For the casual fan, Def Leppard may come off as a hair metal band with UK roots. But in truth, the English quintet has deep roots in the glam/glitter rock of the ’70s that was so huge across the pond when exotic creatures like Marc Bolan, Mott the Hoople and The Sweet dominated the charts and the telly.
The Leps have always been avowed fans and later on, friends, with the likes of Ian Hunter of Mott fame. When David Bowie recently passed away at the age of 69 on Jan. 10, it was quite the blow for the band. Guitarist Phil Collen, who’s been a fan of the Thin White Duke dating back to when he first saw Bowie perform on Top of the Pops when Collen was 14, has been a lifelong fan.
Not only did he form a David Bowie cover band called Cybernauts back in 2001 along with bandmate Joe Elliott, keyboardist Dick Decent and former Spiders from Mars members Trevor Bolder and Mick “Woody” Woodmansey, but he had the singular thrill of singing background vocals with Elliott at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert for AIDS Awareness back on April 20, 1992.
At this Wembley Stadium show, Collen and Elliott were invited by Queen’s Brian May to sing background vocals on a cover of “All the Young Dudes” as part of a crew that also included Hunter, Roger Taylor of Queen, David Bowie and Spiders From Mars guitarist Mick Ronson, who wound up performing for the last time before he passed away a year later. So to say Phil Collen is an avowed David Bowie fan is a bit of an understatement. To that end, here are some of Collen’s favorite Bowie gems.
“Moonage Daydream” from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars (1972)
“That still affects me to this day. Just the imagery—I think it’s a great song and it’s kind of out there as well as being artistically amazing.”
“Aladdin Sane” from Aladdin Sane (1973)
“Mike Garson’s piano on that is just off the charts. It’s incredible—it’s jazz, it’s classical, it’s everything. It’s the mixed martial arts of piano playing.”
“I just found out that ‘Life on Mars’ was voted the most popular song in England. I thought it would have been something else like ‘Jean Genie.’ The lyrics and imagery of ‘Queen Bitch’ are fantastic. When I was getting into that song, my cousin used to play Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix and everything else including Stevie Wonder and Pink Floyd along with Bowie. [My cousin] lived on the eleventh floor and in that song, there’s a lyric that goes, ‘I’m stuck on the eleventh floor and I’m watching the cruisers below,’ and to me, it was literally like he was singing to us. Bowie was singing about New York but for us, it was a suburb in London. If you can write a song like that, it says it all and Bowie did that all the time.
It was glam rock, punk, rock, it was artistic. It was everything. It was really theatrical and artistic. That’s what I loved about the whole bit and you can pretty much say that about all his songs.”
Def Leppard will be appearing with REO Speedwagon and Tesla on July 11 at Nikon @ Jones Beach, 1000 Ocean Pkwy. in Wantagh. For more information, visit www.jonesbeach.com or call 800-745-3000. Visit www.longislandweekly.com to read a full feature on Def Leppard.