Retrospective: Guns N’ Roses’ “Appetite for Destruction” Turns 25

By Avinash Mittur

In 1987, an album like “Appetite for Destruction” was the last thing anyone expected a heavy rock band to release. MTV and the airwaves were littered with hair metal, and bands like Metallica and Slayer were taking the underground by storm. Guns N’ Roses, a bluesy, gritty, meat and potatoes rock outfit, was definitely not a band that the music world could have been prepared for. The popular bands of the time put all their efforts towards a hit single. The less mainstream acts wanted to push the envelope of what was possible in heavy music. Guns N’ Roses did none of that. Released on July 21st 1987, “Appetite for Destruction” was a dark, simple and honest record in a time when jolly excess was celebrated and encouraged. More than that though, “Appetite for Destruction” is one of those rare perfect albums. There isn’t a flaw to be found with this record; every one of its fifty-four minutes is stellar, and many of them are the greatest in rock history.

Everyone knows the most popular songs on “Appetite” even if they’re not even fans of rock music. “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine” are permanent presences in popular culture, whether it’s through radio, movies, television or sporting events. “Welcome to the Jungle” is still one of the all-time great album openers- Izzy Stradlin and Slash’s busy and twisting riffs serve the song perfectly, and the badass swagger that Axl Rose gave off has rarely been matched in the last twenty-five years. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is one of the few ballads of the eighties that still resonate with audiences young and old today. The timeless production (the louder you crank this record up, the better it sounds), Slash’s astounding soloing, and Axl’s absolutely amazing vocal performance all came together to make one of the best ballads ever. “Paradise City” of course, is a flawless epic. It’s impeccably paced, one doesn’t even take notice of its nearly seven-minute running time when listening. Everyone played their asses off on this song; Axl gave his usual phenomenal show, Izzy’s weaving rhythms were perfect complements to Slash’s more direct riffs, and Duff McKagan and Steven Adler showed why they were one of the best rock and roll rhythm sections around. No one could swing and groove like these two, especially Steven – Guns N’ Roses were never quite the same after he was fired.

“Appetite for Destruction” would just be one of many forgettable eighties albums if the aforementioned set of tracks were the only great songs on it; every single other cut is a fantastic slab of rock and roll, and they are all deserving of praise. I can’t break every one of them down here, but they are all worth your attention. “Nightrain” is probably my favorite song on the whole album though, the last minute and a half of the song with Axl singing over Slash’s soloing is one of those great sections of rock music that just has to be heard. “Think About You” is another personal favorite of mine, featuring a chorus that didn’t leave my head for weeks after first listening to “Appetite for Destruction” (I can’t get enough of the acoustic guitars during these parts). “My Michelle” on the other hand is almost disturbingly catchy; Axl’s lyrics are downright mean spirited on this song, so much so that singing along to anything besides the chorus and the last verse just sounds horribly wrong. In a way though, this was just another way that Guns N’ Roses stood out among the pack of hair metal bands.

Where other bands blindly and vaguely celebrated partying, drug use and opulence in their lyrics, Axl Rose’s words were filled with dark, grimy and, most importantly, vivid imagery. Axl’s lyrics on “It’s So Easy” really made you believe that he ruled his domain, even if his “Paradise City” turned out to be an escape from the cruel world he lived in, and the frighteningly detailed picture he painted of the life of “Michelle” was anything but pleasant. There was realism and genuine emotion in the words that Axl sang, and that only added to the personality that “Appetite for Destruction” possesses. There’s happiness, cockiness, sorrow, doubt and even a little bit of wisdom in this album. Even if its sound is firmly planted in hard rock, there’s a wide range of moods and feelings to be found on “Appetite for Destruction.” A song like “Out Ta Get Me” would boast an upbeat groove and lyrical swagger, but it would be followed by “Mr. Brownstone,” possibly one of the darkest songs about heroin addiction ever written.

I could probably write forever on why “Appetite for Destruction” is an amazing album, but the only way you can really understand its greatness is to just listen to it. This isn’t an album that you need context to appreciate. There’s nothing dated about “Appetite” at all- no asterisks, no “you had to have been there,” no “you have to be a fan of this kind of heavy music to enjoy it.” There’s a reason that this album’s songs remain so entrenched in American culture today; its songs are devastatingly perfect and the production is as great in 2012 as it was in 1987. If you’re a fan of rock music, “Appetite for Destruction” is one of the easiest and safest purchases you can ever make. Forget the stupid drama that has followed the members of Guns N’ Roses for the past twenty years, listen to this album and become lost in the world that Duff, Axl, Izzy, Steven and Slash lived in twenty five years ago. It’s a journey that is not to be missed by any fan of rock and roll.