Guns N' Roses is an American hard rock band from Los Angeles formed in 1985. The classic lineup, as signed to Geffen Records in 1986, consisted of vocalist Axl Rose, lead guitarist Slash, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan, and drummer Steven Adler. The current lineup consists of Rose, Slash, McKagan, keyboardists Dizzy Reed and Melissa Reese, guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer. The band has released six studio albums, accumulating sales of more than 100 million records worldwide, including shipments of 45 million in the United States, making Guns N' Roses one of the world's best-selling bands of all time.
Guns N' Roses' debut album, Appetite for Destruction (1987), reached number one on the Billboard 200 a year after its release, on the strength of "Sweet Child o' Mine", the group's only single to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The album has sold approximately 30 million copies worldwide, including 18 million units in the United States, making it the best-selling debut album of all time in the US, as well as the eleventh best-selling album in the United States. The success of the debut was followed by the eight-song album G N' R Lies (1988) which reached number two on the Billboard 200. The twin albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II (1991) debuted at number two and number one on the Billboard 200 respectively and have sold a combined 35 million copies worldwide, including 14 million units in the United States. The cover album "The Spaghetti Incident?" (1993) was the band's last studio album to feature Slash and McKagan.
After more than a decade of work and several lineup changes, Guns N' Roses released the long-awaited album Chinese Democracy (2008) which, at an estimated $14 million in production costs, is the most expensive rock album to ever be produced in music history. It debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 but undersold industry expectations, despite mostly positive critical reception. Classic era members Slash and McKagan both rejoined the band in 2016.
Guns N' Roses has been credited with reviving the mainstream popularity of rock music, at a time when popular music was dominated by dance music and glam metal. Its late 1980s and early 1990s years have been described as the period in which the group brought forth a "hedonistic rebelliousness" reminiscent of the early Rolling Stones, a reputation that had earned the group the nickname "the most dangerous band in the world". The band's classic lineup, along with later members Reed and drummer Matt Sorum, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2012, in its first year of eligibility.
In 1984, Hollywood Rose member Izzy Stradlin was living with L.A. Guns member Tracii Guns. When L.A. Guns needed a new vocalist, Stradlin suggested Hollywood Rose singer Axl Rose. Guns N' Roses was formed in March 1985 by Rose and rhythm guitarist Stradlin, along with lead guitarist Tracii Guns, bassist Ole Beich, and drummer Rob Gardner of L.A. Guns. The band coined its name by combining the names of both previous groups. Rejected names for the band included "Heads of Amazon" and "AIDS". After a short time, during which the band reportedly played two or three shows, Beich was fired and replaced by Duff McKagan. Tracii Guns left the band after an argument with Rose, leading to his replacement by Rose and Stradlin's one-time Hollywood Rose bandmate, Slash. Gardner quit soon after and was replaced by another former Hollywood Rose member, Steven Adler. Slash had also previously played with McKagan and Adler in Road Crew.
In June 1985, four days after the lineup was finalized, the band embarked on a short, disorganized tour of the West Coast, from Sacramento, California, to McKagan's hometown of Seattle, Washington. The so-called "Hell Tour" settled the band's first stable lineup, with McKagan later commenting, "This trip had set a new benchmark for what we were capable of, what we could and would put ourselves through to achieve our goals as a band."
Through the band's increasing presence on the Hollywood club scene – playing famed bars such as The Troubadour and The Roxy – Guns N' Roses drew the attention of major record labels. The group was signed by Geffen Records in March 1986, receiving a $75,000 advance. In December of that year, the group released the four-song EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, designed to keep interest in the band alive while the group withdrew from the club scene to work in the studio. The EP contained covers of Rose Tattoo's "Nice Boys" and Aerosmith's "Mama Kin", along with two original compositions:
the punk-influenced "Reckless Life" and the classic rock-inspired "Move to the City." Although billed as a live recording, the four songs were taken from the band's demo tapes and overdubbed with crowd noise. Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide was released on the Geffen subsidiary Uzi Suicide, with production limited to 10,000 vinyl copies.
Breakthrough and mass popularity (1987–1989)
Appetite for Destruction
Guns N' Roses' debut album Appetite for Destruction was released July 21, 1987. The album underwent an artwork change after the original cover design by Robert Williams, which depicted a surrealist scene in which a dagger-toothed monster vengefully attacks a robot rapist, was deemed too controversial. The band stated the original artwork was "a symbolic social statement, with the robot representing the industrial system that's raping and polluting our environment." The revised cover was done by Andy Engell, based on a design by tattoo artist Bill White Jr., who had designed the artwork for a tattoo Rose had acquired the previous year. The artwork featured each of the five band members' skulls layered on a cross.
In the U.S., "Welcome to the Jungle" was issued as the album's first single, with an accompanying music video. Initially, the album and single lingered for almost a year without performing well, but when Geffen founder David Geffen was asked to lend support to the band, he obliged, personally convincing MTV executives to play "Welcome to the Jungle" during the network's after-hours rotation. Even though the video was initially only played once at 4 a.m. on a Sunday, heavy metal and hard rock fans took notice and soon began requesting the video and song en masse. The song, written in Seattle, was about Los Angeles. The music video took place in New York. According to Rose, the inspiration for the lyrics came from an encounter he and a friend had with a homeless man while they were coming out of a bus into New York. Trying to put a scare into the young runaways, the man yelled at them, "You know where you are? You're in the jungle baby; you're gonna die!" The song was featured in the 1988 Dirty Harry film The Dead Pool, starring Clint Eastwood, and members of the band had a cameo appearance in the film.
"Sweet Child o' Mine" was the album's second U.S. single, a love song co-written by Rose as a poem for his then-girlfriend Erin Everly, daughter of Don Everly of the Everly Brothers. Due to the growing grassroots success of the band and the cross-gender appeal of the song, "Sweet Child o' Mine" and its accompanying music video received heavy airplay on both radio and MTV, becoming a huge hit during the summer of 1988 and reaching the top of the charts in the U.S. Slash later commented, "I hated that song with a huge passion for the longest time, and it turned out to be our hugest hit, so it goes to show what I know." The song was released in Japan as part of the EP Live from the Jungle, which also featured a selection of live recordings from the band's June 1987 dates at London's The Marquee, the group's first shows outside the United States. The song is the highest charting Guns N' Roses song, and is the group's only to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
After the success of "Sweet Child o' Mine", "Welcome to the Jungle" was re-issued as a single and reached No. 7 in the U.S. By the time "Paradise City" and its video reached the airwaves, peaking at No. 5 in the U.S., Appetite for Destruction had reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200. To date, the album has sold in excess of 30 million copies worldwide, including 18 million units sold in the United States, making it the best-selling debut album of all time in the U.S, in addition to being the eleventh best-selling album in the United States.
Guns N' Roses toured extensively in support of the group's debut album, embarking on the 16-month-long Appetite for Destruction Tour. In addition to headlining dates in Europe and the U.S., the band opened North American shows for The Cult, Mötley Crüe, and Alice Cooper throughout the second half of 1987. During the 1987 tour, drummer Steven Adler broke his hand in a fight, and was replaced for 8 shows by Cinderella drummer Fred Coury. Bassist Duff McKagan missed several shows in May 1988 to attend his wedding; Kid "Haggis" Chaos from The Cult filled in. Don Henley of The Eagles played drums for the band during the 1989 AMA show while Adler was in rehab.
The band proceeded to tour the United States, Australia and Japan, while serving as opening acts on North America shows by Iron Maiden and Aerosmith. Tim Collins, Aerosmith's then-manager, remarked, "By the end of the tour, Guns N' Roses were huge. They basically just exploded. We were all pissed that Rolling Stone showed up to do a story on Aerosmith, but Guns N' Roses ended up on the cover of the magazine. Suddenly, the opening act was bigger than we were."
G N' R Lies
Guns N' Roses' next album, G N' R Lies, was released in November 1988. It included the four recordings from the band's 1986 EP Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, as well as four new acoustic tracks. "Patience", the only single released from G N' R Lies, peaked at No. 4 in the U.S., while the album itself reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200. The album cover, a parody of tabloid newspapers, was modified after initial pressings to remove the headlines "Wife-beating has been around for 10,000 years" and "Ladies, welcome to the dark ages".
The song "One in a Million" raised accusations of racism and homophobia. Rose denied that he was a racist and defended his use of a racial slur, claiming that "it's a word to describe somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem. The word nigger doesn't necessarily mean black," although he later conceded that he had used the word as an insult towards black people who had tried to rob him. In response to the allegations of homophobia, Rose stated that he considered himself "pro-heterosexual" and blamed this attitude on "bad experiences" with gay men.
Guns N' Roses' late 1980s shows were often eventful for more than just the band's performance. During a November 1987 show in Atlanta, Rose assaulted a security guard and was held backstage by police, while his band mates continued playing with a roadie singing. Riots nearly broke out during two August 1988 shows in New York State. At England's Monsters of Rock festival, held that same month, two fans were crushed to death during the group's set by the slam-dancing crowd. During the first of four October 1989 dates opening for the Rolling Stones at the L.A. Coliseum, Rose announced that the shows would be the group's last if certain members of the band did not stop "dancing with Mr. Brownstone," a reference to the band's song of the same name about heroin. Events such as these helped earn Guns N' Roses the moniker "The Most Dangerous Band in the World."
Appetite for Destruction (1987)
G N' R Lies (1988)
Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Use Your Illusion II (1991)
"The Spaghetti Incident?" (1993)
Chinese Democracy (2008)
Axl Rose – lead vocals, piano, keyboards (1985–present)
Slash – lead guitar, backing vocals (1985–1996, 2016–present)
Duff McKagan – bass guitar, backing vocals (1985–1997, 2016–present)
Dizzy Reed – keyboards, piano, percussion, backing vocals (1990–present)
Richard Fortus – rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals (2001–present)
Frank Ferrer – drums (2006–present)
Melissa Reese – synthesizers, keyboards, backing vocals, sub-bass, programming (2016–present)