Walls Came Tumbling Down” was performed by Dave Cousins of Strawbs fame, although Joe Elliott had done the spoken portion in earlier live performances and demo recordings that showed up on some early bootlegs. In his biography, Cousins claims that he did his best Laurence Olivier impersonation for the song’s intro.

The album peaked at an impressive No15 in the UK and No51 in the Billboard Top 100.

Some fans still consider the album to be their best, despite their later commercial success while others feel that is a respectable debut, showcasing the group’s talents as an up-and-coming unit. Bear in mind it would only take a couple of albums more for them to truly fulfil their ambitions (along with a little help from uber-producer Mutt Lange!).

Here’s how singer Joe Elliott described the album in a recent interview…

“You know a lot of people have got a great affection for that record, but as I always say, ‘Yeah, but it’s hardly the first Van Halen or Boston album is it? The one good thing about it was it gave us a launchpad to get better from. …. We couldn’t get Mutt to do the album, he wasn’t available. It was fun working with Tom Allom, but we spent most of the time drinking wine and having a good time as opposed to making a good record.” Love it or hate it, the album is still part of the fabric that ultimately made Def Leppard the global success they are today. It contains some pretty good rock songs in Wasted, Rock Brigade and It Don’t Matter. Joe Elliott considers Wasted to be the standout track, but who can forget Hello America that introduced the band and their music to US audiences.

In an interview with Rolling Stone Elliott describes the origin of that song….

“We had never been to America at that point. I was working in a factory with lots of nuts and bolts and no natural light. But there was a lot of downtime and I would sit around writing stuff. With this one, I had seen a TV show the night before, something where they showed tree-lined boulevards of L.A. You see all these palm trees and go, “Wow this is a lot sexier that Sheffield!” That’s where that lyric came from – “Well I’m takin’ me a trip down to Californ-i-a”.

Well those youthful daydreams and aspirations eventually resulted in becoming part of a band that would endure hatred from the UK press, personal heartbreak and huge global success that is now a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Album line-up

Joe Elliott – vocals

Steve Clark – guitars

Pete Willis – guitars

Rick Savage – bass

Rick Allen – drums

Tracklisting

Rock Brigade

Hello America

Sorrow Is A Woman

It Could Be You

Satellite

When the Walls Come Tumblin’ Down

Wasted

Rocks Off

It Don’t Matter

Answer To The Master

Overture

Leppard toured the UK throughout January to April, slowly building on their success and learning their stage craft in small venues around the country before heading off to America supporting the likes of AC/DC, Ted Nugent and Pat Travers. This schedule continued through the Summer with only one other UK date on the bill at Reading Festival on 24th August, performing before headliners, Whitesnake on the final day.

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