The controversy surrounding M.I.A. and her flipping of the bird during this year's Super Bowl Halftime Show really cracked me up. Is that all it takes for a pop star to offend folks these days? Not to sound like a grizzled old geezer, but when I was in junior high in the late '80s (early '90s, too), pop music was far more obscene. Forget the bird. We were cranking the latest cassettes from N.W.A., Eazy-E and Geto Boys. Our girlfriends were lewdly shaking their rumps to "Me So Horny" and "Boom Boom (Let's Go Back to My Room)" at school dances. The skaters and metalheads were getting into the act as well with all the gore-stained thrash and death metal they worshipped. That stuff was insane: Obituary's Slowly We Rot? Society's slide into perversion, immorality and antisocial criminality was upon us!
Then there were Guns N' Roses. They kinda-sorta looked like hair metal rockers Mötley Crüe and Ratt, but they were different: more vile and intense. The kids flipped for them. Their videos dominated MTV, and just about everyone owned a copy of 1987's Appetite for Destruction (28 million copies sold to date -- jeez). The tape didn't leave my Walkman for months. Every day, while delivering newspapers in my neighborhood, I listened to Axl unleash expletive-laced harangues about smack, booze, womanizing, pornography, paranoia, S&M and violence (plus, the moaning chick in "Rocket Queen").
These dudes were total scumbags -- but they rocked. Even the music's old guard knew it. The Stones asked the group to open for them, which was still a big deal; they were only 90 years old back then. What made GnR so damn special was their ability to remain tethered to the boogie continuum (Chuck Berry > Stones > Faces > New York Dolls/Johnny Thunders > Aerosmith) while unleashing a dense, metallic attack heavily informed by AC/DC and Judas Priest. On top of all that, they had thoroughly soaked up punk's snotty-ass attitude. Hair metal pioneers Hanoi Rocks were clear precursors, yet GnR were far more intense sonically, and less indebted to power pop. So yeah, they were the total package.
There are times when I think Appetite was rock 'n' roll's last big-time album. The Black Crowes blew up soon afterward, but they were too overtly retro. Some grunge came close, I suppose, but very few of those bands had anything to do with funk and boogie, really. The same goes for post-grunge and nü metal, both of which possess a vile attitude, at times, yet very little of it actually swings.
Then again, maybe it's a good thing society no longer produces such monsters? Here are the early records that helped create Appetite for Destruction.