And then there (finally?) was a band that sounded dangerous, looked the part and created a lot of fuss: Guns N’ Roses. The breath of fresh air that was badly needed, particularly in rock, in those years. They were called the most dangerous band in the world. Their debutalbum was (later) called the white man’s Straight Outta Compton…
Guns N’ Roses
Guns N’ Roses was founded in 1985 by singer Axl Rose and rhythm-guitarist Izzy Stradlin, complemented with three others. The bandname was a combination of the bandnames Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns, bands the various members played in before they started to play together (according to legend the bandname AIDS has been considered!).
After a couple of shows and mutual disagreement the line-up that was to be responsible for the debutalbum took shape. Next to Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin, bassplayer Duff McKagan, drummer Steven Adler and guitarist Slash were added to the line-up.
The first thing the band did was to embark on a short, disorganized, tour, that was named the “Hell” tour. The band got accustomed to each other and explored what they were capable of. They played a lot in local Hollywood bars like The Troubadour and The Roxy and gained the attention of the major labels.
Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide
Geffen was the record company the band signed to in March of 1986. The band received an advance of $ 75,000.
In December of 1986 they released the EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, consisting of 4 songs, of which 2 were covers and 2 were originals written by the band: Reckless Life and Move To The City. The EP was to satisfy the demand for band material, so the band could concentrate fully on recording their debutalbum.
Despite the EP’s title, the recordings are regular studio (demo) recordings, to which audience sounds were later added. The EP was released on a Geffen subsidiary label, Uzi Suicide, as a 10,000 pieces vinyl edition. The cover of the EP already had the familiar band logo printed on it: two opposing revolvers surrounded by roses. The design of the logo seems to be accredited to Steven Adler, although this remains unconfirmed.
The band wanted to name their debutalbum Appetite For Destruction, after a piece of art by Robert Williams, which was created back in 1978. The plan was to use the piece of art on the front cover of the album containing the texts Guns N’ Roses to the left and Appetite For Destruction to the right side. Even before the release of the album, retailers complained about the graphic picture and refused to sell a record with that kind of cover. The piece of art depicts a scene with a robot that has raped (or is about to rape) a girl. At the same time a demon appears over the fence, intending to destroy the robot. According to the band the piece of art was “a symbolic social statement, with the robot representing the industrial system that’s raping and polluting our environment”.
Alternatively, the piece of art was relocated to the inner sleeve and the front cover was to be graced with a picture of a Celtic cross which contains the skulls of the five band members. This was originally designed by Billy White Jr. based on an idea of Axl Rose. Initially, it was a design for a tattoo.
In a 2011 interview Axl Rose stated that his first idea for the cover was to use a picture of the exploding Space Shuttle Challenger. Geffen refused.
Appetite For Destruction
Guns N’ Roses’ debutalbum was released on June 21st 1987, 30 years ago today.
It took quite some time (almost a full year) before the album caught on. When Geffen president David Geffen was asked to actively support the band, he persuaded MTV to start playing the Welcome To The Jungle video. MTV did, albeit only at night. But, despite the timeslot, the band started to get noticed. The song was requested more and more and grew more popular with each time it was being played. The next single Sweet Child O’ Mine was hugely successful in the USA.
That was the first song to gain some attention in The Netherlands as well. At the time I worked at famous Amsterdam recordstore Concerto in Amsterdam. Among the staff the record was a huge success, and particularly the song Sweet Child O’ Mine. The song and album are inextricably linked to that (great fun) period of my life.
Apart from that: Appetite For Destruction was perfect for its time. There was a great lack of real excitement in rock ´n´ roll/heavy metal. The so-called hair-bands (metal bands with lost of big hair, spandex and slick sounds) were very commercial. Metallica and Slayer were (at the time) part of the other part of the spectrum and were deemed too extreme musically for the average listener. Guns N’ Roses filled the hole perfectly, with sleazy rock and a bunch of really great songs.
Even though the band was not very ‘likeable’, the music was real, exciting and honest. Axl Rose sounded like a maniacal lunatic on the loose (he never sounded like that ever again).
You know where you are?
You’re in the jungle baby
You’re gonna die!
© Welcome To The Jungle, Guns N’ Roses, 1987
The song’s subjects were reflections of the band members’ real lives. When Axl Rose screams the above about halfway through the song, you can not help but believe him. Mr. Brownstone is about the band members’ problems with heroin. The only ballad on the album, Sweet Child O’ Mine, is originally a poem dedicated to Erin Everly (daughter of Don Everly, of the Everly Brothers), Axl Rose’s girlfriend at the time. By the way, Slash hated the song for many many years.
The record is divided into two parts, matching the record sides of the vinyl album: a G(uns) side and a R(oses) side. The G-side of the album is bout drugs and the hard (inner) city life. The R-side is more about love, sex and relationships.
One of the major hits off the album, Paradise City, falls out of line. As far as construction and sound it comes across as a hair-band song: epic and theatrical. In my opinion not a highlight on the album.
The guitars on the album are very important. Izzy Stradlin has put in a lot of effort to add a kind of punk ethos to the sound. Maybe, as a consequence, the record has an aggressive, direct sound. As proved somewhat later, Steven Adler’s drumming is a key component in the band’s sound. Just as Phil Rudd did with AC/DC, Steven Adler provided an essential ingredient to the whole.
- Welcome to the Jungle
- It’s So Easy
- Out Ta Get Me
- Mr. Brownstone
- Paradise City
- My Michelle
- Think About You
- Sweet Child O’ Mine
- You’re Crazy
- Anything Goes
- Rocket Queen
‘The most dangerous band in the world’
As stated earlier, Guns N’ Roses let in a breath of fresh air into the rock world. The band members were aggressive, fought drugaddiction(s), showed up late for concerts, were very blunt in their statements (particularly concerning minorities) and had tumultuous love-lives. A ‘fuck-you’ attitude, which the kids picked up on with great delight.
Na Appetite… G N’ R Lies
The next album most certainly contributed to that reputation: G N’ R Lies from 1988. The album contains the 4 songs that were released earlier on the EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, added with 4 acoustic songs. Among the acoustic songs was You’re Crazy, a song previously released on Appetite For Destruction, only that version was faster, louder and more exciting. G N’ R Lies contained only 3 new songs. The album was deemed controversial for 2 reasons:
- the lyrics to One In A Million;
- the cover.
Particularly the song One In A Million led the band to be accused of homophobia, nativism (as in opposing to immigrants) and racism. The band did try to defend itself, but lacked in conviction. Axl Rose’s (supposed) homophobia became an issue again in 1992 at the Freddie Mercury memorial concert, where Guns N’ Roses also performed.
The cover is a parody of headlines of gossip-newspapers. During the course of time the cover had some alterations (of censorship). Below left, the text ‘Wife-beating has been around for 10,000 years‘ was replaced by ‘LIES LIES LIES‘. The text ‘Ladies, welcome to the dark ages‘ was replaced by ‘Elephant gives birth to midget‘. Finally, a photo of a nude-model on the innersleeve was censored.
The single Patience was hugely successful.
Na Appetite… Use Your Illusion
Finally, in 1991, the real successor to Appetite For Destruction appeared. Because of a persisting heroin addiction, drummer Steven Adler was fired from the band and replaced by (former Cult drummer) Matt Sorum. Added to the line-up was keyboard player Dizzy Reed. The replacement of Adler would prove to be highly influential on the music.
On September 17th 1991 the albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II were released simultaneously. Expectations were sky-high. The (gigantic) sales-figures that were hoped for, were not met. There was something different, artistically. The band sounded mediocre. According to me, anyway. It had become huge and theatrical, what was convincingly proved by November Rain, a monster of a song.
The fire was gone, Axl Rose sounded like a normal singer, but maybe more importantly, the looseness/swing was gone. I think that is a primary consequence of Steven Adler’s dismissal. Guns N’ Roses had changed into a plump stadium rock band, something that was proved time and again during the following tour.
But, audiences around the world were adamant in their love for the band. The tour that followed the release of the Use Your Illusion albums ran over 2½ years. The tour was another source for the negative reputation, because of riots, starting (way) too late, cancellations and bizarre speeches by Axl Rose. Right after the release of the Use Your Illusion albums, co-founder Izzy Stradlin left. He was replaced by Gilby Clarke.
For me it was done with Use Your Illusion, audiences lasted up until the release of The Spaghetti Incident? in 1993, a cover album.
After the Use Your Illusion tour, work started on a new album. But, due to ‘irreconcilable musical differences’, Slash, Duff McKagan, Matt Sorum and Gilby Clarke all left (or were fired). Axl Rose remained with Dizzy Reed to finish the album. It lasted 15 (!) years for the album to be completed: Chinese Democracy. It’s the most expensive album of all time (reportedly it crossed the $ 13 million limit).
On April 14th 2012 the band was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Many hoped for a reunion of the original line-up. Everybody was present, except for Axl Rose.
And then, suddenly in January 2016, it was reported that Guns N’ Roses would perform at American festival Coachella. It was also made public that Slash and Duff McKagan were part of the line-up. On April 1st 2016 a warm-up show was staged at the small club The Troubadour, where they used to perform when they were just starting out all those years ago. Axl Rose broke his foot at the show. Not a good omen.
But despite that: the shows were received very well. Not long after a vast world tour was announced. The tour was named Not In This Lifetime Tour. The band is scheduled to play The Netherlands in the summer of 2017.
Guns N’ Roses’ debutalbum remains one of the very best debutalbums of all time. It certainly is the best Guns N’ Roses album. It went downhill after that, but during 1 to 1½ year they were the most important rock n’ roll band in the world. Appetite For Destruction is still an extremely exciting album.
What do you think of Guns N’ Roses and Appetite For Destruction? Let me know!
Guns N’ Roses image: chron.com
Guns N’ Roses – “Hell Tour” image: taringa.net
Guns N’ Roses – Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide image: youtube.com
Robert Williams – Appetite For Destruction (1978) image: monsterfresh.com
Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction image: last.fm
Guns N’ Roses – Sweet Child O’ Mine (single) image: 45cat.com
Guns N Roses – The most dangerous band in the world image: rollingstone.com
Guns N’ Roses – G N’ R Lies image: houstonpress.com
Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion I & II images: cleveland.com
Guns N’ Roses – Not In This Lifetime Tour image: livenation.com