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The story has been told many times, by the late-70’s the big rock icons became clumsy, uninspired and predictable, times were changing and so did the British scene, audiences demanded straighter heavier music after punk exploded, which people like Uriah Heep, Status Quo, UFO or Queen couldn’t offer. A new generation of young musicians emerged, setting the rules for the next decade rock and metal standards, mostly known as the NWOBHM. Incredibly but true, Def Leppard were once part of it, very admired and influential before they became a parody of themselves for the money. They were one of the earliest groups of the movement to come out, putting out that vital year for the wave, 1980, their debut On Through The Night. Of course, as most of their peers, they still had to evolve to reach their own sound, getting rid of the 70’s classic rock clichés to offer something more innovative. Certainly, this is one of those records you can perfectly judge by its cheesy cover.
Unlike other compatriots, Def Leppard’s sound was very commercial and mellow from the beginning, intentionally casual and accessible, constructed without great technique, significant velocity or lethal riffs. Elliot & co. push away any kind of punkish influence, they prefer taking inspiration from the preceding decade famous big hard rock daddies (I once saw one of these guys wearing a Judas Priest t-shirt, unbelievable…), actually repeating their obsolete ways. For instance, “Hello America” or “It Don’t Matter” are lacking the inventiveness and new patterns that made the NWOBHM distinct and refreshing, tempos are still quite weighty and riffs slightly bluesy, though the simplicity of Leppard’s methodology denies totally the complexity 70’s rockers used to display, as usual. Definitely, it becomes clearer they ain’t particularly skilled musicians or inspired song-writers, their easy pop-rock concept doesn’t demand virtuosism or technique, tunes as “Satellite” show an evocating uniformity of structures and riffs, which get very repetitive and exhausting, offering no variation or progression, reduced to accompany those annoying comical choruses. The band puts generally bigger emphasis on vocals, even though you can surprisingly find some decent instrumental sequences on tracks like the lengthy “Overture”, which starts like a Boston’s “More Than A Feeling” rip-off with its same chords but unexpectedly revealing a competent diversity of structures and tempo shifts later, or “When The Walls Came Tumblin' Down”, which features a few elaborated arrangements - exceptions however among a song-list that provides tediousness and mediocrity in general. Not even the most dynamic titles, “Rocks Off” and “It Could Be You” improve the result of this musically weak attempt, once again getting too repetitive and abusing of the same 3-note riff during the whole composition. And for those who didn’t know, this group was already making silly ballads long before the infamous “Love Bites”, yet “Sorrow Is A Woman” includes no electronic/disco/dance music elements yet.
These tunes are very generic, unoriginal and technically poor, maybe there are a couple of listenable exceptions, some instrumental series might be well-executed and some solos are kinda solid and creative, but Def Leppard as I said have no ideas and ambition, instead of putting emphasis on the instrumental section, they give vocals excessive control, keeping structures untouched mostly and providing no versatile riff changes, negative elements that always made their music so lame and terrible, ideal to satisfy hits radio stations standards on other hand. In the beginning, Saxon and Iron Maiden on their respective debuts were also deprived of certain inspiration and characteristic identity, performing explicitly easy songs too but at least they displayed a good level of musicianship, motivation and attitude, instrumentally convincing and much more ambitious than these guys. Yes, “Overture” is an exception in the pack, kinda pretentious, tough the trademark Leppard weak spots soon affect its continuity and consistency, making it overlong and unfocused. They sound more modern than most 70’s rock bands (in general like Aerosmith having a bad day), their rhythms are looser and they refuse any kind of complexity but they lack the grace, determination and attitude, most of all, that made the NWOBHM special and challenging. No aggression, nothing to say in those empty lyrics, no fascinating imagery or skills - it’s hard to believe these guys ever took part on the early-80’s British movement. It’s true for most bands of that early phase it took time to achieve their distinctive sound but Leppard would repeat these incompetent formulas again, even emulating and ripping-off someone else (AC/DC)’s style on the following catastrophe High ‘N’ Dry, another expression of mediocrity, evident absence of creativity. So it didn’t seem these songs contributed to consolidate their own sound and essence, the tenuous grace of stuff like “Wasted” or “Rock Brigade” would soon disappear in favor of explicitly commercial schemes and arrangements.
With so many convincing bands around that would change the history of rock and metal forever, it’s hard to understand how these guys made a difference and got so far while others musically stronger would lack success and recognition. From the very beginning, Def Leppard pushed away most NWOBHM characteristics and preferred to make polite cheesy music for the masses, never really crossing the thin line between hard rock and heavy metal but that didn’t matter for them as long as they hit the charts and sold records, no matter how lame their music became. The opening track “Hello America” prophesized the massive acclamation in the U.S. with those silly lyrics, though it would take a couple of years yet till they definitely sold out and achieved their crushing success…does anybody remember On Through The Night anyway?
Unbeknownst to any "80's Hair Metal" fanatic, Def Leppard had come into this world like a hurricane, delivering powerful NWOBHM sounds and creating some very fine metal. Def Leppard denies the fact that they were once a metal band, but they're just ashamed that they had talent in the first place. What do they mean they "never really were a metal band"? Of course they were! Want proof? Well, here it is; "On Through the Night". This is the album that everybody should be looking for, rather than the albums from Def Leppard's muzak days like "Adrenalize" or "Euphoria". It contains talents and hooks that are never really heard on any other Def Leppard album, making it unique. Unfortunately, This is pretty much the only album out of Def Leppard's career that delivers the goods nicely without any influence of selling out.
Despite its cheesy album cover, "On Through the Night" is one of only two Def Leppard albums in which guitarists Steve Clark and Pete Willis extend their talents to the fullest. Clark's riffing skills are evident in songs like "Wasted", a song which has a riff that actually requires some skill to perform. Let's compare the main riff of "Wasted" to the main riff of one of Def Leppard's "classics", "Armageddon It", off their "Hysteria" album. "Armageddon It" is easier to play, cos you don't even need to move beyond the two strings that make up the power chords used to make the riff. In "Wasted", you have to strike the power chords once while keeping a chugging E-note going between playing each chord, and that means using another string of the guitar. Which one requires more skill? A) the one clearly made to sell records and woo fangirls, or B) the one that takes some time to perfect, and was made for the love of music rather than moneymaking? If you guessed B, than congratulations! You've guessed the right answer! This shows that Def Leppard actually did put effort into some of their music, but got lazy in later years.
Skillful riffing is also present in songs like "Answer to the Master" and "Rocks Off". Their riffs don't rely on chords so much as single notes. That kind of riff never really appears on any Def Leppard album other than this one, and this displays a stark difference between "On Through the Night" and what is considered to be their magnum opus, "Hysteria". Whereas the riffs in "On Through the Night" are more creative, the riffs in "Hysteria" don't really have much in terms of ability. Sure, "Pour Some Sugar on Me" had kind of a skillful riff, but that doesn't add up cos it's almost drowned out by the muzak-like synthesizer drum sound. There's no synthesizer noises here, though. It's all good old-fashioned heavy metal that's pleasing to the ears rather than robotic-sounding junk that isn't. And another thing? The choruses don't sound like robots like they do in "Pyromania" onwards. They sound like real human beings actually singing rather than human beings aided by computers an synthesizers. Because of this, the choruses sound more realistic, believable, and easier for us to relate to.
"Sorrow is a Woman" is a bit of a ballad, but wait! It's not like the usual sappy ballads we hear from Def Leppard! It's actually just acoustic guitars and electric guitars that make up the riffs in this one. No pianos, no violins, no synthesizers, no sugary-sweet puppy-love lyrics, nothing. We don't need all of those to make a ballad sound nice. "Overture" is kind of the same way, too, except the lyrics aren't about love, but the rebuilding of a fantasy world after a period of war and destruction. This is the sort of thing Def Leppard should have written more about, and less about lovesick puppy guys getting dumped. As Def Leppard's career went on, their lyrical creativity diminished, so out of all the albums that the band has made, "On Through the Night" is the most creative and original. There are love songs on "On Through the Night", that's true, but they're not the kind of love songs that would pleas any "hair metal" fan and cause any headbanger to feel the need to rip the cord connecting to the stereo right out of the outlet on the wall. They're love songs with more intelligent lyrics. Here's the lyrics to "It Could Be You", "Who's the one to knock me over, who's the one to take me by surprise? Who's the one who's out to get me, who will share my fantasy tonight?" You will note that the lyrics have a lot more thought put into them than the lyrics found on any song on "Euphoria". It's a sign that Def Leppard used to be a good band.
Ah, yes, this is the album that Def Leppard SHOULD be known for. Not the cliched, dated, 80's-sounding "Hysteria", not the horrific boyband wannabe-sounding "Euphoria", but the magnificent album from the days of the NWOBHM, "On Through the Night". I don't mean to sound snotty, or anything, I'm just pointing out how this album shows that there was more to Def Leppard than just cutesy love songs. They were truly a band that could have been placed on the map as NWOBHM band. They could have been forgotten more, yes, but in my opinion, it would be better to be obscure and sound good, than to be famous and sound appalling. The low number of record sales do not guarantee a bad record, and "On Through the Night" is proof of that. Just cos their other albums sold well doesn't mean that they'd sound terrific. If you want a real NWOBHM experience from Def Leppard, listen to this album. It's just more well done than the others.
Def Leppard are generally regarded amongst metalheads as sell-outs or something along those lines. This is fair enough really, since they did become extremely radio-friendly ever since 1983's Pyromania. Before their change in musical direction however, they were a New Wave Of British Heavy Metal band. Naturally, singer Joe Elliot probably denies this, and the band most likely do try to skip over this debut when playing live or being interviewed.
It’s a shame really, because On Through The Night is, to me, a prime NWOBHM record, a real standout. If you've only heard Pyromania-onwards, then you probably will find it hard to believe that this album was recorded by the same band (granted, Elliot's voice is still fairly recognizable here, but even so, it still hasn't developed into how it would become). Of course, there were bigger and better NWOBHM albums released in 1980, but in my books, this album still ranks high in the movement's importance.
It does have it's commercial moments, but for the most part, it's just 100% heavy metal. Songs like ‘Rocks Off’, 'It Could Be You' and the main highlight; the heavy riffing of 'Wasted' prove this. Joe Elliot's voice DOES suit the raw NWOBHM sound here and Steve Clark and Pete Willis' guitars are superb. In my opinion, none of the songs are especially bad. 'Rock Brigade' is pretty cheesy, but hard rockin’ and catchy as hell. The chorus in this song instantly clicks as a memorable hook. 'Hello America' is probably the worst song here, mostly due to it’s annoying synthesizer in the chorus, but it's fun.
'Sorrow Is A Woman' is a more radio-friendly number. Despite this, the commercial touch of the song is actually well done and suits the song. The guitar playing is more varied and there’s a great solo too. ‘It Could Be You’ is pure NWOBHM. There’s nothing about this song that reminds us of the likes of Pyromania and Hysteria. It’s just a great little song with good riffs and hooks. It’s a shame it isn’t any longer though. 'Satellite' is pretty cool too with another catchy chorus, but heavy structure. It’s safe to say that On Through The Night succeeds in creating catchy but heavy traditional metal.
‘When The Walls Came Tumbling Down’ is one of my least favourite songs here, but it does contain some great lyrics. Next up is ‘Wasted’, which in my opinion, as I’ve already said is the biggest highlight of the record. Once again, this is a true heavy metal song, a song that proves to us Def Leppard once played a big role in the NWOBHM scene. Definitely an early Leppard classic.
‘Rocks Off’ is cool too, with some great riffing from Clark and Willis making it another highlight of the album. ‘It Don’t Matter’ is a bit weaker, and feels like filler material. The riffs aren’t quite as accomplished, although Elliot sounds just as good as he did on the rest of the album. ‘Answer To The Master’ is better, with an instantly memorable main riff, and a nice little change in direction half way through the song, with an excellent little guitar solo. ‘Overture’, the albums closing track which has a slight ballad-like verse. In this case, it’s a great way to end the album, and some of the guitar leads remind me of Thin Lizzy at times. So no complaints with the closer then.
While I must admit that Elliot’s voice isn’t quite as good as it would be on the following release, he does do a great job on ‘Overture’, and his vocal range is actually quite high at times as shown on ‘It Could Be You’. For that classic NWOBHM sound, his voice suits the album perfectly as he sounds a lot more natural. Unlike the over-produced material that the band would soon produce, the guitars are just purely distortion-driven and raw, like they should be.
On Through The Night stands as a great debut that is sadly overlooked and underrated by the band themselves. I think the record makes excellent listening in the NWOBHM field of metal.
Straight off the bat: the band disown/dislike this album so by that virtue alone it’s one of their better albums. But seriously, this is very much a curio in archive history – I suppose it’s still strictly a hard rock album, but Def Leppard never were all too certain about their own actual metalness and I’m not too sure myself. By the time they’d actually realised how to write more than two good songs per a record they’d all but ditched anything that could be considered NWOBHM for the frankly excellent AC/DC-derived hard rock of High N Dry. Then of course, they realised the fastest way out of Sheffield was viva pop music and they actually successful with that for a time being.
Def Leppard was technically one of the biggest bands to emerge from the NWOBHM movement – but the actual NWOBHM pedigree of this album is somewhat doubtful: metallic qualities aren’t really pronounced much outside of ‘Wasted’. Therefore we’d be best to compare this more to Demon than Maiden or Venom… but that in itself would be a little silly (did I mention that Leppard are a massive anomaly in the NWOBHM movement?) So in all actuality – and probably much to Joe Elliot’s delight – this is very difficult to judge as a metal record, as it really isn’t. It’s NWOBHM, yet not heavy metal if that makes any sense.
Interestingly – or is that amusingly? – it’s clear that though born and raised in the same rock ’n’ roll slum as those around them in the NWOBHM movement, Def Leppard had their eyes very much set on pop stardom even in their earliest days. ‘Hello America’ is of course what I’m talking about – it somewhat infamously alienated them to the British music press, and though this in itself is something I wholehearted endorse (has anyone actually read Kerrang! magazine lately, sheesh!) I can’t say the same for the song. Unadulterated shite. In as blunt terms as I can possibly describe. Why is it that British bands so often fall into the trap of figuring the only way to crack the American market is to sing about the nation itself? I think the ‘Dumb American’ idea has been greatly overstressed. Let’s just spell this out to end a problem that was fairly rife about 20-30 years ago (I know, I’m really helping matters, right?): Americans (nor peoples of any other nation, for that matter) aren’t inherently thick – you don’t sell records over there simply by singing about their nation. “Hey, they’re singing about us! I’m going to buy four copies of On Through the Night!” Def Leppard, having never left their native Sheffield, obviously were misguided enough to believe this was the case and as such inflicted us with this downright awful pop-rock song. Leppard’s signature vocal harmonies rear their ugly head here adding to the overwhelming cheese factor, as do some skittering synthesisers that make me cringe like a parent who’s just dropped their precious infant into a scolding bath. Ouch, the NSPCC is going to hear about that one! As I’m still at the crossroads between adulthood and being legally classified as a child I’d like to do the same – but unfortunately, I paid for this record out of my own pocket and therefore I don’t think this would stand up in court. Surprisingly enough, Def Leppard got a foot in the door with the American market with ‘Bringing on the Heartbreak’, a predictable yet successful ballad. So, from that alone one could devise that improved song writing was the key to Leppard’s success (again it’s amusing that they soon forgot how to do that… and they say the only joke about Def Leppard is “what’s got 9 arms and sucks?”).
As for the rest well it’s generally a sort of UFO/Scorpions/Lizzy derived hard rock with some frankly unwelcome quasi-progressive touches (see: the intro to ‘When the Walls Come Tumbling Down’). Song-craft is somewhat unsure but rather diverse as this Wounded Cougar really isn’t too sure at what they want to be yet. It would seem the rock world is all to keen to single out a band’s debut as their best; one only has to look at the world spate of unfocused, bumbling debuts to see that often this simply isn’t the case. The band wear their influences on their sleeves: the aforementioned three 70s hard rock bands rub shoulders with touches of AC/DC, T-Rex and even a bit of Killing Machine era Priest (or should that be Hell Bent For Leather? I mean I should be going for a bit of that ol’ ‘Hello America’ appeal myself, right?). Clichés are the order of the day. This is also true of the High N Dry record, but frankly though that was something of a clichéd hard rock record that wore its influences on its sleeve – it still has an undeniable charm to it and quite easily ranks as the band’s finest hour for me.
That said there are a couple of worthwhile moments present on this indecisive debut record. ‘Wasted’ is the band’s best claim to ever playing anything remotely metallic, and it’s not just that gives it its place as On Through the Night’s stellar track: it’s the only really track here that doesn’t leave something to be desired from. I love its lyrical ambiguity, too. Is the bottle of pills actually a bottle of pills? Or is it indeed a bottle of Pils (as in Holsten)? Something would reason me to believe that it could well be simple pilsner rather than any medication as the NHS had all but abandoned its hold on the South Yorkshire region given the ritual burning of those in the medical profession in and around 1978 due to a misunderstanding about the application of suppositories. Ahem, yes, but it’s one of Steve Clark’s best riffs and a hymn to getting hammered because there’s nothing better to do (which in this part of the world may well be the case, it's probably all these rolling hills and sheep). It’s a very weird song for Def Leppard and I suppose as good a reason as any to actually own this album. In contrast to a lot of the NWOBHM movements excitable, youthful vibrancy in, say, Diamond Head’s debut this is a NWOBHM anthem just a downtrodden one. It’s perhaps the most apt song the band’s early incarnation have ever written considering they lost both their guitarists to alcohol abuse (Pete Willis being fired for taking the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle a little too seriously and Steve Clark dying after years of excess). Opener ‘Rock Brigade’, too, proves its worth with a solidly stomping ode to, well, a rock brigade. That said, Joe Elliot doesn’t seems all too enthused by this song, and seems to have put more effort into his backing vocals than the lead. Point in case: “Oh no, it’s the rock brigade… ROCK BRIGADE! Oh no, it’s the rock brigade”. Could he be any more excited at the prospect of singing in a rock band? He makes Kevin Heybourne sound like Bruce Dickinson!
Overall, I’d say this is nothing truly of note considering the wealth of better NWOBHM or for that matter, just hard rock in the early 80s. Nothing truly of note here – barring one song – and certainly not a mandatory purchase for NWOBHM fans. I suppose if anything, it’s a tribute to how artistic integrity was never really Def Leppard’s forte.
Potential Spinal Tap album title: On Through the Shite
On through the Night is the portrait of a band young and eager to launch themselves onto the masses with this fun set of NWOBHM. One can see the group’s eyes gazing at a distant city called success, but the look is a hunger that drives riffs and twin leads down a vanguard of British invasion party anthems to drink along with and nod your head to. Metal was in a fairly sorry state in 1980, thus the much trumpeted revival crashing upon the scene in NWOBHM, and that was the secret of these infectious bunch of tracks – They made you believe in the future of metal; five guys jamming out with zeal, their innocent enthusiasm delivering a riff filled infusion to teenage ears, all eager for the next generation of metal hero’s to resuscitate the long haired masses and give them something to believe in.
Nothing fancy or necessarily superlative about this set of tunes, just solid guitar work and good times all around; the guys bent on playing for the sake of playing, writing catchy hooks and galloping rhythms. This isn’t an opus of musical might, only a soundtrack for a party at your buds house; this album blasting through your dated 48 inch wooden Pioneer speakers (still got them!), the evenings set to cruise as a bunch of jean jackets jumped and rocked away their teenage woes, our air guitars chasing the beers while later we chased the girls. Everyone laughing and drinking to tunes, none the wiser the sound is not the most technical display of writing, but damn the torpedoes the guys could play! All good with driving leads, great solos, and a passionate touch - It’s too honest to be corporate and too sincere to be from anyone but a bunch of guys who were most likely having their own party at the same time.
“Rock Brigade” is a simple enough opener, a ripping classic set to the time of party, while “Hello America” is almost too polished with its tracked in keyboards come chorus time, but infectious fun carries it through. “It Could Be You” rocks mighty for being under 3 minutes, containing depth lost from the bands sound in later years. In fact these and the rest of the songs clock in around 3 to 4 minutes, save the stately “Overture”; each a quick shot, for too many songs fail because they ride a good thing for too long, and these work because they get the job done and move on, not attempting to be more than what they are. “Wasted” gallops wonderfully and “Rocks Off” has those cheesy crowd noises piped in (thank you bad analog mixing!) but still pushes along nicely, the leads ripping through riffs and great solo work, encouraging someone to run out for another case of the good stuff. Speaking of solo work, check out the solo on “It Don’t Matter to Me”, the guitar work is wonderful and its criminal the band ran from this sound in latter years. Finally, “Overture” gets special mention, not only is it a great song, but probably the only real serious work towards an epic (that actually, you know… rocks) the group has put onto vinyl. The music rises and recedes to the tale and the lyrics realize the bands vision. While not noted anywhere I have read, it seems to be a companion peace to “When the Walls Came Tumbling Down”; it’s an optimistic closure that signals all will be well after the former songs apocalyptic vision, a sort of rebirth of man, well timed (though probably unintentional) with the rebirth of metal on the doorstep of the 80’s.
This is not an opus of the ages or a historical proto-type look at metal. It is also not a full on atypical NWOBHM album, smuggling in some polish and shine with the riffs and rolls. It’s not grim, brutal, conceptual, or even overtly technical. You get nothing more than the soundtrack to a great party circa 1980. And sometimes, that’s all you need.