Do you remember your first Guns N’ Roses? I sure do. I skipped Appetite and went straight to GN’R Lies. We were heading to the cottage one spring weekend and my parents offered to buy me a new cassette. “Patience” hadn’t even been released as a single yet. I knew no songs. But I was intrigued by the idea of a half-acoustic EP. I fell in love with the acoustic guitar around that time, and I wanted to check out Lies as my first Guns. I’m kind of proud that my first Guns wasn’t Appetite.
The acoustic side was the second; first I was assaulted by the jet-propelled electric “live” side. Which wasn’t really live. It was recorded in the studio with crowd noise dubbed in from the 1978 Texxas Jam. If you listen to the vocals, knowing that Axl is always in motion on stage, you can tell they are not live. This is, of course, with 20/20 hindsight. This electric side was a reissue of the first Guns EP, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide. Fans had been paying ridiculous amounts of money to acquire it, so Guns decided to beat the dealers by simply reissuing it with some new songs on top.
“Reckless Life” dated back to Hollywood Rose. Even though it’s not from Appetite, it sure could have fit on that album. It had the energy and the hooks to make it. It speaks to the strength of the album that songs like “Reckless Life” were left off. A slick and groovy tune, “Move to the City”, is also included on Lies. It’s obviously different from the direction of Appetite (horns!), but not all that dissimilar to the Illusions albums. The electric side is rounded out by a couple covers, something we later learned that Guns really excel at…or fail completely. There is no in-between with Guns N’ Roses covers. They either rule or suck. Both covers on Lies rule: “Nice Boys” (Rose Tattoo) borders on punk, foreshadowing the future. Finally, Axl announces that “This song is about your fuckin’ mother!” Not exactly the kind of thing parents enjoy, but a killer track: “Mama Kin” introduced many youngsters to the Aerosmith classic for the first time.
That first side felt dangerous. We were used to bands like Def Leppard. Suddenly this guy is talking about our fuckin’ mothers? Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide aka “side one” is also catchy as fuck, so we kept going back for round two, three, and more.
It was actually quite genius of them to pair Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide with four acoustic tunes on side two. The contrast works, and when you flip the record it feels fresh when you drop the needle again. In fact it’s easy to just flip back to side one and listen again. The quality of the acoustic songs didn’t hurt. The side progresses from softest to hardest. “Patience” is first, which eventually became one of Guns’ greatest hits. You didn’t hear acoustic guitar solos often back then, or a ballad with no drums. Even though ballads were all the rage, few bands had a song like “Patience”. The brilliance of “Patience” isn’t the melody or the whistling. It’s the minimalist arrangement.
I still remember my dad watching the “Patience” video with me. “That guy’s not a very good guitar player!” he scoffed as Slash solo’d. He never liked Guns N’ Roses.
“Used to Love Her” was always a bit of a novelty, but even so, a good novelty track. “A joke, nothing more,” according to the cover. It’s about a dog, in case you didn’t know. “Used to Love Her” is upbeat, catchy and easy to sing along to. Regardless of what my dad may think, Slash’s (electric) solo work on it is tops.
One of the most interesting songs is “You’re Crazy”, a re-recording of the Appetite for Destruction favourite. The cover states that it was originally slow and acoustic, before being cranked up on Appetite. Because it’s unique, the Lies version is the better of the two. It was notorious in the highschool halls for its refrain of “You’re fuckin’ crazy.”
Even more notorious however was the closer, and for good reason. Certain words in certain contexts are unpalatable. Context is the key. It matters who is saying the word, and why. Words in themselves are not offensive, it is their usage that can be hurtful. “One in a Million” is an ugly, angry song. Axl’s pissed off at the cops, religion, and seemingly homosexuals and the black community as well. Some of the harshest words are levelled at foreigners:
Immigrants and faggots,
They make no sense to me.
They come to our country,
And think they’ll do as they please.
Like start some mini-Iran,
Or spread some fucking disease.
And they talk so many God damn ways,
It’s all Greek to me.
Later on, Axl has the gall to state, “Radicals and racists, Don’t point your finger at me. I’m a small town white boy, just tryin’ to make ends meet.” Here we are in 2017, three decades later, and the world is still infested with angry, small town white boys. Although Axl smugly apologized for the lyrics in advance on the front cover, “One in a Million” can’t be excused that easily. Axl has since worked with gay and African American artists…hell, Slash’s mom was African American. As a fan of the music, I would like to hope that Axl has learned more about the world since 1988. We are shaped by our experience, and I hope Axl has had more positive ones.
Moving on from the lyrics, the interesting thing about “One in a Million” is that it was album debut of Axl Rose’s piano, on a song solely written by Axl. It’s simple and guitar based, and Slash’s acoustic solo is utterly fantastic.
Finally, one of the most appealing aspects of GN’R Lies is the cover. Taking a cue from Jethro Tull, the cover looks like a newspaper replete with dirty articles. Open it up, and there’s a naked woman inside. “The loveliest girls are always in your GN’R L.P.” says the headline. I quickly folded up the cover to hide it from my parents.
Lies was a good stopgap for Guns, considering the five year gap between Appetite and Illusions. It demonstrated growth, and cool roots. It will always be remembered for “Patience”, but also a couple ill-advised words that had lasting repercussions.