Note: Yesterday being the 75th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s birth, I’d love to have the time to tackle Axis: Bold as Love, but I just don’t have it this week. We’ll try to get to that one soon.
Every now and then a musical act releases a first album that’s really a game changer. The Beatles did it, as well as the Ramones. Black Sabbath did it too. In some cases, like the Beatles, we have a good idea of the impact of the event when it’s happening; in others, the case with Sabbath for instance, we have to wait until time shows us how important the work is.
The greatness of these albums is that they take us somewhere we’ve never been before musically. That’s always easy enough to see of course, but sometimes it isn’t evident early on whether or not that musical landscape is worth venturing into. That was the case with Sabbath; people realized the music went into a new realm, but it took some time for them to realize the path was worth following.
That wasn’t so much the case with Appetite for Destruction, Guns n Roses debut album, released in July 1987, but the disk wasn’t an immediate smash either. It became the number one album on the Billboard 200, but it took it a year to get there.
That was just the beginning, however; these days it boasts an estimated 30 million units sold worldwide, and its 18 million units sold domestically rank it as the eighth biggest studio album in US history. That’s not shabby for a bunch of dirty delinquents from Hollywood.
Sure, you can argue that it would have never sold the way it did if the band had stayed together longer and released more albums–that’s an argument, and I’ve heard it made–but for a lover of rock and roll to suppose there’s any reason for this album’s monumental success aside from the music is somewhat ludicrous.
Talk about your lists of songs that read like a greatest hits package; here you have “My Michelle,” “Rocket Queen,” “Out ta Get Me,” “Anything Goes,” “You’re Crazy,” and “Think About You” all of which are classics in the GnR catalog and none of which we regular staples on classic rock radio stations.
The other six songs, however, five of them released as singles, have maintained regular airplay for the entire 30 years since their release. In fact, these six songs get such regular play that I wasn’t even sure which were the singles and which weren’t. I could figure that three of them were “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” and “Paradise City,” but which two of the other three were I couldn’t be certain. I would have guessed that “Nightrain” and “Mr. Brownstone,” were the other releases, while “It’s So Easy” was the odd track out, and I would have been wrong. In fact, “It’s So Easy” wasn’t just a single, it was the first one released. The one of these that wasn’t released as a single was “Mr. Brownstone,” which was probably due to content, as it is a strong enough song, which has been received well enough to be a single.
So, you had these twelve songs, not a weak track in the lot, and people can talk about how this band reached the heights of fame they because of their antics or their notoriety, but it was about nothing but the music. “Welcome to the Jungle” is such a strong song that I saw a Whitesnake concert on Tax Day of 1990, with Great White opening, and I am not exaggerating one bit when I say that that song, “Welcome,” played over the speakers during the intermission got the crowd going more than any song the night’s two featured bands did. It wasn’t even a new song, at nearly three years since the album had been released, but it’s that big of a song, that big of a call to its listeners, that it can take on two and a half hours of live music made by world famous and platinum selling bands and leave them in the dust.
All of the other tracks might not be as big of a tune as it, but there isn’t a song on this album that you wouldn’t be surprised to find that it’s someone’s favorite. My own favorite was “Nightrain” for a long time. That had been the first one that Ken Thomas had expressly played for me when he brought the copied Maxell cassette home on leave from the Army, and it’s also just an easy song to have for a favorite.
Still, depending on the day you ask, my favorite might be “My Michelle” or “Think About You” or “Out ta Get Me.” Then, just as soon as I dismiss a song like “Sweet Child,” like we do songs like “Stairway to Heaven” when they get played too much, I really listen to it again with focussed ears and realize just what a masterpiece it is. I will always sing the praises of songs that break silence well until I’m older and grayer than I am right now, and I’m always hard-pressed to think of a song that accomplishes it as well as this one.
It’s not just that these songs are as great as they are, but that’s heavily underscored by the fact that you can look at the music that came before them and that which came after, and you won’t find anything like the music on this album. In 1984, hair metal was dominated by bands like Bon Jovi, Ratt, Def Leppard, and Dokken; when contemporary rock and roll was being played on the radio, it sounded like these bands. Then, in 1992, it was all about Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice and Chains, and Soundgarden; the rock that was making it to the masses sounded like Seattle.
And, between it all, as far as new rock bands that mattered on the radio, I can think of only Guns. It’s like they were there own genre between the hair metal and the grunge, and when we heard it we knew. Sure, in the early days the language and rough treatment of rougher subjects spoke to the hoodlums we were–Ken used to say that we were just hoodlums looking for someone to hoodle–but this longevity, and 30 million units sold, can only be about the craft of the music.
Was the band short-lived? Yes. Is there far too little GnR music in this world? I think so. But I also think Appetite is as strong as it is because a functioning bunch of musicians, a collection of people who could keep it together long into the future, would have never been able to make an album like this. The pain and the rage wouldn’t have been there; the anger wouldn’t have been. This is a band that recorded songs like “Out ta Get Me” and “It’s So Easy” for an album titled Appetite for Destruction; there was no way they were going to make a long run of it.
How often do we hear someone say a young and probably aimless and troubled man should find something constructive to do with his anger? It seems to me that that’s exactly what these angry and troubled young men did, and they might have done it better than anyone else you could think of. I wonder if anyone ever thought to give those dirty delinquents a pat on the back and a “Good job there” for that. One would certainly hope.
Forgive me for not linking the full YouTube file of the album, but the art might be offensive. Still, it’s there all in one nice neat little file, waiting for your rocking self. Instead, here are some tastes. I start with the one Ken started me on, “Nightrain,” a good old fashioned romp about getting drunk that spoke to the hellions we were at the time. Next, you get “Think About You,” which might be the poppiest non-ballad song in the band’s catalog. Finally, you get big ol’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” If you happen to be David Coverdale, just be quiet; nobody’s gonna hear you after this anyway. Enjoy.