Def Leppard’s landmark 1987 album Hysteria was famously produced by “Mutt” Lange, but the band had originally started work on the album with Jim Steinman, best known for his songwriting work on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. Needless to say, the pairing of Def Leppard and Steinman was not ideal.
Joe Elliott and Phil Collen recall working with Steinman in an interview with Classic Rock. The band and Steinman only worked together for a total of eight weeks. Elliott says of those eight weeks of recordings, “We would never release that stuff. There’s nothing finished. It’s like the worst bootleg you’ve ever heard. Those tapes are locked away in my library. And that’s where they’ll stay.”
They were originally slated to work with Lange again, but the producer initially decided against it due to exhaustion from rarely taking breaks from work for years. Elliott said he reached out to Lange after Steinman was on board and voiced concerns over the pairing. Elliott said, “[Lange said] Give it a go – and if it doesn’t work get rid of the guy. It was exactly what happened because Steinman was less than useless!”
An example Elliott cited was the first day they started recording when the band was simply warming up, but Steinman thought their casual playing was good enough for a recording.
“We played a loose, Stones-y version of ‘Don’t Shoot Shotgun’ – just the riff and a part of the melody,” said Elliott. “We didn’t even have the chorus then. And Steinman says: ‘I think we got that one.’ We all looked at each other, and Phil said: ‘We haven’t even tuned up yet!’ Steinman says: ‘Yeah, but it’s got a vibe.’ That wasn’t a good sign.”
To put it bluntly: Def Leppard and Steinman were just way different from one another, and Steinman just didn’t “get” the band.
“His ideas seemed a bit hokey,” said Collen. “Maybe it was a class thing. It was obvious that we were way more ‘street’ than he was. Jim’s stuff was a bit theatrical, which is great, but it wasn’t us. We were polar opposites.”
Collen added, “There was a flow of ideas and inspiration that we got from Mutt. That’s what we were waiting for from Steinman. And it never happened. Mutt wants to create something spectacular – almost like a third dimension, wildebeest sweeping majestically past… Steinman just came in and let us record. And what he recorded was just ordinary. It didn’t even sound as good as our original demos.”
On top of just not working well together, there were other issues, too. Steinman was also working on Bat Out Of Hell II at the time and wasn’t giving Def Leppard his full attention. Plus, Steinman had a habit of ordering extravagant amounts of food, which was billed to the band. The final straw came when Steinman took issue with the carpeting in the studio’s control room and wanted it replaced.
“We should be changing the producer before we change the f—ing carpet,” recalled Elliott.
Steinman would eventually be fired, but he was still paid six figures for his work, which in addition to his food tab put Def Leppard in a massive amount of debt.
“We had to sell a lot of records to pay him off,” said Elliott. “Jim Steinman made a lot of money out of Def Leppard for doing very little work. He’s a lucky man in that respect.”