How Def Leppard Ran From Cliches on ‘Pyromania’ Cover Art
The cover for Def Leppard's breakthrough 1983 album, Pyromania, came about because their manager wanted to move away from typical hard-rock album art.
Peter Mensch of Def Leppard's managers Q Prime met with graphic designer Andie Airfix to discuss creating the artwork. As Airfix recalled on his website, Mensch said to him, "Def Leppard are different to your average heavy rock band – the sleeve needs to reflect that. We’ve all had enough of tattoos, terrible pictures of half-naked women riding motorbikes and fire-breathing monsters – it’s all too cliched now. We need something different – more modern. ... ‘We need to go back to basics. We need to redefine the image of heavy rock."
They already had the LP title, which was sort of an inside joke that popped up during the sessions. "Pyromania got titled Pyromania because a guy called Craig Thomson, who was an engineer on it, accused us of being pyromaniacs because we were having such a bad time trying to get the Marshalls [amplifiers] to sound good on the Pyromania album," singer Joe Elliott recalled.
"At one stage, [guitarist] Steve [Clark] and [producer] Mutt [Lange] suggested we should take them into the garden and burn them. Craig piped up in a brilliant broad Scottish accent, 'Arck, you're awl just a bunch of pyromaniacs!' And hence it became Pyromania."
Taking the title, Airfix decided to stretch "the concept to its extreme. I tried to envisage what would constitute an attack on our materialistic world that would be totally unacceptable. An attack on a skyscraper was what I came up with. The ‘sight,' aimed at the building, emphasized the attack was a deliberate action."
Airfix then brought in Bernard Gudynas, an illustrator specializing in futuristic designs. "We sketched out ideas, including a magnified section of the exploding building which I would build the graphic ‘sight’ around," Airfix noted. "It was demanding work for both of us to get it exactly right (‘exactly right’ is always a good aim). I had already decided the illustration should be contained within a border which smoke could pour onto – creating a further dimension to the design. The ‘sight’ itself added another: the ‘viewer’ – you. The sight, as a piece of graphics, may seem complicated and detailed, but it had to imply a weapon much bigger than a rifle sight – a rocket launcher perhaps."
To emphasize the smoke, the border was originally going to be white, but a black one proved to be more powerful. Airfax also praised Gudynas' use of dynamics by creating the view from the ground level.
At some point after the 9/11 attacks, Airfix met with the band. He and Elliott both admitted that the first thing they thought of when they saw the World Trade Center on fire was Pyromania's cover.