Released today in 1987: Welcome To The Jungle

Geffen GEF30

Geffen GEF30

Who would have predicted that the debut long-player from American thrash rockers Guns N’ Roses would emerge as one of the most successful albums of the 1980s? Not the British music press, that’s for sure. On its release in July 1987, some titles passed on reviewing it altogether, including Smash Hits. In that magazine’s case this was fair enough, as Guns N’ Roses hadn’t had a hit at that point. Their first single It’s So Easy fell short of the Top 75 here, and the follow-up, Welcome To The Jungle (which went on to become one of their most enduring hits) was only a very minor hit on its first release. Gradually their reputation and popularity grew however, and by 1989 the group and their lead singer Axl Rose had earned appearances on Smash Hits’s cover due to a pair of singles reaching #6: Paradise City and a re-issue of Sweet Child O Mine, the latter having reached #24 the year before. (The second issue of Welcome To The Jungle, coupled with Nightrain, had also made #24 in 1988; Nightrain was released as a single in its own right in 1989 and made #17.) All these tracks were taken from Appetite For Destruction, that slow-burning debut album which few critics had spotted the potential in.

A few words about the record before we look at the contemporary reviews in the British media: work on Appetite For Destruction began in earnest in January 1987, with basic tracks recorded based on songs written at different times by different members of the group. Following this, parts of the recording were done very quickly and others were laboured: drummer Steven Adler says the percussion was completed in around six days, but Rose took a long time to complete his vocals (recording them line by line until he was happy with them) and guitarist Slash worked closely with producer Mike Clink over multiple sessions to perfect his solos. On release, instead of side 1 and side 2, the album had sides G (drug culture, big city life – ‘guns’ music) and R (sex and relationships, ‘roses’ music) and had distinctive artwork courtesy of Robert Williams. The sleeve was to have been a photo of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion but their record company rejected this saying it was “in bad taste”.

In 2000 Q magazine called it “a riotous celebration of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll,” in a list identifying it as one of the greatest metal albums of all time. Back in 1987, though, the magazine was more cautious in its appraisal: “Cynical, amoral and nasty, Guns n’ Roses are ideal villains for the next Dirty Harry movie. Their slash and burn hard rock is hardly original, and short on melody, but they possess enough attack to suggest they’re probably genuinely offensive on stage. If drinking and driving is your idea of a good time, these are your soul mates.” The review gave the album three out of a possible five stars, so it wasn’t entirely unfavourable. Over to NME for that job: “I feel like I’ve heard Appetite For Destruction a zillion times already… Guns N’ Roses show that they can write a mean lyric, but why do they come across sounding like dumb dinos? As one gash of white hot riffery welds into the next the result is boredom, and angry boredom that eventually is replaced by apathy – the debut record’s greatest enemy. Lead singer W Axl Rose alternates from being a passable impersonator of Robert Plant to coughing up something that sounds remarkably like Steven Tyler of Aerosmith fame. Meanwhile lead guitar grinder Slash bubbles but fails to boil over. This sounds like hard labour, the sweat of prisoners as opposed to the perspiration of creation.”

Melody Maker was similarly unimpressed. “The best thing about Guns N’ Roses is that they have a guitarist called Slash and another called Izzy Stradlin. The worst thing is everything else but most of all the music. Welcome To The Jungle is the first song and as good a demonstration as any of what the band like to do with their noise. Basically this consists of playing all the instruments very loud and very carefully along the kick-ass school of things, nodding towards sentimentality but never so much that people might think they’re soft… it’s a gruelling business wading through their creations, trying to think of some world where what they do could be seen as having even the slightest point, looking for signs that beneath the skulls and the shades there’s a suggestion they can do something to thrill. The world is probably their house and the thrill, splitting up. The rest as they say, is crap.” The review ended with this prediction: “When the great book of pop comes to be written, Guns N’ Roses will have forgotten their library ticket,” an unfortunate assertion as all the books of pop that have recently been written identify the album as a classic. Only one paper in the UK saw its potential at the time of its release: Sounds. It gave the album its highest award of five stars and said, “Appetite For Destruction exists on a ragged knowledge of what great rock n’ roll is and the industry’s eternal capacity to be both thrilled and shocked by such bad-boy boogie antics…with all the hallmarks of a shooting star (except shooting stars don’t usually make albums as good as this), Guns N’ Roses have won the first battle by proving they have the songs to back up their attitude problem, and if anyone else mutters the word ‘hype’ in my ear again I won’t be responsible for my actions.” (cf NME: “‘Contains lyrics which some people may find offensive’ – thus bleats the sticker that’s been stuck on the end of this cartoon monster’s snout. What kind of people? The kind of codger that G ‘N’ R might offend are all relegated to walking frames. This ‘warning’ smells like a hype.”)

Sounds finished with, “By the way, boys, just one thing: if you’re still around in ten years’ time, we’re all going to be very disappointed.” An accurate prediction, as Guns N’ Roses in its 1987 form had ceased to exist by then. But Appetite For Destruction long outlived the line-up that produced it. The album’s growing popularity can be traced through its certification history by the BPI in the UK and the RIAA in the US, and by its chart performance in both countries. Here in the UK, it initially charted in 1987 for three weeks reaching #68, then disappeared. Its 17 weeks on the chart the following year, during which time it reached #15, earned it a silver and gold discs in quick succession in the summer. But it was its 48 week run during 1989, where it bettered its previous highest position by finally making the Top 10 and reaching #5, that saw its biggest uplift in sales. It was certified platinum at the end of April (300,000 sales) and double platinum in August. It returned to the Top 75 in the last week of the 1980s and then made appearances on the chart for at least one week every year for the next two decades. It finally earned its triple platinum certification on 22 July 2013, duly returning to the chart at #88 shortly afterwards as if in recognition of this achievement. Its most recent appearance on the Top 100 was at #92 at the end of March this year.

In the States, the album’s appeal has been similarly constant, but the sales have been far greater. It began its chart run in the lower reaches of the Billboard Top 200 in August 1987, and made a slow climb upwards until being certified gold by the RIAA for half a million sales in February 1988. At the end of April, it arrived in the Top 10 and received platinum certification for a million sales. It then remained a permanent fixture in the Top 10 for a complete year, spending four of those weeks at #1 and achieving new sales thresholds almost every month: it was double platinum in July, then triple in August, with further multiples in September, October, December, and then 7x platinum in February 1988. In July 1989, at the point at which it finally fell out of the Top 40, it was recognized by the RIAA for eight million units sold. It received further certified sales awards during the 1990s, the most significant of which was being one of the inaugural recipients of the new ‘diamond’ award for sales of over ten million copies: Adler accepted the award on the band’s behalf at the ceremony introducing the category on 16 March 1999, although by this time Appetite For Destruction had in fact sold over 15 million copies. Today, it is certified 18x platinum and is the 11th best-selling album in US history.

Worldwide sales currently exceed 30 million.

NEW SINGLES on sale from Sep. 21
1984
BIG COUNTRY (Stuart Adamson) East Of Eden (Mercury MER175)
Billy IDOL Flesh For Fantasy (Chrysalis IDOL4)
1987
BEASTIE BOYS Girls (Def Jam BEAST3)
GUNS N’ ROSES Welcome To The Jungle (Geffen GEF30)
Billy IDOL Mony Mony (Live) (Chrysalis IDOL11)

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