Def Leppard and the star-spangled gamble

Def Leppard
(Image credit: Chris Walter / Getty Images)

Too much, too soon – four words that summed up The New York Dolls’ career in a nit-haired nutshell. And for a while, at the turn of the 80s, that phrase could have applied to Def Leppard’s career as well.

Leppard enjoyed a meteoric rise between 79 and 80. One minute they were playing workingmen’s clubs in Sheffield. The next they were touring with the likes of AC/DC and Sammy Hagar. But then the dark mutterings began. Leppard, it was claimed, were getting too big for their pixie boots. Their aggressive new US management was manipulating them. Sod Britain, they were poised to sell their Steel City souls to the States. As if to ram that point home, they released a single called Hello America. And whaddya know, the letter ‘F’ in their logo even started to resemble a dollar sign…

Hello America, a jaunty but undemanding ditty, was never going to be Leppard’s finest hour. Produced by ‘Colonel’ Tom Allom, it was at least an improvement on a dull previous effort with Nick Tauber at the studio controls (Wasted, their debut single for Phonogram, which got to number 61 in the British charts). It was even a Top 50 single in the UK, getting to number 45.

But the following music press comment summed up the feelings of the time: ‘Def Leppard’s complete trust in the [music] business has rendered them useless‘. It turned out the band had wanted a superior song called Rock Brigade to be their single. But they’d capitulated to their record label who’d foisted the spangled-but-mangled Hello America upon them.

When Leppard played the Reading Festival in August 1980 they were bottled. But then along came producer Robert John ‘Mutt’ Lange for 1981’s High ’N’ Dry album. Suddenly, all was forgiven. ‘Mutt’ got them rocking again. Credibility duly restored.

But Hello America remains a blot on the band’s copybook. Just look at the sleeve. It encapsulates a brief moment in time when Def Leppard weren’t waving, they were drowning.

This was originally published in Classic Rock issue 84

Geoff Barton

Geoff Barton is a British journalist who founded the heavy metal magazine Kerrang! and was an editor of Sounds music magazine. He specialised in covering rock music and helped popularise the new wave of British heavy metal (NWOBHM) after using the term for the first time (after editor Alan Lewis coined it) in the May 1979 issue of Sounds.