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Guns N' Roses

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Axl Rose of Guns N' Roses

Photo: Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect.

Guns N’ Roses Overview:

A colossal hard rock force of the late 1980s and early ‘90s, Guns N’ Roses may have suffered a serious dent to their reputation in subsequent years, but for a short time they set the gold standard for rock ‘n’ roll attitude. Led by temperamental frontman Axl Rose, who is the only remaining member from its commercial heyday, Guns N’ Roses fused punk intensity and classic-rock song structure that proved to be a more authentic slice of hard rock and metal than their hair-metal contemporaries could ever hope to deliver.

Early Days:

Guns N’ Roses formed in the mid-‘80s in Los Angeles. Axl Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin, who had been in a band together called Hollywood Rose, teamed up with some members of L.A. Guns to start a new group. But after much lineup shuffling, none of the L.A. Guns members remained, replaced by guitarist Slash, bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler. Calling themselves Guns N’ Roses, the band successfully toured on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, signing to Geffen Records in 1986. After releasing a quickie EP, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, the band set to work on their first full-length album.

Unleashing 'Appetite for Destruction':

1987’s Appetite for Destruction is arguably the definitive hard rock album of the 1980s, a scary, compelling, oddly beautiful look at depravity, addiction and desperate stabs at love. Unlike much of the good-time rock ‘n’ roll being peddled by hair-metal bands of the era, there was nothing safe about the sex-and-drugs vision Guns N’ Roses sold to their audience. Rose’s vocals – high-pitched but lethal – and Slash’s muscular hard rock solos matched up perfectly with a crushing rhythm section to give a sense of authenticity to Appetite’s songs. The album has since gone 18-times platinum.

Controversy:

Wanting to continue the sales momentum made possible by Appetite, the band released G N' R Lies the following year. Combining the Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide EP with some new tracks, Lies was mostly a way to wring more dollars out of GNR’s fans before the official follow-up, but it turned out to cause nothing but headaches for the band. One of the new tracks, “One in a Million,” received immediate criticism for its homophobic and bigoted lyrics, opening the door to accusations that Guns N’ Roses weren’t so much documenters of the seedy side of life but actually revelers in its ugliest aspects.

A Sprawling Double Album:

Trying to top Appetite, Guns N’ Roses got insanely ambitious on their next release. Clocking in at around 150 minutes and divided into two separate albums, 1991’s Use Your Illusion records didn’t have the focus of Appetite for Destruction, but their stylistic breadth was astounding, covering everything from orchestral ballads to techno to classic rock. Though enormously successful, the records also reflected band tension – drummer Matt Sorum had replaced Steven Adler, and Izzy Stradlin was unhappy with Rose’s desire to expand the group’s reach beyond hard rock.

The Beginning of the End:

The wheels fell off after the Illusion albums. After releasing an album of covers called "The Spaghetti Incident?" in 1993, the band essentially ceased to exist. The pivotal moment most fans point to was Slash’s decision to leave the band in ’96, which, coupled with the defections of other core members, gave Rose sole control of the Guns N’ Roses brand. Undeterred, Rose continued to work on material, recruiting different session players and hiring new band members, only to see them leave and be replaced by other musicians. Slash went on to form Velvet Revolver with other former GNR members and never looked back.

What Is 'Chinese Democracy'?:

Chinese Democracy, Axl Rose’s long-gestating follow-up to the Use Your Illusion records, has been rumored to come out on several different occasions. Leaked songs, allegedly from the Chinese Democracy sessions, have surfaced from time to time, but the critical response to them was tepid at best. Best Buy announced that its chain stores would exclusively sell Chinese Democracy in 2008, but after years of promised release dates that never came to fruition, fans were understandably not holding their breath. Nevertheless, the album was officially released on November 23.

Guns N’ Roses Discography:

Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide (EP) (1986)
Appetite for Destruction (1987)
G N' R Lies (1988)
Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Use Your Illusion II (1991)
"The Spaghetti Incident?" (cover album) (1993)
Live Era '87-'93 (live album) (1999)
Greatest Hits (best-of) (2004)
Chinese Democracy (2008)

Guns N' Roses Quotes:

Axl Rose, on the bands that imitate Guns N' Roses.
"It doesn't bother me at all except when I feel bands aren't pushing themselves creatively. I don't enjoy being imitated; I'd rather inspire than be imitated … We never tried to be like AC/DC or the Rolling Stones, but we were certainly massively inspired by them."

Slash, on his initial thoughts about "Sweet Child o' Mine," their breakthrough single.
"I hated it for years. Even writing and rehearsing to make it a complete song was like pulling teeth. For me, at the time, it was a very sappy ballad."

Axl Rose, on his reputation for starting shows late.
"I pretty much follow my own internal clock, and I perform better later at night. Nothing seems to work out for me until later at night. And it is our show. I don't want to make people sit around and wait - it drives me nuts. That hour-and-a-half or two-hour time period that I'm late going onstage is living hell, because I'm wishing there was any way on earth I could get out of where I am and knowing I'm not going to be able to make it."

Slash, on the chances of the original band getting back together.
"I don't think that's ever been for me to say. That's a question that should be directed at Axl."

Guns N' Roses Trivia:

  • Axl Rose collects antique crucifixes.
  • Slash collects snakes.
  • Axl Rose does a voice for the videogame Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
  • Before Guns N' Roses signed to Geffen, they were leaving in a rundown house in Hollywood they dubbed Hell House.
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