I was in my teens when Appetite For Destruction came out, and I still remember browsing the bins at the record store and seeing the original cover. Since I grew up in Sweden, it was the ORIGINAL cover – the one deemed too freaky in many other places.
I won’t lie: that cover freaked me the hell out. “What is that?” I remember wondering. (Honestly, that was also my first reaction when I listened to the album! But I eventually got it.)
Appetite is an album that changed things. Guns N’ Roses back then was a blast of something so raw, so vicious, and so powerful that it’s almost hard to explain or grasp today, when so many bands have copycatted GnR’s sound and look. It was like the ferocity of punk rock was twisted and welded and pounded together with rock, hard rock, heavy metal, and this twisted, sharp, and jagged work of music was the result.
Reading about GnR, and watching the early videos like “Welcome To The Jungle”, you can see that this band was so damn hungry, so pumped full of energy of every kind – bad good high low whatever – and that they poured every ounce of that into their tunes. They sound and look as though they recently crawled out of a condemned house and had intimate knowledge of the gutter. (Pretty much accurate, I guess.)
Duff McKagan wrote this about the band’s initial chemistry:
From the moment the five of us leaned into our first song, we could all hear and feel that the fit was right. The chemistry was immediate, thunderous, and soulful. It was amazing and all of us recognized it instantly.
(From Mc Kagan’s “It’s So Easy: And Other Lies” – a really great read.)
Of course that couldn’t last. GnR made a lot of great music after Appetite, but in my opinion, they never did anything that was as good, or as powerful. Mainly because it was impossible: the success of Appetite For Destruction changed the music world, and it definitely changed the band. Just compare how the band looks in the video for “Welcome To The Jungle”, compared to the later video for “Paradise City”. The 1980s teased hair and eyeliner, that sense of dirty-sleazy, is all there in Jungle. The band looks half-starved, lean and, well, kind of nasty.
By the time they made the video for “Paradise City” success was all around and they all look better fed, cleaner, and the teased hair is gone. Axl looks more like, well, Axl – bandanna firmly in place.
In the years after I first saw that cover in the record stores, GnR took off like a rocket. Eventually they were everywhere: MTV, Lethal Weapon soundtracks, tabloids, music charts, t-shirts… And then of course it all eventually imploded. Whatever GnR is now, it’s not what it was in 1987.
To quote Alan Niven, GnR’s manager 1986-1991:
A band is like a chemical molecule. Not all the elements are of the same size, power or energy, and perception does not always define significance, but remove even the slightest grain and the molecule collapses. When Steven lost his mind and got himself fired that changed the feel of the rhythm section, the rush was done, but when Izzy left it meant that the band was no longer the Guns N’ Roses that I knew and loved, the band that I was addicted to. It was just Dust n’ Bones – “just fuckin’ gone.”
From Classic Rock Magazine: free registration required to read the full piece, but it’s worth it.
It can be difficult to remember just how new the music on Appetite For Destruction felt when it first came out – I’m older, the album’s older, the world is not the same. But when I listen to “Welcome To The Jungle”, I can still feel it – more distant maybe, but definitely there – that wicked-nasty-dirty-gritty-hungry-starving scream that just grabs you by the guts and rips into you.
And just to remind everyone that 1987 really was a different world:
- The Soviet Union still existed
- The wall was up in Berlin and no one thought it would ever come down
- You could smoke on airplanes
- You could get on a plane without having your bags x-rayed, or your passport checked (no, really)
- Muslim fighters in Afghanistan could be the good guys in a movie (that was from 1988’s Rambo 3)
- Margaret Thatcher was in power in Great Britain
- Paul Simon’s “Graceland” won the Grammy for Album of the Year
Finally, here’s Guns N’ Roses at the Troubadour, April 1st, 2016.
(I first posted most of this on Tumblr in 2013, but it came back to mind after all the hoopla about the GN’R reunion.)