Appetite for Destruction by Guns N' Roses
Release date : July 1987
Reviewed by Mark Fisher
In 1987, the Rock 'N' Roll world was shaken, and consequently, eternally changed by a group who paid their dues amongst the Los Angeles club circuit. That group happened to be Guns N' Roses, and their debut full length shook the globe, and was entitled Appetite for Destruction. Quickly, the act was labeled “The Most Dangerous Band In the World” in tribute to their excessive, primal onstage antics, not to mention the sexual, violent charges which dominated the group's street-wise lyrical matter.
Guns N' Roses can trace its roots in Hollywood Rose, an evolved version of the outfit Rose whose main members were vocalist William Axl Rose (erstwhile member of Rapidfire), and rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin (born as Jeff Isabelle). Following college graduation, Stradlin had relocated, and met Fairfax High School pupils Tracii Guns and Christopher Weber. The three frequented the Rainbow Bar and Grill at evening times, where Rose stumbled upon them. Weber was a member of Hollywood Rose, and earnt a writing credit upon future Appetite for Destruction track “Anything Goes” (provisionally dubbed “My Way - Your Way”). Recruited via an advert in The Recycler, drummer Johnny Kreis completed the lineup. Hollywood Rose disbanded following a 1984 gig at The Music Machine, and Stradlin joined the act London. Rose joined Guns' outfit L.A. Guns, but later departed, and persuaded Guns to reform Hollywood Rose, with Steve Darrow occupying bass, and Robbie Gardner stepping behind the drumkit.
Debuting yet again via a New Years Eve show at the Dancing Waters, the group evolved into Guns N' Roses (a fusion of Guns' and Rose's respective surnames) in March 1985. Group names initially considered were Heads of Amazon, and AIDS. At this time, the group needed a bassist. Via an advert in Music Connection, the group recruited Michael “Duff” McKagan. Gardner and Guns eventually disappeared from the lineup, and so McKagan enlisted the services of Road Crew guitarist Saul “Slash” Hudson and drummer Steven Adler through a telephone call. In May, the group undertook inaugural rehearsals at a Silverlake studio. On June 6th, Guns N' Roses debut live performance occurred at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, and the outfit quickly earnt themselves a weighty live reputation at the club. Witnessing one such show, Geffen Records' A&R executive Tom Zutaut expressed interest in signing Guns N' Roses. On March 25th 1986, Guns N' Roses inked a record contract with Geffen Records.
To spearhead Guns N' Roses, a manager was needed. Aerosmith manager Tim Collins met the group with a view to managing them, but opted against this in light of the fact that Guns N' Roses accrued a $450 drinks tab in the manager's name after he had subsequently retired for the evening. On behalf of Stravinsky Brothers Management, Alan Niven (who additionally managed Great White) became the group's manager. Whilst Guns N' Roses withdrew from the club circuit so that studio work could ensue, four-track EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide was issued in December. Overdubbed with fake live noise, the EP was comprised of the following; two originals in “Reckless Life” and “Move to the City”, and cover interpretations of Rose Tattoo's “Nice Boys” and Aerosmith's “Mama Kin”.
Firstly, inaugural full length Appetite for Destruction needed the services of a producer. Kiss guitarist Paul Stanley was one individual considered as a potential producer. Visiting Guns N' Roses at a Sunset Bouvelard apartment Geffen Records had rented for the group, Stanley discovered Slash and Stradlin asleep on a sofa. Upon waking up, the two played Stanley several demos, including a demo rendition of “Nightrain”. Liking the track, Stanley nonetheless felt its chorus needed an additional hook. Following this, Stanley was dismissed by Rose. Another individual considered to helm production upon Appetite for Destruction was Manny Charlton, founder and guitarist of Scottish act Nazareth (from 1968 to 1990). Eventually, the group settled upon Mike Clink. Rehearsing with Clink for weeks, Guns N' Roses subsequently entered Rumbo Studios (owned by “Captain” Daryl Dragon, one half of duo Captain & Tenille) in Canoga Park, California during January 1987. A fortnight was spent cutting basic tracks, the best of which were spliced together by Clink via the use of a razor blade. Other Californian studios provided recording locations, namely Burbank's Take One Studio and Tarzana's Can Am Studio. At Media Sound in New York, Steve Thompson and Michael Barbiero handled mixing duties. At New York's Sterling Sound, George Marino handled the album's original mastering.
Whilst at a rented house situated on the erstwhile estate of Cecil B. DeMille, Slash had performed a riff, and Stradlin began to play chords alongside it. Listening to the two upstairs, Rose used an unfinished poem as the basis of the track's lyrics. That track eventually surfaced as “Sweet Child O' Mine”, an ode to Rose's childhood sweetheart Erin Everly. “Sweet Child O' Mine” wasn't the only number whose lyrical matter touched upon a girl in Rose's life. “My Michelle” centred around the life of one of Rose's erstwhile girlfriends, namely Michelle Young. Meanwhile, “Rocket Queen” referred to another girl whom Rose knew, someone that suffered both mental torture and substance abuse. The girl in question intended to form a group named Rocket Queen, and the song's lyrics were a message to that girl. “Rocket Queen”'s orgasmic moans are actually genuine, and not simulated. Cut at a Manhattan recording studio's darkened vocal booth during 1987's spring, these moans were produced by nineteen year old stripper Adriana Smith, Adler's girlfriend. However, Adler wasn't the other in question; to avenge the fact that Adler had committed adultery, Smith slept with Rose in that vocal booth. To capture those very sounds, assistant mixing engineer Vic Deyglio (accredited as “Victor 'the fuckin'engineer'” upon the album's sleeve notes) set up a high-quality vocal microphone. “Nightrain” was dedicated to the cheap wine the group would intoxicate themselves with, whilst “Mr. Brownstone” was an ode to heroin. “Out Ta Get Me” focused upon youth misdemeanours, and the police being in search of that youth. “Welcome to the Jungle”'s lyrics were penned in Seattle, and documented Axl's impressions of Los Angeles. “It's So Easy”, meanwhile, featured songwriting contributions from West Arkeen.
The album's original front cover artwork was a 1978 illustration designed by fantasy artist Robert Williams, and exhibited a robotic creature leering over a semi-naked woman whose underwear lay under her knees. North American stores took offence, and many refused to stock the album. In the United Kingdom, stores such as W. H. Smith shared that same attitude. Censored, its artwork was replaced. Taking inspiration from Rose's cross tattoo design from the needle of Bill White Jr., it was reinterpreted by Andy Engell in support of the album cover. Art direction and design was undertaken by Michael Hodgson.
Five months after its July 1987 issue, Appetite for Destruction had sold roughly two hundred thousand copies within the United States. The album spawned four Billboard Hot 100 charting singles, namely “Welcome to the Jungle” (position seven), “Nightrain” (position ninety-three), “Paradise City” (position five), and “Sweet Child O' Mine” (position one). Geffen Records' executives felt that the album had performed well by December 1987, asking both Zuzaut and Niven to take Guns N' Roses off the road so that a sophomore album could be cut. Zutaut implored head honcho David Geffen to use influence so that MTV would air the music video to “Welcome to the Jungle”, and MTV consequently aired the video a lone time at four a. m. on a Sunday. The music station's switchboards were inundated with requests to re-air the music video, and the rest, as they say, is history.
At this specific juncture, North America's Glam scene had dominated Pop culture. Groups such as Slayer, Megadeth, Anthrax, and Metallica, collectively known as the Big Four of Thrash Metal, experienced success in their own rights. To be truthful though, groups like Warrior Soul, Mötley Crüe, Poison, White Lion, Stryper, and Loudness acrrued the lion's share of available wealth, adorning heels, preposterous outfits, mammoth hair, and heavy makeup. Guns N' Roses lay amidst the two camps, donning attire more akin to the nascent Grunge scene. Adopting a sleazy Rock 'N' Roll demeanour which actually penetrated through the group's riffs, Guns N' Roses immediately earmarked itself as being somewhat different, and exploited a significantly aggressive, overtly raw approach.
Within its very inaugural composition, Appetite for Destruction states all that needs to be stated. “Welcome to the Jungle”'s distinctly familiar opening riff immediately emerges, and Axl Rose's trademark wail fades into the number. As soon as these moments transpire, you know, just as you knew whilst experiencing your formative years, that material of this nature will never be penned ever again. “Welcome to the Jungle” embodies all that happens to be associated with Guns N' Roses; angst, aggression, raunch, and drug themed lyrical references, not to mention a bluesy Rock 'N' Roll swagger - to be frank, that very swagger takes shit from no-one. Supporting that initial statement, both “It’s So Easy” and “Nightrain” favour a decidedly traditional sound, and assist Rose's memorable voice. However, the group's attitude is re-established via “Out Ta Get Me”, a track in which Rose verbally assaults a healthy list of individuals whom he feels have attempted to exploit Guns N' Roses. Throughout the subsequent two decades, Rose's name would obviously become synonymous with such lyrical fare.
In one of the lone instances during music's history, Geffen Records made each and every correct decision in marketing Appetite for Destruction. The album spawned several single issues, including the aforementioned “Welcome to the Jungle”, as well as the anthemic rocker “Paradise City”, and the large arena ballad “Sweet Child O' Mine”. Easily, this trio of numbers form the full length's prime cuts. However, cult favourites such as the drug-laden “Mr. Brownstone”, and the groove-oriented “My Michelle” remain beloved, and that's largely due to the fact that the pair have been excessively underplayed throughout the years.
Having accrued multi-platinum status, it isn't difficult to forget the album's brilliance. Much like Nirvana's Nevermind (1991), or Metallica's eponymously titled fifth album (issued during August 1991, and commonly referred to as The Black Album), Appetite for Destruction's respective tracks have permeated the consciousness of whomever happened to be alive between the late eighties, and the mid nineties. To some extent, listening to these tunes has become tiresome. However, these tunes possess as much brilliance nowadays as they did upon their 1987 debut. Within Appetite for Destruction, no mediocre tracks figure.
Critiqued against fellow Guns N' Roses albums, Appetite for Destruction successfully withstands the challenges that time bring. This gang of Rock 'N' Roll hoodlums would witness the emergence of an undisputed leader in later years, that irrefutable leader being Rose himself. The group's raunchier Rock 'N' Roll sound is often accredited to Slash, but would later be shed in favour of more epic stylings. However, Stradlin may be equally, if not more, responsible for the sound prevalent within Appetite for Destruction (and 1988's Lies EP). Slash's later outfits, namely Slash's Snakepit and Velvet Revolver, share as little musical traits with this 1987 debut as Rose's material under the Guns N' Roses banner. Having said that, should you lend a Stradlin solo album a welcome airing, then you'll distinguish as to whom the main songwriter behind the full length's material likely was. Irrespective of who penned which lyrical / musical section (the album's liner notes accredit lyrical and musical contributions to Guns N' Roses as an entity), Appetite for Destruction is a quintessential aspect of Rock 'N' Roll's history that should figure amongst everyone's music collection.