How Def Leppard drew inspiration from their 70s idols for a new album
Def Leppard continues their tradition of honoring their influences with their latest release Diamond Star Haloswhat guitarist Phil Collen calls a concept album.
The album title nods to Def Leppard’s love of T. Rex, and there are also references to Mott the Hoople and David Bowie. (Former Bowie pianist Mike Garson even appears on two tracks.)
Collen channels many of his guitar heroes, including Mick Ronson, on the LP. For “From here to eternity», which closes the album, which he borrows from Ritchie Blackmore and Michael Schenker, « two of my favorite guitarists ».
There’s a lot to dissect as to what came from where, but there are also plenty of songs that sound like the classic Def Leppard. See “Fire It Up”, the latest single and others like the album opener “Take What You Want” and “Kick”.
The guitarist shared ideas for the album, as well as memories of Motley Crue and David Bowie, during a chat with UCR.
The tour with Motley Crue finally seems to be happening. I was wondering what your memories are of hanging out with the guys back then.
Steve Clark, Tommy Lee, Bobby Blotzer [of Ratt] and I all went on Bobby’s boat to Catalina Island. It was the mid 80’s and we were all really drunk. We went to rent these little go-kart things and it was hysterical. The whole day was just bliss. It was really fun. We were four giant kids acting like giant kids, you know? We hung out quite a bit, actually, in the 80s, mostly with Tommy. I remember me and Steve going down to [visit when] Motley was rehearsing. I think we jammed with Nikki [Sixx] and Tommy, me and Steve, once, just the four of us. It was just great fun. I have great memories, actually, with a lot of guys and stuff like that. Especially in the mid 80’s.
Tommy Lee and Steve Clark seem like a lot of personalities in the same room.
Absolutely. Steve was very shy, actually. He was just a really funny guy and also a really sweet soul. People have a completely different image when they see him on stage, because he’s just a little outgoing and all. But he was actually the opposite. He was just very sweet.
It’s great that you have Mike Garson on this new Def Leppard album, playing some stuff.
I think sane aladdin is probably my favorite Bowie album. It was the pinnacle of what he did. Hunky-dory there’s obviously wonderful songwriting, but he’s still trying to find himself, he’s the long-haired hippie. In one year, Bowie went from Hunky-dory at Ziggy Stardust, but he still tries to understand. I think with sane aladdin, it’s much more mature as a songwriter and as an entity. It’s touching things. He tells stories. “Demanding Billy Dolls / And Other Friends of Mine“, it’s songwriting and his experiences come together. Unlike Ziggy Stardust, where he writes about a fictional character. It may be about him, but it’s still fictional. In sane aladdin, these are real people he talks about and sings about. I noticed a difference in songwriting, material, playing. Ronson is outrageous on this album. I love stuff. You know, “Panic in Detroit” and all that. “Smiling Lady Soul!” When I found out that Mike Garson was going to play on “Goodbye for Good This Time”, Joe [Elliott] said, “I think it should be an acoustic solo.
[My playing] is dedicated to Mick Ronson and the solo of “Lady Grinning Soul” and it has the same pianist on it. So it just blew me away, right there. I fashioned it on an acoustic and wrote [Joe] and he said, “Yeah, you have to use that.” [But] it must be more expensive, can you set it up? He said, “Take your Neumann U87 and put it two feet from where you are and find the right spot.” So I did and it sounds good. I had my Ramirez Classical Spanish acoustic and that’s what [you’re hearing]. The solo is sort of based on this “Lady Grinning Soul” solo by Mick.
Listen to Def Leppard’s “Goodbye For Good This Time”
The album itself sounds like the one you might have found in a record store in the 70s.
This is a concept album. I know it’s not a popular thing these days, but it really is, in the classic sense. The songs all have a common thread. When we were writing them, they all started going back to why we got into music. The album sort of naturally evolved or devolved, actually. It was like, [there’s] lots of references to David Bowie, T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, Queen, a lot of those things kept coming up while we were writing the songs. Joe and I would always refer to when we really indoctrinated ourselves into the music we love. It was between 1971 and 1974. Those were really important years for us. We always called it, “hubcap diamond star halo.” We referred to it because it sort of summed up the situation. When it came to a title, I thought, why not use that reference anyway? Because it really is. It was the perfect thing. Even the cover, there is a guy called Oli Munden who invented it.
The label brought it. We were chatting about it and talking about the vibe and again it naturally evolved into this stuff. He came up with these images. He said, “You can use different images for different songs,” or different feelings related to this thing. We had Anton [Corbijn] involved [with the visuals as well], so everything was very at that point and time, bringing it back to 2022. It was perfect, really. I’m really glad it’s a double album. This is our first double album, you can open it. I remember looking at the artwork on a record and reading the stuff and saying “Wow, that’s really cool” and immersing myself in the whole thing – the art of the music and the artwork of the cover, it’s very important.
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There is nothing culpable in these pleasures.