“Do you know where you are?” the blond-haired, energetic Axl Rose screams to his roaring audience. “You’re in the jungle baby! Wake up, time to die!” As he finishes this statement, the crowd loudens, and a man in shades, a top hat and long, curly black hair shreds the iconic introduction to “Welcome to The Jungle.”
There isn’t a feeling quite like hearing Slash rock on the guitar. The man, born Saul Hudson, has become legendary in the rock-and-roll world. Right up there with Van Halen and Hendrix lies a spot for Slash in the Mount Rushmore of rock guitarists. His truly iconic presence pales to no one in Guns N’ Roses (GNR), besides the voice of the band Axl Rose.
Rose became the vocalist for the L.A. Guns at the suggestion of fellow Hollywood Rose member Izzy Stradlin (can you guess where the name Guns N’ Roses came from yet?) Guitarist Tracii Guns, rhythm guitarist Stradlin, bassist Ole Beich and drummer Rob Gardner formed Guns N’ Roses in 1985 alongside Axl Rose. The lineup would shift over the years as Beich bid farewell first, allowing Duff McKagan to claim the role of bassist. Guns and Gardner left and were replaced by Slash and Steven Adler, both former Hollywood Rose members. This would end up being the group most remembered as Guns N’ Roses.
After performing mostly live, the group set out to hit the studio and release albums on an unsuspecting world. Their EP release, “Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide” consisted of mostly covers and two original songs as they prepared for a debut album. The big one was unleashed upon the world in 1987, and it swept through as a tidal wave. “Appetite For Destruction” boasts a tracklist of iconic songs such as the aforementioned “Welcome to The Jungle”, “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Paradise City.”
The album met little success in its first year, but the following year, the debut compilation netted massive results for GNR. Soaring to number one on the Billboard 200, “Appetite For Destruction” became the best debut album of all time and the 11th best-selling album in United States’ history. Over 30 million copies have been sold across the world since its release, putting it among the most successful albums of all time. This success sparked the glory days of GNR.
The group continued their touring lifestyle and were met with an increasing number of new fans. During their supporting tour of “Appetite For Destruction,” they opened shows for major stars, such as Alice Cooper, Aerosmith, Iron Maiden, Motley Crue and others. Soon enough, GNR was overshadowing the acts they opened for. The group was still finding its way in the world, but the world was already addicted.
In 1988, the band released “GN’R Lies,” which attained number two on U.S. charts. The most notable song on this release was the only single that came along with it: “Patience,” which reached number four on the U.S. charts in its earlier release. Live shows became more violent as riots almost broke out at several performances, causing the band to be nicknamed “the most dangerous band in the world.”
In 1990, the group began work on a new album called “Use Your Illusion.” The album ended up being released in two parts simultaneously in 1991. “Use Your Illusion” I and II both soared to the top of the charts at numbers one and two as they sold over 35 million copies across the world. The albums consist of an array of masterful works for the group and were included in several music videos which also attained major success. “Don’t Cry,” “November Rain,” “Yesterdays,” “Civil War,” “Estranged,” “You Could Be Mine,” along with famous covers such as “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” and “Live and Let Die” by Bob Dylan and Paul McCartenty, respectively, headline the over two hours of Guns N’ Roses.
The albums remained on the charts for 108 weeks and sold over 14 million in the United States. In an interview with Bob Dylan, the songwriter for “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” (and countless more) commented that the band had been performing it live for some time for great success but that they were hesitant to record it in studio. The song was initially released by GNR in 1990 for the soundtrack of the movie “Days of Thunder” and altered for the recording heard on “Use Your Illusion II.” “November Rain” was initially met with resistance from Slash, as he felt the ballad drifted too far from the hard-rocking core of the group. However, after some recorded ad-libbing by Hudson, the guitar solo became an iconic finale to a heartfelt piece.
Throughout the recording process, band tension flared up and resulted in several lineup changes, including Adler being fired for his crippling drug addiction. Adler would return under the condition that he stopped taking drugs, but after his condition began to hinder his music, the band fired him again and ended up replacing him with Matt Sorum as a long-term member. The group also added Dizzy Reed as a keyboardist.
Following the release of “The Spaghetti Incident?”, the group reached a plateau of original material. This issue arose due to tensions in the group and criticisms by members that Rose allowed little room for others to write or collaborate in the ‘90s. In 1994, the band released a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For the Devil.” For all intensive purposes, this would end up being the end of the road for GNR as we know it. This cover was Slash’s final on lead guitar, McKagan’s final on bass and Sorum’s last on drums.
The road got messier and spiraled down some dark turns as Rose left the band in 1995, taking its name and forming a new group with it. Izzy Stradlin had left the group in 1991, Slash appeared on other bands, such as Velvet Revolver, and explored a solo career for some time, and McKagan explored other bands and appeared on other artists’ works. In 2020, Slash and McKagan worked with Ozzy Osbourne on “Ordinary Man.” Slash had appeared in a 2005 video cover by numerous artists of Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven” to benefit victims of a tsunami.
The final album release under the name Guns N’ Roses came with the album “Chinese Democracy” in 2008. Only Reed and Rose remained as original members that had been in the group. A number of lineup changes added new musicians and took some out as the album began work in 1997. It truly seemed like a far cry from the “Use Your Illusions” and “Appetite For Destruction” of old, although it did peak at number three on the Billboard 200.
And so, fading in a frenzy, Guns N’ Roses as it once stood, has ended. Sticking through a tenure of iconic music coupled with masters of the craft across the board, this group has become one of the most famous acts in history and a classic rock staple. Though tainted with several scandals, tensions and flare-ups, the group will likely go down as a top-five hard rock band of all time.
Joseph Gill is a second-year English writings major. JG923276@wcupa.edu