Up until very recently, hard rock acts didn’t have a great track record with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It took years for KISS, Rush and Bon Jovi to get in, for instance, and British metal gods Judas Priest have yet to be inducted. But finally, Priest’s peers, Def Leppard — not just one of the most influential bands of the 1980s’ metal boom but one of the most successful artists of all time, having sold more than 100 million records worldwide — will enter the Hall next year, alongside more esoteric acts like Radiohead and the Cure. Surely the more than half a million loyal fans who voted for Leppard are feeling vindicated right about now.
“The fans who collectively voted was about 560,000, which is insane,” Leppard frontman Joe Elliott marvels. “I mean, we crushed the fan vote. So, I guess what happens there is that [doubters] go, ‘You know what? Yeah, they do deserve to be in!’”
Speaking to Yahoo Entertainment shortly after the inductees announcement, Elliott acknowledges that Def Leppard have never been critics’ darlings. “I can understand why people say, ‘Well, they sold a ton of records but it’s just commercial fluff,’ if you like,” he shrugs. “But our body of work is not that. It’s got commercial stuff on it, yes. It’s got catchy choruses. But it’s got songs that have remained hits for 30 years. You know, it doesn’t all have to be dark gloom and Bob Dylan-strength lyrics to make an impact. Sometimes just watching 25-46,000 fans at our concert, singing the chorus of ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ so loudly that they actually drown out the band — that, to me, is making a cultural impact.
“The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame should be about impact on the music industry — your impact on the next generation of kids coming up,” Elliott continues. “Did you encourage a kid to buy a guitar? Did you encourage a kid to buy a drum kit? Did you encourage a kid to pick up singing and writing songs? If that happened, then whoever the band — whether it be us, Nickelback or Boyz II Men — are eligible for a nomination, because they’ve made some kind of an impact. … There’s a lot of [artists] who stop me in an elevator and go, ‘Your music brought me through my teenage years and made me want to be a musician.’ And they’re in a band that don’t sound a thing like us! But, we got them started.”
It’s worth noting that in the past, Def Leppard were the victims of an odd and low-key sort of sexism, in which bands with large female fan bases tend to not be taken seriously. “That’s a good point, actually,” Elliott muses. “Maybe this whole #MeToo Movement has helped make a seismic shift in that kind of thing too. I really never thought of it like that, but yeah, it’s ridiculous that a band would be thought of in a negative way because they have a female audience over a male audience. That might be something to do with maybe the committee is mostly male — that’s me supposing, mind you. But it never occurred to me that bands that have a mixture of both sexes coming to their shows, that that would be even an issue. … I always thought it was down to your body of work. And that’s how it should be.”
Looking ahead to the ceremony, which will take place on March 29, 2019, at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, Elliott isn’t yet sure exactly what Leppard’s performance will entail. “I’ve only just heard that you play a three-song set, and then there’s normally some mad jam at the end. I just kind of burst out laughing — I think I spat tea across the floor — at the idea of me, Thom Yorke and Robert Smith being on the same stage,” he chuckles.
But what about doing some sort of “mad jam” with the class of 2019’s surprise inductees, Roxy Music? Roxy’s groundbreaking glam rock, along with the glittering music of David Bowie, T. Rex, Mott the Hoople, Slade and Jobriath, was a major influence on Elliott when he was growing up in the Northern English city of Sheffield in the 1970s. (“Take them out the loop, and there’s no Def Leppard,” Elliott stresses.) So, might we expect Elliott and Roxy’s Bryan Ferry to share the stage at some point? Maybe a “Bringin’ on the/ In Every Dream Home a Heartache” medley?
“Yeah, you and I would love that,” Elliott laughs. “What you have to realize here is that there’s a logically good reason why that will never happen: I totally get that I’m a huge fan of Roxy Music, but I totally get that Roxy Music are not huge fans of Def Leppard! Why would they be? Bryan Ferry is big into Bob Dylan, he’s big into Marlene Dietrich, that kind of thing. I think there might be some smiles and handshakes and congratulatory stuff going on [backstage at the Hall ceremony], but I just can’t see Bryan Ferry checking out the genius of the production of [Def Leppard’s breakthrough album] Hysteria, because he’s probably never heard it in his life. … I mean, sure, I would get up and do ‘Virginia Plain’ with them, but I can’t see them wanting to get up and do ‘Pour Some Sugar on Me’ with us!”
That being said, Elliott is already looking forward to the following year’s nominations, when he will get the chance to vote as a Rock Hall member — because he already knows who will be at the top of his class of 2020 ballot. “I think it’s — ‘disappointing’ would be my faintest word here — that the guy who gets the third best fan vote, Todd Rundgren, doesn’t even get picked in the top seven,” Elliott says. (Rundgren was shortlisted this year but didn’t make the Hall’s final cut.) “This is a guy who, you listen to the Nazz, you listen to his solo work, there’s hits. You listen to his work with Utopia, it stretched boundaries. You listen to his production work: Meat Loaf, Psychedelic Furs, the New York Dolls. I could go on. It’s like, ‘Really? He’s not in?’ It’s unbelievable. But I can’t control that. I can just be disappointed for him and hope that he gets in next year, because if I get to vote next year and he’s nominated, he will be the first one on my list.”
It’s been a “long, hard, strange trip” for Leppard to get to the Hall — a trip marked by such tragedies as the loss of drummer Rick Allen’s arm and the death of guitarist Steve Clark — but Elliott proudly says it’s been “worth every minute, because it’s all we ever wanted. It was always about making the songs better. That’s the kind of club that we wanted to be in. And the fact is, we’ve got a number of songs that are thought of by our generation in the same way that I think about stuff by the Who or the Beatles or the Stones. I’m not trying to say that we’re as good as Lennon and McCartney or Jagger and Richards, but for our generation, we are their version of that. … And that’s where we wanted to place ourselves.”
This article originally ran on Yahoo Music.