After the influence of my family, much of my musical taste was shaped by MTV and music videos. The next biggest influence is reviews and “best of” lists in Rolling Stone. But since I spent so much of my adolescence glued to MTV, it makes sense that some of it stuck. In fact, I hold MTV solely responsible for my affection for Hair Metal bands. You know who they are: a bunch of pretty boys wearing WAY too much Aquanet, playing pop music disguised as hard rock by a lot of mediocre guitar solos and pyrotechnics. There’s plenty of impassioned yelling, spandex and eyeliner. Def Leppard were kind of the prototype.
Okay, Glam rockers like Mott the Hoople and Gary Glitter were the prototype, but Def Leppard were the first real Hair Metal band I really knew anything about. And I kind of hated them at first. “Rock of Ages” was a pretty big hit, but it did not appeal. They were still more “metal” than “hair,” and I had not yet developed any feel for the really hard stuff. I think I was still listening to AM radio at this point. As one of the first Hair Metal bands, Def Leppard also had some talent; they could play their instruments pretty well and the songs didn’t entirely suck. They also got a huge stroke of luck when they got Mutt Lange to produce their albums; he presided over the three most successful albums of their career, including the massively successful Hysteria. They got better at writing songs, including less working class metal sensibility and more Top Forty style hooks. This is how a song like “Photograph” was born.
“Photograph” is about teenage daydreams and celebrity crushes. It’s fluff, but it has just enough emotional substance to keep it from floating away. The lyrics are some of the most coherent of their entire repertoire. (I remember reading once that they didn’t really care about their lyrics, they just threw words that sounded good together; that broke my little bookworm heart just a bit.) The guitar riff that opens the song is really good, too. Nothing flashy, which is something that good bands get and bad bands don’t (style always loses to substance in the end). The video adds a nice bit of slightly confusing menace by making iconographic references to Marilyn Monroe and Jack the Ripper (they are English, after all). Watching the video again is sort of fascinating, although I’m not sure if it’s a train wreck or a time capsule.
I’m struck by quite a few things here. Mostly by how young they all look, but also by the fact that guitarist Steve Clark is alive and drummer Rick Allen has two arms (he’s still the best one-armed drummer in the biz). Oh, and singer Joe Elliott is wearing leg warmers. God, the 80s were weird.