Def Leppard’s Joe Elliott: Rock’s Future Leaders + The Problem With the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
They've sold over 100 million albums around the globe, have authored some of rock's most enduring anthems, are still packing arenas everywhere and, most recently, Def Leppard have been nominated among the list of potential inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 2019 class.
From their early sound of AC/DC cut with tinge of New Wave of British Heavy Metal, Def Leppard became hair metal darlings with the success of Pyromania and later, Hysteria, with its colossal Mutt Lange production, hook-infested arrangements and pop shimmer. They reconfigured what was possible within the traditional rock structure and countless artists quickly discarded their sound to catch a whiff of the rare air Def Lep were bountifully breathing.
It's this that makes the band a Class of 2019 hopeful as they aim to be inducted in the Rock Hall alongside a handful of other nominees, including Devo, Janet Jackson, John Prine, Kraftwerk, LL Cool J, MC5, Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, Roxy Music, Rufus featuring Chaka Khan, Stevie Nicks, The Cure, The Zombies and Todd Rundgren.
While we await the news of the Rock Hall's decision, we spoke with singer Joe Elliott about the honor of being nominated. He seemed hopeful that Def Leppard would get the nod, but knows that greater struggles have preceded his band, offering a bone of contention with the decision makers while making his case for how Def Lep's influence still resonates today. As for the future of rock, he's got his eyes on two new bands in particular.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is egregiously particular in who they induct, harping on impact and influence. Where do you think Def Leppard's influence was most felt and do you hear any of it in today's music?
Impact comes in different ways. The problem with the Hall of Fame, to me is that what elitists thinks is an impact is very different to what the regular man on the street counts as impact. One of the reasons that bands like Roxy Music wait so long to get nominated is because it's such an American institution they don't take into consideration the impact a band might have on a time in Great Britain.
If you were looking, there were massively important bands — if you lived in England, Slade was bigger than [Bruce] Springsteen, but you're not telling a guy living in New York that. Because they weren't big in American culture means they weren't big period so they weren't important and that doesn't work like that because English music was such an influence on '60s American rock. So, the fact that we got nominated is basically purely based on American record sales.
I don’t think we influenced many rock bands after us. I think we did in the mid to late ’80s where there were a lot of sound-alikes. That's probably why grunge started in the first place — there were too many Def Leppards, if you like. I hear our music now and various different forms of music in rock, you hear our samples in rap. You hear our stuff in Lady Gaga, and Pink - you hear a lot of our stuff in pop because we were a commercial pop-rock band so we crossed over.
Who else are you hoping to get inducted with?
Todd Rundgren is well thought of in the industry and I can see why he is nominated — his body of work is very eclectic. As a fan I'd like to see him get in. MC5, I think their value is similar to that of the Velvet Underground. They are commercially meaningless but somebody somewhere who is very successful was influenced by them. Supposedly the most influential band around is the Velvet Underground, but I have never got that. I don’t know how they can be any more influential than Jimi Hendrix but supposedly they are... I have been reading some articles.
I think the MC5 was an amazing, quiet influence on what became new wave of punk. For me, when it came to it, it came out of the U.S. garage music if you’d like and then the naming of The [Sex] Pistols and The Clash, which really just making the same noise that Iggy [Pop] and MC5 were making six years earlier.
I can totally understand that they're probably not going to get in, but that's just me. Stevie Nicks from a commercial point of view, she's had an astonishingly long career in and out of Fleetwood Mac. You can't deny that she's earned the nomination.
And for what’s it’s worth, Kraftwerk – Kraftwerk are so influential on anything from David Bowie to Depeche Mode to Nine Inch Nails – all those bands. Again, not commercial, but the influence on artists is huge. But I think it’s good to look for bands that most of us had never heard of that influenced people we have heard of.
What newer bands excite you today? Are there any bands that you see as the future of rock?
There's only two that I'm aware of at the moment because I'm so busy doing my own thing. The only two bands I’m obsessed with right now are Greta Van Fleet and The Struts. Yeah, there's a raging argument about Greta Van Fleet and it’s going to go on for years - they don't do themselves any favors when they say that they're not influenced by Led Zeppelin [laughs]. Wear it on your sleeve, baby! Greta Van Fleet, they're just making the music that Led Zeppelin won't make ever again.
The Struts —they're like a compound of Freddie Mercury and Slade. It's powerful. You've got a frontman that's just so over the top — he's a joy to listen to because he's just such a frontman and that's what he's supposed to be. He put himself on a pedestal. He'll either knock you off or prop you up. He's got balls to get up there — I think he's a superstar. He really is.
The huge difference to me as a teenager listening to a band like The Struts and maybe a teenager now listening to them is that I have the beauty of knowing that there's not going to be an album every year. It took them five years to follow up their first album. People latch onto that first album so much more because there's nothing else to latch onto. When I got into David Bowie, I could go back and find four other albums. That was only in a three year period and when I was coming up. All the bands that I pretty much grew up listening to, by the time I found them, it was their fourth album. Like the Struts now - you don't have albums to go back on but one.
Thanks to Joe Elliott for the interview. Def Leppard recently issued 'The Story So Far - The Best Of' compilation which can be purchased here. Follow the band on Facebook to stay up to date with everything they're doing and keep your fingers crossed for their Rock Hall induction in the new year.
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