GUNS N’ ROSES – Lies (1988 Geffen)
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.
One of my least favourite GNR releases, this one. You’re spot on about You’re Crazy (I prefer it over the Appetite version) and Patience is still one of their best tracks. The rest I can take or leave (though mostly leave) and One In A Million is a hard one to listen to… even as a youngster I thought “fuck off with that nonsense, Axl”.
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If I had written this review say 5 years ago, I might have just said “Skip One in a Million”. But in 2017 I feel like I need to clearly state where I stand on certain issues. Here’s a revelation for you: racism and homophobia is bad!
So I got long winded but I think I needed to be.
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One in a Million is one of the best songs on the disc I think (musically). Some of the lyrical content is provocative, but I’m not sure that Axl was completely meaning to offend. I’m certain that part of it was him trying to cash in on being considered a dangerous band in a very disgusting and juvenile way, but I think the message is different than that.
I’ve heard before that Axl wrote the song as his very first impression of L.A. upon arrival, and that they didn’t reflect his current views when the album came out. It was about being culture shocked. I grew up in the Midwest like Axl, and I can attest that there isn’t very much diversity here at all, and people are more religious than they are on the coasts. Being dropped into California was probably eye opening and overwhelming for him, because so much of what we have here is a very reserved rural population of polite people. The decadence in L.A. probably took him by surprise, as well as the new diversity, making him really defensive and closed off at first because the situation was so unfamiliar to him. I’m in no way defending his reaction or the song’s lyrics, I’m just trying to give you some context since you guys are from the Great White North.
Another reason for his combative attitude is probably a result of the condescending stance that the West and East coasts have towards the middle of the country. We’re referred to pejoratively as the “flyover states”. The coasts are mostly liberal, so celebrities and people of their ilk consistently act like we either don’t exist, or that our political opinions are completely invalid because we’re more conservative than they are, going so far as to think of us all as backwards uneducated hicks. What’s more is that all U.S. mainstream media is liberal too except Fox News and they’re a joke, so we consistently take a beating from the news as well.
That disconnect is probably why Trump got elected despite all the polls saying Hillary would win. The Midwest and South are the silent majority, and for better or worse, we stood up and said we were sick of pretentious condescending Democrats putting us down and calling us names because we’re more right-wing than them. And they’re the self-proclaimed “tolerant” ones. The hypocrisy was palpable. I didn’t vote that year, I frankly couldn’t stand either candidate or the public discourse to where choosing one of them meant that half the population hated you just because of your beliefs. When Axl got to L.A. he probably was combative in his attitude because of the way the coasts treat us. He may have felt attacked before he even got off the bus just because of his origin. Again, not defending the lyrics, just trying to provide more context for it.
Great album. I will never listen to I Used to Love Her the same way again. I don’t think I knew it was about a dog. I like that song even more now!! Honestly, I have actually never read through the cover. I can’t believe I hadn’t done that. I am going to go home today after work and read it.
Part of the problem with One in a Million, for me, is that it is by far the best track here – he sings it like he really means it. It’s brilliant AND repugnant for me.
I always thought L7’s cover of ‘I Used To Love Him’ was just a stroke of genius – Mrs 1537 still sings it to me on occasion.
Really enjoyed your write up here.
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A friend of mine Erik also thinks it’s the best track and also repugnant.
I have never heard that L7 cover so I shall do so pronto.
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It’s where she mimics his voice that I love best.
I’m definitely down with Erik on that. We should probably start a band.
I somehow still don’t have this – I think those lyrics steered me away (I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard the track).
But I’ll still whistle along with Patience any day!
I love L7. Great band. Thanks for posting the track.
That guy’s not a very good guitar player.
I have yet to listen to this album from start to finish.
Izzy Stradlin’ is the main songwriter on this album.