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Copy cats: Def Leppard, others re-do old hits

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You can go to Thursday's Def Leppard concert to hear the band's old hits, or you could wait for the new album ... of the old hits.

The British pop-metal band recently re-recorded two of its biggest songs, "Pour Some Sugar on Me" and "Rock of Ages," note-for-note from the 25-year-old originals. Why? Guitarist Vivian Campbell isn't afraid to admit the band was "shamelessly exploiting the connection" to this summer's Tom Cruise movie adaptation of Broadway's "Rock of Ages," a jukebox musical based on '80s hard rock.

Now Def Leppard has decided to go all the way. They plan to re-record their entire catalog.

DEF LEPPARD and POISON
• 7 p.m. July 19
• Allstate Arena, 6920 N. Mannheim Rd. in Rosemont
• Tickets: $29.50-$95; (800) 745-3000; ticketmaster.com


Again the question: Why?

The answer involves lawyers and the perennial kvetching by musicians about their record contracts. Musicians re-record their hits for several related reasons -- all driven by a desire to keep as much of their own income as possible. First, record contracts executed before the existence of digital music retailers must be amended or renegotiated to account for those new earning opportunities. Sometimes bands (Def Leppard, Metallica, the Beatles) balk at the terms and hold out for better.

Second, with record companies controlling the use and licensing of a band's catalog, the band either only gets a small percentage of the money from those opportunities (TV commercials, film soundtracks, etc.) or misses them altogether when the requests get lost in the bureaucracies of the music conglomerates.

But if the band simply re-records their hit songs themselves, they own the tracks and can do with them what they wish -- and keep all the money.

"To re-record our back catalog is a way of empowering ourselves," Nick Feldman of Wang Chung told The New York Times. "We can be much more selective about where these songs end up and how much we charge for them."

And when, say, "Photograph" is playing underneath a TV commercial, who's really going to notice whether it's the new one or the old one?

Def Leppard is just the latest in a rash of musical self-forgeries. Here are some other bands who've gone back into the studio and asked, "Now, how did we get that guitar tone 27 years ago...?":

Aerosmith
Steven Tyler & Co. may have started this trend in 1999, when they did an end-run around their label, Sony, by re-recording their hit "Sweet Emotion" and selling it for a General Motors commercial. The gross was allegedly $8 million, and without the label taking its cut so was the net.

Twisted Sister
The '80s hair metal clowns went into the studio to re-do just a couple of songs from their 1984 album "Stay Hungry," but they wound up re-doing the entire record. The goal wasn't just to be able to freely license the classic track "We're Not Gonna Take It"; they also sought to remove some of the '80s gloss the record company demanded in the production at the time.

Styx
Once again split into two camps -- the Tommy Shaw-led Styx, still touring, and the solo Dennis DeYoung, performing occasional concerts called "The Music of Styx" -- Shaw's current lineup for the band re-recorded classic hits for a pair of EPs called "Regeneration, Vols. 1 & 2." But imagine "Come Sail Away" sung by someone other than DeYoung. Yes, it sounds just that silly.

Wang Chung
The '80s synth-pop duo self-released a double-EP in 2010. One disc featured four new songs (not bad, actually), the other featured four old ones -- re-recorded, note-for-note versions of "Everybody Have Fun Tonight," "Dance Hall Days" and "Let's Go," plus an acoustic take on "To Live and Die in L.A."

Squeeze
The on-again/off-again British pop band was typically coy in the title of its greatest hits re-dos: "Spot the Difference." Singer-bassist Chris Difford explained: "Squeeze has never owned our own copyrights because, obviously, they're owned by a major record label. We thought it might be fun to re-record our songs to make it possible for us to own a little bit more of our own history."

Kiss
A new album in 2009, "Sonic Boom," included a bonus disc of the hard-rock band's biggest hits -- "Detroit Rock City," "Shout It Out Loud," Rock and Roll All Nite," etc. -- but in newly recorded, note-for-note versions.

Alice Cooper
The smeared shock-rocker re-did five of his classics -- "School's Out," "NO More Mr. Nice Guy," etc. -- on an iTunes-exclusive EP in 2010 called "Alice Does Alice."


Sampler playlist
You can try out the new Def Leppard versions, plus sample old-vs.-new tracks from Twisted Sister, Styx and Squeeze in this Spotify playlist:




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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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