In the pantheon of debut albums in rock history, there are a select few that stand out above the rest. These albums feature bands just starting out in the world of recorded music already at their creative and artistic peaks. Are You Experienced, Led Zeppelin I, and Van Halen I are all perfect examples of this, but one record rises to the top of the list.
First, some backstory. The year is 1987 and the rock scene is almost entirely dominated by the now cookie cutter mentality of “let’s dress a bunch of dudes up in spandex and makeup and tailor their music to radio audiences.” Not that a lot of people had a problem with this. Hell, some of my favorite bands and guitar players saw their heyday in the mid to late 1980’s, but by the tail end of the second Reagan term, the trend had become bloated and stale.
In struts Guns N’ Roses: five street-wise tough guys from the L.A. club scene that had spawned so many of the hair metal acts audiences had grown accustomed to seeing over the years. Make no mistake, though, GNR was not a hair band. Everything about the quintet oozed danger, something most of the pop-metal acts of the day seemed to lack. Sure, bands like Ratt and Motley Crue had their customary drug problems, but Guns N’ Roses were the real deal.
When Axl and the boys released Appetite for Destruction in the summer of 1987, it completely changed the landscape of what a rock band looked and sounded like. To give some context, within the same three month radius of Appetite’s debut, Whitesnake and Def Leppard had launched their albums Whitesnake and Hysteria, respectively. Both records had a glossy production sheen to them, and each song had been painstakingly crafted from the bottom up in pure “studio magic” fashion. Listen to just the first three songs on Appetite and you will find this is the complete opposite in the case of Guns N’ Roses. It sounds like the band got all strung out on their drug of choice, grabbed their instruments, and the producer hit play. And you know what, IT WORKED!
Not only is this album one of my favorite debuts in Hard Rock and Heavy Metal, it is one of my favorite records to grace the presence of humankind. Granted, it was a hard fall from grace for Guns after this album, at least in my eyes. Some fans champion the band’s next full studio effort, the double album Use Your Illusion’s I and II, as the high water mark of the band. I, however, see this as the band cannibalizing itself and giving into the same overly glossy studio tricks the bands they railed against used just a few short years prior. For my money, Guns N’ Roses produced one nearly flawless album before slowly burning out and ultimately collapsing upon themselves in true super nova fashion.
But I’m no astro-physicist and you didn’t come here to listen to me rant about red giants and the lot so lets get to the nitty gritty. This is a personal ranker, meaning no criteria goes into these rankings. They are purely subjective and I’ll give a reason why each song is ranked where they’re ranked; there are no scores to add up. Without any further adieu, I give you Appetite for Destruction songs ranked worst to first, starting with this pile of dog feces on an otherwise musical masterpiece…
12. Sweet Child O’ Mine
Jesus Christ on a cracker! If I hear this song one more time, I may go full Michael Douglas in Falling Down (look it up)! The main riff is insufferable, the lyrics are lame, and the whole theme and feel of the song is so out of place on an album where nearly every other track is a fighter jet ride through Hedonism-ville. I get that this song is one of the main reasons this album sold so many copies in the late 80’s, but when I hear people singing along to this and then saying they heard it on Glee, I get a little turned off.
Sweet Child may also be the biggest criminal in what my friend and I like to call the “Urban Outfitters Band” phenomenon. Girls with next to no knowledge of a band other than their most popular single (Sweet Child, Stairway to Heaven, Back in Black, etc.) buy a $30 T-shirt from Urban Outfitters of said band and wear it to Starbucks or wherever the kids hang out now-a-days. Guns N’ Roses t-shirts are worn by thousands of people who only know of them because of Sweet Child and if they had actually listened to Appetite for Destruction in it’s entirety they would be shocked at some of the content. I know this seems like a shallow reason to hate a song, but if we get down to brass tacks, Sweet Child just isn’t that great of a cut. It has become a cliche and has been played ad nauseam but unlike other songs on this album that receive radio play, Sweet Child lacks a much needed punch. Also, screw Glee.
11. My Michelle
If it weren’t for Sweet Child, My Michelle would be the low point of this entire album (but you can count, so I’ll go a bit more into detail). The song is a fine hard rock tune but it doesn’t do anything special. The lyrics are sinister and the guitar riff is heavy, but in terms of being dynamic, musically speaking, this track doesn’t deviate far from the norm.
My Michelle’s solo is probably the best part of the song. Slash delivers on the growls and double-stops we’ve become so accustomed to by track 7 of this album, but this part of the record hits a bit of a rut, tempo wise. My Michelle is a decent GNR song, however, in the context of the album, it remains one of the more forgettable tracks on an otherwise dynamite debut.
10. Anything Goes
A song about sex, and blatantly so, Anything Goes is a groovy riffer that you can really shake your hips and headbang to, which is a theme on most of these tracks. The chorus is a bit bland but is made up for by the main verse and solo, which sees Slash bust out the Vox-Box and do his best “Peter Frampton on heroin” impression.
The groove of this tune, as mentioned above, is infectious and really gets the job done in terms of bringing the sleaze Appetite for Destruction is notorious for. It may not be a particularly memorable track and is a short one, especially considering it shows up on the back side of the album, where songs routinely clock in at 4 and a half to 5 plus minutes, but Anything Goes is a fun song that encapsulates what GNR was all about in their prime.
9. Think About You
Guns N’ Roses could have left Sweet Child completely off this record, because this track is as close as Appetite for Destruction should have come to ever containing a “ballad.” Think About You is an upbeat song with a major-minor switch in the verse-chorus and quite heartfelt lyrics but they are masked by a fun riff and a break neck tempo.
What sets this song apart from the others is the soft layering of acoustic arpeggiated chords throughout the chorus. If you haven’t heard Think About You, you owe it to yourself to give it a listen. It is a departure from the hedonistic, testosterone pumping anthems found elsewhere in the grooves of this disc, but in a way that still maintains the overall tone of the album. A ballad done the right way, if you will.
8. Welcome To The Jungle
Sure, you hear this tune each time your favorite football team is warming up on the sideline… And it still gets you pumped every time! Welcome to the Jungle is a perfect opening number to Appetite because it introduces the listener to everything they will experience on the next 11 tracks: gritty guitars, screeching vocals, and groovy rhythms.
Jungle is a bit overplayed, so it falls to the middle of the pack in terms of rankings, but it differs from Sweet Child in that is still has the grime and sleaze to make you want to come back for more. Both solos in the song are fun and musically engaging, and Axl is at his snarling best to open this rollercoaster ride. “You know where you are?” Yes, Axl. Right where I want to be.
7. It’s So Easy
We’re nearing the top half of this list, so every song from here on out is a personal favorite of mine. It will be harder to differentiate between certain songs in terms of their rankings but I’ll do my best. As soon as the bass line hits in the opening of this song, you know you’re in for a wild ride. It’s So Easy is a classic Guns song and was the opening number on many of their set lists back in their heyday.
The lyrics are especially dark when sung in Axl’s low registry but what really boosts this song is the bridge (repeated again before the outro) where things slow down. Axl and bassist Duff McKeagan harmonize their vocals and the guitars play some clean, arpeggiated chords. This is all a wonderful set up, juxtaposing the hardcore breakdown just before the solo. This track is a fast one and does a great job of linking the commercial banger of Welcome to the Jungle to the grittier tracks of the (in my opinion, superior) front side of the album. It’s So Easy is vintage Guns N’ Roses from start to finish, so be sure to give it a listen.
6. Paradise City
I’m sure a lot of you thought this song would be number one. Well, surprise! Paradise City is a phenomenal song that ticks a lot of boxes in my musical eye: vocal harmonies, key changes, fast solos, layered synths, and a perfect blend of pop and sleaze. Clocking in at just under 7 minutes, this is Guns N’ Roses’ magnum opus (at least for this album… *cough* November Rain).
Paradise City falters a bit and finds itself towards the middle of these rankings partially because of how often it receives air play. The song also drags a bit before the first solo and is a bit repetitive for how long it is, but it picks back up after the bridge and delivers the climax everyone is looking for. This track delivers on multiple accounts and does a fine job of closing out the A side of Appetite for Destruction.
5. You’re Crazy
If you ever needed a a shot of testosterone directly after listening to Sweet Child O’ Mine, is this the song for you! As the track that immediately follows Sweet Child on Appetite for Destruction, You’re Crazy is saddled with the daunting task of reintroducing the listener to the frenetic pace and bad boy culture of the album. And does it ever!
This particular cut is one of the fastest songs on Appetite. The riff is infectious and Steven Addler is drumming his absolute heart out on this one as we can still feel the impact from his snare to this day. Axl screams and seethes his way through You’re Crazy as he turns in one of his best vocal performances on the record. A hidden gem on an album chalk full of them, this song is guaranteed to get the blood flowing again as you near the end of the road on the vinyl.
4. Rocket Queen
Appetite for Destruction is one of the few albums I know of that finish with as much of a bang as it started with. Rocket Queen is a two-parter, with the first half of the song being a raunchy romp through groves of groovy guitars, and the second half being a heartfelt wrap up to a nearly perfect record. This is one of my favorite GNR songs and it does a great job of presenting the band’s creative ebbs and flows; it shows they can flip the switch from being rock n’ roll badasses to savvy songwriters and back again all within 6 minutes.
Where this song dips a bit is the breakdown in the middle. Slash does a fine job on slide guitars but Axl decided to sneak in audio of himself in, ahem, mid-coitus to lay over the top of the music. Legend has it that the woman in question is none other than Steven Adler’s girlfriend at the time, Adriana Smith. It’s an unnecessary addition to an otherwise perfect Guns song, and every time I hear it I can’t help but feel sorry for Adler. Poor, cuckolded bastard.
3. Mr. Brownstone
I had a particularly brutal time deciding whether to place this song at the number 2 spot or the song I actually placed there, which goes to show how little separation there is to me between the top 3. Make no mistake about it, Mr. Brownstone is the Real McCoy; this is the song that inspired Axl’s signature snake dance. And with a riff as groovy as the opening bars to this little ditty, who could blame him.
The guitars in this song are as dance worthy as ever while still maintaining their crunch and requisite “heaviness,” as the lyrics discuss the band’s battle with their drug of choice, heroin. The blues rock overtones of this track are a perfect fit on Appetite, and Axl’s dirty delivery of the words accentuate the feel of the overarching theme of the song. Mr. Brownstone keeps knocking and he won’t leave you alone. And you know what, I’m okay with that.
2. Out Ta Get Me
The band really shines as a whole on this one. Slash and Izzy take turns really digging their fingers into the fret boards on their guitars, Duff and Adler provide one of the better rhythm tracks on the album, but the one who really makes this song pop throughout is Axl freaking Rose. His lyrics are defiant and his vocals are wicked as he takes us through a short journey of “hiding out and laying low” from the law.
The overall feel of Out Ta Get Me is fantastic. You can sense the band really getting into it on this one. Axl drips with swagger and the boys backing him up do a fantastic service of being the vessel upon which Mr. Rose delivers his sermon. Out Ta Get Me finds itself as the Oreo cream filling in what is possibly the greatest three track cookie sandwich in hard rock album history. Mr. Brownstone is one of the sides to this menage a trois, meaning number 1 can only be…
If an alien were to touch down on Earth and only had time to hear one Guns N’ Roses song before he left, I’d sit him down and throw on Nightrain. It doesn’t get much more quintessential GNR than this song right here. Nightrain has everything you could ask for as a fan of hard rock: dueling guitars, mean and nasty lyrics, sweet accentuating bass riffs, and even a damn cowbell intro!
Nightrain swaggers about for over 4 minutes and we wish it would go on twice as long. The outro solo on this track is worth the price of admission alone and it is even radio friendly, being played on a lot of classic rock stations to this day, in no small part due to the fact that it is one of the few Appetite tracks that doesn’t contain an F-bomb. This is Guns N Roses at their musical peak and, in my humble opinion, they never recreated the magic quite like they did in 1987.