Appetite For Destruction
We knew we were listening to something…different. My friends and I (average age 11 y/o at the time) were sitting around listening to the radio, when all of a sudden a hellish guitar riff flooded the airwave. It was Welcome to the Jungle, by Guns n’ Roses. GnR hit the rock scene like a tonne of bricks in 1987 with the release of Appetite For Destruction. Absent from these rockers were the makeup, the blow-dried hair, the on-stage acrobatics or the fake street cred. These fellas were for real, and were as in your face about it as you could get.
My close friends often have to suffer my diatribes about how Izzy is the soul of GnR. I honestly believe that without him, there was no band. Proof is in the pudding, and upon Izzy Stradlin’s departure from the band, GnR failed to record any original material as a band ever again. Sure, Slash’s genius cannot be denied, Duff’s bass lines were crafty and Axl provided the necessary rocker angst, but it was Izzy who was the backbone with his hook, line and sinkerish rhythm guitar riffs. I’ll expand a little more on this in the specific songs, but you only need to focus your ear on the rhythms of Paradise City or Mr. Browstone to realize that Izzy Stradlin is a rock God.
Welcome to the Jungle
Everyone knows the opening guitar riff to Welcome to the Jungle. Heard regularly in many formats, from sports stadiums to Jim Rome’s theme song, Jungle is an anthem to youth, sex, and survival to which many people relate. The song’s lyrics were written by Axl, and chronicle his difficult transition from small town Indiana to the bright lights of Sunset Boulevard. For me, it was an introduction to the seedier aspects of life, a portal into post-teendom that every pubescent adolescent aspires to. Axl empowered me to rebellion, Izzy created a backbeat that added a distinctive strut to my gait, and Slash made me want to wear top hats (ok, he did more than that, but I’ve got to keep stuff for the other songs! Haha)
It’s So Easy
In case Jungle wasn’t badass enough, the boys from Hollywood hit us with a song about sexual domination, and the objectification of women, born out of Axl’s disgust with the smuttiness of L.A. women. The song has grown on me over the years, as I’ve learned to appreciate Axl’s sleaziness, and the equally degradatory guitar licks that support it. Here’s a telling lyrical sample from Axl’s philosophy towards women (which would change over time):
"Turn around bitch I got a use for you
Besides you ain't got nothin' better to do...and I'm bored"
You’ll notice a pronounced change to Axl’s view of women in the Illusions albums, a reflection of falling in love HARD with Stephanie Seymour (who hasn't?).
Axl chooses Night Train to introduce himself to the populace, and to tell us all what a badass he is. A night creature, Axl was a self-conscious and uncertain country kid looking to make a mark under the big city lights. Night Train reads like a mini mission statement, letting everyone know that he’s arrived and the road better be cleared for him.
"Said I'm a mean machine
Been drinkin' gasoline
And honey you can make my motor hum
Well I got one chance left
I'm a nine live cat
I got a dog eat dog sly smile
I got a Molotov cocktail with a match to go
I smoke my cigarette with style
An I can tell you honey
You can make my money tonight"
Out Ta Get Me
This one is another “Me v. the World” ditty that exposes the punk world’s influence on the band. This song earned the newly-minted “Explicit Lyrics” sticker for the cover.
An ode to heroin, I related to this song not for the drug undertones (I had no idea this song was about drugs when I was 11), but because of its procrastinating nature:
"I get up around seven…my teenage years in a nutshell, that. Steven Adler’s drum performance in this song is one of his best. He just keeps the song rolling along, as Slash and Izzy interlock in a beautiful rhythm/lead tandem.
Get outta bed around nine
And I don't worry about
'Cause worrin's a waste of my... time"
One of the songs of the 80’s. A seven minute epic in a time where albums were over-produced to give us neat little 3 minute radio-friendly verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/chorus formulas. It starts out with a beautiful strumming intro by Slash, only to be railroaded (in a good way) by a heavy rhythm turn by Izzy. We get a glimpse into Axl’s soft core in this one, because the song is a tale of homesickness.
The final third of this song absolutely kicks ass. Played incredibly up-tempo and for a long while, it must have exhausted the boys in the band. Having seen this song performed live, I can attest that it grabs you out of your seat (if you have the gall to be sitting at a GnR show) and moves you every which way. There is no feeling like handing over total control of your body to a song (or a girl).
My Michelle is titled to give us the impression it’s another cute little ballad, but it’s actually a song about a bad girl gone good (and I’m not sure Axl approves). This one never really grabbed me in any way. Musically and lyrically it’s good, but just never stuck to me.
Think About You
Another one of those songs that slips under my radar. I quite enjoy the rolling rhythm guitar, and the hook of the chorus.
Sweet Child O’ Mine
"Her hair reminds me of a warm, safe place
Where as a child I’d hide. "
The song kicks off with one of the most unmistakable guitar hooks in music history. I wonder sometimes about the day Slash first unleashed this baby on the boys in the band, and what their reactions were. Did they know they had struck gold? You’d have to think so. The beauty of it is that the boys didn’t sit on the riff and ride it to glory – Sweet Child contains 4 guitar solos, impeccable rhythm guitar, forceful drum beats, a wonderful break-down ("Where do we go, Where do we go now?"), and lyrics to make any girl’s knees go weak. I really admire the guts it took to get away from the simplistic rock-ballad formula they could have stuck to and been guaranteed a top 10 hit. It worked out for them, but in doing so they broke the mold that was strangling rock n’ roll.
For me the song represents the youthful innocence with which you are filled every time you become infatuated with someone. It is also a reminder of how fragile we are when confronted with beauty. This song makes me want to run my fingers through her hair, leave a nail mark in her side and nibble on her neck. Mmmm…
This one has recently come to signify a part of my life. Isn’t it great when a song you’ve listened to your whole life suddenly morphs into a metaphor for a life situation, and you suddenly feel a bond with the singer? Well, in this case I have to remove the obvious anger Axl feels toward the girl he’s singing about. For me, saying “you’re crazy”, or in fact being told so, is a fun little teasing thing.
"I've been lookin' for a trace
Lookin' for a heart,
Lookin' for a lover
in a world that's much too dark
Because you don't want my love, no, no
You want satisfaction"
Damn straight, Axl.
Just pure sex.
"My way, your way, anything goes tonight."
How could I possibly have anything to add to this?
This has come to be my favorite song on this album, if not my favorite GnR song. Rocket Queen has everything I love about GnR; sex, aggressiveness, vulnerability, great guitar hooks and tempo variations. Musicianship at its best. Just do yourself a favor one of these days and block out all other aspects of the song except Izzy’s rhythm guitar. It’s a mesmerizing performance, one in which Slash comes in and out, with Duff’s bass providing the skeleton. The meat is all Izzy, though.
I see you standing
Standing on your own
It's such a lonely place for you, for you to be
If you need a shoulder
Or if you need a friend
I'll be here standing
Until the bitter end
No one needs the sorrow
No one needs the pain
I hate to see you walking out there
Out in the rain
So don't chastise me
Or think I, I mean you harm
Of those that take you
Leave you strung out much too far
Don't ever leave me
Say you'll always be there
All I ever wanted
Was for you to know that I care