Def Leppard – Photograph
When I was a teenager we moved to the countryside, which meant that my ten minute walk to school became a twenty minute drive in the company of my brother. This in turn meant constant exposure to his somewhat limited collection of cassette tapes, and these became the soundtrack to my early mornings for several years. Some things we could agree on – Fleetwood Mac, for example (I could always look forward to a terrifying burst of speed when The Chain came on) – but his other favourites, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and AC/DC – were extremely harrowing for an avowed Mel & Kim fan like me.
Nestling in the back of the glove compartment was Pyromania, the 1983 album by Def Leppard, which I never objected to too much – principally because it contained a track I secretly adored: Photograph.
Gosh, it’s exhilarating isn’t it? Sometimes a massive slab of show-metal is just what’s needed to clear away the cobwebs of a morning, and producer Robert “Mutt” Lange was certainly the go-to man for that during the 1980s – but for all the posturing and guitar solos, his is a pop sensibility – as his later work with erstwhile missus Shania Twain proved, although with an irritating over-reliance on exclamation marks. Every standard rock production trick is deployed entirely in service of the tune, which is instantly memorable, bombastic, and like all the best records, a little bit wistful at the same time (mainly thanks to some gorgeous multi-tracked backing vocals). It’s certainly my favourite masturbatory-themed song about Marilyn Monroe and contains the fabulously preposterous lyric “Look what you’ve done to this rock and roll clown.”
Photograph, of course, belongs to that very particular category of Hair Metal, rock’s flamboyant, over-dressed cousin. We’re all supposed to think of it now as being faintly ridiculous, but really a lot of it was just highly flammable pop held rigidly in place with Elnett – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, credibility being an over-rated commodity if you ask me. It’s funny how purists tend to look down their noses at pop, viewing it as somehow more manufactured than rock music – Def Leppard‘s sound was just as manufactured as, say, S/A/W, not to mention the knives and forks that rolled off the conveyer belts in their hometown of Sheffield – but I never understand why that would be considered a bad thing. Production line pop – from Tin Pan Alley and the Brill Building to the Hit Factory and Xenomania, has given us more brilliant records than I could possibly count. Had I expressed this viewpoint at the time I would have been strung up, but this – and Bon Jovi‘s Living On A Prayer particularly – are pure, brilliant pop and really not a lot else.
Sheffield has also given us the Human League, ABC, Moloko, Heaven 17, Pulp, and, er, Living in a Box, so it can make an entirely reasonable claim to be the UK’s greatest exporter of pop. Also Arctic Monkeys and Joe Cocker, if you like that sort of thing. But while most of these were warmly received by the whole of the UK, Def Leppard fell on deaf ears for a long, long time – it wasn’t until 1987’s Hysteria album that they finally got the platinum sales to accompany the platinum jewellery. Their spiritual homeland was, naturally, the USA, and they were received like long lost heroes there, where Photograph became a huge hit in 1983. God bless America.
Entered chart: 05/02/1983
Chart peak: 66
Weeks on chart: 4
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Strip out the pyrotechnics and give it to Ed Sheeran, who could then confuse fans by performing an entirely different song called Photograph.