Midway through the ’80s, people were growing bored of rock and roll. Hair metal and glam rock had been fun for a few years, but commercialism was beginning to overshadow the rebellious nature the music once carried. Getting your video on MTV and having an extravagant appearance became more important than writing a good song.
Enter Bill Bailey, Saul Hudson, Michael McKagan, Jeffrey Isbell and Steven Adler.
The five musicians had been jamming in different Sunset Strip bands for years until fate eventually brought them together in ’85 – Guns N’ Roses were born. Paying to play at venues with their girlfriends’ money, sharing a loft as a living space and taking advantage of record label executives – the degenerates changed their identities to W. Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan and Izzy Stradlin (Adler kept his).
The reckless rockers became known as the loudest band on the Strip, and the most dangerous too. They eventually worked their way up to the Friday and Saturday night slots at venues like the Roxy and the Troubadour, where label representatives watered at the mouth in hopes of signing them. In the end, Geffen Records triumphed by giving them a deal with the artistic freedom they were searching for in 1986.
Released July 21, 1987, their debut Appetite for Destruction changed the scene once it took off. Raw and gritty blues-based rock and roll combined with a street attitude and relatable messages for the youth of the decade made it one-of-a-kind.
Here are 15 facts you may not have known about the legendary album and its songs.
1. It had different original album artwork.
The album’s title and original cover were based on the painting “Appetite for Destruction” by Robert Williams, which featured alien-like creatures and a woman with her shirt torn open. Fearing backlash over the grotesque scene, Geffen forced record stores to pull the album from their shelves. They changed its artwork to a black background featuring a tattoo on Axl Rose’s arm – a cross logo with all of the members’ skulls, designed by Billy White Jr.
2. It didn’t do too well at first.
Sure, Appetite is pretty much a staple in any music fan’s rock collection, but it wasn’t always so popular. It debuted at No. 182 on the Billboard 200, selling only 200,000 copies after several months. It didn’t reach the top of the chart until over a year later, where it remained for four weeks. It spent a total of 147 weeks on the chart.
3. A few Use Your Illusion songs were actually written for it.
A lot of people assume that Guns N’ Roses had disagreements over their “change in direction” leading up to the Use Your Illusion albums, but that’s false. “November Rain” and “Don’t Cry,” two of the band’s biggest ballads, as well as “Back Off Bitch” and “You Could Be Mine” were all written prior to Appetite.
Rose actually began penning the piano chords for “November Rain” years before he was even in GN’R, and they performed “Don’t Cry” during a few of their early sets on the Strip before they were signed. The songs were left off the record since they felt “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Think About You” were enough love songs for their debut. They released demos of the tracks with their Appetite for Destruction: Locked N’ Loaded box set last year.
4. The “Welcome to the Jungle” video is what made the world notice the band.
While Los Angeles knew damn well who Guns N’ Roses were, much of the outside world didn’t. The radio barely played them. MTV didn’t want to play the full music video for “Welcome to the Jungle” until David Geffen contacted them himself. The channel gave the video one shot – a 4am ET/1am PT time slot.
While this tactic seemed set for failure, apparently those who had seen it had all called in and requested the video be played more. As MTV frequented the video in its rotation, radio stations started picking it up as well. Thus, Appetite was on its way to mass popularity.
5. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was their only No. 1 single.
While everyone was preoccupied with “Jungle,” it wasn’t until “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was released as a single that the band really garnered a huge following. Due to its placement in the second half of the album, many people had not even heard the love song yet.
The radio cut out part of Slash’s solo to make it shorter, which Rose resented, but stations started to play it heavily as the album rapidly climbed the charts. Fans of love songs realized this new band had a soft side to their destruction. To this day, it’s their only No. 1 single.
6. …and Slash hated it.
According to Slash, the opening guitar riff of “Sweet Child” was just something he had invented while jamming. “Writing and rehearsing it to make it a complete song was like pulling teeth,” the guitarist told Q in an interview years ago. He also wasn’t happy about the fact that the song developed into a ballad, since Guns were more about having a bad-boy demeanor.
7. The band’s first show together inspired “Paradise City.”
Slash and Adler were the last to join GN’R in 1985 after their original guitarist Tracii Guns and drummer Rob Gardner quit just days before their first show in Seattle. On the way up from Los Angeles, the vehicle broke down and they had to hitch hike the rest of the way, leaving most of their gear behind.
They were only paid a fraction of what they had been promised at the one show they played, which was on borrowed amps. They had to surrender their remaining PNW performances and hitch hike back to LA. Fitting enough, the group named this trip the “Hell Tour,” and wrote the lyrics to “Paradise City” together as they longed to go home.
Though this became one of the group’s biggest hits, Slash preferred his own version of the chorus, “Take me down / To the paradise city / Where the girls are fat / And they’ve got big ti–ies.”
8. It cost quite a bit to make.
The total budget for making the album is estimated to have been around $370,000.
9. “Rocket Queen” is basically audio porn.
Ever listen to the solo in the middle, but really closely? Those are the sounds of Adriana Smith, who had been dating Adler until she saw him out with another girl. Hoping to get revenge on the drummer, she developed a physical relationship with Rose.
Later when the band was finishing up the mixing for Appetite in New York, Rose and Smith went at it again – except this time in the studio, and they recorded it to put in the album’s closer. “We cleared everyone out of the studio. Dimly lit, there were cushions in the booth, so no one could really see in. There were two guys in one booth and we were in another and I think they got a couple hours of recording of us having sex,” she told the Sunday Mirror a few years ago.
10. KISS’s Paul Stanley was in line to produce it.
Adler worshipped KISS growing up, so when GN’R were sifting through potential producers for Appetite, Paul Stanley was a candidate. Apparently, the rest of the band weren’t interested in working with the KISS star, but they decided to hear what he had to say, for Adler’s sake.
When Stanley came in and began providing input, which involved doing things differently than the way the band wanted to, they chose to continue their search until finding the perfect guy – Mike Clink.
11. “Nightrain” is about wine.
The guys were dirt poor before the dough started rolling in from record sales, but they still managed to find a way to fuel their vices – Night Train Express wine. Each bottle was only a few dollars, and it had a high alcohol concentration. “At $1.29 a bottle, Night Train instantly became a band staple,” Duff said in his autobiography It’s So Easy and Other Lies. Everyone loves a job well done on a bargain.
12. They’re out ta get Bill Bailey.
“Out Ta Get Me” is inspired by Rose’s long history with authorities. Believe it or not, he had a bit of a troubled past (yes, that was sarcasm). He’d been arrested several times as a minor and became known as one of the most delinquent juveniles in Lafayette, Indiana. Once he turned 18, he knew he had to get out of the town or he’d end up in prison.
13. The vinyl sides were called “G” and “R.”
Typically, you have an “A”-side of a record and a “B”-side. Instead, Appetite’s sides were labeled “G” and “R” for guns and roses. Perhaps not a coincidence – the first half of the record houses the more energetic and volatile songs, while the latter half focuses a bit more on love. “Anything Goes” is a different kind of love, but you get the idea.
14. Speaking of “Anything Goes,” it was originally written for Hollywood Rose.
Axl Rose wrote “Anything Goes” for one of his earlier bands with Izzy Stradlin and Chris Weber, Hollywood Rose. The lyrics are a bit different and the original version is much slower, but it is featured on Hollywood Rose’s demos album The Roots of Guns N’ Roses that was released in 2004.
15. It’s So Easy…to punch David Bowie in the face.
“It’s So Easy” later received a video treatment, though it wouldn’t be released in the U.S. until last year. The video features Erin Everly, Rose’s first wife (and the inspiration behind “Sweet Child”) dressed in bondage. David Bowie, who dated Slash’s mom and thus had a relationship with the guitarist, showed up to the video shoot drunk and apparently flirted with Everly.
Rose didn’t like that much, and the hot-headed singer apparently threw some blows at Ziggy Stardust and insulted him from the stage during their performance later. They eventually made up, but to think Bowie was once on Rose’s shit list is comical.
16. It’s the best-selling debut album of all time.
Google it, it’s true. The album went on to sell 18 million copies in the U.S. alone, and 30 million worldwide. No other artist in music history sold that many copies of their very first album, so kudos to Guns N’ Roses. They top the list with Boston, Hootie & the Blowfish, Whitney Houston and Britney Spears trailing behind.
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