IF YOU’RE A FAN, YOU REMEMBER. Even if you’re not a fan, you probably remember.
You remember where you were, and the circumstances, and what you were doing when you heard it for the first time. When it hit you over the head and you thought, “what the fuck, this is amazing!” When the angry vocals and guitars collided with energy, pouring out of your speakers. “Do you know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby!”
July 21, 1987 was the release date for the debut album from Guns N’ Roses, the amazing and still ground-breaking, still sounding fresh today, Appetite for Destruction. Thanks to getting every issue of Kerrang! at my town’s only record store, I was very aware of G n’ R, long before the album hit. I was aware of that whole scene going on in L.A., bands that seemed like they were the bastard spawns of Motley Crue and Aerosmith (though they owed a big debt to Hanoi Rocks, too), thanks to Kerrang! The British rock/metal magazine was championing bands like G n’ R, and Faster Pussycat and L.A. Guns before anyone else. In the pre-internet age, this was how a buzz started for me, combined with MTV. But before MTV played their videos I was curious and starved to hear more.
Above all those bands Guns N’ Roses was the heavyweight champ of attitude, debauchery, and of course, with their music. The sound of that album was different than any other bands’ from that era. It was a heavy album but not overly so, aggressive in the performances but not with a bludgeoning sound. Axl’s vocals went from an angry howl to passionate in an instant. Slash’s guitar, especially those solos, had such killer tone. They were the total package, their reputation was real, they lived on the edge…there was even a controversy around the album cover. The buzz was real.
That summer was an amazing one for me, and there was a ton of great hard and heavy music that came out in 1987 (and more to come that fall, too), providing the soundtrack for a great year, and summer of fun and good times. That was also my last summer living at home, before I went away to the University of New Haven, working in the Hamptons, with Appetite… songs like “It’s So Easy” and “Mr. Brownstone” in my Toyota Corolla’s power rotation, blasting from the speakers all over Long Island.
When I got to college, I was into alternative music (but not as much as hard rock and metal) and looking forward to being at a school with a great college radio station (UNH’s station, WNHU 88.7 had a well-deserved reputation for being cool and I could pick it up across Long Island Sound), the music you heard the most in the fall of ’87 wasn’t REM, U2, or anyone else that was being championed at college radio. The album you heard the most, that was the soundtrack to more parties, was Appetite for Destruction. Three out of my four roommates were not only hard rock fans (not into alternative or college radio at all) but they all came to school with their well-worn copies of the G n’ R debut.
Is Appetite one of the greatest debut albums of all time? Yes, there shouldn’t be any argument of that. Not just because of the music but because of its impact, which was massive. It’s not a hazy memory to say that – the album is still influencing bands and aspiring musicians today. You can make an argument that G n’ R put the first nail in the coffin for hair metal – every band of that genre suddenly got grittier, both in sound and music, five years before Nirvana’s Nevermind.
Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler laid waste to everything in their path with that debut album (for a cool piece on who else was involved in Appetite’s songs, check this out from Ultimate Classic Rock). A great album deserves it’s legacy not just because of the music’s impact, or it’s sales, or for the critical acclaim. Appetite for Destruction also deserves it’s legacy because of what listening to it still means today, thirty years later, and how the memories from that time come back, so quickly and crystal-clear.