Steinman was originally suggested as producer for Def Leppard’s fourth album Hysteria by manager Cliff Burnstein. They’d started work on the follow-up to Pyromania with Mutt Lange, but he became unavailable due to exhaustion. The recording schedule was set and there were few alternatives open to the band, so a deal was struck – even though Todd Rundgren had actually overseen Bat Out of Hell, the album that made songwriter Steinman’s reputation.
“Steinman was not a producer. I pointed that out,” Elliott tells Classic Rock. “But because Mutt was a producer who assists in songwriting and arrangements, Cliff thought we might need help more in the songwriting department than in the sonics of the record. Cliff got that completely wrong. But at the time, Steinman was literally the only option we had, so we ended up going with him.”
Elliott recalled conferring with Lange, who told him: “Give it a go – and if it doesn’t work, get rid of the guy.” In the end, Elliott added, that was “exactly what happened, because Steinman was less than useless!”
There were promising early discussions, Elliott admitted. “Jim was a funny guy, very eccentric,” he said. “But you could sit down with Charles Manson for 20 minutes and probably come away saying: ‘Hey, he’s not that bad.’ And in that first meeting, we realized that Jim was in a completely different orbit to us. I got this uncomfortable feeling.”
Early sessions did nothing to alleviate Def Leppard’s concerns. “That first afternoon, we were warming up,” Elliott said. “We played a loose, Stones-y version of ‘Don’t Shoot Shotgun’ – just the riff and a part of the melody. We didn’t even have the chorus then. And Steinman says: ‘I think we got that one.’ We all looked at each other, and Phil [Collen] said: ‘We haven’t even tuned up yet!’ Steinman says: ‘Yeah, but it’s got a vibe.’ That wasn’t a good sign.”
Worse, since Steinman was also writing material for Bat Out of Hell II, he often “stumbled” into the studio hours after Def Leppard’s arrival. That led to the conclusion that he “wasn’t giving us his full attention,” Elliott said. Steinman also ran up a large takeout bill: “He would look at a menu and order one of everything. Every night, on our dime, there would be a fucking banquet of food.”
Elliott said things came to a head when Steinman asked for the control-room carpet to be replaced. The singer told his colleagues: “We should be changing the producer before we change the fucking carpet.”
Steinman’s payoff, Elliott added, was a “six-figure sum,” but this disaster opened the door for Lange’s eventual return and the massive success of Hysteria when it finally arrived in 1987.
“Jim Steinman made a lot of money out of Def Leppard for doing very little work. He’s a lucky man in that respect,” Elliott said. Of the recordings that remain, he added: “We would never release that stuff. There’s nothing finished. It’s like the worst bootleg you’ve ever heard. Those tapes are locked away in my library – and that’s where they’ll stay.”
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