HOLLYWOOD ROSE – The Roots of Guns N’ Roses (2004 Deadline)
Hollywood Rose were one of several bands that eventually morphed into the original Guns N’ Roses. Already on board were singer William Bailey (Axl Rose) and guitarist Jeff Isbell (Izzy Stradlin). Guitarist Tracii Guns (L.A. Guns) was in and out of the band. Drummer Johnny Kreis and guitarist Chris Weber were later replaced by Steven Adler and Slash respectively, who came in together via their old band. It’s a complicated tangle of ins and outs and interchanging members but what’s important is that Hollywood Rose did record a crucial five-song demo in January of 1984. This demo was finally released on CD in 2004 with 10 (!) remixes, and now we get to hear what Guns N’ Roses sounded like as a fetus in the womb!
Unfortunately this CD releases has been padded out by having each song in triplicate. Each track is presented as a) the original demo, b) a remix by Gilby Clarke, and c) a remix by Fred Coury. Cinderella’s Coury, you may recall, sat in with Guns N’ Roses briefly when Steven Adler broke his hand in ’88.
No mercy is to be had on “Killing Time”, an aggressive and ragged assault that foreshadows Guns greats such as “Reckless Life”. It’s similar in construction to “Comin’ Atcha Live”, a later song by Tesla. Axl is in vintage voice, not quite yet in control, but with all the power at his command. The Guns sound is already present on “Anything Goes”, later modified and released on Appetite for Destruction. The riff, later perfected by Slash, is already present and accounted for, although the verses are very different. The chorus is a little out of control, yet to be tamed into a singalong melody. What’s incredible is that the Guns sound was already there, waiting to be properly harnessed and unleashed upon the world. Izzy and Axl created that sound; it came originally from those two guys. Slash and the rest of the guys just had to add the finishing touches.
Track 3 is a Rose/Weber original called “Rocker”. A sloppy punk metal riff and a killer Axl lead vocal make for a passable tune. (I would love it if a reunited Guns would one day pull a “Van Halen” and remake these old unreleased songs…one can dream.) “Rocker” is more metal than you expect from Guns, but it has that sloppy, dangly cigarette vibe that the band embodied.
“Shadow of Your Love” was later re-recorded by Guns N’ Roses as a demo and released on the B-side to “Live and Let Die”. This is the original “Hollywood Rose” demo however, a more basic bare-bones version of the speed rock classic. The last demo is “Reckless Life”, better known as the opening track on GN’R Lies. It obviously evolved quite a bit as a Guns N’ Roses song, because this seems more like a skeleton of the song. It’s still breakneck fast, but the verse riff isn’t there yet.
These five songs indicated there was a cutting edge band here that needed to be heard. They could not have had the same success in this incarnation. They clearly needed Steven and Duff in the engine roof, and Slash laying sticky guitar toffee on top. The bones were already there, and it’s absolutely historic to hear these early demos of such important hard rock songs. The impact that they would have, as a foundation for something bigger, cannot be understated.
That said, as songs they still had a little ways to go, and I don’t think we really needed each song three times in one sitting. I’m not sure why Gilby was involved (except that he was in Guns N’ Roses too, from 1992-1994). I’ll be damned if I can pick out specific changes he made with his remixes, but most of the songs are different lengths so he obviously did stuff! Gilby did have Tracii Guns come back to Hollywood Rose and overdub new guitar solos for “Shadow of Your Love” and “Reckless Life”. These guitar overdubs do succeed in making the demos more exciting than they were. The Coury remixes are probably most notable for a distinctly different drum sound.
The Roots of Guns N’ Roses by Hollywood Rose is an essential collector’s item for any serious Guns fan. You don’t want to be without this. I just don’t think that two complete sets of remixes were necessary.