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Photograph

by

Def Leppard



Songfacts®:  You can leave comments about the song at the bottom of the page.

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 Queensr├┐che 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 the song Stagefright, so both Willis and Collen 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.
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.
Def Leppard
Def Leppard Artistfacts
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More songs about photographs

Comments (29):

This song reminds me that we may have a rough past, but somehow we all turn out to be good adults in the end.
- Anjali, Duluth, GA
@jedd, Savannah, GA
Same here, but Santa Cruz and her name was Dottie. Awesome time in my life.
- David, Petaluma, CA
This song reminds me of being 20 years old,tons of sex,living in Los Angeles and of a girl named Janis L.,such awesome times
- jedd, Savannah, GA
10th grade. Wow, I'm old. But where is "Bringing on the Heartbreak"???? Surely that was their first hit! I remember being stunned by the video for that one! Remember when the "M" in MTV actually meant something?
- Claude, Kingston, MA
to Michelle in MN - Def Leppard's "Photograph" and Nickelback's "Photograph" are two separate songs, not two versions of the same song.
- Stu, Philly, PA
A good song.Whenever I hear it I immediately think of My First True Love Teresa S.
Roy B.
- Roy, Dalton, GA, GA
So when are the rest of Def Lepp's song going to make this site?
- Linc, Beaumont, TX
excellent song not that big fan of def leppard but this song is awesome one of my favorites
- nick, covina, CA
I heard this song on a classic rock radio station and immediately wanted it. This is an awesome song! My dad loves Def Leppard and so do I! Like father like daughter! LOL =-)
- Myra, Chicago, IL
Joe Elliott said this song was about Marilyn Monroe when I saw them in Chapel Hill, NC in 1993. This song is almost 25 years old and is still on the radio.
- Mel, Mattoon, IL
Back when I first heard this song on Headbanger's Ball (the older HB), this song was stuck in my head for at least two days; ALL of Def Leppard's songs are very catchy, which is basically what makes them so great. Still, great song, but my all-time favorite is High 'N' Dry. =)
- Evan, Otway, OH
I love this song. It is meaningful and has a great sound. I love Joe Elliot's voice there.
- Joni, New York, NY
Uh, steve, the solo Pete Willis was trying to nail was for a song called stagefright, not photograph. Ronnie, Bringin' on the heartbreak was NOT off of On Through The Night it was off of their sophmore follow up High N Dry. Yes this song is about Marylin Monroe, Joe Elliot (vocalist) is a huge fan of hers. I ought to know these things I practically worship these guys. Rick Allen is like a God to me because of his influence on me as a drummer. Undoubtedly the greatest rock band in the world, Photograph is just ONE of the MANY MANY songs in their back catalogue that proves it.
- Greg, Fairmount, IN
i have always been a big def leppard fan but the song photograph is better than nickle backs version cause this one is the origional version
- michelle, minesota, MN
This was my favorite song when I was four years old, and I still love it now. Just great memories and really good lyrics.
- Sean, Phoenix, AZ
Mutt Lange was a genius at getting hits. He later built up Bryan Adams and his wife's, Shania Twain, career. I wish he would have just stuck with Def Leppard : )
- Duane, Wheatfield, IN
Classic song! Definitely included on the soundtrack of my life!
- Michael, San Diego, CA
"Bringin' On The Heartbreak" was actually on their second album, High n Dry.
- Rachel, waynesville , OH
This wasn't Def Leppard's first hit. The song "Bringing on the Heartbreak" got them big in the USA.
- Anonnymous, Nashville, TX
Anyone remember the cover of the album "Pyromania". Remind anyone of anything? Think 9-11. Creeped me out when I realized this.
- Sean, Brockton, MA
I'm no fan of Def Leppard, but this a classic hit, an all-time great. The best pop metal song ever. Great harmonies.
- Pete, NY, NY
this song was covered by a bluegrass trio in 2004, the video was shown a few times on C.M.T.
- kevin, Sandy, UT
A leftover from High'n'Dry, a really Thin Lizzy-ish thing. Mutt suggested we give it another try-a great example of never throwing away an idea because it broke us in the States. We were trying to think of a subject. We knew it was about a photograph, but because I had a big poster of Marilyn Monroe covering a hole in the wall of the toilet of my Isleworth apartment-and because she was dead- it ended up being about the ultimate example of something you can't possibly have."-Joe Elliot in the Rock of Ages: Definitive Collection pamphlet on the song.
- Kyle, Anna, OH
I don't know if this song really is about Marilyn Monroe, but at the Pyromania concert in Casper Wyoming in 1983. Joe Elliot said it was, and they had a laser show that display her face.
- Jeff Penman, Rawlins, WY
Probably the song that really makes Def Leppard the band they our along with "Rock of Ages". These two songs are timeless and will never get old. I realize "Bringin' on a Heartbreak" came first and I like it as well, but Pyromania just rocked. I'd love to go back to those more care free rockin' days of my youth.
- Dee, Indianapolis, IN
I had heard that Pete Willis was let go because he was too drunk (ironic). And "Bringing On The Heartbreak" was on the album after On Through The Night, called "High And Dry."
- Todd, Denver, CO
As far as the comment above, this actually was not Def Leppards first hit. Their first hit was "Bringing on the Heartbreak" from their On Through the Night album. That song actually got a decent amount of radio airplay before this album was released and was actually the song that put Def Leppard on the map.
- Ronnie, Ft. Meyers, FL
Excellent song!!! And band! I read somewhere directly from Def Leppard that the song WAS IN FACT ABOUT MARILYN MONROE
- EROC, Anniston, AL
The original band guitarist was fired after trying to work the right solo for the song. He spent weeks working on it, and it sounded horrible. His replacement had the solo down in a half an hour.
-Steve
- Steve, Chino Hills, CA
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