The approaching 30th anniversary of Guns N’ Roses 1987 album, “Appetite for Destruction”, and the accompanying fanfare around this event, has pushed me to my limits. I don’t think I have a larger media related pet peeve than the overhyping of the cultural relevance and musical significance of GN’R. I was a teenager in 1987; I remember the record coming out very clearly. How it was received at the time by myself and people I knew was that it was a better than average hair-metal album; superior to Poison, let’s say, but certainly less good than Motley Crue.
The cultural impact of the band was approximately nil at the time. “We’re Not Going to Take It” by Twisted Sister, which came out a few years previous, created about 100 times the stir in my school than anything Guns N’ Roses ever did. A year after “Appetite” was released, “Straight Outta Compton” by N.W.A. hit us. It would be hard to overstate just how much edgier at the time N.W.A., coming from the same city, seemed as compared to Axl Rose and Duff McKagan. Perhaps because they had a song called “Fuck the Police” while Axl was making lame double-entres comparing his dick to a snake.
What makes the retrospective worship of GN’R all the worse is that the band has had no influence on almost anyone who followed them either. I never hear some new thing on the radio and think, “I can hear the ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ in that”. Never. They came, created little hype, and left in a storm of pancreatitis and unnecessary double albums. They also don’t sound edgier now than they did in 1987; all I hear is 80s hair metal, no more, no less.
I don’t hate GN’R. I am not, for the record, comparing them to the worst of 80s hair metal, something like Warrant or White Lion, say. Axl’s voice has always grated on me, but less so than for instance, that guy from Cinderella’s pipes ever did. I just think making them sound like the Sex Pistols if “God Save the Queen” had sparked actual revolution and ousted the British monarchy is really, really over the top and does any retrospective look at the band no real favours. There was a clip I saw on TV this week in a show about how the influence of GN’R eclipsed the Beatles and the Rolling Stones combined times a million, in which the talking heads speculated upon what would have happened had “Appetite for Destruction” not gone mega-platinum. Some rock critic said something about how they would have then done something “politically dangerous” instead. No, I think Axl would probably have moved back to Indiana and waited tables, or become one of L.A.’s numerous bad lifestyle victims if GN’R had never made it, not written a modern day version of Candide.
Just as a reminder, the album the guys on this programme were discussing, as if it were The Anarchist Cookbook set to a hard rockin’ soundtrack, contains such profound nuggets of philosophical wisdom as:
“Got a rattlesnake suitcase under my arm, said I’m a mean machine/I’m drinkin’ gasoline and honey you can make my motor run.”
GN’R were Kiss with a better rhythm section and a worse singer; a less cheesy Whitesnake. They were not – and no one in 1987 would have asserted any differently – some new dawn for rock and roll. I realise than in 2017, almost anything from the 20th century that is pop culturally related can seem wondrous given we live in an age where people watch videos of cats falling out of buckets 43 million times on YouTube, but some proportion still seems necessary. Guns N’ Roses were never anything special. There are better bands from the 80s if you want to place people on pedestals – it wasn’t all Huey Lewis and the News, you know. Like Black Flag, or the Replacements, or Run DMC. All of the aforementioned bands were thousands of times both more influential and just all round better than GN’R. The first two there never even had any real commercial success back then, and thus deserve to be resurrected all that much more. Guns N’ Roses, strangely, have become the most overrated band in the history of popular music. I still struggle to understand how this happened.