Guns N’ Roses, ‘Appetite For Destruction’ At 25
Twenty-five years ago exactly, GNR welcomed the world to their jungle. Billboard.com takes a look back at each song on the band’s classic debut.
by Christa Titus
Certified 18-times platinum and named the best-selling debut album of all time by the RIAA, “Appetite for Destruction” — released exactly 25 years ago on July 21, 1987 — is the ultimate testament to the ’80s Sunset Strip scene and the decade when hard rock ruled the world. Being dirty, defiant and decadent wasn’t about image for Los Angeles rockers Guns N’ Roses. It was a lifestyle that propelled the quintet to stardom and contributed to the eventual splintering of the band to where, today, singer Axl Rose remains the only original member.
The Geffen album debuted at a ho-hum No. 182 on the Billboard 200 the week of Aug. 29, 1987. Thanks to touring and constant radio/video play for songs like “Paradise City” and “Welcome to the Jungle,” it topped the chart for the first time nearly a year later during the week of Aug. 6, 1988. The album spent five nonconsecutive weeks at No. 1.
“Appetite for Destruction” introduced a band that anyone who loved rock’n’roll could agree on. The metal heads loved the aggression, the glam fans fawned over their looks, the punks aligned with their rebellion, and the purists savored their blues-based riffs. It also contributed iconic images to the lexicon (Rose’s head bandana, guitarist Slash’s top hat) and uncompromising, powerful songs that remain incredibly fresh. Nothing quite like “Appetite” has come along in the 25 years since it arrived. And that, folks, is why we’re stuck with Axl Rose for the rest of our lives.
“Welcome to the Jungle”
“You’re in the jungle, baby! You’re gonna diiiiiiiiiiiiee!” So get down on your sha-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah-nah knees. With an echoing guitar refrain and a protracted, demonic howl, it’s the song that unleashed Rose, Slash, guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler on the world. Anything you musically need to know about classic Guns N’ Roses is represented right here in their debut single. Even if they never had another hit besides this one, which peaked at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, we’d still be talking about them today.
“It’s So Easy”
Having braved the jungle, by the second song on “Appetite,” the Guns are sneering and contemptuous about groupies and hangers-on that enable their outrageous behavior. The buzzing guitar tone and squalling solo attest to their disgust. Rose sings to a random girl, “Turn around bitch I got a use for you/Besides you ain’t got nothing better to do/And I’m bored.” But beneath the attitude lies clues that this gravy train isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be: “I make the fire/But I miss the firefight/I hit the bull’s eye every night.”
| “Night Train”
Night Train Express is a cheap brand of wine on par with Thunderbird and Wild Irish Rose. It also helped keep Guns well-oiled when money was scarce during their days as struggling musicians, so they wrote a song in appreciation. With a guitar solo at the bridge and another one that acts as an outtro, this is practically a nonstop jam. In 2009 Guitar World named it one of the top 10 drinking songs of all time (No. 8), along with Kiss’ “Cold Gin” and Hank Williams’ “There’s a Tear in My Beer.” However, “Night Train” stalled at No. 93 on the Hot 100.
“Out Ta Get Me”
It could be argued that this song has ironically become Rose’s personal theme, but the fans didn’t see that coming in 1987. The controversies, the lineup changes, the media pressure-all of that was still in the distance. “They push me in a corner/Just to get me to fight,” Rose sings in “Out Ta Get Me,” and, to be fair, rock’n’roll dramas are rarely one-sided affairs. But when he spouts, “Some people got a chip on their shoulder/An some would say it was me,” it’s from his lips to God’s ears.
| “Mr. Brownstone”
“Mr. Brownstone” is Guns N’ Roses’ own cautionary tale against drug use. It’s wah-wah pedal crunch, danceable rhythm and rapid vocal cadences had all the elements of a hit, but the song wasn’t released in the United States as a single. The autobiographical look at some of the band members’ struggles with heroin addiction as the group’s popularity rose compares the monkey on their backs to a vicious landlord that they’re going to “kick on down the line.”
Built for the arenas from the top down, from its drum beats to its extended, anthemic chorus-as-intro, Geffen Records couldn’t have picked better subject matter for the iconic video to “Paradise City.” The shots of the band performing live before thousands of screaming fans packed into a stadium testifies to the frenzy Guns N’ Roses created live. Once you hear the whistle blow that kicks off the song, it’s a signal for the mayhem to begin. No wonder it hit No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
What a difference 20-some years can make. In the ’60s, there was the Beatles’ “Michelle,” a lilting, somber declaration of love to a woman of the same name. Two decades later comes its polar opposite. Guns’ “My Michelle” has walloping beats that pummel you like blows in a Saturday-night bar fight. It’s a warts-and-all depiction of a coke-snorting friend of the band whose life could’ve been ripped from a tabloid, with a daddy who works in porno “now that Mommy’s not around/She used to love her heroin/But now she’s underground.”
| “Think About You”
The last thing you expected Guns to sing about is love, yet even the toughest rockers have a soft side. If you listen just to the music on the track, you’ll hear the same relentless dual-guitar onslaught that drives “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City.” But its lyrics are straight out of a pop song that could be sung by One Direction or Bruno Mars. “Somethin’ changed in this heart of mine/And I’m so glad that you showed me,” Rose declares. “Honey, now you’re my best friend/I want to stay together ’til the very end.”
“Sweet Child O’ Mine”
Maybe Guns deliberately paired this song next to “Think About You” so listeners could clearly understand they had love on their mind. Unlike the melancholy ballad “Patience” from Guns’ 1988 album “GN’R Lies,” “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” is an appreciation to a lady who brings a sense of security to the band’s insane existence. With its now-classic opening riff and Southern rock-kissed sensibility, it’s made for cruising on a summer day with the top down and an arm slung around your girl. The softer tone likely contributed to it becoming the band’s first (and only) No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, ruling for two weeks.
The hard-charging “You’re Crazy” is where Guns get their punk on. The music goes off on a berserker-like tangent to back up the lyrical sentiment, which needs no explanation, and Rose drives the point home by repeating the song title multiple times. When GN’R released the aforementioned “GN’R Lies,” it revisited the song, stripping it down to an acoustic jam that brings the band’s blues influences back to the fore.
| “Anything Goes”
“Anything Goes” aptly describes the circus that was late-’80s GN’R. It could also be a companion piece to “It’s So Easy,” except here there’s a little more mutual satisfaction involved. Guns are explicit about what they’ve got on their mind with this aggressive come-on that ends in a bonanza of noise. It’s filthy, hook-up rock that inspires great hate sex-and reinforces why women always fall for rock stars.
| “Rocket Queen”
Rose pre-empted the new-millennium celebrity trend of recording your sexcapades when he added some, er, special effects to the album-closing “Rocket Queen.” As the legend goes, he brought a close friend of the band into the studio and recorded himself having sex with her. The resulting sounds are audibly mixed into the song’s extended bridge. The engineer who was tasked with capturing the session received the album credit of “Victor ‘the fucking engineer’ Deglio.”