For many of us, 2018 was the Year of the Leppard. The hard rock band headlined and sold out Madison Square Garden for the first time, got nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and at long last, made their entire catalog available to stream.
Def Leppard marked the occasion at Spotify Studios by recording a cover of one of their live show warmup songs, “Personal Jesus,” by Depeche Mode. It felt like a surprising choice, but the connection between the two disparate Eighties bands is much deeper, guitarist Phil Collen explains on Spotify’s Under Cover podcast.
What makes “Personal Jesus” a great song is its memorable groove and melody, Collen said. The production reminded him of Leppard’s hit “Love Bites,” because like “Jesus,” it was recorded like a dance track, by isolating each part and piecing them together in the mixing process. So when the song became a Number One hit (Def Leppard’s only song to go Number One), there was a bit of scrambling to figure out how to play it live. “It was a real struggle playing guitar and singing [on that song],” Collen said, “but we finally got it.”
Def Leppard’s rendition of “Personal Jesus” is bit grittier than the original, largely due to Collen’s bluesy electric guitar. He plays a Jackson PC 1 with a built in sustainer that gives it that wobbly, rippling sound that’s recognizable on albums like Hysteria. The effect was inspired by Brian May of Queen, he said. For “Jesus,” after scratching a few sound experiments, Collen said landed on notes that, in the end, were “cool, current and nasty.”
“Depeche Mode [started out] really poppy like a lot of bands that disappeared, then all of a sudden they started doing things like ‘Personal Jesus’ – and it was like ‘woah’ … It has an element of cool that was different from the earlier Depeche Mode stuff,” Collen said. “I found it really inspiring how this article that said Depeche Mode sold out more than Bieber or Taylor Swift,” Collen said. “We [felt] a tear of pride and joy for them – the fact that they carried on, never stopped … and it’s sort of the way we see ourselves.”