Autograph began in late 1983 originally as a solo project for singer, songwriter and guitarist Steve Plunkett, who had recently left the band Silver Condor. Plunkett then began playing and recording his own material with a group of his musician friends, most of whom had previously played with him in other bands.
On lead guitar was Steve Lynch, who had played with Plunkett in the band Looker.
Bassist Randy Rand knew Plunkett from their days together in Wolfgang, a prominent club band in Pasadena, California that has been described as a local legend, and of which Kevin Dubrow (lead singer of Quiet Riot) once said, "They smoked us all... they got a better response than us and Van Halen".
Keyboardist Steven Isham (born Steven E. Isham on November 30, 1952 in Pocatello, Idaho), who had also earlier played with mutual acquaintance Holly Penfield, was brought in to give the fledgling band a more modern sound.
Drummer Keni Richards, an old bandmate with Plunkett from John Doe rounded out the band's lineup. Richards' friendship with Van Halen lead singer David Lee Roth was instrumental in leading to Autograph's big break the following year.
Quickly, this group of musicians began playing and recording together, taking the form of an actual band. Plunkett chose the name "Autograph" for the band, having been inspired by hearing Def Leppard's similarly titled song, "Photograph," on the radio. They recorded their first rough demos in late 1983, but played them only for a few close friends. One of these friends was Andy Johns, a famous record producer who Steve Plunkett had met while helping singer Joe Cerisano produce Silver Condor's second album Trouble At Home. Johns invited the band to re-record and upgrade those demos at the world-famous Record Plant Studios for free under his guidance. Keni Richards then played the demo for Roth, who subsequently invited the band to open for Van Halen on their 1984 tour. The band rose to prominence opening for Van Halen, ultimately playing 48 shows, an act of distinction for an unsigned band. Due to their rising popularity, Autograph soon signed a contract with RCA Records following a performance at Madison Square Garden in New York City in late 1984.
The band's debut album, Sign In Please, was completed and released in October of that year, but did not make an appearance on any record charts until January 1985. The album contains the band's only major hit and now signature song, "Turn Up the Radio." The song itself was one of the last ones recorded for the album, and the band members were initially very lukewarm toward it. However, the tune would become a top-30 hit, pushing album sales past the gold album mark (500,000 copies sold). The song was featured in an episode of "Miami Vice" (entitled "Little Prince") and was also leased out to numerous other films, even further elevating the song's popularity. Lynch's guitar work in "Turn Up The Radio", featuring a distinctive two-handed, fretboard-tapping technique, won him the "Guitar Solo of the Year" award from Guitar Player magazine in 1985.