Guns N’ Roses’ Gargantuan ‘Appetite for Destruction’ Box Set: A User’s Guide

Guns N’ Roses’ Gargantuan ‘Appetite for Destruction’ Box Set: A User’s Guide

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Monday, 02 July 2018
Guns N' Roses
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Guns N’ Roses may have missed the 30th anniversary of their monumental debut album, Appetite for Destruction, by a year, but as with all things GN’R-related, it’s better late than never. To mark the legacy of the record that made them superstars, the band is putting out a multi-disc Appetite box set, which collects a treasure trove of B sides, outtakes, rarities and demo sessions – alongside an excellent-sounding remaster of the original album – for an exhaustive, comprehensive look at the band’s formative years.

A little over two thirds of the tracks in the super-deluxe edition (and its $999 counterpart the “Locked N’ Loaded” collection) are previously unreleased. The package includes early, noticeably different versions of “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” “November Rain” and other hits, as well as rare covers of Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley songs and even a few curiosa of their own that they never finished and released.

It’s easy to get lost among the many takes of “Move to the City” and “Shadow of Your Love,” so we sifted through it all to select the most noteworthy highlights. Here are the 13 most interesting things to listen for in the new Appetite for Destruction box set.

 

“Shadow of Your Love”
(1986 Sound City Session)

This ripping breakup song dates back to Axl Rose’s pre-GN’R band with Izzy Stradlin, Hollywood Rose, and it’s the one track here that really should have made it onto Appetite for Destruction. It’s raw, nasty, driving and catchy as hell. It’s even got a little “sha-na-na-na-na-shadow of your love” at the end, so maybe they cut it to allow “Welcome to the Jungle” to stand on its own two “sha-na-na-na-na-knees.” Nevertheless, they issued it as a “live” recording, included here on the “B-Sides N’ EPs” disc, as the flip side to “It’s So Easy,” though the two demo versions in the box set sounds more dangerous; the version on the “Sound City Session” disc sounds positively unhinged.

“You’re Crazy” (Acoustic Version)
(B-Sides N’ EPs)

Before they released the stripped-back version of “You’re Crazy” on Lies, GN’R released this slightly faster (and truly acoustic) rendition of the Appetite track as a B side to “Welcome to the Jungle.” It’s a little looser than the Lies rendition and features copious rattlesnake shaker sounds and bells. Another acoustic version is featured on the “Sound City” disc, which goes to show that the band had envisioned the song acoustically as much as the electric version that made it onto Appetite. Also, check out the last few seconds of the acoustic version on “Sunset Sessions N’ More” to hear a cute back-and-forth between some of the guys: “I lost my fucking pick.” “I heard that but it’s gonna be OK.”

Three Songs Recorded Live in London
(B-Sides N’ EPs)

At a Marquee Club gig about a week before Appetite came out, GN’R recorded a few songs that later surfaced on a self-titled, Japanese-only EP that came out in 1988. The production on these songs – “It’s So Easy” and covers of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and AC/DC’s “Whole Lotta Rose” – isn’t the best (they sound like they were recorded in a closet) but they still capture the energy the band had at the time. Additionally, it’s curious to hear how they’d worked out their arrangement of “Knockin’” so thoroughly four years before they recorded it for Use Your Illusion II. It’s the arrangement they still use today, right down to the call-and-response middle section.

“Welcome to the Jungle”
(1986 Sound City Session)

Before Slash discovered the delay pedal that made the intro to this song so iconic, “Welcome to the Jungle” was a straightforward rocker, as heard on this early demo. The “When you’re high, you never ever wanna come down” part is a little smoother here, and you can hear Rose playing around with the emphasis he puts on certain words (“You’re a very sexy girl,” and adding a little growl to “You can have anything you want but you better not take it from me”). It’s even got some looser, bluesier soloing.

“Paradise City”
(1986 Sound City Session)

Another early version without all the Appetite version’s bells and whistles (and literally without the coach’s whistle), this “Paradise” lacks the more familiar take’s iconic synthesizer part. It subsequently leaves a lot of the musical work up to Stradlin and Slash, who go crazy on the extended outro. This version also doesn’t have all the false endings they recorded on the album version, runs about a minute shorter and ends with a very heavy-metal growl from Rose on “hooome.”

“Heartbreak Hotel”
(1986 Sound City Session)

Axl Rose knows he’s never gonna sound like Elvis, so it’s up to the band to rev up the King’s classic to a point where it works for Rose’s voice – and it does here. Thanks to Slash and Stradlin’s chunky, Stonesy riffing (and a whirlwind, rockabilly solo) the song blazes at pace quick enough for Rose’s screech to sound bluesy, even when he sings “so fuckin’ lonely” instead of the original lyrics.

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash”
(1986 Sound City Session)

Guns N’ Roses have always worn their love of the Rolling Stones on their sleeves. The last song the band recorded (to date) with Slash as a member was “Sympathy for the Devil,” but this version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” reflects a happier time, as Rose namechecks his band’s guitar players in the lyrics. “Slash was drowned, he was washed up, left for dead,” he sings at one point. “Izzy was crowned with a spike right through his brain,” he sings later. And at the end, he declares, “That one’s for your mama.” You can practically hear him smiling as he says it, too. (There’s also a more traditional acoustic version on the “Sound City Sessions N’ More” disc, which is also fun.)

“Ain’t Goin’ Down No More”
(1986 Sound City Sessions N’ More)

This unfinished instrumental demo offers a glimpse of a song that the band used to play in the late Eighties. A version with vocals has floated around the bootleg circuit for decades, but it sounds muddy due to being copied from cassette to cassette. This version is a little faster, about two minutes shorter, and has a clarity that the bootleg versions lack. Still, it’s mostly a curiosity since the chunky, swinging riffing just begs for vocals.

“The Plague
(1986 Sound City Sessions N’ More)

This driving, noodling little ditty lasts less than a minute and finds Rose sort of rapping along to a bluesy riff. It’s a mostly stream-of-consciousnes affair – sample lyric: “So you’ve been nailed to a cross, what it cost, what’s your loss, but you know that a cheap imitation just won’t free me” – and it seems like the fragment of an idea that the band probably could have fleshed into a full song if they had wanted.

“Back Off Bitch”
(1986 Sound City Sessions N’ More)

Like “Shadow of Your Love,” “Back Off Bitch” is a song that predates Guns N’ Roses. A live recording of Rose and Stradlin’s early Eighties band, Hollywood Rose, playing the tune features the singer declaring it is “for every guy who’s got some girl that bugs the fuck out of him.” Slash gives it a bluesier quality with his soloing on this recording, just as he would do when the band recorded it officially for 1991’s Use Your Illusion I. It’s another example of how fully formed Guns N’ Roses were before they even made their debut album.

Guns N' Roses Detail Massive 'Appetite for Destruction' Box Set

“New Work Tune”
(1986 Sound City Sessions N’ More)

This acoustic number is another unfinished instrumental, on which Slash and Izzy Stradlin play around with opposing melodies. When Stradlin riffs upward, Slash plays descending motifs. Thanks to some percussion from Steven Adler, it’s a pleasant diversion in the vein of Led Zeppelin’s “Black Mountain Side” interlude. But with so much other, stronger material here, it’s clear why GN’R never developed it all the way. It ends with one of the guys saying, “Yeah, we should work on that.”

“November Rain” (Piano and Acoustic Versions)
(1986 Sound City Sessions N’ More)

In a 1988 feature on Guns N’ Roses, Axl Rose crowed to Rolling Stone about an eight-minute ballad called “November Rain” and said, “If it’s not recorded right, I’ll quit the business.” In the group’s 1986 sessions – five years before it became one of Use Your Illusion I‘s breakout hits – the band toyed around with two different arrangements. The first here features only piano accompaniment and lasts more than 10 minutes. The form is mostly there, though it tends to drag on a bit without Slash’s solos or the hit version’s dramatic coda (here, a bluesy piano breakdown), even if Rose riffs on some classical piano melodies. You can hear his passion for the song as he sings, “You know, I just keep on walking again and again and again” toward the end of this version. The acoustic version runs only five minutes and would have worked as a ballad in the vein of Extreme’s “More Than Words.” It’s generally more morose than either of the other renditions and it offers an example of how hard Rose worked to find the song’s inner emotion. But listening to these two in the context of Appetite, it’s clear that it was still too undercooked to make the cut.

“Move to the City” (Acoustic Version)
(1986 Sound City Sessions N’ More)

“I’m a West Coast junkie/an East Coast monkey, got an elephant dick under my arm,” or so goes the gang-vocal chorus that opens the ramshackle acoustic version of the Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide rocker “Move to the City.” They’d later take that couplet, fix it up, and use it on the first verse of Appetite’s “Nightrain.” Here, though, it simply sets up a fun, carefree jam full of hooting and hollering and provides an alternate look at what the song could have been had they not stuck it on the faux-live EP. Meanwhile, the 1988 acoustic version that closes the “Sound City Sessions N’ More” disc is more serious and would fit perfectly on Lies. Taken as a whole, it’s a rare glimpse of a band in the process of defining itself.

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