Def Leppard's Joe Elliott On Covering Def Leppard : The Record The frontman says he's laughing more than crying as the band re-records its hits for online retail.
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Def Leppard's Joe Elliott On Covering Def Leppard

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Def Leppard's Joe Elliott On Covering Def Leppard

Def Leppard's Joe Elliott On Covering Def Leppard

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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And if you're just tuning in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

And it's not often you get to start a business story quite like this.


DEF LEPPARD: Gunter glieben glauben globen.

RAZ: The rock band Def Leppard is at the center of a business dispute with Universal, the company that owns the rights to their original recordings.


DEF LEPPARD: Yeah. It's better to burn out, yeah, than fade away.

RAZ: Now, if you want to download Def Leppard's music from iTunes, you can't. It's not available because Universal and Def Leppard haven't been able to agree on how the band would be compensated. And we're talking about some huge hits here. You're listening to "Rock of Ages" from their multi-platinum 1983 album "Pyromania." Universal owns this recording.

So Def Leppard has been re-recording forgeries of their own songs to replace the originals. And here's how the new version sounds.


DEF LEPPARD: (Singing) ...go up in smoke. Rock on. Rock on. Drive me crazier. No serenade, no fire brigade, just pyromania. Come on. What do you want? What do you want? I want rock and roll. Yes, I do.

RAZ: Joe Elliott is the lead singer of Def Leppard, and he's in our New York bureau. Joe, welcome to the program.

JOE ELLIOTT: Thank you. Pleasure to be here.

RAZ: First of all, help me understand the dispute. Why can't I download your original songs off, you know, off iTunes, for example?

ELLIOTT: Well, when we signed our record contracts, Noah was still sailing the ark off into foreign climes, you know? I mean, it was '79, and there was no such thing as digital. It wasn't written into the deal. And consequently, they can only release them digitally with our permission, because that's written into our contract.

RAZ: Right.

ELLIOTT: So one thing about having a great lawyer. And until we can resolve this dispute, we shall just keep doing re-records and, you know, we want to wrestle back our career. That's - I think anybody who's been around as long as we have, you need to be in charge of what you're doing. You know, you should own as much as much as you can possibly own.

RAZ: You guys are going to re-record your entire back catalog, I understand.

ELLIOTT: Well, I - that's about 180 songs.


ELLIOTT: There are some strange Japanese B sides that really aren't worth the effort.


ELLIOTT: What we're trying to attempt to do - and it's down to the listener to decide whether we achieve it or not - is give them something that they can - sounds like the original to me, is what we want people to say. We don't want them to say it's better. We don't want them to say it's worse. We want them to say it's the same.

I've gone on iTunes, and I've looked for a certain song, and I've accidentally bought the re-record, and it's been awful. You know, it's just been lousily, quickly done for a quick buck. We're not trying to make a quick buck. We're actually trying to maintain some kind of dignity in this.

RAZ: All right. Let's listen, Joe, to one of the re-recorded songs. First let's hear the original. This is one of your classics, one of your biggest hits of all time, "Pour Some Sugar On Me," and this was the original from 1987.


ELLIOTT: (Singing) Break it up. Pour some sugar on me. Oh, in the name of love.

RAZ: OK. So that's from 1987. Let's hear the new version re-recorded just a few months ago.


ELLIOTT: (Singing) Pour your sugar on me. I can't get enough. I'm hot, sticky sweet, from my head to my feet, yeah.

RAZ: Joe, that is - I'm serious - that is amazing. I mean, you - this sounds exactly the same.

ELLIOTT: Well, it was a lot of hard work. Thank you for noticing.

RAZ: I mean, you - I mean...

ELLIOTT: We studied them.

RAZ: You sound great. I mean, you are not in your early 20s like you were...


RAZ: know, back in...

ELLIOTT: I'm 52, actually. I was 28, I think, when I recorded that. The thing is, imagine a Picasso or something. And, you know, you - somebody down the road buys this Picasso for $20 million and then they find out it's not a real one.

RAZ: Yeah.

ELLIOTT: That's what we're trying to achieve here. You know, it's like, whoever did the fake painting studied the original inch by inch. And we had to by - second by second, go back and listen to that thing and go, OK, how does that bit go? So when we're at home - and we've all got home studios - it's very simple to just nip downstairs to your studio for a few hours a week and just piece together something like that.

RAZ: How did you capture your sound, your 28-year-old sound? What did you - did you have to do something?

ELLIOTT: Yeah, you do. You - it's a head space. It's like acting. I dare say that people like Pee Wee Herman don't actually talk like that in real life.

RAZ: Right. Right.

ELLIOTT: You know, they put on an accent. There are ways of doing it. You know, you just shape your mouth a certain way, you train your brain to try and remember how you were singing back in those days. And, you know, you don't always just do it in one take. I mean, you can, you know, you maybe just do a verse or listen back to it and go, I nearly got that bit right. And then you just work on it and work on it. And you just - it's like going through a history book, is what it is.


ELLIOTT: (Singing) You've got the peaches, I got the cream. Sweet to taste, saccharine. 'Cause I'm hot, hot say what, sticky sweet from my head, my head, to my feet.

RAZ: OK. So now that you've rerecorded your old songs, your classic songs, you own these new recordings. They are yours to do what you like to them.

ELLIOTT: Absolutely. We can license them. We can box them. We can sell them. We can sit on them. But they're ours, you know? I thought it was pretty sad when McCartney tried to buy his back catalog and he got usurped by his ex-friend Michael Jackson. I didn't think that was a very clever move. and I also didn't think it was very fair.

You know, it's fair enough - we all signed a deal with the devil when we sign to some corporate label when we're teenagers and stuff. But as you learn, as you go along and you realize that you're the ones that put all the hard work in, and yet you only get paid maybe the same amount you would tip a waiter for delivering room service, it's not right. So we're trying to do something about it.

RAZ: That's Joe Elliott, the front man for the band Def Leppard. They're in the process of re-recording their back catalog. They're also on tour with Poison and Lita Ford this summer. Joe Elliott, thanks so much. Good luck on the tour.

ELLIOTT: Hey. Thanks very much. Appreciate it.


DEF LEPPARD: (Singing) Rock of ages...

RAZ: Now, we contacted Universal to get their end of the dispute, but the company didn't reply.


DEF LEPPARD: (Singing) Keep on rolling. Rock of ages, rock of ages...

RAZ: And for Sunday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Find our podcasts at We're back on the radio next weekend with more news, stories, music and books. Until them, thanks for listening and have a great week.

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