Guns N' Roses

Guns N' Roses

Synopsis of Pop Music

“Welcome to the jungle,
We got fun and games…”

Hard rock was a fairly sanitized place at the start of 1987. Bands like Bon Jovi, Whitesnake and Europe carried power ballads to the top of the charts, and former punker Billy Idol was busy covering Tommy James and the Shondells’ “Mony Mony.” Into this tennybopper-friendly rock environment came a quintet of the scuzziest, down-n-dirtiest, alcohol-drinkingest musicians that had come along in many a year. Their collective name was Guns N’ Roses, and they came to grime the place up a bit.

Two years earlier, in 1985, Indiana native Axl Rose had hitchhiked to the big city of Los Angeles to hook up with old buddy Izzy Stradlin on the local music scene. Guitarist Stradlin and vocalist Rose joined Tracii Guns and Rob Gardner to form what would eventually become Guns N’ Roses. Over the next year, guitarist Slash, drummer Steven Adler and bassist Duff McKagan signed up with the band, while Guns and Gardner quit. With its solid (for now) lineup in place, Guns N’ Roses stormed the local scene, playing old school blues rock in the style of the Rolling Stones and Aerosmith.

The band’s touring and club-playing days led to a live EP, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, which helped get the band signed to big-time label Geffen Music. A supporting gig with Mötley Crüe exposed Guns N’ Roses to a wider audience, but the release of the 1987 LP Appetite for Destruction was the world’s wake-up call—angry rock was back in a big way. Almost as much a punk album as it was a classic Aerosmith-styled rocker, Appetite for Destruction showcased the twin-guitar blues rhythms and leads of Slash and Stradlin, the bumping rhythms of McKagan and Adler, and the strangely appealing screech of Rose’s voice.

“Welcome to the Jungle,” Axl’s autobiographical story of moving straight from small-town Indiana into L.A.’s seedy underbelly, was the album’s first single, but the surprisingly tender-hearted “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (eventually a #1 hit) helped propel Appetite to multi-platinum status. At the same time as the profanity-laden, rage-driven album was rising to the top of the charts, Guns N’ Roses was reminding the world that music was only 1/3 of the old 'sex, drugs and rock and roll' equation.

The band’s on- and off-stage antics became as legendary as its music, with a series of binges, arrests, brawls and other brouhahas making the papers seemingly every other day. Axl became a hero to thousands of wannabe rebels, and his 'tortured bad boy' image won him more than a few devoted young female fans. Amid all the hullabaloo, Guns kept the music coming with G N’ R Lies at the end of 1988. The semi-new album mixed the re-released Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide with four new acoustic-driven tracks, including the #4 hit “Patience” and the infamous “One in a Million,” Axl’s rant against foreigners, African Americans, homosexuals and many others.

The headline-making incidents continued over the next two years (live on-air swearing, airplane galley urination, concert riots, etc.), but the band kept itself busy in the studio, working on an ambitious follow-up that would eventually take two discs to capture. Use Your Illusion I & II, both released at midnight on September 17, 1991, still featured their share of raw guitar rock, but songs like “Don’t Cry” and the full-blown epic “November Rain” showed that the band (and especially Axl) had its sights set on art rock as well. Whatever the group’s ambitions, Guns’ army of fans went nuts—one new album would have been cool, but two? Dude, that freaking rocked!!

The two albums instantly hit number 1 and 2 on both the U.S. and U.K. charts, eventually selling millions of copies each, and the singles were all charting as well (especially the #3 “November Rain,” accompanied by an equally-epic video). But despite the band’s financial success, the ever-present internal scuffles (you try getting five badasses to play nice together) were only getting worse. Steven Adler had already been kicked out of the band (replaced by former Cult drummer Matt Sorum), and several members had temporarily either quit or been fired several times. Izzy Stradlin wanted the band to stick with its Stones-esque roots, and when his vision didn’t jibe with Axl’s, the guitarist quit, as Gilby Clarke stepped in to tour (keyboardist Dizzy Reed had also joined the band, back in 1991).

The result of this upheaval was another long wait for G N’ R fans. The band toured through 1992 and ’93 (including a co-headlining run with Metallica), but the emergence of grunge had made elaborate art rock suddenly obsolete. Guns returned to its punk roots for a cover album, 1993’s The Spaghetti Incident?, but Axl started leaning more toward the industrial sounds of Nine Inch Nails and others. After one more classic rock cover, a 1995 version of the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil,” Axl went underground, taking Guns N’ Roses with him. Slash played gigs with side bands and as a guest guitarist on friends’ albums, and by the mid-90’s, he too was out of the group.

No new Guns N’ Roses recordings were released until the end of 1999, when the single “Oh My God” appeared on the soundtrack to the Arnold Schwarzenegger millennial apocalypse flick End of Days. True to Axl’s promise, the song was an industrial rocker, featuring no original Guns members and only Dizzy Reed from the Use Your Illusion era. Axl, who owns the Guns N’ Roses name, plans to release a complete album sometime relatively soon, but regardless of what the future holds, most will always remember Guns N’ Roses as the band that reminded the world what dirty, old-school rock and roll was all about.

"Oh, won't you please take me home..."

Artist Release History

1986 - Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide
1987 - Appetite for Destruction
1988 - G N' R Lies - the Sex, the Drugs, the Violence, the Shockin' Truth
1991 - Use Your Illusion I
1991 - Use Your Illusion II
1993 - The Spaghetti Incident?
1999 - Live Era: '87-'93

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Essential Music Albums

Live Era '87-'93 (Interscope)

Band Members

Axl Rose vocals
Slash guitar
Izzy Stradlin guitar
Duff McKagan bass
Steven Adler drums
Dizzy Reed keyboards
Matt Sorum drums
Gilby Clarke guitar

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