The Pyromania album was produced by Mutt Lange, who came up with the line, "All I've got is a photograph." This gave them the idea to write a song about a guy who's crazy about a girl, but all he has of her is a photograph.
Lange, whose first work with the band was producing their previous album High 'n' Dry, was so integral to the band's sound that he got songwriter credits on every Pyromania track. Def Leppard's next album, Hysteria, was also produced by Lange after an attempt with Jim Steinman failed. It wasn't released until 1987, delayed because of Lange's schedule and a severed limb: drummer Rick Allen lost an arm in a car accident on New Year's Eve, 1984.
Ringo Starr had a #1 hit in 1973 with a song called "Photograph" that contained similar subject matter. The band was worried they were too similar, but Lange thought no one would notice. In 2005, Nickelback had a huge hit with their own "Photograph
The band would sometimes dedicate this song to Marilyn Monroe when they performed it live, and the video featured a Monroe look-a-like. This drew many listeners to the conclusion that the song is about the actress, but the Monroe association was constructed for the sake of a good story. The band didn't have a specific inspiration for the lyrics, but wanted to express their young lust in an anthemic song - what guy hasn't found himself so infatuated with a girl that every photograph he sees reminds him of her?
This was Def Leppard's first hit. The band formed in 1977 and released two major-label albums before issuing Pyromania. These first two albums sold well, with Def Leppard gaining appeal in the hard rock realm (they toured with both Blackfoot and Rainbow in 1981).
"Photograph" was the first single from Pyromania, and it had all the makings of a crossover hit: slick production, lively background vocals, a passionate, lovelorn lyric. Impelled by this hit, the band set themselves apart from contemporary rockers like Judas Priest and Queensrÿche by appealing to a wide swath of women. It helped that the band was extremely photogenic and also very young: every member was in his early 20s when the song was released, except for drummer Rick Allen, who was 19.
Pyromania went on to sell over 10 million copies in the US.
MTV, which launched in 1981, put the "Photograph" video in hot rotation, creating a feedback loop between the network and local radio stations. In our interview with Joe Elliott
, he explained: "It went through the roof because of MTV. Once people started getting cable all over the States, this fledgling MTV thing took off. We got fantastic bounce-back from people watching it on MTV and then asking the radio stations to play it. The two started bouncing back from each other request-wise, and the song just went crazy."
For commentary of the shooting of this epic video, we turn to lead singer Joe Elliot's memoirs as captured in the book MTV Ruled the World - The Early Years of Music Video: "We'd turned up at this soundstage someplace in Battersea, in London, and there was David Mallet. Now, I didn't know who David Mallet was really, but I knew he had worked with Queen. That was good enough for me. We walked into this pre-built stage. We had nothing to do with it. We can take absolutely no credit for it. But Mallet had put this thing together - mesh flooring with lights coming up through it and these cages with all these girls in it with torn stockings and ripped tops and stuff. Hilarious now, but back in the time, it was like 'Wow, this is cool!'"
As for the scene near the end with the heel going through Joe Elliot's Polaroid, Elliot adds: "I remember where there's this one bit where the 'Marilyn character' stabs her heel through a Polaroid of me screaming. The first thing I had to do when I walked in at 8:00 in the morning - before I even had a chance to have a cup of coffee - David comes in, and he calls everybody 'dear boy' or 'darling.' 'Dear boy, I need you to scream into my Polaroid.' So I did this kind of scream thing, and he goes 'OK, done.' You got pulled along. You got directed, because we didn't know what we were doing. He just said, 'Be yourselves. Leave it all to me.'"
Shortly after recording his hit "She Blinded Me With Science
," Thomas Dolby worked on the Pyromania
album with Mutt Lange, who gave Dolby an unusual credit. Said Dolby: "By that time my name was known as a solo artist and I felt it might be a bit confusing to people to see my name on a rock record like that. And so it was actually Mutt that picked up a new moniker for me, which was Booker T. Boffin." (See our full interview with Thomas Dolby
Along with Mutt Lange, the songwriter credits on this one go to guitarists Steve Clark and Pete Willis, bass player Rick Savage, and lead singer Joe Elliott. It was one of Willis' last contributions to the group; a founding member, he was replaced midway through the Pyromania sessions by Phil Collen. When he left, the group had already recorded the backing tracks for the album, which he played on. Collen added the guitar solo on this song and some other tracks, so both he and Willis are credited as guitarists on the album.
The group "whoa..." that you hear a few times in this song was inspired by a 1973 Mott the Hoople song called "The Golden Age of Rock 'n' Roll," where they do some significant "whoa"ing. Leppard lead singer Joe Elliott is such a fan of Mott that in 2009 he formed a band called the Down 'n' Outz that plays covers of their songs.
When Phil Collen was brought in to play solos, he typically played them quickly, going for a spontaneous feel. Mutt Lange made him take his sweet time with this one though. In his Songfacts interview
, Collen said: "With that one, I actually worked out the melodic thing and right at the end Mutt Lange said, 'Just vibe out on the end. Play solos and licks and go around the vocal.' Because it was such a melodic, amazing, beautiful melody it was so easy to weave in and out of Joe's vocals at the end. Then the chorus is so melodic that it was so easy just to play all those licks. It kind of played itself."
To the best of our knowledge, Joe Elliott performed the first flying spread-eagle on MTV when he does the leap about 1:40 into the video. This slow-motion display of limber exaltation was later seen in the Van Halen video for "Jump
," where David Lee Roth performs the feat.
In 2011, Santana recorded a new version of this song with Chris Daughtry.