Classic Albums – Guns N’ Roses -Appetite For Destruction -1987

by Mark Hammond

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Cock Rock; Poodle Perm’ Glam; Spandex Metal. Call it what you will. We all know it’s the lowest common denominator and the domain of the dim-wit, but that’s not to say it can’t be fun. And what’s life without a bit of fun, anyway?

Fittingly, almost 29 years after its release, there’s never been a better time to listen to an album as beautifully naive and counterproductive as Guns N’ Roses’ debut Appetite For Destruction, and there’s countless reasons why.

In the here-and-now, social media allows people to be whoever they want,  whether it’s a force for the positive or its opposite.

For all you know, sweet old Ada who lives at no.7 could be a scathing showbiz reporter, trolling her way through celebrity fashions like some sinister hybrid of Perez Hilton, Joan Rivers and Godzilla.

The ruthless looking suit who lives at no.9 may well sell Marla beads, write successful books on meditation and align his chakras nightly. Who knows? Nobody, of course, which is why today has never been a better time to branch out in your interests (so long as nobody gets hurt!).

Whereas blogs and social media have a tendency to allow us to aspire to what we may never be, Appetite plays like a reverse of this. In short, it’s Instagrim. While films and music of ’80 America make LA out to be a veritable wonderland, Guns’ debut chose to take a snapshot of the Home of the Beautiful and filter out the bullshit.

And in doing so, it’s becomes a fully-fledged juggernaut of an LP.

Link to full album below, listen up while reading for the full experience:

The world at large is aware that Guns N Roses became massive, but, songs Welcome To The Jungle and Sweet Child O Mine aside (the first which is excellent, the latter, a sickly ode to leather-trouser-clad marriages worldwide), it’s unlikely that the casual listener can name any other song from the album -a huge shame, given that the album itself is completely thrilling and utterly compelling. OK, I take that back: I can’t say it’s utterly compelling, as I’m not the greatest fan of the aforementioned Sweet Child…, but that’s just me having heard it in every pub I’ve ever been for the last 15 years.

After the opening call to arms of Welcome To The Jungle, Axl Rose and his furiously creative cohorts rush straight into the fray with the albums heaviest (and personal favourite) It’s So Easy.

A frenetic burst of heavy metal, it ends almost as quickly as it begins. Covering sex, the ‘fun’ of drink driving, punching people and (unsurprisingly) car crashes, it’s the type of song that terrified suburban ’80s parents, as all of the best music did.

Following on, Nightrain raises a glass of gut-rotting shitty plonk to the city’s infamous skyline. When Rose sings a line as laughable as “I’ve got a Molotov Cocktail with a match to go/ I smoke my… Cigarette with style!”, it takes on a sinister tone given how many times he was arrested pre-stardom (re: Out Ta Get Me). Which is the prestige embedded up GNR’s tassled-leather sleeves from day one.

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I myself know a Mr. Brownstone. Like the one sang about on Appetite, mine too “is a real motherfucker”. This time, however, myself and Axl are on the same page of a different book.
From The Stranglers’ Golden Brown through to The Las’ There She Goes, it doesn’t take Stephen Hawkins to figure out that  this isn’t the first song written about smack and it won’t be the last. The difference here is the delivery and vigour. Advocating drugs isn’t my cup of meat, but it’s hard to knock any song that can see the lighter side of such sinister baggage as riffing on one’s addiction is always an admirable trait, I’ve found.

In a year which threw out huge sellers by Whitesnake and Def Leppard, it’d be easy to throw AFD in with these, but rest-assured, it’s nothing like them. Whereas the former two cater to generic tastes of Top Gear presenters, Appetite is rooted in punk but presented as visceral heavy metal.

Paradise City is a wondersome ode, but things weren’t always this way, typical of a band who must have been a nightmare to manage. When he was busy not appearing at gigs, Rose was busy planning to change its chorus to “Take me down to the Paradise City/ where the girl are fat and they got big titties”…

Youth has its flaws, I guess. That’s all I’ll say about that. Next!

Ladies and gentlemen, My Michelle-

“Your daddy works in porno now that mommy’s not around/ she used to love her heroin, but now she’s underground/ so you stay out late at night and you do your dope for free/ driving your friends crazy with your life’s insanity”

Given the original drummer Steve Adler was kicked out for his hard living, it makes you wonder just exactly what the fuck he actually did in light of lyrics like these.

Slash was notorious for Jack Daniels binges, Axl was shooting up to celebrate even the opening of an envelope, bassist Duff McKagan had the nickname “King of beers” (once drinking so much that his pancreas almost exploded) and Izzy Stradlin was called “Izzy Stradlin’?”

Under the Paisley shirts and huge sunglasses, rest assured the answer was a resounding ‘yes’.

Anything Goes plays like a cross between film classic The Graduate and the type of poetically abstract filth that comes out of Jay’s mouth in The In-Betweeners.

At the time it was written, the entire five piece’s collective age was probably still younger than Keith Richards was in 1987, so the obsession with sex is a given. Anything Goes sounds like throbbing loins, and warranted the Parental Advisory sticker solely for the possibility that listening to it may make you fall pregnant and need parental advice more than you know. Oy Vey!

Finishing tune Rocket Queen always confused me when I was younger, and still does a little.

Whilst the opening couple of verses sound chauvinistic and vile (like a lot of the record does), I always assumed that it was a sincere love letter to a prostitute hooked on drugs to seek help.

Taking the change of tone to heart, the initial verses could well be one of Rocket Queen’s aggressive clients. It makes for uneasy listening, but when drawing the album to a close, the mood becomes a sunrise through LA’s smog.

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Filthy, beaten, but always with a hope of love and meaning through the bitter and glitter.

I once read a YouTube comment that stated “Fame is slavery smeared in lipstick”. If that’s true, then AFD is a mirror held up to the famous themselves.

For an album that’s sold in excess of 30M worldwide, it wasn’t without its controversy, a theme which would trail GNR like a limping puppy throughout their entire career.

Appetite For Destruction’s original album cover being one of the main cases. Whilst I’m not proud that I own a copy of this version on LP due to the picture on the front, it was clearly an indication of a band who didn’t have a care how they came across to the larger world.

Time passed and, as a band, the perils of rock ‘n’ roll excess soon took over. They became one of the world’s biggest selling stadium acts. They helped to soundtrack blockbuster films.

Their releases became increasingly languid and disappointing, including a lacklustre covers album for a band capable of so much more.

Axl Rose spent fifteen years making the world’s most expensive album as a follow up, getting through eight guitarists, a guest DJ spot as a classic rock Jock on Grand Theft Auto San Andreas, a free style rap from basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal and eventually found Slash’s replacement in a man called Buckethead.

Yes- “Buckethead”.

Their new guitarist sported a KFC bucket.

On his head.

It’s easy to laugh now, but people are quick to kiss Paul McCartney’s aged derrière the moment he starts hanging with Kanye.

At least Rose has had the common decency to keep things as weird as possible for his entire career. I’m in no doubt that he has an ever-trundling PR machine, but I’d bet everyone in America a free can of Dr. Pepper (Google it) that he’s never listened to a word they’ve said.

It’s March 2016 now and the world in which we live is soaked in sex and the outspoken. On more than one occasion, I’ve mistaken chewing gum for condoms in a supermarket.

If I flick on ITV any time after 7pm, for my sins, I’m bound to see a crowd cheer to a panel of four putting down some hapless singer or kazoo player, all to the whoops and cheers of a pumped up audience.

Maybe Axl Rose was a visionary after all.

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1987 was a year full of excellent albums. The Smiths would bow out in style with their swansong Strangeways, Here We Come. The Jesus & Mary Chain would ditch their feedback in favour of beautiful melodies on Darklands, whereas across The Pond, The Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. were unwittingly shaping the future of music by creating grunge with Come On Pilgrim and You’re Living All Over me, respectively. All are astonishing listens, if you find the time to do so.

Links below for your listening pleasure:

 

Appetite For Destruction can stand alongside these as an album outstanding in its contribution to music.

In its field of ’80s glam, riffs and excess, it remains almost unsurpassed.

This Friday night along Sunset Strip, you’ll see people dressed like Steve Adler, Joe Perry and Nikki Sixx. All of these countless lookalikes will be in their early twenties.

Steel Panther fans will be seen far and wide.

In a scene from seminal film Withnail & I, drug dealer Danny waxes lyrical about the death of the Sixties, stating that hippie wigs are now being “sold in Woolworths”.

Walk into any costume shop and you can come out looking like Eddie Van Halen. That’s not to say I’m lamenting the death of the scene. 98% of it was terrible.

In the same way that punk had to happen as the Extinction Level Event to the pomposity of rock dinosaurs world-wide, grunge would inevitably kill off hair metal, replacing it with some of the finest music crafted in the last 30 years.

But once in every scene, a striking record can come along, reset the bar then never be bettered. Appetite may be wrapped in drain pipes and Hi-top kicks, but it’s a 50 minute cruise through the last days of Rome, and whilst unapologetic, it’s all the better for being so.

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Afterword-

Given enough time, walls crumble and Empires fall. Time judges us all with the same harsh hand and, while one minute, it graces the world with new life, the next it rids it of the previous.

I wanted to write a piece about David Bowie, but however hard, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’m having trouble writing this right now. Even though he was a dear friend who spent many years with me, we never actually met each or spoke. I could go on forever, but I won’t.

From the deepest wells of my heart, thank you for everything.

RIP.

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