Def Leppard's pre-1980 recordings

Although Def Leppard will always be remembered as the definitive pop-metal band of the 1980’s, they originally came from the late-‘70’s scene referred to as the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, which also gave rise to less melodic metal bands such as Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Def Leppard’s earliest work showed them in a somewhat different light than their classic mega-selling albums Pyromania (1983) and Hysteria (1987) did. Before they were produced by Mutt Lange, the band’s recordings had a slightly heavier and less polished sound. Joe Elliott’s vocals sounded quite different on these early recordings than they did years later. From the second Def Leppard album (1981’s High ‘n’ Dry) onward, Elliott sounded like he was partially influenced by AC/DC’s Brian Johnson. But these late-‘70’s recordings predate AC/DC’s Back In Black, and if you contrast these early Def Leppard recordings with their later work, it provides telling evidence of that AC/DC album’s impact on heavy metal.

One thing which Def Leppard never lacked is ambition. In 1979, the teenage band from Sheffield, England independently recorded and released their 3-song debut EP, having borrowed money from Elliott’s father to pay for studio time. The first song on the self-titled EP is “Ride Into The Sun”. It’s an energetic rocker that proves that the band did not need to rely on big-budget production to deliver thrills. “Ride Into The Sun” was re-recorded at least twice, first as the B-side to the 1987 “Hysteria” single, and again for the 1993 album Retro Active. The 1987 version has more power, and the Retro Active version received the most refined treatment, but the raw early version on this EP packs its own little punch. The other two tracks on the EP were “Getcha Rocks Off” and “The Overture”, both of which were re-recorded for the band’s 1980 debut album On Through The Night. “Getcha Rocks Off” has an exciting guitar attack, courtesy of original guitarists Steve Clark and Pete Willis, although it comes through clearer on the album version. The seven-and-a-half-minute “Overture” is a more complex prog-rock opus which gave an even larger picture of what these Sheffield teenagers were capable of doing. Although the EP version of the song is not as professional as the album version, the EP version has a more direct, down-to-earth feeling.

5/3/17 Update: In April 2017, a 4,000-copy limited edition vinyl reissue of the EP was released for Record Store Day 2017 (Bludgeon Riffola 5726672).

Between the recordings of The Def Leppard E.P. and On Through The Night, the band recorded at least seven other studio tracks for a scrapped project. In 1984, after Def Leppard achieved mega-stardom, their former managers Pete Martin and Frank Stuart-Brown released an unauthorized EP called First Strike, which contained seven tracks from these 1979 sessions. Subsequent legal action led to the EP being pulled from distribution. The two ex-managers were credited as the producers. Four of the seven tracks were re-recorded for On Through The Night; the other three never appeared on any official release.

All three of those obscure songs (“Heat Street”, “See The Lights”, and “Glad I’m Alive”) make a fairly good impression, particularly “See The Lights”. Although they sound a bit under-produced, the energetic guitar sound more than compensates, suggesting that these three songs could have been strong ones if they were re-recorded on one of the proper albums. In fact, inferior production is the only thing that keeps the other four tracks from being the equals of their respective versions on On Through The Night. The versions on First Strike are basically demos, but very good ones. “Wasted” does not pack as potent a punch as the better-produced album version, but the song’s unforgettable riff is intact. The leaner version of “Answer to the Master” is a standout on the EP.

Def Leppard - The Def Leppard E.P.

Def Leppard “The Def Leppard E.P.” EP (Bludgeon Riffola MSB 001) 1979

Track Listing:

1. Ride Into The Sun
2. Getcha Rocks Off
3. The Overture

Def Leppard - First Strike

Def Leppard “First Strike” EP (Flash 843007) 1984

Track Listing:

1. Heat Street
2. Answer to the Master
3. See the Lights
4. When the Walls Come Tumbling Down
5. Wasted
6. Sorrow Is A Woman
7. Glad I’m Alive