Thursday, March 21, 2019

Appetite for Destruction: Making Guns N' Roses' Masterpiece

Guns N' Roses original lineup back in 1987.
When it comes to debut albums in the rock and roll world, it doesn't get much better than Guns N' Roses' Appetite for Destruction, an out-of-control train that became one of the best-selling albums of all time.
The record burst onto the scene at a time when hair metal was all the rage and spandex suppliers were making a killing. Guns N' Roses and Appetite ripped into the fabric of  L.A.s' hard rock scene and tore it apart with hard-edged tracks and lyrics paying homage to the rock and roll lifestyle and living on the edge.
Recorded from Jan. 18-March 31, 1987 at four L.A. area studios, including The Record Plant, with Mike Clink producing, Appetite for Destruction has sold more than 30 million copies and stands among the finest works in modern rock.
Prior to working with Clink, the Gunners' record label (Geffen) considered hiring uber-producer Robert John "Mutt" Lange, but decided spending the kind of money Lange commandeered wasn't worth it (imagine if Lange had produced the album??!!). So Clink was chosen to oversee the album and got to know the band by recording a test track called "Shadow of Your Love" which was subsequently released as a B-Side for "It's So Easy/Mr. Brownstone" and again in 2018 on the Appetite boxed set.
Finding that they clicked with Clink, the band began work on the album in January 1987 with recording the basic tracks, which took two weeks. Interestingly, Clink was a workaholic who spliced together the best takes with a razor blade and then worked 18 hour days with Slash and Axl Rose on guitars and vocals. 
Slash was having trouble finding a sound he liked, but settled on a copy Gibson Les Paul through a Marshall amp. Drummer Steven Adler says his drum parts took six days, but much of the $370,000 recording budget was used up by Rose, who insisted on recording his vocals one line at time, which took forever and forced the rest of the band out of the studio and into the local watering holes.
Geffen A&R man Tom Zutaut, who took a chance on the band, recalled to "There are some bands that just can't be stopped and you can sense it. No amount of alcohol or drugs will slow them down. Guns N' Roses were able to consume those things, yet deliver at a live show and deliver in the studio."

The Songs Make Appetite a Success

Original artwork for the Appetite Cover
What really stands out are the songs on Appetite for Destruction. From the rawness of the tracks to the lyrics, everyone is a testament to what the band was living through at the time: sex, drugs, and rock and roll. They didn't apologize for a song about heroin addiction (Mr. Brownstone), were unrepentant about how wasted they would get ("Nighttrain"), and women who would give them anything they wanted ("It's So Easy"). 
A prime example of the desire to be as authentic as possible came when Rose was set to lay down vocals for "Rocket Queen". He wanted to incorporate the live sounds of having sex on the album, so he asked Adler's girlfriend if she wanted to do it and she said "yes". They had sex in the studio and put the sounds on tape. It's the epitome of what Guns N' Roses is all about.

Appetite Fizzles on Release

When Appetite for Destruction was released on July 21, 1987, it received little fanfare. After six months, it had sold only 250,000 and MTV wasn't playing the "Welcome to the Jungle" video. Finally, after much persuading from Geffen, MTV relented (playing the video at 5 a.m. on a Sunday morning) and gave the song some air time, as did Much Music in Canada. Soon the song was getting tons of requests and the band found a larger audience. But it was "Sweet Child O' Mine" that really took them into the stratosphere when it was released as a single in August, 1988.
Zutaut predicted to David Geffen that Appetite would sell 10 million copies. Turns out even he was wrong.

Check out why Izzy Stradlin was such an integral part of the original Guns N' Roses lineup.


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