I’m Hot and I’m Sticky Sweet…

Some days need a bit of Def Leppard. Some days do not.

Today, well, it’s one of the former.

Weirdly, I missed the period when Def Leppard was actually a big deal. Hysteria came out in 1987, which means I was both 9 years old and living in the middle of nowhere, far from the pop cultural embrace of TV and cinema and popular radio. I was far more likely to be reading books back in those days, getting exposed to music through my dad’s LP collection (although I wasn’t yet allowed to play records on my own) or the soundtracks to the handful of movies we saw when we came to Brisbane for the holidays.

Basically, I didn’t even really process that Def Leppard was a big deal until they became a lyrical riff in Bloodhound Gang’s Why is everyone picking on me in the mid-nineties. They weren’t a band by then, not really; they were a pop cultural reference that you either got or you didn’t. I didn’t. I’m not a child of the eighties, although I can play one on TV. Most of the parts of 80s music that I like, I came to much later, figuring out the parts I like via references in other media.

All art acquires baggage that affects its meaning. Music is always an interesting resource for considering this, since the presence of music videos and subsequent musical movements always effects the way a particular song is read. Take one look at a video clip and it’s nearly impossible to escape the various signifiers that mark Def Leppard as the stuff of the eighties: the hair, the jeans, the production. Seven years after Hysteria came out and became huge, Nirvana would kick off a musical movement that rendered everything that made 80’s metal fun vaguely absurd and crudely excessive.

It’s one of the reasons I love covers that recontextualize a song, letting you hear it fresh. Consider, for example, the version of the above put together by Emm Gryner and Buck 65:

Strip away all the aspects of the song that mark it as unrelentingly 80s and it actually becomes quite beautiful and haunting. It’s still the same song – slowed down, yes, and the riffs that hook you in are significantly less up-front, but they’re still there. And it’s one of those covers that makes me go back to the original and appreciate it a little more.

Sometimes it takes a few years for the context to get stripped away from the art. I could never have appreciated Def Leppard in the 90s. I was too young, too caught up in the spirit of the age, willing to disregard everything that was handed down from the 80s as a waste of time. And, truthfully, Def Leppard’s version of the song was never going to be my favourite, although looking back from the age of thirty-six I’m willing to acknowledge that it’s a damn fine pop song.

Hope your weekend rocks and rocks and hard.

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