15 Years Ago: Def Leppard Honor Their Idols on Covers LP ‘Yeah!’
Def Leppard have always peppered interesting covers into their sets, including a faithful take on Alice Cooper's "Elected" in 1987 and a meditative version of the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" in the mid-'90s.
But on May 23, 2006, the band went all out and released an entire covers album, Yeah!
Def Leppard gave fans a hint of what to expect in 2003, when they rotated takes on Badfinger's "No Matter What" and Thin Lizzy's "Don't Believe a Word" into sets. However, guitarist Phil Collen told Ultimate Guitar in 2006 that Yeah! was percolating for a long time before that.
"[Singer] Joe [Elliott] has been wanting to do this album for close to 20 years … [or] really ever since [David] Bowie released [the 1973 covers album] Pin-Ups," he said with a laugh. "I think what happened was someone at our U.K. record label said, 'I think it'll be great if Def Leppard did a covers album.' So that got the ball rolling for us."
As might be expected, Yeah! does have plenty of Bowie ties, starting with a swooning, sax-driven take on Aladdin Sane's "Drive-In Saturday." However, Def Leppard also worked with photographer Mick Rock to re-create some of the famous photos he shot for Queen, the Stooges and Bowie; these appear in the liner notes.
Watch Def Leppard's 'Rock On' Video
Unsurprisingly, Yeah! also has plenty of faithful, swaggering glam covers: T. Rex's "20th Century Boy," Mott the Hoople's "The Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll," Sweet's "Hell Raiser" and Roxy Music's "Street Life." Def Leppard's sinewy, moody take on David Essex's "Rock On" turned out so well, the song even became a set-list staple for the band.
Collen noted that the band "didn't want to do a typical" covers album full of obvious hits. "I mean, some of these songs on the album most people haven't even heard," he said. "You would have kind of have had been there in the room in 1972 or something. So that was an interesting thing because the motivation wasn't about trying to further our career or that we should do this or that thing. It was totally for us."
One of these obscurities was John Kongos' psychedelic-tinged 1971 single "He's Gonna Step on You Again," which was a big U.K. hit but missed the top 40 in the U.S. Another lesser-known-to-many song, "Heartbeat" by the glam cult figure Jobriath, surfaced on a retail-exclusive EP.
Yeah! also gave Def Leppard a chance to show off some broader influences. The album contains a punkish version of "Hanging on the Telephone" by proto-power-pop act the Nerves, a lovely, introspective reading of the Kinks' "Waterloo Sunset" and a faithful, string-driven take on Electric Light Orchestra's "10538 Overture."
Listen to Def Leppard's '20th Century Boy'
"Those songs that we’ve covered will show, at last, of where we actually came from musically," Elliott told this writer in a 2005 article for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "[Some people] obviously think that we grew up on Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin and stuff.
"It’s like, ‘No, we like them, we respect them – but they weren’t our main reason for wanting to do this.’ That’s why Def Leppard doesn’t sound like Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. We’re a pop band, pop-rock band, whatever you want to put it."
Yeah! debuted at Number 16 on the Billboard Top 200. Bonus tracks on various versions of the album released around the world include covers by Slade, the Stooges, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
These can be hard to find, but the 2021 box set X, YEAH!, Songs From the Sparkle Lounge: Rarities From the Vault gathers all the bonus covers from the Yeah! era in one place.