Six Degrees of Appetite for Destruction
It used to be easier to pretend that an album was its own perfectly self-contained artifact. The great records certainly feel that way. But albums are more permeable than solid, their motivations, executions and inspirations informed by, and often stolen from, their peers and forbearers. It all sounds awfully formal, but it's not. It's the very nature of music — of art, even. The Six Degrees features examine the relationships between classic records and five other albums we've deemed related in some way. In some cases these connections are obvious, in others they are tenuous. But, most important to you, all of the records are highly, highly recommended.
To understand why Guns N' Roses' Appetite For Destruction can hold its own against any other rock album released in the '80s, '90s, or '00s (or '10s so far), it's best to put out of your mind a quarter-century of myth and legend associated with the band and its singer, not to mention the fact that the record is closing in on 20 million copies sold in the United States and 30... million across the planet, not to mention the fact that humans branding themselves under the same band name have put out plenty of mediocre-to-awful music since. None of which is easy, especially since the album was shrouded with hype from the very beginning: In July of 1987, when Geffen Records sent out promotional copies of Appetite (with its original and soon-deleted Robert Williams robot-rape cover), it arrived with a huge pile of L.A. tabloid pages, lots of stories about arrest records aiming to prove these were naughty young men. Most recipients initially reacted with shrugged shoulders - in Crue Land, bad boys with pretty hair weren't exactly rare. For the most part, radio and press slept on the album until well into 1988; only four writers (I was one) out of 226 cast votes for Appetite on their '87 Village Voice Pazz & Jop critics poll ballots. The first single, "It's So Easy," didn't chart at all, and the second one, "Welcome To The Jungle," came out in October 1987 but didn't peak on the pop chart until Christmas 1988, three months after single No. 3, "Sweet Child O' Mine," had already hit number one. So basically, at first: just another hair-metal band, big deal. Unless you actually took time to listen.more »
If you did, what you heard was rock getting its roll back: easily the funkiest hard rock album since disco scared the dance out of loud guitar music in the late '70s. "Welcome To The Jungle," the Diddley-beating addiction comedy routine "Mr. Brownstone," and the orgasmically climaxed "Rocket Queen," especially, swung with the sort of 16th-note drum patterns that metal-associated music had taken for granted back in days of "Rock And Roll Hoochie Koo" and "We're An American Band," but which had long since fallen by the wayside (and which would fall by GnR's wayside before long, too, when drug-addled drummer Steven Adler got the boot). Meanwhile, one great guitarist (Slash), one pretty good one (Izzy Stradlin'), and a just-as-pretty-good bassist (Duff McKagan) pulled off irresistibly sweet and crunchy Skynyrd/Aerosmith stuff. And up front was Axl Rose, a singer whose high-register screech and flutter landed back at Janis Joplin via Nazareth's Dan McCafferty (such a seminal influence that Axl wanted him to sing Nazareth's classic Everly Brothers cover "Love Hurts" at his 1990 marriage to Don Everly's daughter Erin), not to mention a songwriter whose nihilistic table-turns of phrase channeled early Jagger, Dylan, Iggy, Johansen, and Rotten while paving way for Courtney Love, Eminem and Taylor Swift. By now, countless lines on the album have the gravity of biblical proverbs: "If you've got the money, honey, we got your disease." "It's so easy when everybody's trying to please me." "She's got a smile that seems to me reminds me of childhood memories." "Wake up late, put on your clothes, take your credit card to the liquor store."
The first ("Guns") half of Appetite has more jungle on it; the second ("Roses") half has more girlfriends. But basically, it's all a concept album about scared kids - urchins living under the street, both genders - arriving in L.A. from mid-America, escaping trouble only to find more trouble, and yearning for a return to Paradise City, an imagined heartland Heaven where the grass was green and girls were pretty but homes were probably broken in the first place: "Your daddy works in porno when your mommy's not around, she used to love her heroin but now she's underground." It's really not that much different from the situations endured by Sunset Strip street girls on orgasmic rock-disco pioneer Donna Summer's Bad Girls, eight years earlier. And truth is, it's also not too far from what lots of other good hair-metal bands sang about in the late '80s; Axl just did it better, and danced it harder, and searched and destroyed more passersby in the process, which made him more convincingly punk rock. None of it lasted, of course. These things never do.
In the first weeks after Appetite was released, it was not uncommon at all, as with plenty of hair-metal albums before it, to dismiss the album as a mere Aerosmith ripoff. GnR, though, pulled off the power and groove and screech that even quality sometime 'Smith-rippers Ratt/Poison/Cinderella/Faster Pussycat couldn't, and that Aerosmith themselves had forgotten or abandoned by the mid '80s. On their pre-Appetite 1986 EP Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide,... G'n'R had covered "Mama Kin" from Aerosmith's 1973 debut (also "Nice Boys" by bar-brawling Australian bogan-rockers Rose Tattoo.) But Get Your Wings from 1974 - Aerosmith's second album, but first produced by Jack Douglas - was where the bean-ballers from Boston really showed what they were made of: Complex, word-contorting, brass-sectioned opener about being on the lam from a constipated judge with an aggravated wife "Same Old Song And Dance" ("get yourself a cooler, lay yourself low/coincidental murder, with nothin' to show"); threateningly braggadocious and break-beatingly hip-hopping sexual come-on "Lord Of The Thighs"; scraggle-toothed high-school-parking-lot burnout screed "S.O.S (Too Bad)"; railroading Johnny Burnette-via-Yardbirds redo "Train Kept A Rollin'." Add in the depressively windswept New England gloom of "Seasons Of Wither" and the almost Hawkwind-like astro-psych of "Space," and it doesn't even matter that Wings turns a little rote toward the tail-end of both sides.more »
The Forgotten Hair-Metal Contemporaries
The early '80s, in retrospect, are a curious, lost period for metal and heavy rock - maybe especially in the United States. Overseas, a so-called New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was donning dole-queue denim and taking grass-roots cues from punk. But Stateside, market-researched AOR radio had seemingly castrated once-organic rock bands into corporate studio and arena entities, sanding off the boogie and rough edges. That's the state of affairs, in part,... that G'n'R seemed an antidote to, come 1987. But there were always isolated exceptions (Van Halen probably the biggest example), and the meat-and-potatoes Floridians of Axe, who took this album on Atlantic-distributed Atco to No. 81 on The Billboard 200 in 1982, are an unjustly forgotten one. On the back cover, despite having previously been a mid '70s soft-rock outfit called Babyface, they looked like manly men in jean jackets and leather - well, one potential hairdryer-wielding pretty boy, but four facial-haired blue-collars who, in 2010s terms, would fit in fine next to Shooter Jennings or Drive-By Truckers. And Bobby Barth, who'd later join Confederate rockers Blackfoot, has quite the masculine Paul Rodgers white-blues baritone. Keyboards and twin-guitar parts add just enough fancy pompitude, but the musicianship is muscular enough to split the difference between Foreigner and Judas Priest - or, in "Jennifer" and the supremely restless long-hot-summer fireball "Burn The City Down," to suggest a beefed-up version of early '80s 38 Special: Hard Southern powerpop provided heftier brawn and a swinging thump. "Holdin' On" and the Montrose cover "I Got The Fire" are more over-the-top tempo-wise; six-minute closer "Silent Soldiers" more metal-dramatic, like if Loverboy or Aldo Nova got really really serious, with cascading guitar climbing toward the clouds, and an airy stretched-out and top-gunned soundtrack interlude in the middle. Token ballad "Now Or Never," a No. 64 pop single, has a lovely guitar solo that Slash might dig and dark lyrics about homeless drinking under the highway overpass that Axl might appreciate. "Let's have a knock-down, drag-out rock 'n' roll party in the streets," the undeniably anthemic opening cut demands, and next comes an even more Spinal Tap-worthy ode to that new star-making machine MTV: "Video Inspiration," complete with opportunistic new-wavey robotic parts that make the powerchords even catchier. Hey, gotta cover all your bases, right? And truth be told, a half-decade later, Guns N' Roses were still walking a similar commercial tightrope. Plus, Axl's name was almost Axe!more »
L.A.’s First Fake Punks
Los Angeles is a city of actors, and Guns N' Roses were fake punks as real punks or vice versa, but they were far from the first their town upchucked. Ten years earlier, well before hardcore even, a mysterious band named Christ Child put out their first and only album (then simply entitled Hard) on Columbia subsidiary Buddah, and it went nowhere, but it was a hoot-and-a-half regardless. Rumors suggest they were... either session dudes or moonlighting metalheads (from "the hills of Malibu and Topanga Canyons" say liner notes) merely pretending to be punks (showing Limeys how it's done say liner notes), but additional details seem scant. Their cover photo shows skinny ties and shades but mostly long hair, and they all hide their faces. The LP rocks awesomely and hilariously, regardless - predating even Vom's homemade 7-inch 1978 EP, as far as heavily metallic bandwagon-jump half-spoofs of punk go. Robert Christgau gave it a "C"; Dave Marsh gave it zero stars, dismissing it as an "inane attempt to cash in...a truly putrid artifact." But if nothing else, particularly in songs like "Blow It Up" and "Carnival Of Frustration," punk gave these dorks an excuse to take a stab at the kind of dirty-assed, off-balance, grimy, slimy, scummy, too-misogynist-to-believe early '70s basement sludge that, by '77, nobody was playing anymore. Lyrics concern "bullshit lies," junkies born in the gutter and raised in the slum, groupie bitches with backstage passes ("Star Whores," complete with outer-space disco-synth blippery), virgins sacrificed and their blood imbibed. "Turn you sideways, upside down/ Feet in the sky and head on the ground/ Stick it in, you scream for more/I can kick you out the door" - if you're still here, that's from a number called "Teacher." It's like they'd heard of punk rock, but not actually heard it yet. Funnier, from the protest tune "Washington, A.C./D.C.": Senator, congressman, executive chief/ Should be in the sewer when I take my relief." Why hasn't anybody covered that one?more »
"Welcome to the ocean, welcome to the sea, welcome to the jungle, deep inside of me," Michael Monroe wails in rhythm in "Underwater World," fourth song on these Finnish glam-revivalists-cum-hair-metal-progenitors' fifth album, from 1984. On the cover, he's got the exact same hairstyle that Axl Rose would show up wearing three years later. It's said that, when Hanoi Rocks played L.A. very early that December, Duff and Slash were in the crowd;... on December 8, Hanoi drummer Razzle died in a car driven by inebriated Motley Cruer Vince Neil. That broke up the band, but by then, they'd already provided a clear G'n'R template; their third album, from 1983, was called Self Destruction Blues. Two Steps, produced by Bob Ezrin and songwriting-assisted by Ian Hunter, is considered their heaviest. And while played back-to-back with Appetite it comes off lightweight both vocally and rhythmically, it does offer sufficient rocking moments - the "Don't Fear The Reaper"/AC/DC hybrid of "Boulevard Of Broken Dreams," for instance. Hanoi open by following a fairly decent Creedence cover with the sort of remedial MC5 rewrite "High School", toss in some sax and spoken asides, wind down with some London-accented diet Clash ("Boiler" - a boiler being a ladyfriend, apparently) and the frantic "Futurama," featuring this inspirational verse: "When I want money, she can go work/ As a roadie for Adam Ant/ And if he comes on strong he'll be in for a shock/ 'Cos she'll open his face and clean his clock." Though it's possible the lyrics about subway rats inspired Axl more.more »