In the latest issue of Metal Hammer we revisit the early (and best) years of Guns N' Roses and find out why they were the baddest motherfuckers on the planet. Here we look at (almost) everything that makes Gn'R one of the greatest and most controversial bands to ever grace a stage...
A is for Appetite for Destruction
The best hard rock album of all time? Quite possibly. Feral, cocksure and aggressive, Guns N’ Roses’ debut album is a compelling portrait of life lived without boundaries or inhibitions, a raw blast of street-level sass and ‘fuck you’ attitude. Appetite’s component parts – Aerosmith, AC/DC, Sex Pistols, Stones – might have been familiar but no-one had ever melded these influences to such devastating effect. The band would never top it, but then neither has anyone else since.
B is for Buckethead
How do you go about replacing one of the most iconic guitarists in the world in your band? Well, if you’re Axl Rose, you hire in a man with an upturned KFC bucket on his head. A wildly inventive, technically superb multi-instrumentalist with 121 studio albums to his (silly) name, the man known to his mom and dad as Brian Carroll helped craft Chinese Democracy, receiving co-writing credits on three songs, but never replaced Slash in the affections of Gn’R fans.
C is for Charlie Manson
For reasons never fully explained, Axl had something of an obsession with murderous weirdo cult leader Manson in the ‘90s, regularly sporting his image on T-shirts onstage and, controversially, covering Manson’s Look At Your Game, Girl as a hidden track on 1993’s The Spaghetti Incident album, which drew condemnation from his record label boss, David Geffen. “Personally I liked the lyrics and the melody of the song,” Axl blithely explained.
D is for Donington ‘88
Iron Maiden’s debut bow at the legendary Monsters Of Rock festival drew a record 107,000 people to Donington Park on August 20, 1988. Unfortunately, two of those in attendance wouldn’t return from the festival, being crushed to death in crowd surges during Guns N’ Roses early afternoon set. To his credit, Axl Rose stopped Gn’R’s set several times in an attempt to calm matters down, at one point stating “Don’t fucking kill each other”: only post-gig did the band discover the truth of those words.
E is for Erin Everly
The daughter of pop star Don Everly, model Erin Everly is the inspiration behind Sweet Child O’ Mine, though the reality of her relationship with Axl Rose was rather less romantic. Everly married Rose in April 1990, but their union was annulled in January 1991, after which she sued the singer for assault and sexual battery. “Axl had told me that in a past life we were Indians and that I killed our children, and that’s why he was so mean to me in this life,” she once noted.
F is for Feuds
A man who could start a fight in an empty room, fiery redhead Axl had a rare gift for what’s technically known as annoying the fuck out of people. Among his many scraps, Axl fell out with Mötley Crüe (threatening to “smash” Vince Neil’s “plastic face”) Nirvana (the singer telling Kurt Cobain to keep his “bitch” Courtney Love under control at the 1992 MTV Awards) and Metallica, with Rose labelling James Hetfield a “racist” and calling Lars Ulrich “a stupid little cocksucker.”
G is for Get In The Ring
Did we mention that Axl likes a scrap? Oh yes, we did. On this track from Use Your Illusion Axl called out a number of his perceived ‘enemies’ in the media – including current Classic Rock/Metal Hammer scribe Mick Wall – and threatened to kick their bitchy little asses. Easy tough guy.
H is for Heroin
During a 1989 show supporting the Rolling Stones, Axl threatened to break up Guns N’ Roses there and then if certain members of his band didn’t stop “dancing with Mr Brownstone.” At the time, Slash, Izzy and Steven Adler were all using heroin on a regular basis. Adler was subsequently fired when he couldn’t get clean, Izzy quit as soon as he stopped using, while Slash actually “died” twice from overdoses. “I didn’t know if I did it four days in a row I’d get fucking hooked on it,” he protested. Duh!
I is for It’s So Easy
Guns N’ Roses’ first UK single was one hell of an introduction to self-styled Most Dangerous Band In The World. “I see you standing there, you think you’re so cool,” sneered Axl. “Why don’t you just… FUCK OFF!” Now that is how you make a first impression.
J is for Jeffrey Dean Isbell
You might know him better as Izzy Stradlin, childhood friend of Axl Rose and co-founder of Guns N’ Roses. The soul of the band, Izzy wrote or co-wrote some of Gn’R’s best songs – Sweet Child O’ Mine, Paradise City, Patience and Don’t Cry among them – and the band were never the same after his departure in 1991.
K is for Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
A staple of Gn’R’s live sets since the mid ‘80s, the band’s cover of Bob Dylan’s classic first surfaced as a live B-side on the 12 inch of Welcome To The Jungle, was recorded for the soundtrack to Days Of Thunder, re-recorded for Use Your Illusion II, and was later released as a single, reaching #2 in the UK charts. The reggae breakdown in the band’s live version of the song might just be the single worst piece of music ever performed.
L is for Live ?!✭@ Like A Suicide
The world’s introduction to Gn’R, a four track ‘live’ EP – actually recorded in the studio, with overdubbed crowd noise – released on a fake indie label, UZI Suicide. The four track EP features two cover versions (Nice Boys by Rose Tattoo, and Mama Kin by Aerosmith) plus two originals, Reckless Life and Move To The City. All four songs re-surfaced as Side 1 of the G N’ R Lies mini-album in 1988.
M is for Marquee
The iconic Wardour Street venue was the site of Guns N’ Roses first UK shows, in June 1987. The first show was actually something of an anti-climax (read the original review here) but by show three the band’s reputation was back on track. “You want me to describe the feeling and atmosphere on that final night?” wrote Hammer’s Malcolm Dome. “Try these adjectives for brain size: raw, savage, furious, emotional, dangerous, rebellious, vibrant, hungry, intoxicating…”
N is for November Rain
The longest song ever to feature in the US Top 10, November Rain is Axl Rose’s masterpiece, an epic, symphonic ballad the singer had been working on for almost a decade before it surfaced on Use Your Illusion I. Famously, the song was accompanied by a high concept video costing over $1 million. Asked about the video earlier this year, Slash admitted he had “no idea” what it was about.
O is for One In A Million
The single most controversial song in Guns N’ Roses catalogue, One In A Million attracted huge media attention because of Axl Rose’s lyrics, which used derogatory epithets in relation to black people, homosexuals and immigrants as part of a semi-autobiographical depiction of a small-town boy arriving in Los Angeles. Members of Rose’s own band expressed concern over the lyrics, which the singer never apologised for. “It’s an artist’s right to comment with honesty on both the beautiful and the ugly,” said his record label.
P is for Pancreas
On May 10th, 1994, Gn’R bassist Duff McKagan was rushed to hospital after his pancreas exploded. “The doctor said, ‘If you have one more drink, you will die’,” he recalled. Not a man given to moderation – nicknamed ‘The King Of Beers’, in the early ‘90s McKagan’s daily diet consisted of two litres of vodka, an eight-ball of cocaine and several grammes of heroin – the bassist took the advice and hasn’t drank since.
Q is for Queen
Axl Rose’s favourite band, and a constant reference point for Gn’R’s music. When Guns played the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in London in 1992, an event at which Rose duetted with Elton John on a cover of Bohemian Rhapsody, Rose described the day as “the most humbling experience of my life.”
R is for Riots
There’s been a few of these, in fairness. On July 2, 1991, a riot broke out at a Guns show in St Louis, Missouri, when Axl walked offstage 90 minutes into the band’s set after an altercation with security. The resulting violence saw Guns’ gear trashed, 16 people arrested and $200,000 worth of damage to the arena. 13 months on, sharing a bill with Metallica at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, worse was to follow. After Metallica were forced to abandon their set when James Hetfield was engulfed in flames from an onstage pyro, the promoters asked Gn’R to perform earlier than their scheduled slot: they responded by going on three hours after their allotted stage time, and then Axl abandoned the show after 45 minutes, at which point angry fans tore the stadium apart. Three hundred riot police were called upon to quell the riots. Ten years on, Guns returned to Canada to launch a North American tour in Vancouver… a show which was cancelled at the 11th hour as Axl was still on a plane. You can guess the rest…
S is for Slash
When guitarist Tracii Guns quit Guns N’ Roses in the summer of 1985, frontman Axl Rose dropped by Tower Records in Hollywood to ask former Hollywood Rose/Black Sheep guitarist Saul Hudson if he might fancy jamming with the band. That decision would change both their lives. The cat in the hat is arguably the single most identifiable figure in rock n’ roll, and although he’ll be plagued to his dying day by questions about the possibility of re-joining Guns, the guitarist hasn’t done to badly for himself since severing ties with his old mates.
**T is for The Spaghetti Incident? **
A curious, albeit entertaining, addition to Guns N’ Roses catalogue, 1993’s The Spaghetti Incident covers album offered Gn’R the opportunity to pay tribute to some of their influences, from the obvious (The Stooges’ Raw Power, New York Dolls’ Human Being) to the more obscure (Fear’s I Don’t Care About You, The Skyliners’ Since I Don’t Have You). This would be the final Guns album to feature contributions from Slash and Duff McKagan.
U is for Use Your Illusion I and II
A sprawling, over-ambitious twin set featuring some 30 songs, if edited down to form a single album the Use Your Illusion albums would stand as one of the finest hard rock albums ever. Even so, there’s much to admire here – from killer singles You Could Be Mine, November Rain and Civil War to the brilliant, if bonkers, Estranged and Coma. In both the US and UK, II pipped I to the #1 spot on the charts, though each has now sold over 7 million copies in the US alone.
V is for Velvet Revolver
Or Guns N’ Roses Jnr, as wags dubbed the LA band when Slash, Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum reunited (with Stone Temple Pilots frontman Scott Weiland and some bloke called Dave) in 2003. Both 2004’s Contraband and 2007’s Libertad are better albums than you might remember, but neither is Appetite For Destruction.
W is for W. Axl Rose
Where to start? An enigma encased in the body of a conundrum, or something, the artist formerly known as William Bruce Rose Jr entered the world kicking and screaming on February 6th, 1962 and basically hasn’t stopped since. The sole remaining original member of Guns N’ Roses Axl has been described, variously, as a genius, an eccentric and a bat-shit crazy fucknut, but he remains one of the most compelling and fascinating rock stars in the world. Don’t ever change, dude.
X is for e(X) members
There’s been a few of these as well. Let’s start with Slash, Izzy, Duff and Steven Adler, then there’s Matt Sorum, Gilby Clarke, Robin Finck (NIN), Josh Freese (The Vandals), Buckethead, Bryan Mantia (Primus), Paul Tobias (aka Paul Huge)… We could go on. Safe to say that most Gn’R fans only care about the first four on the list.
Y is for You Could Be Mine
The first single from the Use Your Illusion albums, and also the theme to Terminator 2: Judgement Day, which meant that Guns got to have Arnie in the video for the song, which is pretty fucking cool, we’re saying.
Z is for Zakk Wylde
Zakk Wylde? But he was never in Guns N’ Roses! Ah, but he might have been. In 1994 the guitarist was invited to jam with the band by Axl Rose, and spent a week in a Hollywood rehearsal room with the singer, Slash, Duff, Dizzy Reed and Matt Sorum. Wylde recalls having “a fucking blast” and the band playing “heavy hardcore stuff” but the sessions never led anywhere. Which is kinda a shame.