Monday, March 13, 2023

Songs of '83: "Photograph"

Def Leppard was one of the major bands of the second wave of British heavy metal--meaning post-Led Zeppelin, post-Deep Purple, and post all the changes which punk and disco and club music had begun to bring into the cities of England. 40 years ago this week Def Leppard's "Photograph," their first release from their third album Pyromania, entered the Billboard charts. Pyromania was the first hard rock album I remember ever really seriously listening too; while my memories of radio-listening stretching all the way back to 1978 include plenty of loud, driving tunes--by Boston, The Rolling Stones, Van Halen, or The Who, for example--it was Def Leppard that truly introduced me to the concept, as Rob Reiner's Spinal Tap so effectively made manifest, of always making everything "one louder." Listening to this track, or "Foolin'" or, especially, "Rock of Ages," really kind of freaked me out--not in the nervous way that years earlier loud rock had made me slightly worried for my soul, but just because its intensity, its ferocity--and yes, its volume--got into me in a way I wasn't used to more blues-based rock 'n' roll doing. And like millions of others who crank "Photograph" up as far as the speakers allow today, that hook is plainly still in me too.

The so-called "new wave of British heavy metal" was much more simplistic, and arguably much more misogynistic, sophomoric, and plain old homosocial--just us guys banging our heads together here!-- than what had come before, though obviously exceptions were legion. Still overall, you probably can't imagine a band staking out a position more sociologically and culturally distinct from the clever, frothy, sexy, androgynous, synthesized sounds of British New Wave or American Black artists than a bunch of kids from Sheffield wailing on drums and guitars and singing about their lust for, and their killing, or possible being killed by, a sexy woman who may or may not be Jack the Ripper. Hey, it rocks.


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