Okay, here’s the deal: There’s nothing I can tell you about the content of this album that you don’t already know. Guns N’ Roses’ major label debut has sold 35 million copies, which is roughly half as many as the number of fits Axl Rose has thrown. If you don’t know the songs by heart then I can’t help you.
So if you’re looking for an in-depth analysis of “Paradise City” you’re going to need to move on. No, I’m here to talk about that legendary controversial cover.
Appetite’s initial release featured a painting by lowbrow/pop surrealism master Robert Williams. I’m not using the word “master” lightly here — Williams is to those genres as Picasso is to Cubism, an analogy that is antithetical to everything that those movements and Williams stand for.
Williams came of age in the middle of the last century, at a time when drawing things that looked like things was sorely out of fashion. The rub there was that he liked to draw things, and he had the drafting skills to do it. This led to a break with the “real” art world and a career in underground comics, t-shirt designs, etc., thus the term “lowbrow.” Only in the last few years has he been represented by a highbrow New York gallery, creating the odd juxtaposition of a highbrow lowbrow painter. That in itself is somewhat ironic: Williams was a co-creator of the lowbrow magazine, Juxtapoz.
Anyway, the painting in question is titled “Appetite For Destruction,” and it was the cover of a paperback collection of Williams’s work that was big in Los Angeles in the mid to late eighties. He was all the buzz in L.A. back then, and The Lowbrow Art Of Robt. Williams popped up seemingly everywhere. The painting itself dates to 1978.
Axl claims that his original design for the Appetite cover was a photo of the space shuttle Challenger explosion which, hey, who am I to argue? But it seems a little odd that the Gunners’ first album coincidentally shares a title with the Williams painting that eventually landed on its cover, yet it wasn’t the original cover design.
Axl also has claimed that he intentionally selected Williams’s painting knowing that it would cause controversy and drive sales. Now that I have no problem believing. The original was pulled quickly and replaced by the “cross tattoo” cover that most of us think of when we think of Appetite For Destruction.
Perhaps the best collection of Robert Williams’s work is Malicious Resplendence, a coffee table book stuffed full of photos and text. You’ll find in this book a photo of the underpainting for “Appetite,” which is catnip for anyone who loves the process as much as the finished product.
This one is going to cost you. On average original copies of Appetite For Destruction go for around 75 bucks American, but they can go up to two or three hundred dollars for a mint, still sealed copy. Happy hunting.
P.S. Before I go, here’s a little something from my other library, the one of the book variety. I know it’s a little braggy to show off this inscription from my edition of Malicious Resplendence, but this little feature is all about the things in my stacks, right? Right?