Since their heyday, Def Leppard has sold more than 10 million copies of 1983’s “Pyromania” and more than 12 million copies of 1987’s “Hysteria” — numbers from when people actually bought albums.
But with massive sales didn’t always come respect.
“I think that because of enormous commercial success, it seems that the credibility factor got washed away,” says frontman Joe Elliott, one of two original members still in the group.
But 42 years after first bringin’ on the headbanging in Sheffield, England, the band behind such ’80s pop-metal classics as “Photograph,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and, of course, “Bringin’ on the Heartbreak” will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on Friday at Barclays Center. Making it in on their first nomination — although they have been eligible for rock’s exclusive club since 2005 — Def Leppard will be enshrined in a 2019 class that also includes the Cure, Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Radiohead, Roxy Music and the Zombies.
“It’s a very eclectic mix. Every band is British, and then you’ve got two female Americans — one black, one white,” says Elliott, 59, who is particularly honored to enter the hall with Bryan Ferry’s art-rock outfit, Roxy Music: “I’ve been a fan since I was 12. I’ve got everything they’ve ever done, and I still play their stuff all the time.”
Also cranking up the excitement for Elliott is who will be inducting Def Leppard: Brian May, guitarist and co-founder of Queen. “It was a no-brainer for us,” says Elliott of asking May to do the honors. “He’s always been an incredible supporter of the band since we first met him backstage, I think in Montreux [in Switzerland] in 1981. We were opening for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.”
May also poured some love on Def Leppard when they got their spot on Hollywood’s RockWalk in 2000. “We’ve shared a lot of emotions together,” says Elliott, who calls May “the sixth member” of his band. “He was the first person to speak to me outside of the band after Steve [Clark, Def Leppard’s former guitarist] passed away. And I believe I was one of the first, when Fred [Mercury] died, to speak to him.”
At the height of their popularity, Def Leppard had to overcome drummer Rick Allen needing to get his left arm amputated after a car accident on New Year’s Eve 1984. The band remained loyal to Allen — who now uses four electronic pedals for his left foot to play what he used to play with his left arm — throughout his ordeal.
“Coming from a working-class background in an industrial city like Sheffield . . . certain values are kinda beat into you by your parents, your grandparents,” says Elliott. “And when something happens to one of your band members . . . you don’t just say, ‘Well, OK, we need to get another drummer.’ ”
Nor was Allen ready to hang up his drumsticks: “He’d only been out of his coma a few days when he uttered the immortal phrase: ‘I think I can do this,’ ” recalls Elliott. “Well, we all thought it was the drugs talking! But we couldn’t deny him the opportunity to try. We just allowed him all the time he needed. It was just the right thing to do.”
If that sounds surprisingly sensitive and enlightened for some primal metal men, think again. “Just because your music’s got a certain style to it doesn’t mean you don’t have any heart and soul,” says Elliott. “We’re not this furrowed-brow metal band. We probably tear up more than a lot of boy bands.”