One of the best and most iconic hard rock albums ever, as well as one of the best debut albums ever, today we have “Appetite for Destruction” by Guns N’ Roses. This album was a complete game-changer for many of us, snapping the rock world out of the increasingly glam and pop-laden metal trends, with a steady diet of excess and decadence. During this point in my life, I also had my share of excesses, less than some and more than others, and it was the perfect soundtrack for the remainder of my college experience. This album has endured as a true classic to this day, and is the #62 rated album on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Like I said above, Guns N’ Roses were something different than anything else around when they burst on the scene. Fully embracing the out-of-control lifestyle of Los Angeles and Hollywood in the late ‘80s, their music epitomized and was built around the classic rock recipe of sex, drugs, booze, and rock and roll. Most importantly, they had a stellar collection of original songs and riffs that showcased their unique talents. Starting with Axl Rose, we hadn’t and probably still haven’t heard a vocalist quite like him in the rock and roll arena. His range and depth of sound at all points on the register was remarkable, and if you weren’t listening closely, you might think they had multiple lead singers. Over the course of time, we have learned what a complicated and truly difficult person Axl Rose can be, but the dude could sing hard rock (and the occasional ballad) like nobody else.
To complement Rose, we have Slash on lead guitar. Visually, he is a mop of hair hidden under a black hat and shades, and covered with ink like the rest of the band. None of that matters as much as the caliber of riffs and hooks that he created, on par with the best riffs we have heard from the likes of Jimmy Page and Edward Van Halen. Unlike those two, his sound was augmented by a second guitarist, Izzy Stradlin. He filled out the depth of sound very well, along with bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler, who all not only did their job very well musically, but completely played the part of leather-clad rock and roll bad boys to perfection.
The album opens with the anthem “Welcome to the Jungle”, the first of many unforgettable tunes and riffs from this album. This was the first big mainstream hit from this album, and it fully captivated all of us at the Rat Mansion as well as all of our other friends. We loved and celebrated a large assortment of music nightly, but something truly unique happened whenever this song came on. My memories of John, Mike, Darren, myself, and whoever else happened to be around that night being completely possessed by this song are crystal clear, even if that is the only memory from those nights that remains intact. The images of Axl in a straitjacket and fully teased hair as this song crushed sent us all into a frenzy, and it pretty much summed up our own nightly excesses and absurdities as we somehow attempted to remain moderately functional students and members of society.
The rest of side one is just as legendary, it is one of the greatest single album sides from this genre. In different ways, “It’s So Easy”, “Nightrain”, and “Out ta Get Me” captured the rebellion, defiance and newly captured independence we all were embracing at this point in our lives. As good as all of those songs were, I would still have to pick “Mr. Brownstone” as the single best song from the entire great album. Once again on fire with a stunning Slash riff and his backing rhythm section, you get to hear the full range and capability of Axl Rose, from bottom to top, through the course of this love-hate (mostly hate) ode to heroin addiction and rock and roll. Even at a relatively sedate point in my life now, this song always is a guaranteed volume increase when it comes on.
Side one ends with “Paradise City”, another legendary track that honors their collective home away from home and adopted dreamland, Los Angeles. Once that whistle blows after the intro, Slash is joined by the rest of the band in a riff that absolutely raises your pulse, and Axl spends most of this song in his upper range, piercing the song with the power of his voice.
Side two isn’t quite as memorable overall, although it does have what many would consider the biggest hit of the record, “Sweet Child o’ Mine”. With yet another unforgettable Slash riff that opens the song, Axl again covers many of the points within in his range as this song picks up pace and intensity. It always seemed a bit too sweet to fit in with the rest of these rock and roll gutter dwellers, but even rock and rollers can apparently fall in love too. The rest of side two has its share of riffs and highlights, but I wouldn’t take any of these other songs over any on side one. One last entertaining moment that is representative of the time and mindset of the band, on the last track “Rocket Queen”, Axl decided to record himself “enjoying the day” with drummer Steven Adler’s girlfriend, and the accompanying soundtrack was mixed into the guitar solo.
The band has had an interesting stop and start career since this powerhouse debut, and after many years of being disbanded, Axl and Slash reconciled a few years ago and finally have most of the core back on tour. In fact, if all goes well, I hope to see them live for the first time ever, later this year. Fortunately, these days they don’t make it a habit of showing up several hours late to each show. I’m not sure this aging rocker could stand around that long anymore. To me, nothing they did has ever, or will ever top the impact of this album. I remember I could play it for any friend for the first time (I remember one drive around the mountains with Pat, Sterling and Eddie) and know it would be an immediate hit on first listen. I can only think of three rock albums since this one that hit me in anywhere close to the same way as complete albums, and thankfully they are all still to come on this journey.
“Welcome to the jungle, it gets worse here every day, Learn to live like an animal in the jungle where we play, If you got a hunger for what you see, you’ll take it eventually, You can have anything you want, but you better not take it from me…”