By the time Guns N’ Roses released their debut album in 1997, hard rock music was ruled by bubblegum acts that cared more about their appearance than the music. Band’s like Motley Crue and Poison played the role of bad ass rockers, but their music was lightweight and contrived. When Guns N’ Roses dropped Appetite For Destruction, all bets were off. The twelve track collection was filled with the kind of from-the-gut rock and roll most bubblegum acts aimed for (but fell far short of).
Although the disc got off to a slow start, Appetite For Destruction would eventually become the bestselling American debut of all time (with more than 33 million copies sold worldwide). The album’s success can be traced to the raw realism contained within its grooves. From the opening rumble of “Welcome To the Jungle,” a seething battle cry of the damned, to the disc-closing jam “Rocket Queen,” Appetite For Destruction was as authentic and ragged as the five punks who created it.
Singer Axl Rose, lead guitarist Slash, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler captured lightning in a bottle. Songs like “Night Train,” inspired by cheap wine the Guns boys loved to guzzle in their formative years, and “Mr. Brownstone,” a percussive ode to heroin, cut deep. Curse-riddled tracks like “It’s So Easy” and “Out Ta Get Me” were razor sharp slices of life that scared the shit out of parents but had kids everywhere singing along.
Everything about Appetite For Destruction screamed controversy. Retailers refused to stock the album over the original cover art (the Robert Williams painting that gave the disc its title), so Geffen Records opted for the now famous skulls/cross cover. The ferocity of a song like “You’re Crazy,” a punk-metal track that made good use of the F-word, had the tongues of censors and media scribes wagging. It may be common to hear swearing in mainstream music today, but in 1997, it was rare.
It can be argued had Geffen Records not released “Sweet Child O’ Mine” as a single, Appetite For Destruction would have been just another great album the public missed altogether. Written for Rose’s girlfriend (and future wife), Erin Everly, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” climbed all the way to #1 on the charts in America. The song’s intricate guitar intro and sensitive lyrics won Guns millions of fans and pushed the album over the top. The epic followup single “Paradise City” sealed the deal.
Guns N’ Roses had the potential to become the next Rolling Stones, but in the end drug abuse, tyranny and egos destroyed the original band. Appetite For Destruction has stood the test of time, and remains the group’s best work to date.