Wednesday, July 13, 2011
The most dangerous band in the world.
Their impact, their immediacy has refused to be stifled even though it has been 24 years since their epic debut album was released. Sure, Axl's gone crazy, but didn't we all know he was always a little off-the-wall? Band members have come and gone but truthfully, it will always be Slash, Axl, Izzy, Duff, and Steven that cemented their legacy in rock 'n roll history from the first police-siren wail of "Welcome to the Jungle".
The band only released three full-length, proper albums - the GNR Lies EP has an important place in the GNR pantheon but at only 8 songs, can't be classified as a full length LP, and The Spaghetti Incident is an album of all cover songs, and god knows how to classify Chinese Democracy (which, in all fairness, has its moments).
So in honor of one of my "Top 5 Favorite Bands of All Time (TM)", here's my list of the best GNR songs of all time.
10. You Ain't The First (1991)
This song, unlike any other GNR song, evokes the old time country feel of singers like Hank Williams. Raw with a sweet veneer over nasty break up lyrics. I am almost positive this song would not be included on anyone else's Top 10 GNR songs list, but it stuck with me for some reason over the years.
9. Think About You (1987)
Softer lyrically than most everything else on Appetite For Destruction, but the crunching guitars of this song retain all the bite associated with the band. The perfect song to listen with the windows down and the sunroof open.
8. "Buick MacKane / Big Dumb Sex" (1993)
The beginning is almost apocalyptic; you can picture the opening notes playing in the background of a Michael Bay movie. The song slides along with nonsensical lyrics that manage to paint an evocative picture of nights spent making it hurt so good. The guitars scream sex over and over again. It's sinister and sexy, there is no choice to be made, just sex to be had. A bit of a strange choice for a GNR Top Ten list.
7. So Fine (1991)
Highly underrated and sweet track where Duff shares lead vocals with Axl and sings a understatedly moving tribute to Johnny Thunders (former member of the New York Dolls who died the same year Use Your Illusion I & II were released). The groove of this song is just perfect and it leaves me wondering what would have been if Duff had written more song for the band.
6. Don't Cry (1991)
Haunting, evocative and the kind of song that never leaves your blood. The video is mesmerizing, another entry in the canon of epic GNR videos. Shannon Hoon's background vocals add another layer to Axl's dual voice, and add a poignancy to the song illuminated by his death not long after. The alternate lyrics version is equally inspiring as the original - a rarity.
5. Rocket Queen (1987)
Like no other song recorded before or since. I read once somewhere that Appetite for Destruction is an album of the harsh truth of reality, no holds barred, and no redemption. Yet, the song (and thus, the album) ends on a positive note, offering an overarching theme of hope through the darkness of seedy, backalley LA.
4. You're Crazy (Acoustic) (1988)
Slowing down the tempo and the instrumentation allows the true backbone of this song to show through the trappings. It becomes almost a threat and takes on a life of its own. The acoustic version featured on GNR Lies becomes an entirely different song from the electric version on Appetite for Destruction. And it's entirely awesome.
3. November Rain (1991)
Axl's unashamedly epic ode to Elton John. Perhaps one of the best music videos ever made. Watching it makes me mourn the end of the music video era, because it is clear how amazing the visual component of a song becomes when the artist has true vision and spirit for the form. Do yourself a favor and watch this video to remember the hedonism and the heartbreak of it all. Watching Guns 'N Roses videos made me read Del James and want to buy the intricate, heavy metal jewelry by the infamous designer Axel. And maybe that was the whole point.
2. Knockin' On Heaven's Door (1990/1991)
The video I'm posting is from the Freddie Mercury tribute concert in 1991. And it's proof, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that when Guns N Roses had their shit together, they were the greatest rock 'n roll band our generation has ever seen. EVER. This video, this performance captures everything I wish everyone could understand about GNR. Axl is so perfectly Axl here, from the bandanna, to the kilt, to the Kill Your Idols shirt. Slash with the double neck guitar and without the top hat, Gilby Clarke, Duff, and the way Matt Sorum beats the shit out of the drums at the end of the song. They don't make 'em like this anymore.
I have to say, unequivocally, I love this cover far more than the original. So sue me.
1. Paradise City (1987)
I love this song so much that I have included it twice (supposedly by accident) on every party mix CD I have ever made. What could I love more about this song? The beginning which quickly evolves into a "We Will Rock You"-style anthem, and you think you know what's coming next, until it explodes in a cacophony of wall-to-wall chaos. The music video which details their epic concert at Giant Stadium and performance at Monsters of Rock Donington festival in 1988? It is a tragedy beyond words that there hasn't been another Monsters of Rock festival in the same place, in the same vein since 1996 (where KISS and Ozzy co-headlined).
But back to the music. This song is what Guns 'N Roses are all about. Courting controversy, simultaneously captivating and destroying the world with their music. THIS is the song I would play someone who had never heard of GNR, to capture what they were so wholly about: kicking ass, taking names, and burning so brightly they were destined to only blaze for a little while. But in that time, they set the world on fire.