28
Jul
11

odi et amo – Photograph by Def Leppard

Def Leppard never did it for me. Once I had listened to Motörhead, all those later British metal bands were just too clean and fluffy. For example, Australia’s rock program Countdown once made the mistake of playing Iron Maiden’s Run to the Hills right after Motörhead’s Iron Fist. On its own the Iron Maiden song would have been fine, but following Motörhead it all sounded a bit cutesy.

Def Leppard are softer than Iron Maiden but maybe that is an unfair comparison; Lemmy is a hard act to follow. All I know about Def Leppard is that they have a one-armed drummer and if I ever hear them on the radio, I switch stations. Unless the song is Photograph.

 

It is worth examining Photograph’s structure to find its true identity.

The verse starts with “I’m out of luck, I’m in love…” and a straightforward sound. Guitar riff, basic drums. [And to answer the question going through your mind, yes he had both arms at the time.] How metal are the lyrics? Well, not very. Metal songs are about the Devil and insanity and fucking groupies, not “all I’ve got is a photograph”.

Then the song kicks it up a musical notch – “I see your face every time I dream…” and we have more puke-worthy pop lyrics. The rhythm guitar comes in with a drone and the singer jumped an octave; it’s catchy, it’s exciting with a big hook. 

Oh, look at what you’ve done to this rock n roll clown…”  and we break into the resolution of the chorus with a bigger hook and harmony singing of the “oh”. This is an excellent chorus, better than most bands could come up with. But wait, there’s more!

The actual chorus comes now with the, “Photograph, I don’t want your…”  line and now the lead guitar is picking sweet, smooth notes and there’s more harmony singing. The previous chorus was just lulling you into a false sense of security while the real pop chorus snuck up and hit you from behind.

That is impressive. The song starts off well yet still manages to jump up three more levels. Producers add excitement by starting a song of sparse and adding in more instruments and complexity as the song goes on, but Def Leppard did it with songwriting. That is rare talent, even if it only surfaced in this one song.

You can’t think of this as a metal song, since with lyrics like, “You’ve got some kind of hold on me, you’re all wrapped up in mystery,” they had to hand in their Gods of Metal card. With the harmony singing, the plucked guitar chorus, the lovey-dovey lyrics and the layered hook lines this is a song made more of candy than metal, but that is the wrong way to think of Photograph. Put all notions of metal aside and listen to it as a pop song and it is pure genius.

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