You're in the jungle, baby : 25 years of “Appetite for Destruction”

July 25, 2012

 “Appetite For Destruction” by Guns N’ Roses was the first album that ever pissed my father off.

 It was one of the first albums I ever listened to on my own; I had made the call to get the album (although my mom bought it; the first album I ever bought with my own money was Nirvana’s “Nevermind.”). Dare I say that even at 10 or 11 years old my tastes in music were pretty good.

Dad hated “Appetite” for the same reasons parents have always hated rock music. He hated how loud it was. Hated frontman Axl Rose’s shrieking vocals. Hated that the band looked like a bunch of degenerates (he had a point on that one). Just hated it and scolded me for listening to such crap.

For a young, snot-nosed punk, there’s almost a point of pride in that. Rock and roll, at least as far as I understand it, is supposed to piss off your parents. I’m pretty sure my dad’s dad hated The Beatles, their loud music and their long hair. And my dad hated Guns N’ Roses with their long hair and loud music.

Part of me wonders what my son will listen to that will piss me off. Hopefully it is something as dangerous as “Appetite” and not something lame.

I write this because “Appetite,” GN’R’s  landmark debut album turned 25 this past Saturday.

In the way time is circular in nature, Guns was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame earlier this year, joining all those acts my dad loved, like The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Roy Orbison. The onetime degenerates of Guns N’ Roses, who in the album photos for “Appetite” looked like they’d just crawled out of the gutter (or perhaps a whiskey bottle), were now part of  rock’s most exclusive club.

Of course, this being Guns N’ Roses, they didn’t exactly have a traditional induction.

Rose, embroiled in a nearly 20-year-long feud with guitarist Slash, famously declined the honor in a letter to the Hall.

Rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, as he’s done since he left the band 20 years ago, shunned the spotlight and didn’t show.

The rest of the guys were there not so much to celebrate Guns’ legacy as much as bury it once and for all.

Slash seemed to treat the event as one part celebration, one part f-you to Rose.

Bassist Duff McKagan, who along with Stradlin are the only ex-band members still on good terms with Rose, was there, as was Steven Adler, the band’s drummer on “Appetite,” who was kicked out of the band in 1990 for somehow managing the remarkable feat of being too big a drug user for Guns N’ Roses.

Matt Sorum, who took over for Adler, was like the third guy in the porn scene, relegated to tambourine duties when the band performed.

They all said the ceremony served as closure for them, which is appropriate.

I remember in college a conversation with a guy named Todd, whose last name escapes me. We got talking about Guns N’ Roses and the “Use Your Illusion” albums – the followup to “Appetite” - one time and he mentioned something to the effect of, “They made ‘Appetite for Destruction,’ they didn’t have to do anything else.”

I have to say he was right, and the careers of the band members have played out like an attempt to prove Todd wrong.

During the time of the “Use Your Illusion” albums, Rose made reference to wanting to bury “Appetite.” He tried to do so with the adventurous “Illusion” albums, which brought featured nine-minute songs, piano therapy sessions and orchestras. The “Illusion” albums, while good, were the work of established professionals, not the piss-and-vinegar gutter punks who churned out "Appetite."

After the breakup of the original band – fittingly, their last song together was a cover of the Rolling Stones “Sympathy For The Devil,” which Slash described as “the sound of a band breaking up” – Rose went into semi-seclusion, spending 15 years recording the “Chinese Democracy” album in an attempt to make the biggest, most spectacular album in the history of recorded sound. Since the album failed to sell up to expectations, Rose has taken the new Guns on the road, relying heavily on the hits from “Appetite.”

Slash’s post-Guns career has been like one long attempt to recreate the magic of “Appetite,” playing with  various groups  such as the blues-based Slash’s Snakepit, Velvet Revolver – which featured McKagan and Sorum and was fronted by Scott Weiland – or his new band with Myles Kennedy, one of the few rock frontmen these days that can sing as high as Rose (Kennedy filled in for Rose at the Rock Hall ceremony, and yes, he can do a very credible Axl impression).

Adler lived the “Appetite” Era Guns lifestyle long after he was kicked out of the band, struggling for years with a cocaine addiction.

And yet, Todd is still right. They never had to do anything else, because “Appetite” still stands on its own as probably one of the three or four most important records released in the last 25 years. The interesting thing about “Appetite” to me is that it has never dated. They could put this record out today and it would still sound great.

--- Sidenote----

The other contenders for “Most Important Record of the Last 25 Years” category are “Nevermind” by Nirvana (completely changed the game), “OK Computer” by Radiohead (pretty much laid the template for the whole indie rock genre that has followed) and “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A. (changed the face of rap music forever).

Notice I say most important, not necessarily the best, because if I was, it would surely exclude “Straight Outta Compton,” which has really not aged well. While the first three cuts are still classics (the title track, “F___ the Police” and “Gangsta Gangsta”), the rest of the record is filled with dated electro-disco beats and, other than Ice Cube, the rest of the group hadn’t necessarily come into their own as rappers. Dr. Dre hadn’t perfected the G-Funk style that would make him a producing legend later.

Don’t take my word for it, listen to all of “Straight Outta Compton” again, and then listen to the follow-up “Efil4zaggin,” and you can see for yourself.

While “Efil4zaggin’s” second side is marred by without a doubt the most misogynistic lyrics ever committed to record (quite a feat for gangsta rap of the day), Dr. Dre’s beats are still ridiculously fierce and hard-hitting.  It’s like hip-hop death metal. It’s too bad Ice Cube left the group before the record came out, because Dre’s beats with Cube’s rhymes (this was a time when Ice Cube was a contender for best rapper alive) may have made it one for the ages.

--- End of sidenote---

I’m not sure I have a specific memory of “Appetite.” No, “I was here when I first heard this record” story. Instead, it’s one of those things that entered my life at a young age and has just always been there. I may go years without listening to it, and then I’ll pick it up again. It’s like an old pal that you’re always glad to hear from again.

I’m not sure what has made “Appetite” stand the test of time. The songs, like the album is for me, are simply part of the American cultural experience.

 Who in the world doesn’t recognize the opening riffs to “Welcome To The Jungle” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine”?   

Who doesn’t groove right along to the stomp of “Paradise City” and “Mr. Brownstone,” or recite the profane lyrics to “It’s So Easy” and “Out Ta Get Me”?

For all its cold-bloodedness on the first half of the album, “Appetite” was also tenderhearted on the second side, with the brutally honest “My Michelle,” the power ballad “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and the closing “Rocket Queen,” which ends the album on an upbeat note.

“Appetite For Destruction” is, above all, pure. They may have come of age during the Sunset Strip glam metal scene of the late 1980s, but there’s a big difference between Guns N’ Roses and, say, Poison. GN’R was the real deal, and probably the reason the original band imploded was because something that pure could never be duplicated again.

The main reason the album has survived I suppose is this: It’s still freaking awesome to listen to.

  • Ryan Mavity has been a reporter with the Cape Gazette since February 2007. He covers the city of Rehoboth Beach, Baltimore Ravens football and Delaware State University football. He lives in Georgetown with his wife, Rachel and their son, Alex.

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