Roots Of Guns N' Roses

Roots Of Guns N' Roses

guns n roses 1985
Axl Rose and Slash, June 28, 1985 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jack Lue/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Guns N’ Roses have always had a substantial appetite for covers, and they’ve likewise always been vocal about the artists they love. We look at some of their favourites, from Rose Tattoo and the Angels to the Dead Boys and Johnny Thunders to Rory Gallagher and beyond. 
“Rock’n’Roll Outlaw” (Rose Tattoo)
“Marseilles” (The Angels)

Much has been made of course about the Gunners love of classic 70s Aussie rock. AC/DC are the biggest of course – it’s not for nothing that Axl has replaced Brian Johnson - but they love a couple of the Seedies’ Alberts labelmates as well. Famously, they included a ripping live version of Rose Tattoo’s “Nice Boys (Don’t Play Rock’n’Roll)” on their Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide EP, and every Australian Gunners visit has invariably ended up a Tatt or two joining them on stage. (Not that there are many early Rose Tattoo members left sadly…) The other Alberts act who made an impression on Guns N’ Roses were the Angels, or Angel City as they became known in the States. Axl Rose apparently said in 1988 “One of the main reasons this band got together was a song called ‘Take A Long Line’", and following the death of Doc Neeson in 2014, they paid tribute with a version of “Marseilles” at their next show. Back in 1989, when the Angels were trying again to crack the US, they were joined on stage at the Whiskey in LA by members of Gunners as well as Angry Anderson for a sensational run through both “Marseilles” and the Tatts’ “Rock’n’Roll Outlaw”. Check it out and turn it up.

“Aint It Fun” (Dead Boys)
“You Can’t Put your Arms Around A Memory” (Johnny Thunders)

There ain’t really that many punk ballads, but the Gunners obviously dig the ones that exist and they covered these two classics on their covers album The Spaghetti Incident?. “Ain’t it Fun” was originally recorded by CBGB’s favourites the Dead Boys in 1978, although the song itself went back to Cleveland and to the pre-Dead Boys band Rocket From the Tombs, so it actually pre-dated punk. As did the guy who wrote and recorded another Spaghetti track, “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around A Memory”, Johnny Thunders, the lead guitarist for the mighty New York Dolls, a band whose influence on everyone from Kiss and Aerosmith to the Sex Pistols cannot be overstated.


“Attitude” (The Misfits)

Another American punk classic covered by the Gunners on The Spaghetti Incident?. Guns N’ Roses obviously loved punk rock. I’m pretty sure Duff was the biggest fan of this stuff in the band, and he obviously got his way a lot of the time. The adrenaline-filled “Attitude” was originally recorded in 1978 by Glenn Danzig’s old band of second-wave New York punks the Misfits, who had also lent the songs “Last Caress” and “Green Hell” to Metallica for their covers project.


“A Beer and A Cigarette” (Hanoi Rocks)

Seemingly forgotten now, Hanoi Rocks were hugely influential in the 80s on the whole hair metal scene, which is odd when you consider that they were Finnish and that they didn’t really break through in the States, or the UK. It wasn’t for want of trying though, and famously it was in the States in 1984, in a car driven by Vince Neil, that HR’s drummer Razzle lost his life in a wreck. Hugely influenced by the New York Dolls, Hanoi Rocks took the androgynous glam look to ridiculous extremes before any other hard rockers did, and had a bunch of cool tunes. This song was recorded by the Gunners for The Spaghetti Incident? but left in the can.

“Tattoo’d Lady” (Rory Gallagher)

The antithesis of androgynous glam was flannel and denim-clad Irish bluesman Rory Gallagher, who was a highly credible and very popular blues guitarist and album artist throughout the 70s and into the 80s. An inspiration to later Irish rockers including U2 and Bob Geldof, Rory was a hard-living guitar slinger, so it’s no surprise that Slash has been vocal over the years of his love for the man’s music. Irish Tour ’74 is one of Slash’s favourite live albums; check out this incredible footage – and the hysteria in the crowd at the start - to see and hear why.

“Live and Let Die” (Paul McCartney & Wings)

A Paul McCartney tune with a reggae-tinged breakdown (because it was written for a James Bond film set in Haiti, which is near Jamaica) doesn’t seem like Gunners material on paper, but the title and lyrical sentiment, and the killer moody chorus made it perfect for a hard rock band with self-destruction on their mind. Guns N’ Roses’ cover of “Live and Let Die” was in fact pretty faithful to the original. Have a listen here.

“It’s Alright” (Black Sabbath)

Of course, it’s ironic that the prettiest song that Guns N’ Roses have ever played (no, not “November Rain” thank you) was a cover of a song by the heaviest, ugliest band in the world, Black Sabbath. The original, from 1976, sung by Sabbath drummer Bill Ward was almost Beatlesque and an aberration for the band. Axl mellowed it down even further at the piano. The Gunners version appeared on the 1999 collection Live Era '87–'93; let’s have a listen to the original.

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