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You’re in the Jungle Baby
And you’re gonna die!
My good friend Bernard has an amazing blog about chart music from the 1990s. You should give him a follow:
In one of his posts he talks about how back in the 90s, things didn’t really go viral in the way they do today. Except Nirvana. Nirvana did.
Guns n Roses didn’t quite go viral. The conditions to do so didn’t exist. There was no internet and MTV wasn’t a global entity just yet. All I know is that ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ was released in 1987 and no radio station wanted to play it. The video for ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ was not well received and MTV didn’t want to play it either. For its time, there’s plenty of offensive imagery in the video, including Axl being forced to watch scenes of civic unrest (e.g. a petrol bomb being thrown on the streets of Northern Ireland). Innocent ‘Axl the hick’ in the video is tied to chair and forced to watch all of this (ala Alex being ‘educated’ in A Clockwork Orange), while ‘evil’ Axl onstage, snarls the iconic line: “You know where you are? You’re in the Jungle Baby, and you’re gonna diieeeeeeee!” MTV were cajoled into playing the video three times on three consecutive nights. By 1989 GnR were everywhere.
There were Guns n Roses t-shirts being sold by the truckload. And button badges, postcards, posters, key-rings, coasters, mugs, and millions of copies of Appetite for Destruction. GnR were playing clubs and stadiums in the same year. Radio stations both national and international had ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ on heavy rotation.
I’ve read countless articles about the Guns members over the years. I remember reading Slash’s autobiography and putting it down at one point, because I had just pictured something that I really didn’t need in my head. I’m not telling. Seriously. Read it if you’re curious. Those lads were gross.
Other images I am glad to keep in my head are Izzy Stradlin and his buddies riding around the grounds of his mansion on quad bikes, firing guns in the air. Izzy seems to have been the sane one. He quit drugs and got out early-ish (and subsequently Guns became a bit shit as a result).
But for four and a bit years rock music was dominated by these young guys. Appetite for Destruction is a stunning album. There isn’t a bad track on it and most of them are bangers. ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, ‘Paradise City’ & ‘Sweet Child O Mine’ were diverse singles that got radio play globally.
Like Motörhead before them, it almost didn’t happen. This was 87 remember? Madonna had short brunette hair and a movie out. Rick Astley debuted. The hair-rock world was dominated by Hysteria from Def Leppard and Jon Bon Jovi flying around stages. A young Bono was baring his soul and spiritual angst on The Joshua Tree. Appetite for Destruction was like that dude that gatecrashes a wedding and grabs the microphone. Everyone cringes, but can’t help watching through their fingers waiting for the car crash moment. Then that dude opens his mouth and screams ‘WHERE DO WE GO NOW! AY AY AY AY!’, and you realise he’s a star.
Everyone wanted a piece of the GnR action. They vanished for a while, then put out an album (a glorified EP really) called LIES. It spawned one mega single and probably the best Guns song.
Axl had now reached peak sex-symbol. He was serpentine like Mick Jagger or David Lee Roth, except he was good looking and he could sing. He could also whistle really, really well.
The 90’s happened. Guns couldn’t have predicted the grunge movement and released an over indulgent double album. They went on the longest and craziest tour in US history (co-headlining part of it with Metallica). People died during their gigs and the riots that occasionally ensued after them.
Allegations of bullying, homophobia, and sexual assault, hounded the band. Axl tried to pick a fight with Kurt Cobain at the MTV awards (Kurt declined after noticing Axl had brought most of the Guns backstage crew with him). Duff McKagan tried to fight Krist Novoselic. Slash died (momentarily) from an overdose and was resuscitated by a passing GP. Spaghetti was thrown at ex-members.
The band split up or were fired by Axl. Most of them continued making music. Slash, Duff and drummer Matt Sorum formed Velvet Revolver in the 00s. Axl spent a decade or so making a new Guns album. It was basically a solo project no-one wanted to hear.
There were some great tunes on Use Your Illusion I & II. There were some pants tunes also. The Terminator was in the video to ‘You Could be Mine’ (The amazing drum intro on that song was written by bass player Duff McKagan). The ostentatious, nine minute long power ballad ‘November Rain’ features piano, flutes, and Slash’s most famous guitar solo. ‘Don’t Cry’, ‘Civil War’ and ‘Yesterdays’ became staple rock anthems. They even covered Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan, putting the Guns n Roses stamp on those famous songs.
If grunge hadn’t happened, if Kurt didn’t die, if the Guns band members had someone controlling the worst excesses of their vices, then maybe they could have continued.
There have been reunion tours, and most reviews of those gigs have been complimentary. Axl toured with AC/DC as guest lead vocalist. Guns have sold 100 million albums. Think of what might have been if they stayed together back in the 90s…
The Guns legacy for me? Appetite for Destruction and Motörhead’s No Sleep til Hammersmith had replaced Money for Nothing and Slippery When Wet as my go to albums in my cassette box.
Oh. I also sang ‘Nightrain’ in a Karaoke bar in Tokyo in 2010 and I f***ing killed it. There’s no footage unfortunately, so you’ll have to watch the lads do it.
Next week: O ) ) )