7.Guns N’ Roses – Appetite For Destruction
- 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
A lot of my musical tales seem to originate at my old man’s. It makes sense; he’s a red and I’m a white. Sure, we bonded over a hatred of Man U, albeit one he had forced me into in the first place, but it was music where the father-son bond was really strengthened. So this one. I’m flicking through the music channels and flick past some 80s looking geezers. He looks up and scolds me. “That’s Guns N’ Roses that!” I’m indifferent, and then he tells me, “They’re better than Nirvana.” I pushed my wannabe Cobain mop back in disgust and dug my heels in.
But a few weeks later, a friend who nearly always likes what I like, labelled Appetite for Destruction the second greatest hard rock album of its era (behind some album called Back in Black, apparently). At my Dad’s that night I decided to see if he was right.
He was wrong. So, so wrong. Because it was so much more than the second best hard rock album of its era; it was, is, the greatest hard rock album of all-time. I didn’t want to admit that my old man had been right, the Cobain worshipper in me wanted to hate it, to think it paled in significance when held up against Nevermind & In Utero but after one listen, there could never be any turning back. The hair quickly grew past the Cobain phase. Axl was in vogue.
I waited for the rest of the house to go to bed, plugged in the headphones and planted myself next to the hi-fi. I didn’t actually start at track one, upon first listen. I plugged the headphones in and flicked the number 9 on my dad’s stereo – I always loved that it had buttons for each track number. Sweet Child O’ Mine. It must have taken me three, maybe four minutes to actually get to any significant vocals – I could not stop listening to that riff. The noise was like nothing I had ever heard. You could scarcely believe that the scruffbag drunks on the back of the album had made a sound so beautiful.
Once I did let the vocals in, I realised I was listening to something else altogether. Vocalists can divide opinion, and Axl Rose is certainly one of the chief proponents of such debate, and yet this surprised me. I heard those opening lines and figured that this must be a guy who must unanimously be regarded as one of the great singers.
Then, of course, I got to the solo and I pretty much melted. It was too much pleasure for my ears to take. And where do they go with the song from here, I thought? Only to be answered by that very question. Bringing proceedings to a resounding close. The only problem was I never got round to any other tracks that night – I just kept tapping the 9 button. For a good few hours.
So I appropriated the disc for a little while, took it home, and after watching the mighty whites dispatch Nottingham Forest I got down to some rock and roll. In my bedroom. Hardcore.
Life was never quite the same again. I was an Axlite, and would learn that post-1991 that is the worst thing any music fan could be. But there was to be no turning back. Appetite for Destruction has no highlights – it is 53 minutes of musical perfection. Opening with those oh-so recognisable chords that really do make you feel like you’re in the jungle, before bursting into life, and that hick-cum-Californian screech welcomes you to it. You are there. You feel every moment.
Then track two. It’s So Easy. Axl drops his voice a little, Duff leads the way with a punkier number. The lyrics let you know that, hey, these guys aren’t nice people (they had acknowledged this in 1986 with their cover of Rose Tattoo’s Nice Boys – “nice boys don’t play rock and roll). But they also empower you, that sense of defying authority. Then Nightrain. Slash steals the show with a blinding solo to close the song, but before that it’s thrill a minute, an ode to decadence, the perfect tune to get you in the mood to get messy and wake up in a puddle of your own vomit.
The rebellious, gang mentality, resurfaces on Out Ta Get Me which opens with bruising heavy metal chords. It was them against the world, and for a little while they won. They believed what they were saying, at this point – they won’t get me! And then all of a sudden, things settle down, Aerosmith meets the Rolling Stones with the groove of Mr Brownstone – alas the subject of the song is actually an LA heroin dealer.
The longest, and second most famous, track, Paradise City, brought side one to a close for the bulk of listeners at the time of release and has closed pretty much every GNR (old and nu) show, discounting those where Axl got in a huff halfway through and jolted. It’s driving beat, heavy yet beautiful riffs and, yes, that vocal, make it easy to see why it has become renowned as such an anthem.
Things get a little heavier, and darker again, on My Michelle (“your daddy works in porno, now that mommy’s not around, she used to love her heroin, but now she’s underground”), Axl slipping into talk-sing mode at various points and its frightening. Then, all of a sudden, the same guy who had tod a young lady to turn around as he had found a use for her but six songs ago, all of a sudden showcased a tender side with the gorgeous Think About You. Not by any stretch a ballad, but a tender, fastpaced statement of love, penned by the band’s best songwriter, Izzy Stradlin’.
The soppiness continues with the aforementioned Sweet Child O’ Mine before the 100mph You’re Crazy blisters into sight. Many Gunners prefer the slowed down, bluesy acoustic version that would feature on GNR Lies the following year but in this context it suits the album perfectly – we’ve had the love songs, now let’s bring back the raw energy. And then the misogyny returns with Anything Goes, before Rocket Queen brings things to a close. And how. A grooving number with the lead-rhythm interplay of Slash and Izzy driving the way, it is a song of two parts, a domineering first and then a tender second, interspersed of course by actual sex noises just to remind you that, hey, this is the 80s and we are LA rockers.
The truth is, nothing I’ve written above quite does justice to just how good this record is. But know this. Music is a divisive beast, and fans of the different variances of rock in particular can be arrogant and dismissive about different genres. I would know. With Appetite for Destruction, Guns released an album that is loved by metalheads, indie-rockers, teenyboppers. It is the definitive hard rock album, capturing a band who were hungry, nasty but above all talented. Axl Rose may try to sound like Freddie Mercury, Elton John, Mick Jagger and whoever else at various times but above all he sounds like himself, producing a distinctive, high-pitched and heartfelt noise capable of showcasing anger, love, arrogance. And it worked so well with Slash, who can bring the most beautiful sounds from a guitar on one song before getting down, dirty and heavy on the next. The interplay with Izzy Stradlin’, inspired by the band’s mutual admiration for The Rolling Stones, is prominent throughout, Izzy’s rhythm becoming lead when Slash meanders off into his own world. Driving it all, Duff McKagan, the band’s punk-loving bass player from Seattle – his “bass thang” at the start of It’s So Easy just one example that he wasn’t just in the band to be the rhythm guy. And of course, the troubled Steven Adler on the drums. He may have been replaced by a better musician down the line, but his beats are crucial to this album, never moreso than Mr Brownstone where he steals the show.
And some more truth. I’ve written 1400 words here and I could probably write another 14000. I don’t really have one favourite album, I have three. My desert island discs, I guess. This is one of them and if anything was ever to usurp it, what a treat I’d be in for. Because it doesn’t really get better than this.
Write-up by GIMH