Guns N' Roses - Greatest Hits
They barely exist any more - it's hard to see how this year's version of Guns N' Roses are in any way connected to the band who released Appetite For Destruction - so for many, this Greatest Hits collection closes one era of the band before, possibly this year, possibly the next, Chinese Democracy opens another.
In reading through David Konow's Bang Your Head - a hugely entertaining history of heavy metal from Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath through to the killing of poodle rock by Nirvana - it was never a surprise that Guns N' Roses made it. Despite some of the company they kept at the time - Guns N' Roses spilled out of the same clubs as Poison, Quiet Riot, Kix and were only a couple of years behind Motley Crue, Dokken and W.A.S.P. - the differences were clear from the very beginning. Compare, as an example, Slash, Duff or Izzy to Poison's Bret Michaels - the Guns N' Roses trio look as though they wouldn't consider a night well spent unless it ended with them nodding off in a booth with a belt still wrapped around their arm, whereas Michaels, blond-haired and sticking with lipstick-metal, ought not to have been too surprised had Tommy Lee confused him with his future wife at 3am, when the lights were low.
But if these are the bands who Guns N' Roses would have been paired with in their early days, all that they eventually had in common were a few club dates in LA back in their first year together. With only their debut recorded - Welcome To The Jungle, Sweet Child O' Mine and Paradise City have been pulled off that album for this greatest hits collection - Guns N' Roses pulled out of Los Angeles and away from their peers through stadium support slots with Aerosmith and festival appearances in the UK. Not even the otherwise tragic deaths of two fans at Donnington had an impact on the rise of Guns N' Roses for although the band were careful to avoid taking advantage of it, the media knew they had a band for the eighties as The Rolling Stones were to the sixties and Led Zeppelin were for the seventies.
Yet that takes away from how exciting much of this music was - Paradise City, which will be remembered for the entry of that riff after Axl whistles its introduction, is so thrilling a song that not even indie also-rans Cast copping a riff from it to open the dismal Fine Time could spoil the song. Welcome To The Jungle has got a raw, speed metal sound and the crunch of Les Pauls not heard since Zeppelin's In Through The Out Door whereas Sweet Child O' Mine, the breakthrough hit, is a great rock ballad with an opening riff that's likely to be on the same board as Stairway To Heaven, Smells Like Teen Spirit and Smoke On The Water as tracks not to be played in guitar shops.
With the follow-up to Appetite For Destruction, G N' R Lies, offering only one song here, Patience, it was to Zeppelin that Guns N' Roses turned for their 1991 albums. With Zeppelin having set the template for a metal double album with Physical Graffiti, being a mix of folk, grand ballads, funk, exotic rock and heavy riffing, Guns N' Roses released Use Your Illusion I and II on the same day in 1991 - each was the equivalent of a double LP set - and watched both climb to the top of the charts. Despite initial plans for one disc to be slower than the other, the Use Your Illusion albums clambered into each other's space with Use Your Illusion I offering Don't Cry, November Rain and Live And Let Die on this collection whilst Use Your Illusion II brings Knockin' On Heaven's Door, Civil War, You Could Be Mine and Yesterdays. Over both albums, Guns N' Roses were ludicrous, hugely exciting, overblown and capable of still-great moments, occasionally in the same song as is the case with November Rain, still Guns N' Roses' best song and sounding like Elton John being shoved off the stage by the noise from Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones tuning up.
After that, though, Guns N' Roses, having had a taste of stardom, let it fall away. With Steven Adler gone - and Slash now admits this was the moment that the feeling of being a complete band left Guns N' Roses - Izzy Stradlin, then Slash, then Duff Mackagen all left in turn to leave Axl Rose and a rotating cast of session musicians work on the follow-up to The Spaghetti Incident. Barring the release of a live album earlier this decade, the last recording from Guns N' Roses was a cover of The Rolling Stones' Sympathy For The Devil, lifted from the soundtrack for Interview With The Vampire and also included here.
Sympathy For The Devil was hardly a fitting final note from the band - contrast this late recording with Jane's Addiction only ever having included the song on their live debut album - but so far, it's how Guns N' Roses have left their sound for the last decade. Even if they ever get Axl out of therapy for long enough to get Chinese Democracy released, will anyone even care?