As I’ve already said, my friends and I spent an enormous amount of time watching MTV. Their rotation was annoyingly small and repetitive, but still we allowed ourselves to be subjected to it. Def Leppard seemed to have a song on every 15 minutes or so during the summer of 88. They had released Hysteria probably about a year before and every song on the album seemed to have a video that was on all the time. I thought a few of them were ok. I liked their previous album, Pyromania, a lot better. If I never hear Pour Some Sugar On Me again, that’d be fine. Something that was also huge, but a little more to my taste was Kick by INXS. There had to be at least 5 or 6 big hits off that album, which dominated the cable box that summer. My favorite song from that time was Beds Are Burning by Midnight Oil. I wasn’t a huge fan of the rest of their work. I liked Blue Sky Mine and Dead Heart also from their album, Diesel And Dust well enough, but Beds Are Burning was pretty special. The chorus lifts me and transcends mere melody even to this day. I just listened to it yesterday to make sure. Still so good.
There was an album that came along almost a year before, that sat, slowly creeping up the charts, until it became the epitome of that very moment of rock and roll. That album is Appetite For Destruction by Guns & Roses. Early in my freshman year, my high school book store, which also sold candy bars and stationary and bandannas, had several cassettes for sale. Appetite was one of them. So, for a full year, that image of the 5 metal head skulls had been floating in my consciousness. Then, throughout the year, I started to hear things about this band, little snippets here and there. Christian Rock’s girlfriend Lisa’s brother had a VHS tape of them live in New York City, at the Ritz I think. We watched the shit out of that. I remember liking the songs well enough, but the real entertainment came from watching the band, who were so sleazy. They really captured my imagination. I remember watching that performance, and every time the singer would open his mouth, I’d think, “what a fuckin asshole!!! who is this guy?!?” Somebody said, “That’s Axl Rose.” “Axl?!?!” what kind of asshole name is that?!?!” and from that moment, I have absolutely hated this fuckin creep (who’s real name is Bill Bailey). In fact I LOVE hating him. I love to hate him even more than I love each and every song on this absolutely perfect debut of an album, which is quite a bit. By the time the summer of 88 was in full swing, Sweet Child O’ Mine, Welcome To The Jungle, and Paradise City were all constantly playing somewhere.
It was a good thing, too, because there isn’t a bad song on that whole album. It’s amazing. I’m not gonna go track by track and break it down, because I’m not that kind of guy. What I AM gonna do, is tell you why I think this album came along at just the right time and breathed new fresh life into the already decayed corpse of what had been rock and roll. As I mentioned, they were the sleaziest band I had ever seen. They somehow had even W.A.S.P. and Motley Crue beat. Perhaps it was their sweatiness, or Slash’s jeri curl, which brought a bit of questionable ethnicity to the traditionally caucasian genre. Maybe it was the rejected original cover art, which depicted a giant, multi knifed graffiti monster about to destroy a robot rapist as the beautiful, mostly naked victim lay half dead. Maybe it was Izzy’s aviator shaded junk sick presentation. Maybe it was all of these things and a hundred more carefully crafted, perfectly presented affectations that made them seem so full of toxic danger.
By the time Appetite came around, metal had already gone mainstream and totally lost everything that made it thrilling. Bon Jovi, who I fucking hate, took the look and the hair and the wailing guitars and started dragging it toward Springsteen’s neighborhood because I guess that’s all you know how to do when you’re from Jersey. There were a whole slew of lousy bands taking all the most superficial tenets of heavy rock and amplifying them to grotesque proportions. Bands like Poison, Warrant, Great White, White Lion, Cinderella, Dokken, Winger, Enough Z’Nuff, Skid Row, Kix, Trixter, Vixen, Brittany Fox and dozens of others had all taken hair bleach, girl make up, fluorescent spandex, and thousand note a minute hyper processed guitar solos about as far as they could be taken and somehow, nobody was any better off for it. At the same time, many of our heroes, some of them pioneers of this thing of ours, had faltered and embarrassingly lost their way just in time to have it perfectly documented on Music Television.
Van Halen, for example, was now 2 albums into their terrible mistake of having replaced the effervescent David Lee Roth with somebody’s screaming uncle, the horrible Sammy Hagar. 1984 (the album)was an amazing pinnacle of heavy rock glory, a monumental peak for an insanely talented, highly imaginative, super horny group of dudes. I wish they would have just quit being Van Halen right then. Instead, they fired Dave or Dave quit, I don’t know which, and both parties went on to produce substandard music which was sometimes painful to endure. Untethered by the genius level musicality of the Van Halen brothers and the realness of bass anchor/party vicar Michael Anthony, Dave drifted off the edge of paradise mountain into a scat fueled, hot pink nether land. Nobody bothered to send a search party. What remained of Van Halen was just as bad for totally opposite reasons. The music they went on to produce was mature, adult oriented hit pop, totally devoid of any danger or fun. Big sounding, mostly synth based arena type rock totally suited to the millions of gallons of Pepsi they would help sell with it. In 1985, when it was first announced that Sammy (a name for a hoagie maker not a rock singer) would join Van Halen, I remember thinking, “Man! That’ll be cool!” I knew Hagar from his hit, I Can’t Drive 55 and his contribution to the soundtrack of the animated Ralph Bakshi film, Heavy Metal, both of which are blistering, high energy powerfests. Well, I guess too much time had passed and too much money was on the line, because the safe, calculated, corporate music they produced together couldn’t have been more boring.
Aerosmith is another great example. So sacred to me as they obviously were also to GnR, This 5 piece testament to whiskey, dope, and women had fallen far from their former glory. If you draw a straight line from The Rolling Stones to Guns & Roses, Aerosmith falls right in the center. Though based on the fucking garbage they were putting out that very same summer on that very same record label, You can hear barely any relation at all. Aerosmith came out in 1973 and made 4 and a half perfect rock and roll albums, then their coke/heroin problems became unmanageable and they became garbage right in the middle of their 5th album. Then they put out 3 more remarkably terrible albums, went to rehab, Sang a boneheaded duet of their classic hit with Run-DMC, and then proceeded to have such an amazingly successful comeback, that most people don’t even realize they’re a 70’s band. They rose to the top again and have had an amazing career. The only problem is their newer music sucks! It was expertly produced by corporate dickheads, and co-written by Desmond Child, the same songwriter who made Kiss and Bon Jovi sound so limp. I’m pretty sure GnR opened for them during this period. That must have been so upsetting for Tyler and Perry, having to listen to a young power outfit using their own template, yet still having the power to rain down from Rock & Roll Mountain.
Motley Crue was in the shitter during this time period too. Their record from this era was Girls Girls Girls, which manages to sound less like a homage to sexy women and more like a confession of stripper addiction, which I think it is. Ratt and W.A.S.P. had both fallen into the abyss. At least Ozzy, who was also gone, never to return (at least to my satisfaction), had the courtesy to give us Tribute, an amazing live album dedicated to his former guitarist, the late Randy Rhodes. My friends and I all had that cassette and we wore it out in the walkmen and boom boxes and home stereos of our lives. I enjoyed it just a little more because I felt like Ozzy knew his golden days were behind him and he was sending me a message that he knew what had been good about his work, like, “Here kid, here’s one last broadcast from the peak.”
Enter Guns & Roses. They wore spandex, but it was black or blood red. They also wore leather and denim. They played Gibson guitars and Fender basses, not mint green Kramers or B.C. Rich Warlocks with lightning airbrushed on them. I just read that Paul Stanley was supposed to produce Appetite but he didn’t because of a dispute about the size of Steve Adler’s drum kit. Thank fucking christ. The legend is that Adler started with the stupid 20 piece kit with 3 different sized china boy cymbals, but every time he went off for a line of crank, Duff and Izzy would hide one of his drums, so that after a week passed, He was down to a reasonable, Marky Ramone sized kit. Duff also said that he and Steve listened to nothing but Cameo during the recording sessions. Fucking Cameo! I love it. As far as production goes, nothing is over processed. Little delay here, little chorus/flange there and that’s it. It’s all high gain guitars plugged straight into warm driven Marshall stacks. Slash’s guitar panned left, Izzy’s panned right. Not since The Spiders From Mars had I heard such a perfect balance of hot, wet Les Paul and acoustic glisten as exists in the album’s ballad, Sweet Child O’ Mine.
Appetite For Destruction for me is the last great hard rock/heavy metal album. There are plenty of albums that have come after and rocked just as hard, but they all had some added element or were somehow “alternative”. Thrash metal is one example of another group in the metal community who could no longer stomach all the hairspray and pink tights. Metallica & Slayer were a big deal for all of us, but they altered the music. they sped it up and made it more brutal, which was great, but how much of that could you endure? The melody gets lost. Nothing’s Shocking by Jane’s Addiction, is another example. It came out at the end of that summer and rocked like a motherfucker out of that same diseased LA scene, but it was more informed by punk than by the Hollywood metal which meant so very much to me. Guns delivered the perfect balance at the perfect time. They captured my heart and my imagination for that one perfect summer. There’s something so pure about Appetite era GnR that part of me is forever frozen there in that time with them.