In retrospect, it was always going to happen for Def Leppard. Blessed with the talent and the tireless work ethic essential for survival, the hotly-tipped NWOBHM stars lit the touchpaper with the US Top 40 success of 1981’s High’n’Dry, but the fireworks really started when they released their incendiary third album, Pyromania, on January 20, 1983.
Joe Elliott and co had already laid much of the groundwork with High’n’Dry, shrewdly entrusting the record’s production to the estimable Robert John “Mutt” Lange. Renowned for his technical skill in the studio, and much in demand after helming AC/DC’s multi-million-selling Back In Black, Lange had refined Leppard’s rough-edged hard rock sound, assisting High’n’Dry’s stand-out – the slow-burning “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” – to become one of the first metal videos to achieve heavy rotation on the nascent MTV in 1982.
Their star firmly in the ascendency, Def Leppard reconvened with Lange to work on Pyromania, with former Girl guitarist Phil Collen replacing founding member Pete Willis during the sessions. The new line-up gelled immediately in the studio, emerging triumphant with an exuberant state-of-the-art rock record long on confidence and crammed with killer hooks.
Kicking off with the swerving guitar riffs and roaring choruses of the self-explanatory “Rock! Rock! (Till You Drop),” the supercharged Pyromania alternated between Def Leppard’s trademark high-octane rockers (“Stage Fright,” “Comin’ Under Fire,” the prowling “Die Hard The Hunter”) and polished, radio-friendly pop-metal hybrids such as “Photograph,” the scarf-waving “I Love Rock’n’Roll”-esque anthem “Rock Of Ages” and the yearning power ballad “Foolin’.”
The brash, yet streamlined sound of Pyromania soon snagged rave critical reviews, with Rolling Stone’s David Fricke praising the band for “meaning what they play” and for putting “much-needed fire back on the radio.” With “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak” having already raised Leppard’s Stateside profile, MTV also played a significant part in Pyromania’s subsequent success when lead single “Photograph” supplanted Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” as the channel’s most-requested clip.
After “Photograph” bagged the stalwart Yorkshire rockers their first US Top 20 hit, the mainstream capitulated. “Foolin’” and the undeniable “Rock Of Ages” both peaked inside the US Top 30, and Pyromania itself proved virtually unstoppable, hitting No.2 on the Billboard 200 and eventually moving a phenomenal 10 million copies in North America alone.
Seizing the moment, Def Leppard embarked on a mammoth world tour. Though kicking off in the UK, the Pyromania jaunt soon found the band blitzing ever-larger arenas over three consecutive North American legs. By the time they wowed 55,000 fans at the tour’s final mainland US date in San Diego, on September 17, 1983, Def Leppard could consider themselves fully-fledged superstars.