Definitely: The Official Story of Def Leppard
By Joe Elliott, Rick Savage, Rick Allen, Phil Collen & Vivian Campbell
Release Date: 18/05/23
Review by Simon Black
It seems to be a busy month for Def Leppard. With an orchestrated reworked Greatest Hits package “Drastic Symphonies” dropping in parallel the same week, clearly fans are going to have lots of new shiny things to buy at the merch stall on the upcoming stadium tour, although I suspect this one can only be ordered online. The book itself is a lavish large form glossy coffee table format book and at £35 for the paperback version (with all previous hardback and special editions having long since sold out on pre-order) this isn’t actually bad value considering there’s a quite meaty 300 pages to peruse here.
Visually it’s an absolute treat, with a huge volume of photographic and artistic material included here, but it’s the material covering the early years that are the most fascinating. As always with such band biographies, the earliest parts of an act’s history are generally the part most of interest to the average fan, who is not going to be disappointed here. For the first 8 years or so of their history, singer Joe Elliot kept extensive scrapbooks of the band’s progress which miraculously have survived the last five decades intact. Being a working-class lad from Sheffield, he used what was to hand, which in this case meant re-purposed wallpaper sample books his mother had lying around, so these reviews and newspaper cuttings come complete with backdrops of the kind of hideous flock wallpaper that adorned our homes in the 70’s, but which really helps get a sense of the times. They could have just cut that out, but the fact that they chose not to is significant.
As the band progresses, the photography contributions scale up according to their popularity, with large contributions from Ross Halfin, who has been by their side since the 1980’s. The band are unafraid to share the more informal and fun moments of a band gruelling their way through huge tours as well as the stage shots and official photo shoots. It provides a nice sense of balance, regardless.
But what about the words themselves?
Much has been written about this band’s roller-coaster history, but Def Leppard have chosen here to take the direct approach with the current members of the band all taking writing credits. This isn’t the first time they have done this. There was a quite moving documentary from the BBC back in 1989 called “Rock of Ages” that covered everything the band had been through up to that point, and again the narrators were the band themselves then, with Joe Elliot taking the main presenter role back then. Nobody knows what they have been through better than themselves, and once again they take the opportunity to clearly take control of the narrative.
The text format is a series of direct quotes from members of the band and those who were part of that unfolding story around them, with chapters constructed to the album releases contemporaneous to them. Many bands choose to rewrite the past in such circumstances, but they openly use voices who may have had a different perspective. Original guitarists Pete Willis and Steve Clarke both had their problems with alcohol, and Willis himself has been quite open about how he probably would not have been around to talk about it if he had not been fired from the band. As we all know, Steve Clarke wasn’t so lucky, but his own words (presumably lifted from contemporary interviews before his untimely death in 1991) are treated with sensitivity and love.
It is actually quite a wordy piece, as even with all the visual material the actual text itself is not skimpy. It is full of detail and really lifts the lid on the sometimes-gruelling process that these chaps would go through to make sure that the material was the best it could ever be. And that’s rather the point, because it’s exactly that hard-working approach that shines through here. These sort of publications often feel thrown together in an attempt to cash in on an act’s success, but this one has been painstakingly researched, meticulously assembled and polished to a very fine degree. Def Leppard are not everyone’s cup of tea, with their popularity waxing and waning over the decades, like any act with serious longevity, but musically they are of hugely significant influences on a lot of modern Rock music and have defied the haters over the last five decades by just doing what they always do – what feels right, and sticking hard at it. Good on you, chaps…
You can purchase the book here: https://geni.us/defleppard
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