Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction- 1987
RMR Album Rating- 9
Guns N’ Roses is one of the most misclassified bands in history, and their debut album, “Appetite for Destruction,” while certainly not underrated, is also commonly misclassified by the general public.
GNR released “Appetite for Destruction” in 1987, and since the hair metal scene was at its peak between 1986-1988, GNR and their debut record “Appetite For Destruction” are both often unjustly grouped in with bands like Motely Crue and Poison. Or, they were grouped in with the heavier bands of the era like Metallica.
In actuality, GNR’s music on “Appetite for Destruction” has nothing to do with either of the aforementioned bands or music scenes. It was certainly not hair metal, and it was definitely not heavy thrash metal… it was 100% sleaze rock, which made Gun’s N’ Roses third generation sleaze rockers and heirs to the Rolling Stones and early Aerosmith. The Rolling Stones pioneered the sleaze rock sound on their late 60’s albums “Beggars Banquet,” “Let It Bleed,” and “Sticky Fingers,” and 10-years later Aerosmith took the sleaze sound and electrified it on their mid 70’s albums “Toy’s in the Attic” and “Rocks.” Then in 1987, GNR took the same sound elements and made them even heavier and sleazier on “Appetite For Destruction.”
It’s difficult to describe the sound of sleaze rock, but the feel and attitude of it is almost as important as the sound itself. In terms of sound, one of sleaze rock’s most important elements is the riffs played by the rhythm guitarists. The best sleaze rock riffs are typically pretty simple, but they are loud, hard hitting, extremely catchy, and most importantly, they are played with attitude. They also just seem dirty and sleazy (in the best way possible). The same thing goes for the vocals— they are normally pretty simple, but they are also loud, often times a bit raunchy and sexual, and most importantly—they are sung with attitude and swagger. It’s also important to point out that as sleaze rock progressed from The Rolling Stones to Aerosmith to GNR, the sound got heavier as well, with the addition of more guitar leads and solos. If you really compare the Rolling Stones’ brand of sleaze rock to Aerosmith’s, and then to GNR’s, everything lines up: the sound, the players, and the attitude. Just look at the songs. GNR’s “Anything Goes,” could have easily fit in on The Stones’ “Sticky Fingers,” and the Stones would have loved to have it, but the lyrics would have never passed back in 1971. (Click here to listen to GNR’s Anything Goes).
On the flip side, take The Stones’ “Sway” or “Bitch.” Either could have easily fit in on “Appetite” or any of the Aerosmith albums (Click here to listen to The Stones’ Sway). Then take Aerosmith’s “Back In the Saddle,” it was certainly inspiration for just about every song on “Appetite For Destruction,” and although it was written 10-years before the release of “Appetite,” it would have easily fit in on the album (Click here to listen to Aerosmith’s Back In The Saddle). The point of the story is that the Stones invented the sleaze rock sound, Aerosmith tweaked it in the mid-70’s, and then GNR pretty much perfected it on “Appetite for Destruction.”
Hopefully, that clears up any misconceptions about Guns N’ Roses’ sound and style, so let’s move on to the album itself. It is great from start to finish, but the two sides of the album are actually quite different.
Side one contains almost all the monster songs, with which most fans are familiar. You get “Welcome To the Jungle,” “Nightrain,” “Mr. Brownstone,” and “Paradise City” all on side one, and those four songs alone would have made this album legendary. The lead off track is “Welcome to The Jungle,” which sets a clear tone for how the album will sound. Unlike the polished, glammed-up metal that most bands were playing in 1987, “Welcome To The Jungle” sounded much tougher and grittier, and you could tell that Guns N’ Roses were actually from the streets… not just pretending to be. Of those four songs on side one, I’ve grown to like “Nightrain” the best, and Axl’s confident sleazy tone is awesome in the third verse where he snarls… “Wake up late/ and honey put on your clothes/ and take your credit card to the liquor store/ well that’s one for you and two for me by tonight/ I’ll be loaded like a freight train/ flyin’ like an aeroplane/ feelin’ like a space brain/ one more time tonight” (Click here to listen to Nightrain).
Although the tracks on the second half of the album aren’t quite as well known as the aforementioned four tracks from the first half, it is no less powerful or sleazy, and I’ve actually grown to like the second half of the album better. It opens with “My Michelle,” which is my favorite song on the album. The song is a true story about a friend of the band named Michelle Young. She once told Axl that she had always wanted a song to be written about her, and she wanted it to tell the true story of her early life, which she later escaped. Axl’s lyrics and vocal delivery are bitingly venomous, but they are perfect for the song, and I love the lines of “Sowin’ all your wild oats/ in another’s luxuries/ yesterday was Tuesday/ maybe Thursday you can sleep/ but school starts much too early/ and this hotel wasn’t free/ so party till your connection calls/ honey I’ll return the keys.” They are certainly harsh lyrics, but the band played the song for Michelle before releasing it, and she wanted them to use it (Click here to listen to My Michelle). “My Michelle” is followed by Stradlin’s “Think About You,” which back to back to with “My Michelle” makes for my favorite pair of songs on the album. The song disguises itself as a love song about a girl, but Stradlin has stated that the song is actually about heroin, which makes the song much more interesting, and it certainly gives all the lyrics a new meaning and a unique twist (Click here to listen to Think About You, and pay attention to the fact that that the “You” lyric is actually referring to heroin and not a girl).
On side-2, you also have “Anything Goes,” which I already mentioned, and the album closer “Rocket Queen,” which is also great, and at one time, it was my favorite song on the album; it too has an interesting twist to it. The middle section of the song contains sexual moaning, and not only are the moans real, but they are the moans of Adriana Smith having sex with Axl on tape. Rumor has it that Axl persuaded Adriana to have recorded sex for a free bottle of Jack Daniels. Here’s the kicker though… Adriana Smith was Steve Adler’s girlfriend at the time (Steve Adler was GNR’s drummer on “Appetite”). Adler didn’t know what she had done until later, which just further illustrates how volatile, messed up, and sleazy GNR really were during those years.
Of the songs that I didn’t mention, “Sweet Child ‘O Mine,” is certainly the most important, as it was the album’s biggest hit single. It’s a great song, and Slash’s guitar intro is fantastic, but I rank it below all the other songs that I’ve already detailed.
To close this one out, I’ll just say that this album is as close to sleaze rock perfection as you can get. “Out Ta Get me” and “You’re Crazy” are slightly inferior to the rest of the tracks, but they are still great songs and don’t interrupt the flow of the album. Lastly and unfortunately, “Appetite for Destruction” is the only sleaze rock album that we get from Guns N’ Roses, for after this release, they would change musical direction for their two “Illusion” albums, so enjoy every sleazy note of this album… because they never topped it.
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