Guns N’ Roses released their debut album 29 years ago today. 53 minutes and 51 seconds of sex, drugs and rock and roll, “Appetite for Destruction” is the album that all the other bands on Sunset Strip tried to make but just couldn’t. GnR might have emerged at the height of hair metal, but this album turned the scene on its head and shook it with a violence typically reserved for head banging. Hair metal would eventually be executed by Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” but “Welcome to the Jungle” was the first mortal blow.
“Appetite” became the biggest selling debut album in history but it wasn’t an immediate success. Radio play and MTV acceptance proved to be slow in coming. The album had some word of mouth success and relentless touring allowed it to slowly spread across the country like a rock and roll disease. The band solved the radio issue by bribing Los Angeles-area DJs with cocaine. The record label addressed the MTV issue by getting owner David Geffen to personally lobby to get the video for “Jungle” aired.
Once “Jungle” hit MTV the album and the band exploded. Record stores struggled to keep “Appetite” in stock and GnR landed opening spots for established bands like Motley Crue, Alice Cooper, and Iron Maiden. By the end of the 16 month, 180 date tour, GnR was opening for Aerosmith and would make the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Tim Collins, Aerosmith's manager at the time, said "By the end of the tour, Guns N' Roses were huge. They basically just exploded. We were all pissed that Rolling Stone showed up to do a story on Aerosmith, but Guns N' Roses ended up on the cover of the magazine. Suddenly, the opening act was bigger than we were.
But we felt sorry for them. One, they were so fucked up it was ridiculous. Two, their stupid manager had negotiated a bad deal for them and never bothered to renegotiate it or even complain. Three, they were traveling like Gypsies, their old suitcases held together by twine and gaffers tape. At the end of the tour, we bought them all new Halliburton cases, which their manager took as an insult."
In April of 1988 “Appetite” entered the Billboard Top Ten and on August 6 the album reached #1. The release of the single “Sweet Child O’ Mine” later in August propelled the album back to #1 for a three week run. This is pretty amazing when you consider the album was originally released over a year earlier. “Sweet Child” would be the band’s only #1 single, though “Paradise City” and “Jungle” would both enter the Top Ten while “Nightrain” cracked the Top 100.
The band quickly capitalized on their success with the release of the EP “Lies” on November 29, 1988. “Appetite” was still on the chart at this time and when “Lies” peaked at #4, GnR became the only band in the 1980s to have two Top 5 albums on the chart at the same time. “Appetite” would eventually sell over 18 million copies and is the band’s greatest success.
Only two short years after the PMRC debacle shined a harsh spotlight on rock and roll, GnR managed to conquer music with an album riddled with references to alcohol and heroin. The final track, “Rocket Queen”, even contained audio of singer Axl Rose copulating with drummer Steven Adler’s girlfriend. Man, I miss the 1980s.