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Urchins Livin’ Under The Street: Adelle Stripe On The Prime Of Guns N’ Roses
Adelle Stripe , June 28th, 2018 06:54

Like a throbbing, yowling time capsule, this wildly completist package of Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite For Destruction is almost enough to send you back to their ferocious, feral, filthy heyday

Duff, Slash, Axl, Steve and Izzy in 1987. Photo by Ross Halfin

This week sees the re-release of Appetite for Destruction, Guns N’ Roses’ classic 1987 LP. Recorded in Canoga Park at Rumbo Studios, this ferocious, feral and undoubtedly explosive record has undergone the official completist packaging – instead of the paltry vinyl or cassette tape of your youth, fans can now purchase a 72-piece edition of the record. This is the Appetite Holy Grail – a solid wood boxset embossed in leather, 96 page book featuring photos from Axl’s archives, heavyweight vinyl, remastered EPs and B-sides, early demos, singles, Blu-ray audio including the rediscovered footage of ‘It’s So Easy’ (shot at Hollywood’s Cathouse), or even buttons, rings, badges, posters, tattoos, lithos, gig flyers, turntable mats and microfibre cloths for your collection.

Formed in 1985, Guns N’ Roses brought an edge to Los Angeles’ hair metal scene with venomous tales from the City of Night. This unlikely collection of reprobates - former Seattle hardcore scene player Duff ‘Rose’ McKagan, Saul ‘Slash’ Hudson (a skateboarder from Stoke-On-Trent with phenomenal hair who could play a lick or two), Johnny Thunders-a-like Izzy Stradlin and drummer Steve Adler, led by W Axl Rose - were signed by Geffen, who saw the potential in their spiteful brand of rock&roll. Soon after came one of the most extraordinary rock records of all time. Upon its release Appetite became the bestselling US debut album ever and shifted over 30 million copies around the world.

Axl Rose, a former juvenile delinquent, was once a choirboy with a gift for music who fled to LA from Lafayette. He became a human guinea pig, employed by a well-known cigarette brand to smoke heavily as they measured his lung capacity. His yellow teeth and dishevelled edge of that period are captured in the lyrics of ‘Paradise City’: “Strapped in the chair of the city’s gas chamber / Why I’m here I can’t quite remember / The surgeon general says it’s hazardous to breathe / I’d have another cigarette but I can’t see.” Rose’s six octave range is actually wider than Mariah Carey’s, yet on Appetite his delivery fits the band’s sound and owes more to the blue-collar whisky-soaked roots of Nazareth’s Dan McCafferty. When Nazareth toured the West Coast in 1988, GN’R stood in the front of the crowd every night. Axl was so enamoured that he asked McCafferty to sing ‘Love Hurts’ at his wedding to Erin Everly in Las Vegas (to which McCafferty replied, “I think I’m busy that night”).

The singles that form the backbone of Appetite – ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, ‘Paradise City’, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, and ‘Nightrain’ – were synonymous with the late 1980s, and impossible to escape on UK radio. Listening with 2018 ears, they have barely aged. This record sounds just a fresh as it did in 1987. Even with its many flaws (which David Bennun pointed out expertly in this Quietus review), it still holds a thrill – and there has barely been a rock record since (aside from Nevermind) that has resonated in the same way. Their sound captured imaginations of teenagers the world over, and it’s important to remember that some of their bad boy appeal – trailer park tearaways who got lucky – came from the furore that surrounded the ‘Lyrics Which Some People May Find Offensive’ sticker that adorned each vinyl copy. Oh yes, and that cover. Robert Williams’ design, of a robot with a snare-mouth and exploding bulb brain and knife-teeth flying machine which hovers over an ecstatic waitress with her knickers down, was banned and replaced by the cross of skull faces which forms the graphic identity of the new Appetite release. This record was once a coveted item, passed around schoolyards and stolen from lockers.

There was something illicit and disturbing about Guns N’ Roses, even in 1987. They were the sort of band your parents didn’t want you to like and certainly never approved of. Hidden Axl posters and Kerrang! covers were stashed under girl’s mattresses across the land. And there was an authenticity to the band. Fans believed every word GN’R sang, each line a gut-punch. Even the controversial ‘I Used to Love Her’ makes an appearance in this edition: “I had to put her / six feet under / and now I’m happier that way”. Thankfully ‘One In A Million’ has been omitted from this release.

Watching footage of their Ritz 88 gig (filmed in New York for MTV), it’s easy to forget about Axl’s white cycling shorts in the years that followed and how they represented a jumping of the shark for this once-sensational band. Captured in the moments before they exploded - that crucial time when the juggernaut of fame was on the horizon - The Ritz show was every bit as powerful as the record. It shows how the live experience was fully transmitted by Mike Clink’s production on Appetite.

Throughout the recording sessions the band lived together, sharing pairs of crab-infested leather trousers and dating local strippers. Exactly what you’d expect from a band who recorded their singer having sex with the drummer’s girlfriend for the closing track on Appetite; ‘Rocket Queen’ features Adriana Smith’s moans – recorded in return for a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and to spite Steven Adler, who she was dating at the time. Rose’s distinctive voice, and the later Use Your Illusion ballad, ‘November Rain’, is included in its earliest demo form (from 1986) in this edition. For me, piano Axl never appealed, his Elton-esque leanings representing the weakest element of the band. I prefer the fragility of tracks such as ‘Patience’, which deserves its place in the GN’R canon.

Even on a bad day (and there are a few tracks in this package that obviously weren’t released for good reason) Guns N’ Roses were streets ahead of their peers. The plod of ‘Anything Goes’ (the only low-point in an album of flawless tracks) is far superior to the entire works of Poison, Mötley Crüe and Skid Row combined. As a period piece of 80s rock it still stands up. Would Appetite for Destruction be released as it was – that cover, those lyrics – in the woke era of today? Probably not. Does this mean you shouldn’t buy a copy of it? No. Its appeal was always reckless, a record that authentically captured the hateful and bile-ridden lives of those who created it.

The massive Appetite For Destruction Locked N’ Loaded package is out tomorrow from Universal. Adelle Stripe is the author of Black Teeth And A Brilliant Smile