In the world of rock and metal music, Guns N’ Roses serves as both a high standard and a cautionary tale. Rarely has a band risen so high yet also fallen so far from favor. Despite crafting such beloved songs as “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Paradise City,” drug use and feuding led to what could only-slightly-hyperbolically be called a garbage fire of a band breakdown.
So who were the most important members of the band? How did such a tempestuous band make such classic songs? How did they fall apart despite the great music? Find out more below!
42. It Starts
Guns N’ Roses first formed in March 1985 in Los Angeles. The band’s original lineup consisted of Axl Rose on vocals, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, lead guitarist Tracii Guns, bassist Ole Beich, and Rob Gardner on drums.
41. Ego Game
Before forming the band, Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin were members of a band called Hollywood Rose. In 1984, Stradlin was roommates with Tracii Guns, who was a member of the band L.A. Guns. The two groups came together, and the abandoned bands’ names were used to create the fusion band Guns N’ Roses. Though to be fair, given the fact that they named their bands after themselves even then, we’re not surprised that their heads would later grow a bit inflated with success.
40. You’re Called What?!
Before they settled on a name, the members of Guns N’ Roses seriously considered the names “Heads of Amazon” and (rather shockingly) “AIDS.” Luckily, better sense prevailed.
39. Your Fifteen Minutes Are Up
Original bassist Ole Beich lasted barely a month with the band. After their first ever show in March 1985, Beich was fired. He was replaced by Duff McKagan, who we can safely say lasted a bit longer than Beich!
38. Dropping Like Flies
The spring of 1985 continued to be a turbulent time for this new band when they lost lead guitarist Tracii Guns and drummer Rob Gardner. While this effectively meant the departure of those members who’d been part of the band LA Guns, the band didn’t drop the “Guns” from its name. Presumably, they figured that “Roses” as a hard rock band would have been a hard sell!
37. In All but Name
On the 4th of June 1985, the band officially recruited drummer Steven Adler and lead guitarist Slash. Interestingly, both men had been in Hollywood Rose with Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin. This really just seems like an unofficial Hollywood Rose reunion!
36. A Neat Little Profit
To date, Guns N’ Roses has sold more than 100 million records worldwide. 45 million of those records were sold in the US alone.
35. Calling it the “Charlie Brown Tour” Would Have Been Copyright Infringement
Despite confirming their lineup, Guns N’ Roses faced disaster when they toured the west coast in June 1985. The tour was poorly organized and on one occasion, the band’s two vans broke down on the road to Seattle, their final destination. They were forced to abandon their equipment to hitchhike. Small wonder they later dubbed it the “Hell Tour.”
34. Things Could Only Get Better!
Despite all the setbacks which took place on their “Hell Tour,” Guns N’ Roses reportedly emerged very optimistic from this experience. According to Duff McKagan, they figured that if they could push through all that, they stood to go the distance as a band.
33. Would You Say They’re Bad to the Bone?
Early on in their career, the band gained a reputation for their wild lifestyle and outrageous behavior (to the point where former hard-partiers and labelmates Aerosmith had to avoid spending time with them if they wanted to stay sober!). Guns N’ Roses even became known as “the most dangerous band in the world.”
32. An Album to Outspend All Albums
Guns N’ Roses are responsible for the most expensive rock album that’s ever been produced. At a whopping $14 million, Chinese Democracy has become the stuff of legends (more on that later, however).
31. Less Money for More Independence
By 1986, Guns N’ Roses began to draw offers from record labels. During this time, Geffen Records offered them a contract with $75,000 in advance money attached. The band accepted after turning down an offer from Chrysalis Records which had been worth twice that much. Unlike Geffen, however, Chrysalis had insisted on changing the band’s image and their musical style. To be honest, we can’t imagine anyone thinking they could just tell a bunch of hard-rockers in their prime what they could and could not do.
30. Dangerous Indeed
In August 1988, Guns N’ Roses took part in the Monsters of Rock Festival held in Castle Donington, England. While the band performed, the crowd began slam-dancing with such force that two people taking part were crushed to death!
29. Brits First
In 1987, Guns N’ Roses released their first singles. Despite being an American band, their first single was released in the UK. “It’s so Easy” was released there on the 15th of June 1987, but not anywhere else. In fact, the first US single that Guns N’ Roses released was “Welcome to the Jungle” in October.
28. Who Was Awake to See It?
Despite the fact that Guns N’ Roses had picked a song as dynamic as “Welcome to the Jungle,” and had made a great music video to match, the single went largely unnoticed for the better part of a year! It wasn’t until the founder and head of Geffen Records, David Geffen himself, persuaded MTV to play the song that the music video got a spot. And even then, the video was only played on Sunday at 4 AM! Amazingly, rock and metal fans still managed to notice it, and it wasn’t long before the song was a hit.
27. No, Not the Marvel Character!
“Welcome to the Jungle” ended up being featured in The Dead Pool, a 1988 film which was one of several starring Clint Eastwood as the hard-nosed cop “Dirty” Harry Calahan. Guns N’ Roses even had cameo appearances in the film!
26. Climbing the Ladder
With the success of Appetite for Destruction, Guns N’ Roses went on a 16-month international tour. They opened for bands such as The Cult, Iron Maiden, and Aerosmith, and their popularity increased exponentially along the way. In the case of Aerosmith, they were approached by Rolling Stone for a story, but to their astonishment and fury, their opening act was the one who made the magazine’s cover!
25. Out with Old, In with New
In 1990, drummer Steven Adler struggled to perform thanks to his drug addictions. When the band recorded “Civil War,” Adler’s faulty drumming meant that they did nearly thirty takes of the song! He was fired from the band that same year and was replaced by Matt Sorum.
24. The Consummate Keyboardist
Guns N’ Roses also added keyboardist Dizzy Reed to their roster in 1990. He has continued to play and tour with the band ever since.
23. No Illusions About Our Success!
Guns N’ Roses greatly expanded their musical range in 1991 with the release of their double album Use Your Illusion I and II. Reaching #1 and #2 on the US charts, the albums were praised for their ambition, “incorporating elements of blues, classical music, heavy metal, punk rock, and classic rock and roll” into their hard-rock style.
22. What a Hassle
Despite the success of the Use Your Illusion double album (boasting songs like “November Rain” and “Civil War”), the band struggled to get those albums made. The replacement of drummers brought on a new style which left the band divided (Izzy Stradlin labeled their new sound as “weird”). Additionally, the production of those albums was delayed by strife in the band. At one point, the sound mixing was scrapped completely and begun again from scratch!
21. Great Song for a Great Album
Guns N’ Roses only had one song reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100. That honor goes to “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” which was so popular that it was a key factor in their debut album, Appetite for Destruction, also reaching #1 on the Billboard 200.
20. Hard-Rock Globetrotters
Before Use Your Illusion parts I and II were released, Guns N’ Roses embarked on an ambitious world tour to go along with them. The band went to twenty-seven different countries across twenty-eight months! Small wonder that it’s been called the “longest tour in rock history.”
19. Where Do We Go Now?
During the mid-to-late 1990s, Guns N’ Roses didn’t do much in regards to recording new albums. Each member of the band has given different reasons for why this was the case, such as internal squabbling, other musical projects taking precedence, and the departure of lead guitarist Slash in 1996.
18. Made Up on the Spot
Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o’ Mine” has always been the jewel in their crown. Total Guitar magazine named its introductory guitar riff as the greatest of all time. The irony is that Slash, who played the riff, hated the song! The riff was originally just meant to be a string skipping exercise. Despite his original intentions, however, Axl Rose heard him and thought it sounded amazing. He provided lyrics and insisted that they use the riff for a new song. “Sweet Child o’ Mine” was made up so fast, in fact, that nobody had a good idea on how to continue it after the first few minutes. This is why the band spends the last third of the song asking, “Where do we go now?” The question wasn’t rhetorical!
17. Inspiration from Agitation
According to Axl Rose, the inspiration for “Welcome to the Jungle” was a homeless man who accosted him and his friend when they first arrived in New York City off the bus. The man screamed “You know where you are? You’re in the jungle, baby! You’re gonna die!” We hope that Guns N’ Roses later tried to find the man and buy him lunch in gratitude.
16. Trouble Ahead
With the departure of Slash, other band members left, only to be promptly replaced by Axl Rose, who assumed a dictatorial command. Rose purchased the full rights to the band’s name in 1997. Of course, this is Rose’s story, and it’s been disputed in the past by other members of the band. We may never know the full truth of what happened behind the scenes.
15. Let Them In, Quick!
In 2012, Guns N’ Roses’ classic lineup (Axl Rose, Duff McKagan, Dizzy Reed, Slash, Matt Sorum, Steven Adler, and Izzy Stradlin) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It also happened to be the first year that they were eligible.
14. Still Waiting!
As early as 1999, Axl Rose was talking about the release of Guns N’ Roses’ new album, Chinese Democracy. However, the album was continually delayed for years. In between internal bickering amongst band members and producers, the album was re-recorded many times and pushed further back. Too many lawsuits to describe also didn’t help matters. Finally, after a disastrous promotion attempt by Dr. Pepper and continued delays, the album was streamed on Myspace and released on the 23rd of November 2008. It was Guns N’ Roses’ first album since 1993.
13. From Low to High Again
By the 2010s, Guns N’ Roses’ reputation for delaying or even abruptly canceling their concerts was at an all-time low. However, in 2016, classic band members Slash and Duff McKagan reunited with the band at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. They went on to perform the Not in This Lifetime tour, which grossed over $480 million. That makes it the fourth highest grossing concert tour of all time!
12. RIP Freddie
Guns N’ Roses was one of many bands who performed at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert (Mercury had just succumbed to AIDS at the time). Because of the band’s controversial reputation, especially given the scandal around “One in a Million,” there were several protests made to keep them away. These efforts were unsuccessful, however, and for once, the band performed without any issues in honor of the fallen rocker (it’s worth noting that Guns N’ Roses always had great respect for Mercury and the rest of Queen, naming them as an inspiration for their musical style).
On the 2nd of July 1991, just outside of St. Louis, Axl Rose once again lost his temper with disastrous results (a recurring trend for him onstage). Noticing a fan filming the show, Rose demanded that security remove the camera. When his demands weren’t met, Rose took matters into his own hands and assaulted the fan. Rose was pulled away, whereupon he walked off, ending the show abruptly. This caused the huge crowd to riot, leading to dozens of injuries. Rose narrowly avoided criminal charges.
10. Another One Bites the Dust
After Rose’s behavior didn’t improve following the St. Louis incident, Izzy Stradlin quit the band. He had finally become sober and found it too much to be around his fellow bandmates. He was replaced by Gilby Clarke, who would play with Guns N’ Roses for three years. Slash would later say that Clarke “saved” the band.
9. Foreshadowing for Chinese Democracy?
Incredibly, one of Guns N’ Roses’ classic songs, “November Rain,” took nearly ten years to reach us! Released on Use Your Illusion I in 1991, Axl Rose was working on the song as early as 1983, according to Tracii Guns.
8. Over a Song?
One alleged reason for Slash and Gilby Clarke’s departures from Guns N’ Roses was the rift which deepened while the band was recording a cover of “Sympathy for the Devil” as part of the Interview with a Vampire soundtrack. Allegedly, Axl Rose infuriated Slash by insisting he continually re-record his part until it was a virtual copy of Keith Richards’ version. Clarke, meanwhile, claimed that nobody asked him to work on the song with them, and he took that as a sign that he was on his way out the door.
7. We’ll Be Back
Guns N’ Roses’ song “You Could be Mine” appears famously in James Cameron’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day (the movie that all Terminator fans remember and weep for as being the high-water mark of a long-decrepit series). The movie makes an interesting pun on the band’s name in one scene where the T-800 pulls out a shotgun from its hiding place: a box of roses. Well played, James.
6. Try Not to Imagine That
Most rock fans are familiar with the iconic album cover for Guns N’ Roses’ first album Appetite for Destruction. However, this wasn’t their original plan. The cover chosen was only done to replace the original design, which “depicted a surrealist scene in which a dagger-toothed monster vengefully attacks a… robot.” Frankly, we don’t think the world is ready for that kind of imagery even now!”
5. Was it an Improvement?
In 1987, Guns N’ Roses held a concert in Atlanta. During the show, Axl Rose got himself in trouble when he attacked a security guard backstage. Rose was held by police despite the fact that he was in the middle of the show. One of the band’s roadies had to go onstage and sing in Rose’s place!
4. Light ‘Em Up!
As successful as Guns N’ Roses became, they were hardly doing well before the band kicked off. In fact, Axl Rose and Izzy Stradlin went to extreme measures to make a buck. They both signed up as guinea pigs for a UCLA study which required them to smoke cigarettes. To be fair, they were probably going to do that anyway, so might as well get paid for it!
In 1993, Guns N’ Roses released The Spaghetti Incident?, which was an album comprised of punk and hard-rock songs. However, it also contained a hidden cover of the song “Look at Your Game, Girl” which was originally written by none other than Charles Manson. Yes, that Charles Manson. Given Manson’s crimes and imprisonment, various groups were outraged that Manson would be getting money from Guns N’ Roses fans (which was nothing to sneeze at, given how popular the band was). The band apologized for their “naïve and innocent black humor” and promised to donate all their performance royalties of that song to various sources such as the Doris Tate Crime Victims Bureau and a relative of one of the victims of Manson’s followers.
2. This is Why People Don’t Like You, Dude
In 1988, Guns N’ Roses released the single “One in a Million,” which was based on Axl Rose’s less-than-pleasant experience coming to Los Angeles for the first time. However, the song provoked a huge controversy due to Rose’s use of homophobic language and the N-word in the song. For his part, Rose did an interview with Rolling Stone to address the controversy. He embarked on a rant which began with him resenting the idea he can be told what to say or not say. He then claimed that the N-word “doesn’t necessarily mean black” before pointing out that rap group N.W.A. used it all the time and no one got angry at them. Finally, presumably, because nobody was looking him in the eye by that point, Rose called out Bobcat Goldthwait for insisting that the band used the N-word just for the sake of controversy. It’s safe to say that “One in a Million” isn’t hailed as a Guns N’ Roses classic.
1. No Hard Feelings
Surprisingly, despite the controversies of “One in a Million” and Axl Rose’s embarrassing “defense,” N.W.A. didn’t seem to have any ill will towards Guns N’ Roses over the issue. These two bands were actually very friendly with each other and considered collaborating on an album at one point. While this never materialized, N.W.A. member Eazy-E recorded a demo for a possible collaboration. Unfortunately, everyone involved decided not to move forward with it, but Slash did contribute his guitar skills to Eazy-E’s song “Luv 4 Dem Gangsta’s,” which appeared on the soundtrack for Beverly Hills Cop III.
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