Week 17: Guns n Roses

album cover

Appetite For Destruction

It’s pure coincidence that Guns n Roses followed AC/DC on the blog given the recent hybrid mash up that’s been going on with Axl and AC/DC.  This album has to go down as one of the greatest debut albums ever released. From opener Welcome To The Jungle to closer Rocket Queen there just isn’t any filler.  Twelve tracks of sleazy, down and dirty hard rock.

I was a little ahead of the curve with GNR.  As stated on a previous blog I worked in the Daily Record in my first real job and music writer Billy Sloan was always being sent stuff and the heavier stuff often made its way to me.   GNR’s first single It’s So Easy backed with Mr Brownstone was in one of those bundles.  I fell in love on first listen and pretty much wore the single out until the album was released a month or so later which I also got free although I kept asking if it had arrived yet as he often got albums a little before release date.  It was also one of the original album releases with the controversial Robert Williams painting “Appetite for Destruction” as the cover.  It was later changed to a skull and crossbones featuring each of the band members head on a cross.  It of course had the parental advisory sticker telling me explicit lyrics were contained within.  That just made it that little bit more exciting.

GUNS N ROSES, STUDIO, 1987, NEIL ZLOZOWER

The album just blew me away.  There are not many better album openers than Welcome to the Jungle.  A song my wife and I contemplated having as our first dance but felt it may not be appropriate particularly with the middle section asking ‘You know where you are?  You’re in the jungle baby and you’re gonna die’.  We thought that might be a bit too much for some guests but it would have been brilliant to see their faces.

GNR totally lived the rock n roll lifestyle even before they were rock stars and this album just has an edge to it that bands just don’t have any more. Having read many stories and biographies about the band it’s one of life’s great mysteries how they are all still alive.  The drink, the drugs, the partying were an ever present but it was also what broke the band apart and members were lucky to survive. In 2001 guitarist Slash was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy a form of congestive heart failure and was given 6 weeks to live, in 1994 bassist Duff McKagen  was diagnosed with acute alcohol-induced pancreatitis and was told he’d be dead within the month unless he stopped drinking.  Drummer Steven Adler has battled drink and drug addiction even before he was fired from the band.  You can only imagine the extent of his drug problem when you get fired from GNR for your drug taking.  His sacking from the band led to one of my favourite headlines when Kerrang ran with ‘Axl axes addled Adler’.  Recent interview footage of Adler shows him cutting a rather sad figure these days.  Izzy Stradlin had to leave the band before it killed him and has pretty much retreated from the music business only making sporadic appearances.  Axl wasn’t so much into the drugs, he was just plain bonkers and become increasingly erratic as the band progressed and when he took full control of the Guns N Roses name the band really ceased to exist for me.  10 years to record Chinese Democracy was just ridiculous and it wasn’t even very good.

band 1

There have been many millions of words written about GNR and it’s members and I couldn’t even begin to do the story justice in a blog like this.  Suffice to say I regard them as the last of the truly great rock bands.  I doubt a band like GNR would be allowed to do what they did any more the way the music business is these days.

I was lucky enough to see GNR twice and the Axl fronted tribute version once.  The first time was at Donnington in 1988.  GNR were third on the bill below Megadeth, Dave Lee Roth, Kiss and headliners Iron Maiden.  People tend to forget the Appetite album was almost a flop and took over a year to become a hit album thanks to the playing of the Sweet Child of Mine video on MTV which is a whole other story.  So when they were initially booked for Donnington they were relatively unknown although the UK had got into the band before everyone else and were well down the bill but really should have been moved up the bill.  Their show was nothing short of incredible.  They had an energy and drive and sound that even at 3 in the afternoon just attacked the senses.  It was  an absolute triumph.  Sadly it also turned into tragedy unknown to most of the crowd until the end of the whole event two people died during GNR’s set.  There had been a steady downpour for most of the day and the stage was located at the bottom of a slope with some steep areas.  A mix of wet weather, a crush to see GNR saw two people go down under the crowd never to get back up.  RIP Alan Dick, 18 and Landon Siggers, 20.  It was quite a sobering moment and a life lesson for me and ever since I’ve kept that memory with me and I’m always aware of my surroundings at a gig and make sure I look out for other people and hope they look out for me if the need arises.  I’ve been in some mental crowds when down the front but being a fairly robust 6 footer I can take care of myself but there have been some moments where I haven’t been in control of what’s’ happening and it can be quite scary until the control returns.

band 3

My 2nd GNR experience was during the Use Your Illusion tour in 92.  We drove down to Gateshead to see a bill that included Soundgarden and Faith No More as support.  This was the bloated over indulgent GNR that had backing vocalists,  saxophonists, trumpets, horns and a keyboardist.  It couldn’t have been any more removed from the 5 hungry young men who played at Donnington 4 years earlier.  It was still a good show but they had started to lose the essence that had made them great.  It was also the beginning of the end of the band as Izzy left during the Illusion tour.

As an aside I remember I queued outside Tower Records in Argyll St to be one of the first people to get the Illusion albums which they started selling after midnight.  There is some brilliant stuff on both albums and although the band had lost the rawness of Appetite they had written some great songs.

My biggest regret though was not seeing them as a 5 piece on their own.  I did have the chance.  I remember seeing an advert in the window of the record shop 23rd Precinct located in Bath St stating they were running a bus to Newcastle City Hall for the GNR show.  Having checked this was back in October 1987.  At the time I really couldn’t afford it but I really wish I could go back and go on that trip now.

I did go to the SECC to see the Axl’s GNR and Axl did his usual turning up late and came on about 10.30.  Some people clearly weren’t aware of his tardy timekeeping as some folk were leaving about 15 mins into the set to get their transport home.  It was funny watching people start to get annoyed and one minute they were booing then 2 seconds into the first song they were cheering.  Despite Izzy joining Axl that night it wasn’t the same without Slash and Duff and I wasn’t going back to see that line up again.

band 4

And now after all the years of rumours the band have partially reformed with Axl, Slash and Duff.  I really hoped we’d see a full classic line up reformation but at this stage it seems unlikely.  I’m not really sure what to make of it.  It looks like Slash and Duff are just hired hands in Axl’s band and they’ll all walk away with a load of cash.  I’m not sure what I will do if they do come over to the UK to do a headline tour.  I’ve no interest in seeing them in a festival setting.  I can see ticket prices being exorbitant but can I really not go?  I guess we’ll see.  I just think about all the lost years when the band could have been making great music but sadly we’ll never know what they might have been capable of.

A superb album from a band that had it all and pretty much snorted and drank it all away.

I’ve avoided some of the more obvious songs.

See you on week 17.

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