Back in the late-Eighties, we had four artists that totally scared the crap out of Baby Boomer parents across the nation. Half of them were from the “scary” world of rap music, Public Enemy and N.W.A, one was from the equally “frightening” world of speed metal, Metallica, and the last one were a bunch of seemingly street urchins who played a mix of classic hard rock merged with the ever dangerous punk and foreign punk music, Guns N’ Roses. Personally, I found all four artists so much fun, if only they all represented music that was, one, foreign to the music Boomers had claimed as their own, and, two, and perhaps most importantly, Boomers found loathsome and out of step with their parameters on music. As far I as was concerned, Gen X had their first true voices as forceful and poignant as anything the Boomers’ culture put forth.
Sure, Public Enemy and N.W.A did not get the financial boom their music deserved, yet their legacies were set in stone as they became something of a Sex Pistols for the hip hop nation. And, Metallica, at the time, was the finest metal band on Earth, although the faced the indignity of losing the Grammys’ first Best Heavy Metal award to the arguably the least metal band of all-time, a Boomers favorite Jethro Tull. That slight probably only made Metallica that much cooler to the kids. And, Guns N’ Roses were The Beatles of the bunch, selling boatloads of records much to the chagrin of my Boomer-aged brothers-in-law, whose kids were caught up in the mania surrounding the band. In all four cases, their lyrics and music spoke viscerally to a cynical generation who had been raised on commercialism, Reaganomics and alienation. And, in all four bands, the artists were “real,” meaning that they all appeared to walk onto the stage in clothes they wore on the street. It was a case of what you see is what you get, which carried on into the Nineties.
Today, I’d like to focus on GNR. First off, these guys were NOT hair metal bands. Sure, they did come from the Sunset glam scene that gave us such musical Goliaths as White Lion, Warrant, Winger, Poison, and the rest of the shitty hair metal bands that were the favor of month at the time. With GNR, they combined the hard rock of Aerosmith with the punk fervor of The Clash, which not only separated them from those aforementioned pretenders, but also made them sound as dangerous as a modern day Rolling Stones. Then, throw in to the mix the fact that these guys could give a crap if you liked them or not, AND the own intra-band chemistry was as volatile as the Sex Pistols’ were a decade earlier. All of this made for some excitement to the young rock lovers, not just for their legendary alcohol and drug abuse, womanizing and infighting, but their musical prowess. If you did not live through this era, these guys were a musical form of a Molotov cocktail.
And, the whole thing made for exciting times. Sure, I never had to wait for lead singer Axl Rose to get his ass on stage for two hours just because he was having another existential crisis. I would have rioted too! But, when these guys pulled their collective crap together, they could move mountains. Guns N’ Roses were what The Replacements were only blown up to a steroidal Rambo-type size that could have only happened during the Eighties.
For my money, GNR will always be the original quintet of Rose, lead guitarist Slash, bassist, resident punk and perhaps their best musician Duff McKagan, rhythm guitarist and best songwriter Izzy Stradlin and drummer with the best “feel” Steven Adler. All of this makes me ask the eternal question, “Just how bad was Adler’s drug and alcohol use to get kicked out of the band?” Now, this is no slight to all the band members who have come and gone since Axl’s coup, but the original five had the magic. Simply, go back and listen to Appetite for Destruction, their brilliant debut. Now, this is no slight to the Use Your Illusion albums. Those two double albums are brilliant in their rock excesses, but they just pale in comparison to the debut. After those LPs, it was all downhill. Oh sure, if almost any other band had done The Spaghetti Incident? or Chinese Democracy, we’d all be singing their praises. But, when they are part of the GNR discography, well, you know what I mean.
Today, I’d like to fulfill a promise to a former student that I would do a blog about Guns N’ Roses by listing my 25 favorite songs.
25. “Since I Don’t Have You” (The Spaghetti Incident?, 1994)
24. “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” (The Spaghetti Incident?, 1994)
23. “Estranged” (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
22. “The Garden” (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
21. “Out ta Get Me” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987)
20. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
19. “Locomotive” (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
18. “You Ain’t the First” (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)
17. “Don’t Cry” (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
16. “Ain’t It Fun” (The Spaghetti Incident?, 1994)
15. “Shackler’s Revenge” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)
14. “Civil War” (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)
13. “Yesterdays” (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
12. “You Could Be Mine” (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)
11. “Rocket Queen” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987)
10. “Patience” (G N’ R Lies, 1989). Acoustic GNR? Hell yes! This might have been the prom song for the year.
9. “Paradise City” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987). This song is a perfect set closer. It has the AC/DC opening, the Aerosmith after-whistle free-for-all and the punkish chorus. If this had been on Chinese Democracy, it was have been a piecemeal montage. With the original lineup, its rock heaven.
8. “It’s So Easy” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987). I have a feeling this one is more important the my older progeny than me.
7. “Nightrain” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987). If you were to hold up one song to encompass everything about GNR, this may be THE song.
6. “Live and Let Die” (Use Your Illusion I, 1991). I was so pissed that the band covered this song until I heard it. Not the first time I’ve ever had to swallow my words. Nor was it the last time.
5. “Mr. Brownstone” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987). Wanna hear a funky bass on a hard rock song? Here you go!
4. “Better” (Chinese Democracy, 2008). Easily the best song on GNR’s (or was it an Axl solo outing?) last album. I just wish the original band, or at least the Use Your Illusion band, had recorded it.
3. “Welcome to the Jungle” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987). Yes, this one has be overplayed on the radio, streaming services and at athletic events, but it is still a great statement by a hungry band.
2. “November Rain” (Use Your Illusion I, 1991). If you were to choose ONE song to represent overblown rock at its Phil Spectorian best (meaning the production has everything in it except for spoons, then again, it just might), this is the song. Epic is too small a word for it, since that describes “Stairway to Heaven.” And, to say it has a little Elton in it also minimizes the nature of the song. This is the greatest overblown song ever.
1. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987). I only placed this one at #1 because it contains THE guitar riff of the Eighties, plain and simple.