Rick Savage (bass), Pete Willis (guitars) and Tony Kenning (drums) formed the band in 1977 in Sheffield. Originally they were known as Atomic Mass, but when Joe Elliott joined as a vocalist they adopted the name "Deaf Leopard" (which Elliott had thought of in school). The band changed Deaf Leopard to Def Leppard, because they thought Deaf Leopard might lead people to believe they were a punk band. They began playing locally and soon added second guitarist Steve Clark. Tony Kenning was fired from the band and replaced by Frank Noon for the Def Leppard EP, the band’s first recording. The band’s subsequent rise to prominence may be attributed partly to the extensive airtime the EP received from DJ John Peel - perhaps surprisingly given that Peel was at that time considered to be a champion of punk rock and new wave music. Rick Allen joined the band full-time in late November 1978, replacing Frank Noon, when they signed to Mercury Records.
Their major label debut was On through the Night (1980 in music). High 'n' Dry (1981 in music) was their first album to be produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange. From this album, the “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” video was one of the first “metal” videos played on MTV video. Phil Collen, former guitarist from the band, Girl, replaced Pete Willis, who was fired on July 11, 1982 due to excessive alcohol consumption. Pete Willis later recorded with the bands Gogmagog and Roadhouse. This personnel change took place during the recording of their next release, Pyromania (January 20, 1983), which was also produced by Lange. Aided by the single, “Photograp”", “Rock of Age”", and “Foolin’”, Pyromania sold six million copies in 1983 and 84 and was second on the charts only to Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
After the album’s success the band experienced difficulties. On December 31, 1984, Rick Allen lost his left arm in a car crash when his Corvette veered off the road into a concrete wall. Despite the severity of the accident, Rick was committed to continuing his role as Def Leppard’s drummer. He practiced drumming with pillows, and realized that he could use his legs to do some of the percussive work previously done with his arms. He then worked with Simmons to design a custom electronic drum kit.
Leppard’s next album, Hysteria, again produced by Lange, was released in August 1987. The first released single, “Women”, was not very successful. It was only released in North America, with a video that featured a futuristic comic book world (in which women were invented by men as subservient androids) with the acronym W.O.M.E.N. standing for “Worship Our Master’s Every Need”. The first UK single from the album was “Animal”, reaching number six on the charts. In the UK, “Animal” was the first of the band’s singles to feature a personalized catalogue number - LEP1. Album sales were slow until a remixed version of the fourth single, “Pour Some Sugar on Me”, became a hit. The album included a total of six Top 20 singles. The seventh and last single to be released from this album was “Rocket” in January 1989. The single featured an extended “Lunar Mix” of the song, as well as a “Lunar Mix Edit” as the radio-length version.
Much of Leppard’s success in the 1980s is credited to their producer, Robert John “Mutt” Lange, who was considered by the band to be its sixth member. To this end, he received a writing credit on every Hysteria track.
After Hysteria’s release, internal problems (including the death of guitarist Steve Clark from a drug and alcohol overdose on January 8, 1991) resulted in a long delay. The album, Adrenalize, was finally released in 1992, the only album recorded by Leppard as a four-piece (Elliott, Collen, Savage, and Allen). The album entered the US charts at number one. It remained there for five weeks, selling six million copies, and the first single, “Let’s Get Rocked”, was on MTV’s video countdown for a long time. It was also nominated for Best Video of the Year at the 1992 ninth MTV Video Music Awards. However, it did not have the longevity of their previous albums, and in retrospect many fans consider it one of their weakest albums.
Retro Active was released in 1993 and is a collection of songs which, although not new, were either rare or never previously released. Some of this album’s songs were written as B-sides for Hysteria singles. Retroactive was followed by the release of Vault: Def Leppard's Greatest Hits (1980-1995) 1995, Def Leppard’s Greatest Hits, which has sold over seven million copies.
In 1992, guitarist Vivian Campbell (Sweet Savage, Dio, Whitesnake, Trinity, Riverdogs, and Shadow King) joined Def Leppard. He collaborated in the songwriting for Slang, which was released in 1996. Slang was a drastic departure from Def Leppard’s usual hard-rocking, guitar-heavy sound and was not well-received.
Next came the album, Euphoria, in 1999, which returned to the classic Def Leppard sound, with the hit, “Promises”, for which ex-producer Mutt Lange assisted in the songwriting.
In 2001 VH1 produced “Hysteria: The Def Leppard Story”, a biopic starring Orlando Seale as Joe Elliot, Tat Whalley as Rick Allen, Anthony Michael Hall as Mutt Lange and Karl Geary as Steve Clark. The movie covers the band’s history from formation, through the tragedies of Rick Allen’s accident and Steve Clark’s battles with alcoholism and drug abuse to Rick’s triumphant return to the stage as a drummer. The movie was released on DVD in January of 2005.
Deff Leppard’s tenth album, X, was released in 2002. The band has stated that they are very satisfied with this album, and that in many ways they wish it had been the follow-up to Hysteria.
A best of CD was released in October 2004. The disc, entitled The Best of Def Leppard was also available in a limited edition two-CD format. The first disc was basically a reconfigured Vault, while the second disc held more obscure tracks. From this collection a new single was released in the UK, a cover version of the Kinks’ “Waterloo Sunset”. The two-CD set came emblazoned with a sticker erroneously claiming the collection held “34 Massive Hits”. Many of the second disc tracks were only album tracks, selected after polling fans on which tracks they would like to have on the second disc.
Due to the fact that The Best of wasn’t released in North America, a slightly reconfigured double-CD North American best of, entitled Rock of Ages: The Definitive Def Leppard was released in May 2005. From this set came the single, “No Matter What”, a cover of the 1970’s Badfinger tune.
The songs, “Waterloo Sunset” and “No Matter What” are included on a 2006 covers album called Yeah!.
Due to the aforementioned “greatest hits” collections, the album, Vault, is now out-of-print by the band’s record label.
Def Leppard is back with a bang - kicking off 2008 with the release of their fourteenth studio album, Songs from The Sparkle Lounge. The album contains eleven new songs, including the highly-anticipated single, "Nine Lives", featuring a groundbreaking collaboration with country music superstar, Tim McGraw.