31 August 2009
Rock epic of the month: "Gods of War" (Def Leppard) 1987
Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.
This month, I'm going cock rock again. Sorry.
Every now and then, music reaches a production high point that just makes you breathe out a sigh and go, "Damn!".
We saw it in the sixties with Sgt. Pepper's, in the seventies with The Dark Side of the Moon and in the nineties with Ministry's Psalm 69 and Massive Attack's Blue Lines.
In the eighties, these production high points happened in cock rock land with two acts and two producers - Bruce Fairbairn with Aerosmith on Permanent Vacation and Pump, and Robert John "Mutt" Lange with Def Leppard on Pyromania and Hysteria.
And it's with Def Leppard that we go to for this one.
They'd released their breakthrough release in the US with the well received Pyromania in 1983 and chose wisely when following this up to work with Lange again. Hysteria sold twice as many copies as Pyromania - being 20 million. That is positively enormous.
I was prompted to write about this one, when a friend of mine talked about the impact that Def Leppard had on her. I must admit to being somewhat ambivalent to the impact of cock rock, generally, but I thought I'd go online and have a listen to this album (and Pyromania) in full again to get an idea of what it was all about back then.
Hysteria is everything a cock rock lover loves. Big riffs. Big high screaming vocals. Guitar solos all over the shop. And enormous hair all round, usually mulleted.
Naturally, I'm still not convinced about the worth of this genre in the pantheon of rock and roll, but I can respect the place that Hysteria, and for that matter, Pyromania holds within the affront that cock rock presents to good taste and indeed, to rock and roll itself. After all, can we not also celebrate rock and roll's missteps as well as the high-points within those missteps?
Anyway, it's a wonder that Def Leppard were able to get this album out at all. Drummer Rick Allen was involved in a car crash prior to recording this and as a result, became rock's most celebrated one-armed drummer. Lange had to be talked into producing this after the band had flirted with the idea of Jim Steinman or producing it themselves.
It does speak some amazing volumes of the loyalty of the band members: Most bands would have parted ways with Allen, but they encouraged him to soldier on, developing a modified drumkit enabling him to play with a lot of foot pedals and one drumstick in hand.
On Pyromania, Phil Collen had been brought in on guitar to replace Pete Willis who had been fired for alcoholism. But things were not well with the other guitarist Steve Clark, who was slowly dying of the exact same thing. As a result of Clark's unreliability, Lange chose to get Collen to do quite a lot of the solo work. This supposedly caused a rift in the band, although I suspect that it was between Clark and the rest of the band.
So on to "Gods of War" which occupied six minutes and 37 seconds. This is actually surprisingly good, although the first and second refrains are somewhat iffy ("On a countdown to zero..." and "Here it comes...") because they require a key change which does, while I'll admit sets up the chorus quite nicely, appears slightly out of kilter with the rest of the song.
The song starts off with a fairly simple, yet iconic bassline from bassplayer, Rick Savage. Clark starts playing the intro riff for a couple of bars, then it's all on from there. The chorus is killer with some awesome cock rock screaming from vocalist Joe Elliott, but the tune really kicks into an open goal just before the end when the last minute kicks in, with some nice guitar riffing, subdued soloing and sound-bites of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that indicate that, whatever else, they loved a good military dust-up.
The proper video features bits from Top Gun. Quite ironic when you consider that this is quite an anti-war song, and that Top Gun was such over-the-top, flag-waving, pro-American propaganda.
Anyway enjoy this live video. It should take you back to the days when rock concerts only happened in stadiums and realises that this tune was a fully worked live proposition. Enjoy: