35 years on: Def Leppard seeks information on ‘Hysteria’

You probably misunderstood one of the Def Leppard‘s most popular songs in all these years.

On the surface, “Hysteria,” the fourth single and title track from the band’s fourth album, sounds like a typical 80s love ballad. Singer Joe Elliott sings about his feelings when his beloved is around. Pretty straightforward, right? Not quite. Guitarist Phil Collen told Song facts the song is really about something more spiritual.

“Not many people know that, because it sounds like you just get hysterical, but that’s actually what it’s about [finding enlightenment]” said Collen. “It’s about finding this deeper thing, whether you believe it or not. It’s just a matter of finding it’.

Part of the song’s success is reflected in how the band fully leaned into the burgeoning pop-rock style that was overtaking 80s music at the time. When Def Leppard returned to the studio in 1984 to begin recording Hysteriaproducer Robert John “Mutt” Lange wanted to make it a rock version of Michael Jackson‘s Thriller where every song could be a hit single.

According to Collen, Jackson’s cross-pollination of R&B, pop and rock inspired Lange to push the band to do the same. Def Leppard had dabbled with pop sounds in their 1983 hit “Photograph,” but “Hysteria” marked the band’s commitment to abandon the high-octane rock sound that drove their earlier releases for a more pop-oriented tone that had more mainstream appeal.

Watch the music video for Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’

Elliott listed in 2002 that there are 11 guitar parts layered throughout the song, but that’s it Steve Clark‘s plucking melody that creates the mysterious yet alluring atmosphere that houses the track. And the catchy chorus that helped make “Hysteria” a hit wasn’t even included in the band’s original version of the song. In the Songfacts interview, Collen recalled being shocked when he and his bandmates showed the song to Lange and the producer told them it was incomplete.

“We were in Dublin and Rick Savage started playing this tune,” Collen recalled. “So I immediately started singing, ‘Out of touch, out of reach.’ That was literally the first thing that came out of my mouth. He said it was cool, and he says, ‘I was told tonight ,” throughout this second section.

“We sat down and played acoustic guitar, sang over the demo, and we thought that was supposed to be the chorus. And Mutt Lange said, “OK, that’s a great verse, a great bridge. Now we need the chorus.” Uh, OK. So we sat down and we messed around a little bit. Steve got this idea, and Joe came and sang this thing, and before you know it, the song was pretty much done .”

After its release as a single in November 1987, “Hysteria” peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became a fixture at Def Leppard’s live shows.

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