photograph by Kelly Segré
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Vinyl Junkies Making Mixtapes – Songs About Photography
Special guest Photographer Chris Williams (IG @zoeicaimages)
Outline / Notes –
- Photograph – Def Leppard, 1983 Pyromania, Hit #12 on charts in US
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.
Def Leppard’s 1st hit, it was their 3rd studio album
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?
Joe Elliott‘s declaration in the song that he does not just “want [her] photograph” but that is all he has of her, and he must admire her from afar….kinda of stalkerish lol
In 2011, Santana recorded a new version of this song with Chris Daughtry.
- Photographic – Depeche Mode, 1981 Speak and Spell
This was the only Depeche Mode album with Vince Clarke as a member. Clarke wrote most of the songs for the band, including this one before departing to form Yazoo and later Erasure.
The album is significantly lighter in tone and melody than their later work, a direction which can largely be attributed to Clarke’s writing. After he left, Martin Gore took over songwriting duties, writing almost all of the band’s material. (Thank goodness!!)
Photographic is first song on side 2 of this album and was never released as a single.
The song is definitely about taking photographs (unlike some of the others that are more actual photographs)
Lyrics from song
I take pictures
I said I’d write a letter
But I never got the time
And I’m looking to the day
I mesmerise the light
- Pictures of You – The Cure, 1989 Disintegration, Hit #71 on the charts
“Pictures of You” according to Robert Smith was based on an essay by Myra Poleo called the The Dark Power of Ritual Pictures. Smith says that after reading it, he destroyed his personal photos and many of his home videos in an effort to wipe away his past…but then regretted the decision a few days later.
Smith has given conflicting accounts of what events inspired the song. According to interviews, the inspiration of the song came when a fire broke loose in Robert Smith’s home. After that day, Smith was going through the remains and came across his wallet which had pictures of his wife, Mary. The cover of the single is one of the pictures. In other interviews he has said that the song was the result of losing pictures he carried around in his wallet…
What is certain is that the song is defined by an overwhelming sense of loss. Smith explained the emotions behind the lyrics in a 1989 interview with Music Box TV: “It’s about the idea you hold someone. It goes back a bit to a song like ‘How Beautiful You Are.’ The idea of you hold someone isn’t really what that person is like. Sometimes you completely lose touch with what a person has turned into. You just want to hold onto what they were.”
Kelly POV – PHOTOGRAPHS ARE A LIE, memories from the past are blurred…looking at an old photograph and thinking of the good times is like going through life with blinders on.
- Picture This – Blondie, Parallel Lines, 1978
Released as the lead single in the UK and reached #12 in the UK, although it was never released as a single in the US
Also more about a photograph, than photography itself
All I want is a photo in my wallet
A small remembrance of something more solid
All I want is a picture of you
In 2019 Photographer Mick Rock released a book called Debbie Harry & Blondie: Picture This. This book—with a foreword written by Harry herself—explores in depth, both visually and verbally, the unique natural charm and charisma of Debbie’s “punk Marilyn Monroe” persona in its prime, and her successful reinvention of that persona for Blondie’s glorious comeback of recent years. Mick Rock provides a vivid, memorable account of his larger-than-life adventures behind the camera, revealing just what made Debbie Harry and Blondie so distinctive.
- Electric Eye – Judas Priest, Screaming for Vengeance 1982
This song is about a satellite watching over everyone and seeing what they’re doing. It explores the lack of privacy in the modern world….if only they knew what the future held.
In concert it was usually the first song Judas Priest would play.
“Electric Eye” is an allusion to the book Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, in the use of the name of the pseudo-omniscient satellite that watches over the community at all times.
Song is more about being watched than actual photography, but being watched by satelites that take photos.
The song “Electric Eye” was used in the temp score for Toy Story 3 (2010), but was ultimately replaced by another piece of music
- I’ll Wait – Van Halen. 1984, reached #13 on charts
2nd single released on the album
“I’ll Wait” was written as a collaboration between the Van Halen group members and former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald. The singer was brought in by producer Ted Templeman, who had a long professional relationship with the Doobie Brothers.
McDonald recalled to Uncut:
“Van Halen had cut the track – the chord progression and the arrangement was already recorded and they needed some lyrics and a melody to go over that. Ted asked me to help out, so I sat down with David Lee Roth in Ted’s office at Warner Brothers and wrote out a lyric.
Just to show you the difference between that band and our band as far as record sales, I probably made more money as a one fifth writer on that song than I did on the entire Doobie Brothers album the subsequent year.”
David Lee Roth and producer Ted Templeman wanted to remove the song from the album, while Eddie Van Halen and engineer Donn Landee pushed for its inclusion.
Despite the song being a hit, no video was ever filmed for it.
The song’s subject was inspired by a woman wearing men’s underwear in a Calvin Klein print media advertisement. Roth pinned up the ad beside his Sony Trinitron television and addressed the lyrics to the model.
- Picture Book – The Kinks, 1968 The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society
Ray Davies wrote this about the nostalgic feel that comes from looking through photo albums.
Along with Village Green‘s closing track “People Take Pictures of Each Other,” this song uses photography to drive home the album’s concept about holding onto and appreciating the past. “There’s more value in an old picture than there is now on iPhones,” Ray Davies told Rolling Stone in 2018. “I know a guy. He’s homeless and I chat with him sometimes in the street. He’s got a picture of his family in his pocket, and he’s always got a picture with him, he says, ‘For when things get really low’” (pause) “It’s all gotten cheaper because of iPhones.”
Used in Hewlett-Packard Commercial promoting Digital Cameras, the ad was named “Campaign of The Year”in 2004 by Adweek Magazine.
- Centerfold – J. Geils Band, Album Freeze Frame 1981 #1
This song is about a guy who had a crush on a sweet, innocent girl in his homeroom in high school. Years later, he’s looking through a girly magazine and sees his homeroom crush as the centerfold, and it rocks his world – no longer is she the innocent girl in a fuzzy sweater that he dreamed about. Rather than being titillated, he is disappointed, as his “memory has been sold.” So I guess it’s the opposite of Photograph & I’ll Wait?? The song’s narrator is torn between conflicting feelings: his disappointment due to her loss of innocence, and his lust until the end of the song. See…photographs are lies!
Freeze Frame was the band’s third album with EMI; they signed with the label leaving Atlantic. In earlier years, the band chose their singles, but EMI picked “Centerfold” as the lead single and were handsomely rewarded when it went to US #1 for a startling six weeks and also helped send the album to the top spot
- Girls on Film – Duran Duran, 1981
charted in UK at #5, did not initially chart in US and was re-released in the US in 1983
This song is about the exploitation of fashion models, who must deal with dehumanizing shoots in a frenzied environment where they are objectified for the masses. The group was known for dating models, so they had plenty of firsthand accounts to draw from.
This song is best known for its video, which was the first extended video ever made and was quite racy. In an interview on the band’s Greatest Hits DVD collection, Simon Le Bon says that the controversy over the song’s notoriously raunchy music video eclipsed the song’s message of fashion model exploitation. The video was directed by Lol Creme and Kevin Godley, who were the leaders of the group 10cc and also recorded as Godley & Creme.
MTV did not exist when Duran Duran made the video – they made it to show in nightclubs and on video jukeboxes that were going in bars and were not subject to broadcast regulation. It showed the band looking on with lots of girls posing for the camera, some of them in the nude. The BBC banned it, but MTV aired an edited version with the nudes removed.
The band had a following in England, but were unknown in the US until MTV went on the air in August 1981 and started playing “Girls On Film.” MTV had very few videos, and most were concert clips. Duran Duran supplied them with high-budget videos that went into heavy rotation and made them stars in the US.
Simon Le Bon commented in the audio interview on the Greatest DVD collection that the scandal of the music video overshadowed the song’s message of fashion model exploitation
- City of Blinding Lights – U2, 2004 How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb
Oh, you look so beautiful tonight
In the city of blinding lights
Don’t look before you laugh
Look ugly in a photograph
Flash bulbs, purple irises the camera can’t see
“The first verse is in London and the chorus is in New York,” Bono explains in the book U2 by U2. “The thing I had in mind was my first trip to London with [wife] Ali when we were teenagers, on the ferry and the train, walking into Piccadilly Circus and up Wardour Street and just discovering what a big city could offer you and what it could take away. And then, of course, New York, the scene in Madison Square Garden during the Elevation tour, where the lights came on and eighteen thousand New Yorkers were in tears, jumping up and down, and I shouted out to them, ‘Oh, you look so beautiful tonight.’ It is such a naive and innocent line. That’s what this song is about, remembering those times. I miss you when you’re not around. It’s not necessarily a curse, it’s that part of us that is missing. It’s about recapturing a sense of wonder, being in a city, and reminding yourself that you don’t have to lose your soul to gain the world.”
Former U.S. President Barack Obama used the song at his campaign events during the 2008 and 2012 U.S. presidential elections, and listed it as one of his favourite songs; U2 performed it at his 2009 inaugural celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.
A photographic exhibition in the Netherlands by longtime band photographer Anton Corbijn served as a thematic inspiration for the song. Lead vocalist Bono saw an image of himself boarding a helicopter, taken in 1982 during filming of the music video for “New Year’s Day.” A journalist asked him what he would say to his younger self if given the chance; Bono replied, “I’d tell him he’s absolutely right and stop second guessing himself.” He explained his comments later, saying, “I realized how much I’d lost … that way of looking at the world. There was such a clarity to it, but it was so defiant in a way.”
- Paparazzi – Lady Gaga, The Fame 2008, charted at 6 in US
Lady Gaga told About.com that she intended this song to have a few different interpretations. She explained: “The song is about a few different things – it’s about my struggles, do I want fame or do I want love? It’s also about wooing the paparazzi to fall in love with me. It’s about the media whoring, if you will, watching ersatzes make fools of themselves to their station. It’s a love song for the cameras, but it’s also a love song about fame or love – can you have both, or can you only have one?”
Regarding the 8 minute video… Lady Gaga explained to The Canadian Press: “It has a real, genuine, powerful message about fame-whoring and death and the demise of the celebrity, and what that does to young people. The video explores ideas about sort of hyperbolic situations that people will go to in order to be famous. Most specifically, pornography and murder. These are some of the major themes in the video.”
Random fact: The word “Paparazzi” is the Italian term for press photographers who pester celebrities. It is derived from the name of a news photographer, Paparazzo, in Fedrico Fellini’s famous movie, La Dolce Vita (1960).
- Wishing (If I had a Photograph of You) – Flock Of Seagulls, 1982, #26 on charts in US
In a interview with A Flock Of Seagulls frontman Mike Score, he explained the meaning behind this song. “‘Wishing’ is about a real person,” he said. “It was the eve of the first trip we ever took to America, and I had met a girl. We went out for the night, and I didn’t want to forget her, so I said, ‘We’re going on tour and I’ll be back. I’d like to get a photograph of you, if I could get one.’ And she said, ‘No, because you’re going to go on to be famous and you’ll forget me.’
This all sounds like the first half of a romantic comedy, but it didn’t have a movie ending: Score never saw her again.
Unlike Def Leppard Photograph where the singer must make do with a photo because he can’t get the girl. In this song, the singer wishes he had a photograph of the girl, as somehow this will give him comfort.
In the video it shows the band wandering a space ship and using a computer to generate an image of the girl.
- Photographs & Memories – Jim Croce
Originally released on Don’t Mess Around With Jim as a B side in 1972, and then following his death on the greatest hits album “Photographs & Memories” in 1974.
Lyrics in song..
Photographs and memories
Christmas cards you sent to me
All that I have are these
To remember you
Not one of his hits, but a perfect name for a greatest hits album. He only had one hit while he was alive, Bad Bad Leroy Brown. His other his were after his death.
Jim Croce’s Death…will be on a future mixtape.
On Thursday, September 20, 1973, during Croce’s Life and Times tour and the day before his ABC single “I Got a Name” was released, Croce and all five others on board were killed when their chartered Beechcraft E18S crashed into a tree during takeoff from the Natchitoches Regional Airport in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Croce was 30 years old.
- Kodachrome – Paul Simon, There goes Rhymin Simon 1973, charted at #2 in US
Kodachrome is a method of color transparency (Kodak Film), but more commonly known as a type of color film the company started marketing in 1935. Paul Simon was working on a song with the title “Coming Home” when the word “Kodachrome” came to him. He had no idea what it meant, but knew it would make for a much more interesting song than “Coming Home.” The song became an appreciation of the things that color our world, and a look at how our memories are framed to fit our worldviews.
This was not a hit in England, partly because UK radio stations rarely played it. The BBC had very strict rules about commercial endorsements, and they would not allow stations to play songs that seemed to push products. It’s the same reason The Kinks had to re-record part of “Lola.” The lyrics were, “We drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola,” But Ray Davies had to redo them as “…Just like cherry cola” so the song could get airplay in Great Britain.
In the song, Kodak film gets the title, but Simon uses a Nikon camera. That’s because it scans well in the line “I got a Nikon camera” – try inserting Kodak or Canon in there and it won’t sound right.
Simon sometimes sings the line “Everything looks worse in black and white” as “Everything looks better in black and white.” He changes it a lot, and claims he can’t remember which way he wrote it.
KODAK stopped producing Kodachrome in 2009….taking Kodachrome away
- Photograph – Ringo Starr, RINGO 1973, Charted #1 in US
In this song, the singer laments the loss of his girl. The pain is made more intense by a photograph he has that keeps reminding him of the good times they had (familiar theme of these songs about photography, right back where we started). If you look at the lyrics its kinda like stalking an ex before social media.
Ringo wrote this with his Beatles-mate George Harrison. Ringo was the lead vocalist and drummer for the track, while Harrison sang harmony vocals and played 12-string guitar…the story goes
Ex-Beatles Ringo Starr and George Harrison began writing “Photograph” on a luxury yacht in the South of France in May 1971. Starr had hired a yacht, the Marala, for the duration of the Cannes Film Festival, after attending Mick Jagger‘s wedding in St Tropez with his wife, Maureen Starkey. The Starkeys[nb 1] were then joined in France by Harrison and the latter’s wife, Pattie Boyd, for the Monaco Grand Prix. This period coincided with Starr’s first success as a solo artist, with the Harrison-produced single
Another guest on the Marala was Cilla Black, singer and a friend to the Beatles since the 1960s, who recalls Starr and Harrison playing “Photograph” during an evening get-together, with “everyone on board” contributing ideas for the lyrics. As with Starr’s two singles over 1971–72, “It Don’t Come Easy” and “Back Off Boogaloo“, Harrison helped write the melody, although “Photograph” marked the first time that he was credited as a co-writer with Starr. In her autobiography, Step Inside Love, Black says she had hoped to record the song for a single later in 1971, only to be told by Starr: “No, it’s too bloody good for you. I’m having it myself.”
The album’s release followed in November 1973, with “Photograph” appearing as the third track, preceding another Harrison contribution, “Sunshine Life for Me (Sail Away Raymond)“. Opposite the printed lyrics for “Photograph” inside the album booklet, a lithograph by Voormann depicted a framed picture on a shelf or desktop, in which Starr looks dejectedly at a framed picture of a woman. In his personal life at this point, the album’s arrival coincided with the failure of Starr’s marriage, partly as a result of Harrison and Maureen conducting an affair. While the friendship between the two former bandmates soon recovered, Starr and Harrison would not officially write another song together after “Photograph”.