Double the ‘Destruction': 13 Songs That Could Have Been on Guns N’ Roses’ Debut Album
Guns N’ Roses' Appetite for Destruction remains one of the greatest, game-changing rock albums in history. But things could have diverged greatly if a song or two were added or substituted in the final track listing. Thing is, the band had an overabundance of material – about 20 songs – that had been kicking around before they signed to Geffen Records and put together Appetite as we know it. Some of those songs were seriously considered for the LP but didn’t make it for whatever reason; many others appeared on the Use Your Illusion albums or as B-sides. And some simply fell victim to changing tastes and musical maturity over the years. Most of these tracks have been heavily bootlegged in various forms over the years, and each would have made Appetite for Destruction a different record, as you'll see as we double the Destruction:with 13 Songs That Could Have Been on Guns N' Roses' Debut Album.
One of the staples of the band’s earliest club days, “Don’t Cry” had its roots in the reunited lineup of Hollywood Rose when Tracii Guns was in the group back in 1985. It was an acoustic number that then morphed into a quasi-power ballad. According to Mark Canter in his book Reckless Road: Guns N’ Roses and the Making of Appetite for Destruction, “It was a song about a girl named Monique that Izzy used to date and that Axl was in love with.” “It’s one of the first that we started playing as a band in the [Appetite] incarnation,” bassist Duff McKagan said in the 1993 documentary Makin' F@*!ing Videos Part I - Don't Cry. “It really kind of put us across in the clubs.” Frontman Axl Rose added that while people liked “Welcome to the Jungle” and other songs, “Don’t Cry” was the most popular number. Both Rose and McKagan said the time wasn’t right, due to financial restrictions placed on the first album by the label and it not being completely finished, so a decision was made to hold the song back for the next record. It makes sense, seeing that “Don’t Cry” had so much time to percolate, that it would go through several iterations before the final version, but pretty much the same song structure and lyrics ended up on Use Your Illusion I. What was surprising was that another version made it onto Use Your Illusion II, with the exact same melody and chorus but with different lyrics. When it did come out as a single, the same day the Illusions were released in September 1991, the CD maxi-single featured both the original and alternate versions, as well as the demo that was recorded during the 1986 Appetite for Destruction sessions.
Another one from the Hollywood Rose era, “Shadow of Your Love” never made it onto Appetite for Destruction even though the song matches the album's swagger, lyrical content and frenetic intensity. We can even imagine it between “You’re Crazy” and “Anything Goes” in the track listing. (Hollywood Rose paired "Shadow" and "Anything Goes" in a couple of low-budget, single-camera shot videos.) Written by Axl Rose and childhood friend Paul Tobias, the song carried over to Guns N’ Roses' first sessions. Steven Adler claims it was the first song they performed together. “It was magic from the first day,” the drummer told MusicRadar. “The first song we played in rehearsal was ‘Shadow of Your Love,’ and Axl showed up late. We were playing the song, and right in the middle of the song Axl showed up and he grabbed the microphone and was running up and down the walls screaming. I thought, ‘This is the greatest thing ever.’ We knew right then what we had.” Briefly considered for inclusion on G N' R Lies, “Shadow of Your Love” was relegated to B-side status, showing up officially on the 12” picture disc single for “It’s So Easy” in 1987 and then on the flip for “Live and Let Die” in 1991. The song opens up with Rose screaming, “Wake up! It’s time to play!” -- which he would later hijack for the live introduction of “Welcome to the Jungle” by howling, “Wake up! Time to die!” It’s an intonation he still does to this day in some form.
Guns N' Roses opened almost every early show -- from the first gig with the classic lineup in late spring 1985 until they were signed the next year -- with “Reckless,” which was often stylized as “Wreckless” on set lists. The punk-like song moves at a breakneck speed and echoes “Shadow of Your Love” musically, not surprising since both were plucked from Hollywood Rose. The demo of the song was recorded in 1986 and would open the band’s Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide EP under the expanded title “Reckless Life.” Like other tracks on that initial release, the song included piped-in crowd noise swiped from one of the late-‘70s Texxas Jam music festivals. Aside from turning up during a few Use Your Illusion tour dates in 1993, "Reckless" has mostly been MIA since then.
Introducing “Bad Obsession” onstage in 1991, Axl Rose often said something along the lines of, “This is a little somethin’ we wrote about a year before we wrote ‘Mr. Brownstone,’ and it’ll be on the next album.” Why the wait? Probably because the song was a not-so-oblique reference to heroin, which had already been dealt with on Appetite. No need to belabor the point. Another reason might be that "Bad Obsession"'s slide-heavy guitar and honky-tonk groove (courtesy of Izzy Stradlin, who co-wrote it with longtime friend and GNR collaborator West Arkeen) hardly fit the pace of the band’s debut.
This Hollywood Rose holdover kept the title and chorus for its Appetite edition -- which was buried deep on Side Two before album closer “Rocket Queen” -- but little else. Guitarist Slash has said it’s the oldest song the band had at the time. “Me and Izzy and [Hollywood Rose guitarist Chris Weber] wrote it a long time ago,” Rose told Hit Parader in 1988. “It's had different verses at different times. Every time I'd do it live, people liked it, but it just depressed the s--- outta me onstage. Then we wrote another version about our times at the old studio, and we kept that for a while. Then we came down to record it, we decided we didn't want to cut the track. But [GNR A&R rep] Tom [Zutaut] was very adamant about having that song recorded, so we figured we're gonna have to rewrite it.” Rose’s lack of enthusiasm hasn’t changed much since then. “Anything Goes” remains the least-performed Appetite for Destruction song.
Like another Appetite for Destruction track, the underrated “Think About You,” “You’re Crazy” began as an acoustic number but evolved into something completely different, with a faster tempo to better suit the album's flow. For the most part, the band appeared to prefer this in its initial form, often reverting it back to its bluesy, front-porch vibe when playing it in concert. GNR could hardly wait for the original version to get out: It was released as the B-side to the re-released “Welcome to the Jungle” single in 1988. The song was then retooled one final time and showed up on the acoustic side of the G N’ R Lies EP.
“Move to the City” is thematically similar to “Welcome to the Jungle” but less lyrically abrasive, even though it’s also about exiting a small town for the intimidating metro of Los Angeles. It was always envisioned as a much grander piece musically, as McKagan explained in his 2011 autobiography, It’s So Easy. “We always heard that song the way it was recorded -- with a horn section,” he wrote. “And sometimes, even at the smallest venues, where we could barely all fit in the backstage area, we put together a few brass instruments to come onstage for the song. I recruited my brother Matt, who played trombone, to be part of the horn section.” Officially appearing on Lies in a truncated manner, it later evolved into a sprawling, eight-minute epic on tour, complete with extended horn and piano jams.
Axl Rose wrote “The Garden” with West Arkeen and Del James, but it was too out of place with the other songs developed for Appetite for Destruction. It was placed aside for later, and resurfaced on Use Your Illusion I with one addition. "Axl sang a part in 'The Garden,' and it sounded exactly like Alice Cooper," Slash told RIP Magazine in 1991. "I mean, it sounded exactly like Alice. So we were like, 'Let's get Alice to do it,' you know, rather than just steal his style. So Alice came down and sang it. It was cool."
Guns N' Roses' most popular extended power ballad is also one of their oldest songs. At one point. it was so important to Axl Rose that he told Rolling Stone, "If it's not recorded right, I'll quit the business." Slash, in his 2007 memoir, noted that their A&R rep, Tom Zutaut, had them go into Sound City Studios with Nazareth guitarist Manny Charlton to work on the piece for Appetite for Destruction. “We worked on demos of 'November Rain,' which was about 18 minutes long in its original version, so needless to say, we really needed to sit down and focus on arranging it,” the guitarist said. “It had been a song that Axl tinkered with for years, whenever there was a piano present; it had been around forever and it was finally getting its due. Axl had been annoyed when Tom Zutaut suggested that we hold it until the next album, because that song meant a lot to him. He let it go, though he resented that decision for years.” “The one song that was a point of disagreement was ‘November Rain,’” Appetite producer Mike Clink told Guitar One in 2002. “It was an epic, but the rest of the band felt it wasn’t right for the first Guns record – they wanted to keep it guitar-oriented. Obviously, Axl felt it was his finest moment, and it was, it’s a great song. That was one of the tougher hurdles to get over on that record.” “When we went in to do the album, it was coming down between that and ‘Sweet Child,’ and I knew ‘November Rain’ wasn't done,” Rose said in Makin' F@*!ing Videos Part II – November Rain. “I didn't really want anybody to help me write it. And at the same time, I knew that it was gonna take a lot of work to do what I wanted to do and I really didn't feel capable, and that the people around me were capable of understanding what I was trying to do and that there was enough time to do it. So we decided to save it.”
An early rocker that moved at a swift clip, “Back Off Bitch” was a Hollywood Rose carryover that Axl Rose wrote with Paul Tobias. The track showed up on a 1985 demo by Guns N’ Roses, and, considering its not-so-subtle lyrics, it’s remarkable how long the song meanders since it makes its point pretty early. That length could be one reason why it didn’t make Appetite. When it came out on Use Your Illusion I, “Back Off Bitch” felt like it found a home alongside “Bad Obsession” and “Double Talkin’ Jive.” It’s also the only song on the Illusion albums where Izzy Stradlin solos, taking the lead on the first one you hear (Slash handled the main solo). Rose’s former Hollywood bandmate Chris Weber sued the frontman in 1998, claiming he was one of the songwriters on the track, along with the earlier B-side “Shadow of Your Love.”
For years, "Crash Diet" was the most mysterious of all the unreleased Guns N’ Roses songs. Many fans think “Crash Diet” was considered for one of the Use Your Illusion projects, but the version available on bootlegs undoubtedly predates Appetite. "'Crash Diet' is a really old song that was kicked around back in the old days," Slash said in a 2000 online chat with fans. "I don't know who wrote that, but it is definitely old." Written by Axl Rose and West Arkeen, it was about the 1984 car accident that Motley Crue’s Vince Neil had been involved in that claimed the life of Hanoi Rocks drummer Nicholas “Razzle” Dingley and left two others permanently brain damaged. At some point, Rose decided not to do anything with the song, so Arkeen began shopping it around to other bands. Two up-and-coming Los Angeles-based groups ended up recording “Crash Diet”: Asphalt Ballet released their take in 1993, with partial writing credit given to their guitarist Danny Clarke, and WildSide put it on an odds-and-ends collection, The Wasted Years, in 2004, even though it was recorded much earlier. “It was 1990 when we got our recording contract with Capitol Records,” WildSide co-founder and guitarist Benny Rhynedance tells Ultimate Classic Rock. “West was with the GNR guys, and he lived in one of the same apartment buildings by the Whisky as we did. At that time, we both shared business managers on Sunset Blvd. West was always looking to sell songs, as that was his living. West played us ‘Crash Diet,’ and we liked it. No one else had done the song yet except early GNR. We were psyched to get a crack at it first. It was supposed to be recorded for the Use Your Illusion albums but wasn't. We took the song and added some things to it to make it ours. The whole ending is different than the original." According to Rhynedance, WildSide laid down the song for their debut LP, Under the Influence, thinking, "It was gonna be a cool thing having an Axl Rose tune on our record.” Unfortunately, the temperamental Rose didn’t share their excitement. “We sent a final mix over to West and Axl,“ Rhynedance recalled. “Word came down that Axl said, ‘No f---in' way.’ Don't know what the reasoning was behind it. Sonically, it sounded great. Maybe it was the way [WildSide singer] Drew [Hannah] sounded? His voice, back in his prime, sounded kinda like Axl here and there. Maybe Axl didn't like our arrangement of it? Don't know, but that was that. It went on the shelf and never really saw the light of day. We played it live everywhere from 1992-94 on various tours.” WildSide wanted to release their version of “Crash Diet,” Rose be damned, but Capitol balked at the idea of going against such a massively popular act. So it was surprising for them to see it on Asphalt Ballet's second album, Pigs, the following year. “We couldn't believe that West was peddling it around town,” Rhynedance said. “We found out about Asphalt Ballet version and were like, “What the f---?’ I think Axl was tight with [the Asphalt Ballet] guys. He didn't know us, and he might have thought Drew was cloning him." "All I know is what happened on our side of things," a source from Asphalt Ballet who asked not to be named tells Ultimate Classic Rock. "We were long time friends with West, and hung out with Axl and Del, so for us, it was a song we were all familiar with, and since Danny was a part of writing it, we thought it fit our second singer, who sounded more like Axl than our first singer. So it was something we all agreed would work well on that record. Guns N' Roses didn't end up doing the song, so we asked West, Axl and Del if it was cool if we did it. We recorded it and put it on our second full-length record. Since then rumors have taken over the story."
Never officially laid down on tape, “Goodnight Tonight” was more of a live jam than a real song -- sort of a way for Guns N' Roses to blow off some steam and have some fun. There’s no real lyrics beyond the first verse, a repeated refrain of “Goodnight tonight, goodnight tonight, goodnight.” Writer Marc Canter said that it was performed only once live by the band, ending a show at the Roxy in 1986. Stradlin resurrected the song when he toured with his band the Ju Ju Jounds in the early ‘90s. “He may have wrote it,” Canter said. “I don't know when it was written or why they never did anything with it.”
No demo version of “You Could Be Mine” has shown up on bootlegs to date. But according to the members of GNR, it was conceived while the band was in pre-production for Appetite. Slash said in his memoir, “We booked ourselves time at S.I.R. studios with [producer] Mike [Clink] at the board, the band felt free to be ourselves. At our very first pre-production session, we started writing what would later become 'You Could Be Mine.' We weren't in there to write new material, but we were so comfortable that it just came to us." The line, "With your bitch slap rappin' and your cocaine tongue you get nothin' done" appears in the liner notes of Appetite, but it’s clear the song wasn’t close to finished, no matter how much it was looked at as a missing puzzle piece retroactively. “I always felt that it should have been on that album, because it is more reminiscent of that time than anything else on the Use Your Illusion albums,” Slash added years later.