Def Leppard cuts off Universal Music, re-records "forgeries" of its own hits

Def Leppard got screwed over by Universal Music on compensation for its digital downloads and refuses to have anything to do with them until they pay the band a fair share of the money from iTunes, the Amazon MP3 store, and other digital distribution systems. In order to cut the label out of its earnings, the band has gone back to the studio to re-record its most popular tunes, producing what it calls "forgeries" -- note for note reproductions of the original studio cuts. The band can do this because of "compulsory licensing," which allows anyone to record and sell any song, on payment of a set royalty. But it's surprisingly hard to reproduce decades-old recordings, as Gary Graff writes for Billboard:

"When you're at loggerheads with an ex-record label not prepared to pay you a fair amount of money and we have the right to say, 'Well, you're not doing it,' that's the way it's going to be," Elliott tells "Our contract is such that they can't do anything with our music without our permission, not a thing. So we just sent them a letter saying, 'No matter what you want, you are going to get "no" as an answer, so don't ask.' That's the way we've left it. We'll just replace our back catalog with brand new, exact same versions of what we did."

While the business side seems cut and dried, Elliott says the creative part of recreating songs that date back 25 years or more is not. "You just don't go in and say, 'Hey guys, let's record it,' and it's done in three minutes," Elliott notes. "We had to study those songs, I mean down to the umpteenth degree of detail, and make complete forgeries of them. Time-wise it probably took as long to do as the originals, but because of the technology it actually got done quicker as we got going. But trying to find all those where am I gonna find a 22-year-old voice? I had to sing myself into a certain throat shape to be able to sing that way again. It was really hard work, but it was challenging, and we did have a good laugh over it here and there."

Def Leppard Recording 'Forgeries' of Old Hits To Spite Label

(Image: def leppard rules, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from sashafatcat's photostream)


    1. And I hope they don’t DRC the hell out of it and make it a clipped brickwall mess. 

  1. As I was reading this “Pour Some Sugar on Me” came on Pandora, and I was reminded of why even though I think this is cool, I’m still not buying anything they record. 

  2. On one hand it kind of sucks they’re trying so hard to faithfully dupe old songs.. it would be nice to see how age has altered their performance.

    But on the other hand, artists have a really bad track record when it comes to handling their own “remixes” so maybe it’s a good thing they aren’t putting themselves in a position where they’re tempted to tweak things.

  3. Good on them! Gaming the system to bite the record label in the tush.

    I’m sure it must have been really cool for those guys to get back in the studio using the vintage equipment (vintage now anyways…) they used to lay the original tracks.

    This intrigues me on three levels: as a jurist, musician and sound engineer.

    Pour as much sugar as you want on this one Universal, it ain’t gonna get any tastier!

    1. Depends what you mean by vintage equipment!

      Hysteria was one of Mutt Lange’s 80s experiments in technology-driven control-freakery. The electronic drums were quantized, as was the synth bass. The rhythm section was practically synth-pop, no less than contempraries like Depeche Mode.

      Then Mutt drilled the guitarists in how to play every single lick with cold precision, which he then treated with chorus effects… so it sounds a lot like a synth as well.

      The vocals were also heavily comped (pieced together from multiple takes, sometimes even combining the individual syllables of words from different run throughs of a line.) The end result sounds as if it was Auto-Tuned, so a new reproduction may as well use Auto Tune.

      Hysteria had such a slick, shiny, heavily produced sound, modern music technology will make it pretty easy to reproduce, with less effort.

  4. Over the years, I have given this band a lot of crap for their music. However I have to admit, I admire the fact they never give up. Despite death, crippling injury, and record label douchery they keep on swinging. 

  5. It’s going to be tough to get that “Gunter glieben glauben globen” just right.

  6. I went through high school with Def Leppard patches on my jean jacket..
    With Steve Clark 20 years in the grave how they going to reproduce his part on the two biggest albums?

    They won’t be able to reproduce it exactly…  I do like Viv Campbell and I have seen him play live with them.

    The other question, who is going to buy these new versions? Doesn’t everybody already have copies?  Well, you might not have Slang, but I do and it is good album.  It  didn’t sell well, so they might not remake it.

    New Material would be cool too.

    This makes me think of Devo, whenever somebody want to use “Whip It” in a commercial they just record a new version instead of not getting paid on the original.

  7. The 1988 Oingo Boingo “live” album (“Boingo Alive – Celebration of a Decade 1979 – 1988”) was perhaps similar in concept.  The group had changed labels, moving to MCA from A&M, and by carefully recording this “live” album in a studio setting they were able to create what is essentially a greatest hits album for their new label.  Of course today the two labels are now part of the same conglomerate, so this trick is long since moot.  One more analogy – in the 1960’s Frank Sinatra re-recorded many of his big 1950’s Capitol hits for his new label Reprise.

    1. Actually, Reznor eventually got the rights to his early material back, and re-released a remastered Pretty Hate Machine on his own terms.

  8. This might be something that comes down to common practice where artists will record the song twice the first time and keep the forgeries for themselves in the event the labels do any funny business. 

    The thing I am not sure of is what constitutes a forgery? I mean someone could just take the original track and state at the beginning this is a forgery and since the original track was altered in an obvious way would that not count?

        1.  British English speakers would beg to differ when it comes to collective nouns such as “band”.

  9. Cracker did this too. In their case the label had one greatest hits out with the label-owned version, and the band had another greatest hits out with their re-recorded versions.

    Those were solid.

    Much less solid, indeed positively squishy in a revolting way, are the songs that the label Cleopatra releases, which are remakes of songs from the 1980s performed by the actual former lead singer(s) of bands such as Flock of Seagulls or Berlin or Missing Persons, but backed by the most generic session musicians you could imagine. Some theorize that these remakes – which sound more like the lead singer singing along to a bad Karaoke track – are made primarily to be sold for use as background music in tv shows and movies that need (but cannot afford) the original hits. However, Cleopatra also sells them as CDs and downloads to unsuspecting music fans with nary a warning that they are remakes.

    1. Back in 1995, UFO released an album of new material when Michael Schenker rejoined the band, and they included newly recorded versions of their old hits “Doctor, Doctor” and “Lights Out.”  As it turns out, I like those versions even better than the originals, which were awesome enough.

      I’ll roll the dice and check out the new Pyromania.  I think I’ll miss Mutt Lange’s production, but that CD was remastered so quiet, the new one might just be an improvement.

      I’ll skip any of the newer material, though.

    2. aww yes, I had like two of those cds and a ‘Tribute to Madonna’ cover album that had a hilariously bad version of Material Girl done by KMFDM

  10.  I’m listening to my own personal FLAC rip of the MFSL Pyromania disc as I write this.  Judging from this, I don’t think it would be possible for the forgeries to have more DRC than the original.

  11. Embarassing. DL needs to sort it out with their record company, this will only bring the value of their back catalogue down. 

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