Sheffield’s answer to Bon Jovi give us a taste of their talents as we focus our lens on “Photograph”
The plundering of rock’s heavily ladened vault of classics continues with a distinctly metal flavored favorite from Sheffield’s finest, Def Leppard. From the height of their popularity in 1983, “Photograph” has become one of the most distinct and easily recognizable tracks from a band that achieved most of their success across the pond in the USA than in Britain. Taking into account their vast repertoire of hits and popular anthems from a career that has spanned thirty three years, “Photograph” remains one of the most popularly played rock songs on American and British radio stations since its first release in the early eighties.
Def Leppard has a somewhat mixed opinion in fans of the classic rock genre. Sometimes considered too metal to be harder rock, the ever raging debate as to where hard rock ends and metal begins is a seemingly unanswerable question, bands like Def Leppard, AC/DC and others seemed to spend the decade of the eighties continually crossing the divide and releasing material, sometimes on the same album, that was ambiguous and genre hopping. Thus with the release of Pyromania in 1983, Def Leppard capped off their monumental rise to prominence with as ambiguous an album that could be possibly created.
Consisting of songs such as “Foolin” and “Rock of Ages”, Def Leppard’s third studio album would prove to be the catapult that would propel the band into the mainstream in the US and everywhere else almost immediately. With a cleanly produced sound that emulated American rock bands such as Bon Jovi and Aerosmith, Def Leppard were very quickly embraced by the early dawn of the hair metal fans that were emerging on the music scene. “Photograph” however had the advantage of being a song firmly rooted in a classic rock topic, lyrics and three-chord riff with the production values and overall sound of the emerging soft metal genre.
Produced by the now legendary “Mutt” Lange, “Photograph” is a song that immediately grabs the attention of the listener with its streamlined guitars and almost rattled percussion, the distinction between the instruments and sections of the band being stark and defined. Written as a tribute to the late Marilyn Monroe, lead singer Joe Elliot and the rest of the band; Rick Savage on bass, Steve Clark on guitars, Pete Willis, who was dismissed part way through recording of the album but not before laying down all rhythm sections for songs, and finally “Mutt” Lange all contributed to the creation of the song. Elliot’s vocals are typically on form, his relatively high voice lending a perfect compliment to the glossy production of the song and album as a whole. The song immediately entered the band’s set list for the subsequent tour for the Pyromania tour and was decided to be the lead single from the album although all would be hugely successful.
It would be the live versions of this song, however, that would ultimately lead to its immortalisation into the classic rock archive. Since its live debut in 1983, “Photograph” ingrained itself as a must see event and part of Def Leppard shows and set lists. The height of this popularity came in its live recording in the Don Valley Stadium, Sheffield in 1993 as part of a much wider concert that was seen as a huge thank you and praise to the band’s hometown roots and original fan base. The performance is, quite frankly, fantastic; Elliot and the rest all on top form, obviously driven on by the sold out home crowd. It should be noted that by this point, drummer Rick Allen had lost his arm in an accident but did not let this mar his performances, a customized drum kit rigged up for him as he rose, and continues to rise, to the challenge. A testimony to the songs enduring popularity is the recent collaboration in 2008 where the band teamed with the country and pop star Taylor Swift, “Photograph” amongst a number of Leppard hits. Although not as good as the original version or subsequent live performances by the band, the introduction of a popular singer from another music genre no less has introduced the song to a whole new generation of fans. It is with a great shame then that the song was not as big a hit in the UK compared to its huge success in the US, a fact that disappointed lead singer Elliot. Nonetheless, “Photograph” remains an underrated classic from an era of rock music that can so often be dismissed as filled with pulp and corporate garbage.
As ever, discography, tours and band info can be found on the official website: http://www.defleppard.com