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Guns N’ Roses–Appetite For Destruction – Robert Williams cover

VMG 100–The most collectible. The most necessary. The most essential records for the perfect vinyl collection.

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Each episode of Vintage Media Grading – The Podcast features a discussion about the vinyl discography of a music legend. At the conclusion of each discussion, the guys from VMG choose the single most essential album of that artist – the single 12” vinyl record that is a must-have for any complete vinyl collection.

As albums are chosen, we will add a feature article about the album. These are the albums you need, from the most reliable resource of record collecting, grading, and authentication – Vintage Media Grading.

Artist – Guns n’ Roses

Essential Record – Appetite For Destruction – Robert Williams cover

US – 1987

Geffen Records – XXXG 24148, GHS 24148, Uzi Suicide GHS 24148

For a few years in the late 20th century, Guns n’ Roses ruled the world. Ultimately, their debut LP, Appetite for Destruction, would go on to sell over 30 million copies, yet the album itself, much like the band, was not free from controversy.

In the 1960s and 70s, punk artist Robert Williams was creating underground psychedelic comic art for the counterculture in California. A contributor to the iconic underground comic series Zap Comix, Robert Williams painted provocative images in a pop surrealist style that he would later refer to as “lowbrow”.

When Guns n’ Roses lead singer Axl Rose saw a Robert Williams painting on a postcard in LA in the 1980s, he offered it as an option for the cover, and title, of their debut album. Williams’s 1978 painting, “Appetite for Destruction”, depicted a robot rapist standing over a bear-breasted victim – a female seller of toy robots, in fact. Meanwhile, a monster lurks menacingly over a nearby fence seeking vengeance for the violent crime.

As GnR approached the pending release of their album, Rose’s interest in the painting only increased, leading him to approach Williams with a request to use the painting, and its title, for their album. Williams agreed, and the album was pressed.

Unfortunately (or, maybe, fortunately, if you subscribe to the “no bad publicity” mantra), stores were hesitant to stock the album with the graphic cover. As a result, Geffen changed the cover to the more familiar cross and skull tattoo art. Copies of the “uncensored cover” became more difficult to find, particularly in the US, while it continued to be released for years in Europe and South America.

Interestingly, Geffen did not destroy the albums, or ban the cover, and appears to have released copies again in the US in 1988 with a different hype sticker. The original 1987 releases had a black oval sticker stating, “Contains Language Which May Be Unsuitable For Some Listeners GHS 24148”. Later, however, some US releases had a hype sticker advertising the 1988 film Clint Eastwood film, The Dead Pool, which did not even start filming until early 1988.

Variants of Appetite vary, and collecting all of them is difficult but not impossible. Some versions have white labels, some have spelling errors of songs (“Roceet Queen”) and some have sticker sheets that are uber-collectible. In addition, some high-end collectors may put more emphasis on GnR’s 1986 “live” EP Live Like a Suicide, their “rookie” offering that is considerably more scarce than the 1987 US Appetite albums.

However, when considering the iconic nature of Appetite and the story surrounding the original artwork, the choice for the GnR essential album becomes clear. The album itself is a veritable greatest hits of hard rock, featuring all-time classics “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Paradise City”, and “Sweet Child o’ Mine” – a song on the shortlist for most famous rock songs in history (and the rare hard rock song to reach #1 on the Billboard Hot 100). In addition to these epic singles, the album is rounded out by excellent tracks like “Mr. Brownstone”, “It’s So Easy”, “Nightrain” and “Rocket Queen” – arguably the best song in the GnR catalog never released as a single.

(“Rocket Queen” itself has an interesting story behind it. Drummer Steven Adler was dating a stripper named Adriana Smith on and off for about a year. However, upset at Adler, Smith took Axl Rose up on an offer to have intercourse in the recording studio so that GnR could use the sounds of her moans in Rocket Queen. She agreed, and her moans, clearly audible in the interlude, would make Smith a footnote in rock history.)

And so, if a collector is going to claim to have a complete collection of epic albums, the 1987 US Appetite for Destruction with the “uncensored” Robert Williams cover is an absolute must-have. It’s an album absolutely worth both spinning AND slabbing. However, if your collectible penchant is for sealed items, try to seek out the “oval” black sticker variant, rather than the square “Dead Pool” sticker variant.

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