Guns N' Roses - Appetite For Destruction

In talking about Appetite For Destruction, an album that turns 25 on Saturday, it’s fun to think about the context that burped the band up: A group full of hard-partying Sunset Strip veterans who’d all done time on the L.A. pop-metal scene, led by an Indiana transplant that still thought of himself as some sort of off-the-bus hick delinquent and compensated accordingly. And that band happened to have both the ridiculous chops that the pop-metal scene required and a sort of alchemical, otherworldly chemistry that few other bands in history have ever displayed — one of the things that makes their quick dissolution so tragic. And that hick happened to have this sensitive sandpaper wail that sounded sensitive when it was trying to sound tough, and vice versa. That’s a deep and rare combination, and somehow it doesn’t come close to explaining how an album like this could happen. Instead, you almost have to think about the album in pure mythic terms. In his great Axl Rose thinkpiece a few years ago, John Jeremiah Sullivan wrote that Guns N’ Roses were “the last great rock band that didn’t think there was something a tiny bit embarrassing or at least funny about being in a rock band,” probably the best description I’ve ever seen of this particular band’s peculiar animal glamor. Their filth was mystical.

Let’s talk for a minute about “Paradise City.” It’s one of Appetite’s most famous and everlasting songs, of course, but it’s also quite possibly the thinnest song on the album, the one that’s really not about anything in particular. Its hook is practically a nursery rhyme. And it’s been a part of our shared consciousness for so long that it’s impossible to think about the first time you heard it; it’s just always been there. But: Human beings wrote this song! Listening to it closely, that boggles my mind. Like someone had to say, “How about we throw a sharp whistle-blast in when the second, more dangerous riff kicks in.” And someone had to realize the exact right point to throw in the soul-crushing drum-fill while Axl was stretching out the word “far” as far as it would go. Because seriously, everything in this song lands at the exact right moment, and that’s something that’s just as true of the rest of the album. It’s a busy piece of work, layers piling up at all times, but you can always pick out every element. It’s a perfectly constructed machine, every gear doing its work.

I love “Patience.” I love the Use Your Illusion albums. I even have a weird affection for The Spaghetti Incident?, the ill-conceived punk covers comp that turned out to be the final Guns N’ Roses’ final document. When the band stretched out into ballads and nine-minute epics and the sorts of epic rock-band silliness that Axl decided every serious star had to attempt, he excelled at it. But Appetite is pure, unrelenting ferocity throughout, and it’s by far the finest thing the band ever did. It’s as pure, in its way, as the first Ramones album; just imagine “Sweet Child O’ Mine” standing in for “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend.” Except that “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is obviously way better than “I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend,” and GN’R's version of purity had tons more dynamic room than the Ramones ever showed. They shared plenty of stylistic ideas with Mötley Crüe and Poison and the rest of their Sunset Strip peers, but they also understood the New York Dolls and old-school L.A. hardcore and Latin freestyle and funk. Chuck Eddy, my old boss and one of my favorite critics, has gone so far as to call Appetite “disco-metal,” and that’s in the process of naming Appetite the greatest heavy metal album of all time. And it’s true: We have never expected a rock band to bring the sort of push-pull rhythmic inventiveness that they brought on this album. It’s a special thing.

So, comments section: What are your lingering thoughts on Appetite, a quarter-century after the fact? What’s your favorite song from the album? Where do you wish Guns N’ Roses had gone from there? Would the world be a better place if GN’R had actually influenced more bands? What do you think goes through Axl’s head when he hears it now?

Also, let’s watch some videos.

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Comments (72)
  1. This album got me started on my journey of music. That was back in 1993. Still one of my favorite albums of all time. I finally got to hear Axl sing at the O2 last month and it was a serious sentimental/sappy moment for me!

  2. Chinese Democracy was better…

  3. you had me until “Except that ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ is obviously way better than ‘I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend’”

    my first cassette was a dub of this on one side and a dub of Tom Petty “Full Moon Fever” on the flip. I think I drove my family nuts because I would play it end to end back to back all day.

  4. Favorite song – definitely “Night Train”

  5. Regardless of one’s opinions on Axl or the bands subsequent material, this album is perfect.

    but to answer tom’s questions:

    Lingering thoughts: still a perfect album (though I was not born when it was released)
    fav song: Nightrain
    wish: Axl and Slash were still on speaking terms. sad to see a band split like they have.

  6. Also, great write-up btw, Tom.

  7. One of the most important albums from my personal musical formative years – I was 12 when it came out and it blew my mind, still love it today. Favourite song: too close to call between “Mr. Brownstone” and “Rocket Queen”.

  8. it’s hard to sum up how important this album was to me. I was in 7th grade when it came out. I owned a handful of cassettes and was really in to a lot of shitty hair metal. think Bon Jovi, Cinderella, Whitesnake, Europe. but hey, so was everybody else. anyone remember MTV’s old daily countdown show, Dial MTV? they had a number you called in to and voted for your favorite video and was continually dominated by that same shitty ass rock.

    then Appetite came out. and for the first time in my life, I realized that rock and roll was supposed to be _dangerous_. and that all that music I had been listening to was crap. and that there was a whole world out there waiting to be discovered. I played that tape out, to the point of distortion. I would sit and look at all the little details of the nasty Robert Williams painting in the liner notes (the local big box stores never got the original copies of this record with it on the outside; but really, that all worked out for the best as the “censored” cover ended up being one of the most iconic of all time.)

    I can still play this record straight through with no sense of irony. it’s just a great fucking rock and roll record from start to finish. favorite song: Rocket Queen. that bass line is totally menacing, awesome groove, live sex on tape and then it finishes out all sweets and roses.

    a funny little epilogue to the story. I had tickets to see the Illusion tour, at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit, what was to be my first concert. then Axl cut his hand on his mic stand the stop before and they cancelled the shows. I was so pissed that I took all my metal tapes to the local record store, sold them all and bought my first Cure CD. and my musical education took another turn for the better.

  9. The only 5-star record of that genre and era. Its classic for a reason.

    Favorite song: Its So Easy

  10. Side G / Side R

    • Nice call!

      People can try to neg on this album all they want but the truth is no one was doing what GnR was doing and the band is truly monumental, even with only a few releases. They were a straight-up rock band with a new sound, when everyone else was paying attention to who was wearing the most makeup…they had some of metal’s edge but were too charismatic for brainless headbanging but they never pigeon-holed themselves into only playing one style/genre/mood…they were a bit experimental here and there with proggy elements in epic tunes like “Coma” and “Estranged” (let’s not forget Axl’s intriguingly industrio-electronic “My World”)…each member of the band had their own identity and were cool as hell…

      I can’t believe I was only 6 when this came out…I was rockin’ that shit as if i was actually able to get wasted and laid…

      • sorry, I meant “they had some of metal’s edge but were too charismatic for brainless headbanging AND but they never pigeon-holed themselves into only playing one style/genre/mood”

        Anyway, I’ll add that the lyrics were better and more versatile than they get credit for. They could do the arean rockers, they could do the skanky club rippers, they could do the love songs…

  11. I had a cassette copy of Appetite that the older kid down the street had. (I was not allowed to buy it at ten) What still gets me to this day is the menace and unrelenting honesty of this album. There isn’t anything pretentious on this album, they were actually 5 drugged up street urchin punks who were essentially terrible people. There isn’t anything joyful on the album. There is nothing like “hey, it’s the sunset strip, let’s go out and party and meet chicks”. Their world was a lot more gray and ugly.

    Jungle: Feel my serpentine…just an uncouth and twisted sexually deviant thing to say.
    Its So Easy: Turn around bitch I’ve got a use for you, besides you ain’t got nothing better to do and I’m bored…vile, misogynistic, but no doubt Axl felt that way.

    Those are just two examples on a record full of them which let me as a young listener know that these dudes were messed up, neurotic, paranoid, delusional bums who made the ten year old in me feel frightened but desperately wanting more.

    Rock n’ roll is dangerous at it’s best. It is made by people who couldn’t function in regular society. Appetite is proof of that.

    5-star album all the way. Best track? Welcome to the Jungle and Rocket Queen

    GNR didn’t really influence anyone because their levels were unattainable. Who could ever try to emulate Slash without looking like a cartoon? Axl was in a world of his own too. You can get to that level anymore as a rock band. Maybe Lady Gaga has been influence by Axl “self righteousness, incredible talent, tons of handlers, lawyers, yes men and servants to keep you isolated and in fantasy land”

    I feel like Oasis was definitely influenced by GNR. At least in the sense of excess and self indulgence to the point of self-destruction and having a hard time keeping it together in public.

  12. guns r roses scared the shit outta me when i was a kid. they still kinda do

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  14. I have a lot of love for Appetite – not only did it open my eyes to a world of music beyond top 40 radio, it also made me pick up a guitar for the first time. “Sweet Child” was the first song I learned all the way through. But for all the amazing songs on this album, my favorite is “Rocket Queen,” because it perfectly sums up everything great about GNR at their peak. The first half is this chugging, ominous grind, perfect for pole dancing (complete with porn sound effects!), but then it breaks out into this soaring, joyous climax that was both a sign of things to come on the Illusions, but also the perfect ending to an epic album. After spending nearly the entire album crawling through a gutter with the band, the last 3 minutes are like they finally looked up and realized the sky was full of stars.

  15. woozefa  |   Posted on Jul 19th, 2012 +1

    yeah, this album kicked ass then and still does. amazing how they got way too big, way too fast, and just imploded, but appetite is still vital. favorite song is ‘rocket queen’ or ‘it’s so easy.’

  16. Why would a skeleton bother trying to smoke if s/he lacks all of the parts necessary to enjoy a cigarette?

  17. True story: a Teddy Ruxpin doll destroyed my cassette copy of Appetite. My brother and I both thought it would be funny to see Teddy belting out GNR. And it was. Until the tape mangled.

    • i TOTALLY used to stick tapes in my teddy ruxpin and watch him try to sing them. i had a similar situation, he was just hitting that triumphant final chorus in “sunday morning” by no doubt, and boom, no more tragic kingdom…

      • I’m pretty sure the both of you are either remembering the Ruxpin days incorrectly or you’re talking out of your asses.

        A normal (non-Teddy) cassette tape is designed for stereo playback with two distinct tracks on each side for the left and right speakers. In contrast, a Teddy Ruxpin cassette uses the two tracks differently: the left track contains the audio, while the right track encodes the toy’s movements.

        A special additional hole in the rear spine of the cassette tells the teddy bear that the right track contains movement data. This hole is similar to a standard cassette’s write protection notch, but closer to the center. In fact, exactly the same hole parameters were used twice: once to detect the failed Type III (FeCr) cassette blanks, and once again a few years later to detect Type IV (Metal) blanks.

        If the notch is not present, the player assumes that a normal cassette is being played, and avoids interpreting the right track as movements (which would cause the bear to malfunction, as it is not designed to translate the audio levels in a standard audio book into jaw movements).

        Teddy Ruxpin movement data is encoded as a series of rapid pulse groups known as pulse-position modulation. The data track contains continuous groups of nine pulses separated by silence. The spacing between pulses varies, and the length of each space determines the following characteristics (each of which is assigned to one of the “time slots” between two of the pulses): position of Teddy’s eyes, upper jaw, lower jaw, and (if Grubby is attached) the position of Grubby’s eyes, upper jaw and lower jaw. If the cassette is played in a normal cassette player, one would hear both the program recorded on it, as well as a buzzing noise – which is the PPM referenced above.

        One of the slots is also assigned as a switch to route the audio through Grubby instead of Teddy, and is activated during Grubby’s parts of the dialogue. If Grubby is not attached, then the audio plays through Teddy.

  18. Good Lord, did I ever love this album in middle school. I wish I could see my face when I first listened to WTTJ. My mom took all four of my GNR tapes (and Blood Sugar Sex Magik to boot) away some time in 7th grade cause of the PA stickers–it was a terrible day. Still really love this album, even though I’m not so much of a hard rock fan.

  19. Original Cover Art Please ;)

    • I owned the original vinyl and I gave it to a friend (like, for free!) about a year after the Use You Illusion albums were released. I just didn’t care anymore. You can get it on ebay these days pretty cheap, actually.

  20. For my tenth birthday I recieved a new walkman and this album on cassette. Still has been the best birthday gift I’ve ever recieved.

  21. I’d like to give a shout out to “Think About You” — not my favorite song on the album, but definitely under recognized.

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  23. The one lesson that my Dad taught me as a child:

    “Don’t listen to Guns and Roses! Axl Rose is a wanker.”

    Never has someone been more right about anything.

  24. People say Nirvana stopped the glam metal scene but I think it stopped with this album. It was finally something real. It sounded at first like there were 5 different singers on it because of Axl’s range. Steven’s drumming was perfect and very underrated as well. Just a perfect album.

  25. Oh man, I forgot about Axl’s sweet mic stand moves in the “Sweet Child” video.

    Greatest mic stand artist of all time, probably.

  26. Appetite is one of those albums that, for me, it’s hard to really appreciate now only because of its incessant play on classic rock radio and at sporting events over the years. This article, however, may have me sitting down and listening to it again with a clear mindset. I mean, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, the intro to Welcome to the Jungle always gets me.

  27. The greatest listening experience to ever be ruined by a self-aggrandizing egomaniac.

    • Axl is pretty bad, but he’s actually more likeable in interviews than Arthur Lee, whom Jack White interviewed for Mojo magazine years ago. Here are the three most interesting things I learned from Mr. Lee:

      1. Arthur Lee invented punk rock.
      2. Jimi Hendrix was only a pretty good guitarist compared to Lee.
      3. Arthur Lee is the most talented musician that ever lived.

      Jack White was surprisingly polite throughout all these egomaniacal rants, and I felt bad for him because the reason he was chosen to do the interview was because he was known to be a huge Love fan.

      • Here, I found part of it online (and it turns out that the interview was actually in the NME):

        JW: How do you want to be perceived?

        AL: I’m the best of them all; Mick Jagger and Brian Wilson stink. They just don’t have the punch only I have. Don’t get me wrong: Mick was an influence on me, a free spirit. But how he just doesn’t have his noggin on straight; you’ve gotta protect your noggin.

        JW: Love’s influence is very important. What is Love’s place in musical history to you?

        AL: (ignoring the question completely) Mick and Brian Wilson should give it up. They should go home and take care of their kid. The Beatle guy, too. Paul McCarthy (sic). He should pack it up. He’s there singing “yesterdayyyyyy.” Yesterday? I’m talking about right now! I’ve seen their shows recently, and they stink. They’re just wasting people’s time and money now. The people that come and see me play get their money’s worth and get an education. I’ve still got it, and I’m 57 years old. I creep into people’s hearts and minds…and once I’ve got your mind, your mind’s on my mind…and we belong together.

        JW: How do you feel about the acclaim you’re receiving from bands such as the White Stripes?

        AL: The White Stripes? I don’t know who they are. I don’t listen to rock music. It sounds like they’re playing their grandfather’s music. They’re not saying anything. There’s no message. I don’t hang out with musicians no more for one reason. They’re nuts, and it might be catching. I’m the biggest *bleep*ing nut of them all (laughs uncrontrollably). Plus, I dont listen to this rubbish that they call rock music anymore. I don’t listen to that crap. Because there’s just nobody who can touch me.

  28. woozefa  |   Posted on Jul 19th, 2012 -1

    you should have bought yourself the album then.

  29. This may be because I was a bit young for Appetite to have changed how I listened to music, but I’ve always felt the albums mythic status to be a bit overstated. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great rock and roll record, but it seems like it gets held in such reverence at least partly because the band never did anything nearly as worthwhile. Lies was a hodgepodge, and I know the Illusion albums have their fans, but they’re bloated and self-important in all the places Appetite was lean and hungry.

    To draw a paralell, consider the Stone Roses first album (not to only use bands with the word ‘roses’ in their name, but…). Is it a great album? Absolutely. Is it one of the greatest albums of all time, as British music rags keep insisting? No, it’s not. Does it seem to grow in stature when stacked up next to the band’s other work, resulting in people inflating it’s importance? I’d say so.

    One man’s opinion.

    • Jim, I was born in ’85 so Appetite was definitely before my time as a music fan. I didn’t really discover it until junior high in the mid to late 90′s. But even at that point, I was very familiar with Jungle, Paradise City, and Sweet Child because I was always a big sports fan and those songs have been played to death in sports arenas for 20+ years. I feel Appetite is one of the greatest hard rock albums ever recorded, possibly even the greatest. The fact that you can have three legendary songs like WTTJ, PC, and SCOM yet also have a bunch of other songs that are just as good? Pretty incredible. It’s So Easy, Nightrain, Mr. Brownstone, My Michelle, and Rocket Queen are all amazing tunes in their own right.

      I don’t feel like Appetite gets elevated because of the supposed step down in quality with their later work. Appetite is simply one of the best debut albums ever recorded and certainly the best debut hard rock album ever recorded. I’m a big fan of GN’R Lies and the Use Your Illusion albums. Are they as good as Appetite? No. But they do have material on them that is in the same league. This was a great rock band that put out a ton of really good material in a short amount of time. Unfortunately the rock genre today is fucking dead.

  30. GN’R!!!!! :) :) rock on brahs and squaws!!!!

  31. If Guns N’ Roses all died in a fiery plane crash AFTER they opened for Areosmith and Deep Purple @ Giants Stadium in August 1988 they would go down as the greatest Rock N’ Roll band ever. Appetite For Destruction is a perfect album that has been forgotten due to all the antics Axl has done over the years.

    • Interesting point. Probably true. But I’m glad we got the Use Your Illusion albums out of them, not to mention the epic tour. Tons of great stuff on YouTube.

  32. I have to admit, I was really into hair metal bands when I was 12/13, and GNR blew them all away. Even the supposedly “good” acts like Motley Crue, Aerosmith etc… sounded like poseurs in comparison, I couldn’t listen to them any more.

    The good thing was, I started branching out as a a result. I checked out some of the obvious Axl influences like Queen, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin … I wish I could say they got me into the New York Dolls or the Stooges but I wasn’t that sophisticated yet. When grunge and alternative came along I was much more receptive than I would have been otherwise.

    Totally agree with the previous comment that Appetite did as much, if not more to kill hair bands than Nevermind.

  33. My dad bought me a copy of the cassette at a flea market (I was 11 years old), and we later realized it was a bootleg copy – the print on the actual cassette rubbed right off. But I remember my parents must have listened to it at some point, because they told me they didn’t like it and I shouldn’t listen to it. But they didn’t stop me from doing so.
    And now Appetite is in my top 10 of all time. I really don’t think I’ll ever tire of this album – like Tom intimated, every little detail is perfect, and I hear new things with every listen.
    By the way, Duff’s autobiography is a highly entertaining read if you’re a fan. As are his articles in the Seattle Weekly.

  34. MY MICHELLE will always be one of the greatest fuck people trash shit get messed up song of all time.

    This was the second tape I ever bought. The first, Kiss Destroyer.

  35. Guns ‘n Roses is one of those bands I dislike and don’t have a good reason to support it. When I was a kid, our next door neighbor was a high school dropout and a huge piece of shit. He stole my skateboard once and sold it for drugs. He also loved Guns ‘n Roses. We know this because my parents constantly had to call next door and tell him to turn his music down. For a stretch of a couple years, Appetite was literally the only music you ever heard coming from his window.

    The short version is I think of this guy whenever I hear any GnR song and it made me hate the band. And no matter how hard I try to appreciate some of their albums for what they were, I can’t do it. It sounds like asshole music to me.

    • It basically is, and this was more or less Kurt Cobain’s argument for not listening to it. I mean, if you know the story behind the, uh, sounds in Rocket Queen, you know he was right. Lots of people are really good at tuning out the obvious and significant baggage that goes along with being into GnR, but I would just feel like a jerk nodding my head to their songs (which, don’t me wrong, are often rifftastic). Music is a really personal thing for me, and I would think it’s very personal for most people who visit a site like this, so it is hard for me to understand all the love for Appetite.

      • Slash is definitely one of the kings of the early 90s hard rock riff.

        Some music is meant for certain people and certain people only. It’s not always the case but I think it’s true with GnR, just like you said. Everyone I know who really like GnR also really love the movie “Rockstar,” and a whole bunch of other things I either can’t or don’t understand.

  36. Ya’ll have officially eluded my understanding of what we can agree on as good music. Guns n Roses? This heads down a slippery slope towards think pieces about Doritos.

  37. good to see this album being paid tribute to so well. it was the first album i bought with my own money as a kid. the second was we are the pipettes. i was a weird kid.

  38. This is the album that should be issued to children at birth. I had an epiphany of sorts about it recently: a great deal of its magic is down to the mixing. If you read Slash’s book he describes how Steve Thomson and Michael Barbiero mixed it all in real time, as they did in 1987, and how amazing they were at it. Every instrument is absolutely distinct when it needs to be, and your attention is subtly redirected constantly. Also, the ‘twin guitar’ thing has never been done better. Izzy and Slash practically become one entity.

    • I will have to read Slash’s book! As an audio engineering major, I would be fascinated to learn how they created such a masterpiece. So much is lost in music today, with the “fix it in the mix” mentality of engineers. Back then, musicians were far more talented, and recordings so pure and true to the performance. With technology today, we can make even horrible musicians sound great. It is a shame.

  39. This was my very first purchased album, as well as the band and album that turned me on to rock and hair metal. They just don’t make music like that anymore, and it is such a shame! To this day, when GnR come on Pandora or on one of my playlists, I have to pause and pay proper tribute to the music masterpiece. While I still have a soft spot for Poison and Motley Crue, I feel almost a reverence to Guns and Roses. They were truly such a huge part of my life. While I wish that they would have continued on, I think the fact that they came on the scene, took the world by storm, then disappeared at their peak was a good thing. It allowed them to always be remembered as the rock gods that they were. We did not have to watch as their careers faded away or their albums sold less and less. They will always be legendary in my mind.

  40. I remember seeing this record in a shop at the age of 12 or 13 before I even knew who they were and wanting it just because of the cover (the cross cover, that is… something about it just said, buy me). Later I stole the cassette from someone. Good times.

  41. this album is 2.99 on amazon right now, i’m gonna try it. hopefully nostalgia isn’t required for an enjoyable experience.

  42. A classic album that I still listen to all the time. Out to get me, Mr. Brownstone, Nighttrain are all favorites. I had to purchase the cassette tape 3 times because I wore every copy out and then got it on cd.

  43. The Axl / former GNR will never happen and it’s probably better this way, but what I want to hear is some Izzy in the mix. It gave a swagger and a looseness that is sorely mised, event in the best Velvet Revolver stuff.

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