40 Years Ago: DEF LEPPARD Let It Rock And Let It Roll With 1981’s High ‘N’ Dry
July 11, 2021, a week ago
It may seem hard to believe, but it's been 40 years since Def Leppard “Let It Go” with the release of their effervescent sophomore record: High ‘N’ Dry. The year was 1981, and a practically unknown Def Leppard - featuring vocalist Joe Elliott, guitarists Pete Willis and Steve Clark, bassist Rick Savage, and drummer Rick Allen - were coming down from the high of their first full length album released a year prior.
1980’s On Through The Night, their first recording with Phonogram/Mercury Records, clearly followed in the footsteps of Leppard’s main influences along the likes of bands such as Thin Lizzy, Ufo, Judas Priest, Saxon, and more. It only made sense as they worked closely with Tom Allom, producer for Black Sabbath and Judas Priest, for their first post-EP release.
On Through The Night and their forthcoming LPs helped solidify Def Leppard as one of the most notable bands to emanate from the subgenre conceived by British journalist Geoff Barton: the New British Wave Of Heavy Metal (NBWOHM). Although the band reached moderate success in the UK with the release of their first single “Rock Brigade” and had managed to build a loyal following amongst British audiences, Def Leppard hadn’t really put their name on the map overseas in North America. That would soon change.
Robert “Mutt” Lange, most known at the time for his work with AC/DC on 1979’s Highway To Hell and 1980’s Back In Black, took interest in the band after their first effort garnered positive reviews from large press outlets such as Rolling Stone. High ‘N’ Dry, initially written in the winter of 1980 shortly after their first world tour concluded, went through rather dramatic alterations prior to its recording at London Battery Studios with the help of their new found producer.
Now forty years since the record’s release, it’s clear that Lange’s painstaking perfectionism lent heavily not only to the success of High ‘N’ Dry (1981), but the band’s next records to come: Pyromania (1983) and Hysteria (1987).
The record starts out with one of Def Leppard’s most AC/DC inspired riffs, “Let It Go”, which was initially titled “When The Rain Falls” prior to Lange’s contributions to the writing process. “Let It Go” is then followed by the vigorous and vivacious (as well as my personal favorite song from Def Leppard’s catalog), “Another Hit And Run”. It’s honest to say that there is truly not a skippable moment on High ‘N’ Dry, but, other standout tracks include the album’s namesake “High ‘N’ Dry (Saturday Night)”, “Lady Strange”, and “Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)”.
The band’s efforts in creating hard rockin’ riffs and memorable melodies seemed to be noticed as High ‘N’ Dry peaked at #38 on The Billboard and #26 on the UK Albums Chart upon its initial release in July of 1981.
The album picked up continued success as the years went on with the push of one of the band’s most successful singles to date, “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”. Its accompanying video found its way into heavy rotation on MTV in 1982 and gathered even more notoriety with the song’s 1984 remix; featuring newly overdubbed synthesizers and a brand new video to boot.
In a 2020 interview with Guitar World, Joe Elliott talked about writing “Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”’s continuation - the album’s lone instrumental track “Switch 625”:
“Initially Mutt wanted me to write some lyrics, but I said that was crazy because it didn’t need anything else. It was a fantastic piece of music without me on it. It had so much going on that, what was I going to do over it except maybe clutter it up? I suggested we should drop it at the end of ‘Bringin’ on the Heartbreak’ and turn it into something like Layla where it is this long song and then it’s got this instrumental section at the end of it,” Elliott says.
Today, High ‘N’ Dry is often cited as Def Leppard’s most beloved release. The perfect mix of a young, hungry band with raw aggression, Lange’s well-crafted melodies, and honed production; something that many diehard fans claim that the band lost with their more polished and commercial records such as 1987’s controversial release, Hysteria. Since High ‘N’ Dry’s release in July of 1981, the record has gone two times platinum in the United States and Canada, and a myriad of different tracks are still performed to this day.
40 years later, High ‘N’ Dry serves as an inimitable moment in time for a no-frills, hard rock band finding their way in an unforgettable musical landscape. And find their way they surely did.
High ‘N’ Dry tracklisting:
“Let It Go”
“Another Hit And Run”
“High ‘N’ Dry (Saturday Night)”
“Bringin’ On The Heartbreak”
“You Got Me Runnin’”
“On Through The Night”
“Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)”
“No No No”