Guns N’ Roses: Appetite for Destruction – [Record 137]
Appetite for Destruction is the debut studio album by American hard rock band Guns N’ Roses, released on July 21, 1987 on Geffen Records. It was well received by critics and topped the American Billboard 200 chart. As of September 2008, the album has been certified 18 times Platinum by the RIAA, making it the best-selling record released on Geffen and best-selling American debut.
1. Welcome to the Jungle.
2. It’s So Easy.
4. Out ta Get Me.
5. Mr. Brownstone.
6. Paradise City.
7. My Michelle.
8. Think About You.
9. Sweet Child o’ Mine.
10. You’re Crazy.
11. Anything Goes.
12. Rocket Queen.
Background and recording: Axl Rose stated that many of the songs featured on the album had been written while the band had been performing on the Los Angeles club circuit, and a number of songs that would be featured on later Guns N’ Roses albums were considered for Appetite for Destruction, such as “Back Off Bitch”, “You Could Be Mine”, “November Rain” and “Don’t Cry”. It is said that the reason for not putting “November Rain” on it was because they had already agreed to put “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” on it and thus already had a ballad on the album (however, both Use Your Illusion albums would contain more than one ballad).
The band started searching for someone to produce their debut, mostly recommendations made by Geffen executives Alan Niven and Tom Zutaut. Demos were recorded under both Manny Charlton and Spencer Proffer, with some work made with the latter being issued in the EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide. One of the interviewed prospects was Kiss’s Paul Stanley, rejected after insisting on changes to Steven Adler’s drum setup and the songs. The band considered Robert John “Mutt” Lange, but he proved too expensive to hire. Eventually Mike Clink, who had produced several Triumph records, was chosen, for being the first to record the band exactly the way they wanted.
After some weeks of rehearsal, the band entered Daryl Dragon’s Rumbo Recorders in January 1987. Two weeks were spent recording basic tracks, with Clink splicing together the best takes with his razor blade. Clink worked eighteen-hour days for the next month, with Slash overdubbing in the afternoon and evening, and Rose performing vocals. Slash struggled to find a guitar sound before coming up with a Gibson Les Paul copy plugged into a Marshall amplifier. He spent hours with Clink paring down and structuring his solos. The total budget for the album was about $370,000. According to drummer Steven Adler, the percussion was done in just six days, but Rose’s vocals took much longer as he insisted on doing them one line at a time, in a perfectionism that drove the rest of the band away from the studio as he worked.
Many of the songs on Appetite For Destruction began as solo tracks that individual band members wrote separate from the band, only to be completed later. These songs include “It’s So Easy” (Duff McKagan) and “Think About You” (Izzy Stradlin). “Rocket Queen” was an unfinished Slash/McKagan/Adler song that was written from their earlier band Road Crew, whereas “Anything Goes”, written by Hollywood Rose and included in their compilation album The Roots of Guns N’ Roses, was later re-written for Appetite.
Most of the songs on the album reflect the band’s personal experiences and daily life, such as “Welcome to the Jungle”, some of the lyrics of which Rose wrote after he encountered a man in New York shortly after arriving there from Indiana in 1980, and “Mr. Brownstone”, which is about the band’s problems with heroin. Lyrics to some of the songs focus on the band members’ younger years, like “Out ta Get Me”, which focuses on lead singer Axl Rose’s constant trouble with the law as a youth in Indiana. The band also based song lyrics on some of their female friends, reflected in the songs “Sweet Child o’ Mine”, “My Michelle”, “You’re Crazy”, and “Rocket Queen”.
Album Cover: The album’s original cover art, based on Robert Williams’ painting “Appetite for Destruction”, depicted a robotic rapist about to be punished by a metal avenger. After several music retailers refused to stock the album, the label compromised and put the controversial cover art inside, replacing it with an image depicting a cross and skulls of the five band members (designed by Billy White Jr., originally as a tattoo), each skull representing one member of the band: Izzy Stradlin, top skull; Steven Adler, left skull; Axl Rose, center skull; Duff McKagan, right skull; and Slash, bottom skull. The photographs used for the back of the album and liner notes were taken by Robert John, Marc Canter, Jack Lue, Leonard McCardie, and Greg Freeman. The original cover was supposed to be on the 2008 re-pressing of the vinyl, though the record label replaced it with the “Skulls” art at the last minute. The re-pressing of the vinyl, though, is the first Guns N’ Roses release to have the Parental Advisory label printed on the artwork; previously, like on the CD, this was a sticker on the cellophane wrap and later (on the CD and cassette releases) on the case itself.
In albums which were issued on double sided media (vinyl records and audio cassettes) the two sides were not conventionally labeled “A” and “B”, but “G” and “R”. Tracks 1–6 which compose side “G” all deal with drugs and hard life in the big city (“Guns” side). The remaining tracks, which compose side “R”, all deal with love, sex and relationships (“Roses” side).
In an interview with That Metal Show in 2011, Axl stated his original idea for the cover art was to be the photo of the Space Shuttle Challenger exploding, which was on the cover of Time Magazine in 1986, but Geffen refused it saying it was “in bad taste”.
Reception and Legacy: Appetite for Destruction debuted at number 182 on the Billboard 200 in the week of August 29, 1987. It did not top the chart until August 6, 1988, after the band had toured and received radio and music video airplay with singles such as “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City”. It spent four nonconsecutive weeks at number-one on the chart, and a total of 147 weeks on the Billboard 200. Music critics at the time complained that the album’s massive success with consumers was fostered by the taboo of “sex, drugs and rock & roll” during the 1980s, when much of the cultural atmosphere in the United States became informed by the Reagan-Bush Administration, the AIDS crisis, and the popularity of MTV. In a contemporary review, Dave Ling of Metal Hammer dismissed the album as an inferior mix of elements from bands such as Aerosmith, Hanoi Rocks, and AC/DC. On the other hand, Billboard magazine’s Christa Titus later contended that Appetite for Destruction appealed to rock music’s various listeners because it incorporated metal’s forceful playing, punk rock’s rebellious themes, glam metal’s aesthetic, and bluesy guitar riffs that appealed to purists. Nonetheless, it was voted the 26th best album of the year in the Pazz & Jop, an annual critics poll run by The Village Voice. In a 1990 review, the poll’s creator Robert Christgau graded the album a “B–” and said that Rose’s effortless, convincing vocal abilities are undeniable and set him apart from his contemporaries. However, he found his performance undermined by questionable lyrics that reveal darker ideas: “He doesn’t love Night Train, he loves alcoholism. And once that sweet child o’ his proves her devotion by sucking his cock for the portacam, the evil slut is ready for ‘See me hit you you fall down.'”
In a retrospective review for The Rolling Stone Album Guide (2004), Ann Powers gave Appetite for Destruction five stars and wrote that Guns N’ Roses produced a unique mix of different rock values such as “speed and musicianship, flash and dirt”, on an album that changed hard rock’s sensibilities at the time. Stephen Thomas Erlewine also viewed it as a “turning point for hard rock” in his five-star review for AllMusic and felt that Rose’s singing and songwriting are enhanced by Slash and Stradlin’s dual guitar playing, which helped make Appetite for Destruction “the best metal record of the late ’80s”. According to Jimmy Martin of The Quietus, as the 1980s’ best hard rock album, Appetite for Destruction had an unrefined, punk quality that marked a shift away from hair metal bands commercialized by MTV. In his list of essential hair metal albums, Chuck Eddy called it “the greatest album ever made about how you can’t run away from yourself”, while BBC Music’s Dennis O’Dell said that the engagingly hedonistic album remains the band’s best, as did Ric Albano of Classic Rock magazine: “this band would never again reach this level of importance and breakthrough originality.” In a 2000 list, Q magazine named it one of the greatest metal albums ever and hailed it as “a riotous celebration of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll”. On the other hand, Sputnikmusic felt that the album has been somewhat overrated and that most of the songs suffer by comparison with the highlights “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Sweet Child o’ Mine”, “Paradise City”, and “Rocket Queen”.