Guns N' Roses shot to stardom with Appetite for Destruction, the biggest-selling debut in rock history. The album combined Seventies-derived hard rock and a hedonistic rebelliousness that simultaneously recalled the early Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Aerosmith, and the Sex Pistols; it also showed off the band's virtuoso technique and destroy-passers by attitude, as well as rock's funkiest rhythm section since before disco scared drummers and bassists straight. G N' R leavened their outrage with songs that bespoke the inchoate emotions of hard rock's primarily young, white audience.
Raised in a working-class Indiana family, high school dropout Axl Rose had, by age 20, compiled a police record that included charges for public intoxication, criminal trespass, and contributing to the delinquency of a minor. An ELO and Queen fan, the singer became friends with guitarist Izzy Stradlin, and the two joined forces in L.A. in the early Eighties to form a band.
guitarist Slash, whose parents, both in the music industry, had moved to L.A. when he was 11. With bassist Duff McKagan, whose own past included stealing a purported 133 automobiles, and drummer Steve Adler, the Gunners immediately accrued notoriety for their debauchery — alluding to the band's heroin and alcohol abuse, their posters featured the legend "Addicted: Only the Strong Survive."
Releasing an EP under the faux-indie imprint Uzi Suicide, Guns N' Roses signed with Geffen in 1986, and, with producer Mike Clink (Heart, Eddie Money), recorded Appetite for Destruction. Opening for Aerosmith, the band built a live following; and in September 1988, with wide MTV exposure given "Sweet Child o' Mine" (Number One, 1988) and "Welcome to the Jungle" (Number One, 1988), the album reached Number One; it stayed there for five weeks and on the charts for nearly three years.
In 1990, the band performed at Farm Aid IV and contributed a cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" to the Days of Thunder soundtrack and an original, "Civil War," to Nobody's Child, a project to benefit Romanian orphans; Slash and McKagan played on Iggy Pop's Brick by Brick and Slash recorded with Dylan, Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, and on a tribute album for Les Paul. But with Matt Sorum, formerly of the Cult, brought in on drums and with new keyboardist Dizzy Reed, 1990 was a year of regrouping.
None of these solo projects attracted G N' R-size audiences, and G N' R itself was falling apart. Slash was convinced to sign over rights to the Guns N' Roses name to Rose, later to the guitarist's regret. Clarke was fired. And Slash quit over creative differences with Rose, who insisted on introducing industrial and electronic elements into the G N' R sound. As the years dragged on, McKagan and Sorum eventually left.
Then in late 2000, Rose's management promised a 2001 release for the long-delayed Chinese Democracy. That was followed by a New Year's Eve concert in Las Vegas where a handful of new songs and a new lineup of Guns N' Roses was first introduced: guitarists Buckethead, Robin Finck (Nine Inch Nails), and Paul Tobias; bassist Tommy Stinson (Replacements); keyboardist Chris Pittman; and drummer Brian "Brain" Mantia. The only holdover from the past was keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who first appeared on GN'R Lies. After another appearance at the Rock in Rio festival in Brazil, the new G N' R continued touring.
Rose, Reed, Finck, Stinston, and Pittman remained, but were now joined by rhythm guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer (both from the Psychedelic Furs/Love Spit Love axis) and guitarist Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal. In June of that year, in Stockholm, Sweden, Rose pled guilty to charges of attacking a hotel security guard by biting him in the leg.
In December, addressing his fans, he predicted that Chinese Democracy would finally hit the stores in March of 2007. But the album didn't see the light of day until late 2008, when it released as an exclusive at Best Buy. It reached Number Three on the Billboard 200, but the title track never climbed higher than Number 34 on the singles chart. An underwhelming showing, to be sure — and anti-climactic, after such a tumultuous wait.