Jukebox Antagonist – Episode 7

Fantasyland. It was just like being home except home wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about having me around. Despite a litany of things to do, people to see, and places to be, it was inevitable that I would spend some time at Baltimore’s Inn.

One night Freddie was behind the bar. It had been over a year since I’d been back, but very little had changed. A few vultures had come and gone. Different vultures had taken their places. Theater of Magic was still there; so was the jukebox.

Later in the evening, Fred slid down the bar with a goofy smile and eyebrows arching. “Hey!”

“Hey, what?”

juke 7-chink demoindexHis eyebrows continued to dance. “So…? Chinese Democracy.”

He was referencing the new Guns N’ Roses record, not my country of residence.

“What about it?

“Have you heard it?”

“One song on [local radio station]. But I don’t need to hear the whole album* to know that it’s complete garbage.”

“Yeah, but don’t you remember sayin’ it would never come out?”

“I don’t remember making that exact prediction, but it sounds like something I would say. Yes. Your point?”

“Pay up! Twenty bucks! We shook on it. Klaus was there. He was the witness.” Looking across the bar Freddie hollered, “Klaus! Get over here.”

Sigh. Klaus. That fucking guy.

We’ll get to Klaus before the Jukebox Antagonist series reaches its finale.

Anyway, it’s impossible to name one record found in every jukebox in the Western world. “Happy Birthday” notwithstanding. There are a bunch of records that every good jukebox should have; however, the Association of Jukebox has never reached a consensus, so to speak.

juke 7 - eaglesThere are at least a dozen records that have reached such blockbuster status they are nearly ubiquitous in jukeboxes everywhere. From my experience, the following records have an appearance rate of 80% or better:

  • Nirvana, Nevermind
  • AC/DC, Back in Black
  • Metallica, The Black Album
  • Bob Marley, Legend
  • Santana, Supernatural

The following records have an appearance rate of 85% or better:

  • The Eagles, Greatest Hits 1971-1975
  • Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
  • Fleetwood Mac, Rumours
  • Led Zeppelin IV
  • A record apiece from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones

juke 7Michael_Jackson_-_ThrillerOnly two records appear with greater frequency, the first being Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

It seems no matter where I’ve been, Thriller is in the box, and somebody is going play a track, guaranteed. And that’s cool with me, since I have never owned the record, and thus, it almost always sounds fresh to my ears. Even “Billie Jean” and “Beat It” are enjoyable, since I haven’t allowed them to be jammed down my throat.

It’s no coincidence that these and several other records are much more likely to be in the average jukebox, because the above-mentioned are among the best-selling records of all-time.

juke 7 -Appetite_for_DestructionThe second record which I have spotted in virtually every jukebox that’s ever accepted my dollar bill is also one of the best-selling and most overrated records in the pantheon of rock music: Guns N’ Roses, Appetite for Destruction.

GN’R’s debut album might have sounded cool and edgy in 1987 – a fairly dull and pretentious year in rock music (c.g. Michael Jackson, Bad; U2, The Joshua Tree) – but like Nirvana’s Nevermind, it wasn’t that great of a record to begin with, and on its own merits has not aged well.

Likewise, music with mass appeal generally speaks to the lowest common denominator. Despite featuring one of the greatest opening tracks in rock music – “Welcome to the Jungle” – Appetite for Destruction contains three good songs and a bunch of Aerosmith B-sides. And Aerosmith was interesting for a very brief period in their long and illustrious career. They were done after Rocks (1976).

juke 7-oasisMoreover, I consider Guns N’ Roses to be one of the most overrated bands of all-time in any sub-genre of rock. No band has gone farther with less than GN’R. They are even-steven with Oasis on the scale of rock n’ roll mediocrity. To be fair, I have never owned any GN’R records, played one of their tracks in a jukebox, or seen them live. But hang out in dive bars for 20 years and you’ll be as familiar with their work as any diehard fan.

Not only was Appetite in the box at Baltimore’s Inn, it was also one of the most played records, if not THE most played record. Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet got an ungodly number of spins, too.

Anyway, GN’R was also the subject of the longest-running thread of contention between me and Freddie the bartender – that is, a subject other than Sammy Hagar. In fact, once we established our boundaries, we tended to stay away from Sammy, mainly because it always wound up with someone’s feelings getting hurt.

So every now and then we’d go to our corners and come out when the bell sounded. On the subject of GN’R, we could come out swinging like Mike Tyson because neither one of us really cared; and by this time, the band wasn’t even a parody of itself. And in a way, Fred was as disappointed in the band as I was dismissive of their music.

juke 7-GnR--UseYourIllusion1Unfortunately, the box also contained Use Your Illusion I and II, which are not considered overrated because to the best of my knowledge, no one with any credibility has ever said they were good records.

And at the same time, you couldn’t defeat my stance against “November Rain”; easily the most bloated, plodding ode to Elton John not written by Elton John. Holy smokes, I’d be embarrassed for them if it weren’t for the fact of royalties. Dudes got rich on that crap.

Let’s get this out of the way. Axl Rose can’t sing – it actually seems oddly redundant to have to articulate this – but being able to sing is not a requirement for the front man of a rock n’ roll band. There’s no question Axl was a charismatic entertainer, and thus, cannot be criticized for something he never set out to do – sing.

Listen, I’m not letting that slide this time. Twenty-eight million copies is a lot of anything. Somebody has to be held accountable. Ozzy Osbourne was never a great or even good singer, but at least he could carry a tune, a melody. Axl? Not so much.

Those three good songs on Appetite for Destruction: “Welcome to the Jungle”, “Paradise City”, and “Sweet Child o’ Mine” are undeniably classic tracks that continue to bristle with energy.

The rest of the album (total time of 54+ minutes) is nonsense running the gamut from lame to offensive, and Steven Adler plays drums. Thanks to him, I still refer to this record as Appetite for Cowbell. In fact, I was surprised to learn that the infamous Saturday Night Live skit “More Cowbell” featuring Christopher Walken, was not based on this album.

juke7-steven-adlerMan, I’ve got no beef with Steven Adler as a human being. I’m familiar with his story. However, as far as Rock n’ Roll Hall of Famers go, he’s got to be one of the worst drummers in the history of music to have that honor. He’s the Peter Criss of late 80s faux metal.

Over the years, I sat stoic as bar patrons violated the jukebox with tracks from Appetite for Destruction. Only on occasion would a certain jam spark another futile diatribe (on my end) or testament of greatness (from Fred). I think it would be a pussy move to simply say such-n-such album stinks without backing it up with substantial reasoning and example. Thus, it is very much in my nature to want a track-by-track rundown of the entire album.

The majority of ideas that follow were at one time expressed by yours truly while arguing with Freddie at the Balt.

Welcome to the Jungle

As mentioned before, that’s what I call an entrance! Fantastic intro followed by a solid and aggressive verse. If every song on the record were this good, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Almost everything about this jam is phenomenal including Axl’s infamous bit:

Do you know where you are?
You’re in the jungle, baby
You’re gonna die!

Here’s an imaginary scene that I like to believe took place during the making of this track.

TAKE 21

A tiny screenplay* by Christian Adams

FADE IN:

INT. LIVE ROOM OF RECORDING STUDIO – TIME OF DAY UNKNOWN

The FINAL CHORD of “Welcome to the Jungle” reverberates through the studio. The BAND – AXL ROSE, SLASH, IZZY STRADLIN, DUFF McKAGAN and STEVEN ADLER – has just run through their 21st take of the song; they appear weary and dissipated, awaiting a response and evaluation from producer MIKE CLINK.

INT. CONTROL ROOM OF RECORDING STUDIO

Seated at a massive mixing console, CLINK and NAMELESS ENGINEER exchange UNINTELLIGIBLE CONVERSATION and simultaneously shake their heads. The BAND is partially visible in the window which separates the two rooms. After a brief pause, CLINK takes a DEEP BREATH and addresses the band over the talkback microphone.

CLINK

(enthusiastically)

Guys, that was great! We’re almost there. Take it from the top.

BAND

(almost simultaneously, groaning)

Aww, man…the fuck…come on…pfffft…that’s bullshit!

CLINK

(vaguely concerned)

But, um… Hey Steve, listen. You’re tempo is insanely uneven from bar to bar. Can you maybe…?

INT. LIVE ROOM OF RECORDING STUDIO

Quick zoom on STEVEN ADLER sitting behind the drum kit, twirling his sticks.

ADLER

(annoyed)

I can’t play to a click track, man.

INTER-CUT TO ADLER’S POV

SLASH LIGHTS A CIGARETTE while IZZY and DUFF take turns DOING LINES OF COCAINE off the top of an unused amplifier. AXL remains off-screen, COUGHING.

CLINK

(off-screen, heard through loudspeaker; cheerfully)

Right. No, of course, a click track is out of the question. I wasn’t suggesting that, Steven.  Just tighten it up a lil bit, huh? And… Um, I think you hit the cowbell a couple of times in there, too. Don’t do that.

SLASH

(barely audible, apparently speaking to AXL, who remains off-screen)

Yeah, man, that’s what I was sayin’

ADLER

(defiantly)

What are you talking about, man? I don’t even own a cowbell, man. Who do you think we are, Blue Oyster Cult?

CUT TO INT. CONTROL ROOM

NAMELESS ENGINEER

(snickering)

Blue Oyster Cult!

CLINK

(confidently)

No. I’m pretty sure you’re hitting the cowbell during the first half of the chorus, Steve. But that’s OK. Just don’t do it again. ‘Right? From the top! Take 22.

FADE OUT

* Screenplay based on the following video, which preceded Appetite for Destruction by little more than a year, and one of those songs where I tell myself, “You can’t possibly like this” but in fact, it’s actually quite good. Hell, I’ve said it before but this is one of the best AC/DC songs of 1986.

Cinderella – Somebody Save Me

***

Back to the program following that curious but necessary theatrical interpolation of sorts.

OK, so “Welcome to the Jungle” is a smash hit. Track 2… Show us what you’ve got!

It’s So Easy

I gave you the live version here because it shows the band at its ostensible prime. The song itself? Primitive chord progression, zero vocal melody, and WHAT’S WITH THE FUCKING COWBELL, STEVE? Meanwhile, the bridge is a direct lift from every Ozzy Osbourne song in existence.

Otherwise, the guitars sound good, but the riffs are dull and based on 4X – which means, repeat four times. Then move to different, unrelated riff. You can literally count how many times they go through the riffs and it’s almost always divisible by four. And that’s lazy fuckin’ shit. Meanwhile, Axl is singing about how “easy” it is to get over on groupie chicks. Whatever, man.

 

Night Train [sic]

Starts off with COWBELL, COWBELL, and MORE COWBELL. Promising? The intro guitar riff is cool but quickly dissolves into a static choogle and Axl’s sophomoric automotive sexual metaphors. Again, the cat isn’t really singing and he isn’t saying anything in particular. His vocal parts are the aural equivalent of a prison tattoo.

juke 7SNL_Fever_Cowbell_Black_ShirtSlash is particularly squealing, but Izzy Stradlin is holding down the rhythm. Izzy was my favorite Gunner, by far. Oh, and Steve, if you hit THAT FUCKING COWBELL ONE MORE TIME, YOU”RE FIRED! OR I QUIT. YOUR FUCKING CHOICE.

Meanwhile, Slash’s guitar solo is probably a compilation of multiple takes, since I actually have seen the cat live (Slash’s Snakepit circa 199-?) and there’s no way he could pull that off in one shot. Just keeping the hat balanced on his head seemed like a full-time gig for the dude. So I guess I’m saying the solo is actually pretty good.

Moreover, I like Slash as a cartoon character. He seems like a cool cat. In a hat. Ain’t nothing wrong with that. He isn’t fat. His father is a diplomat.

The last two minutes of the song is “I’m on the night train” and two of the longest minutes in recent memory.

Out to Get Me

I refuse to list the title as it appears on the record because. Just because. Musically, this is an uninspired, four-on-the-floor, mid-tempo stomper. There’s one neat little guitar riff in there somewhere, otherwise, this might as well be Cinderella.

Listen to Steven Adler attempting some tricky little double bass triplets during the choruses. And then he’s holding on for dear life during the double-time at the end.

It’s funny how the drums are buried in the mix. I’m going to go on record right here and say that I’m a better drummer than Steven Adler, and that’s not saying much.

The harmonized guitar bridge is quite interesting in the sense that it sounds like they’re trying to do a Brian May/Queen thing, but they got distracted along the way, and it sounds like the ELO cassette is warped.

Best Lyric:

I’m innocent, so you can suck me
Take that one to heart

Mr. Brownstone

The worst song on the record, even if people think it’s got that one great riff. Has the Paul Shaffer Orchestra ever covered “Mr. Brownstone”?

Whenever I hear a guitar player move to the Wah pedal, the first thing that goes through my mind is, “Oh great! Pentatonic blues scales!”

This is one of those songs where you can literally hear the band running out of ideas in real time.

Best Lyric:

Yowzah!

Paradise City

First time I heard this cut I thought, “Christ, John Cougar has really let himself go.”

The whistle signaling the end of the intro? Priceless. Like we needed a cue, Ax.

My biggest rock n’ roll pet peeve is a song with a chorus that tells me to do something, usually RIGHT NOW!

Many bands have utilized the dictatorial chorus trope, and I’m not pointing fingers at this stage of the game. However, the reason I hate those types of songs is that when my roulette wheel of a brain stops to think about, for instance, what the lead singer of Kansas is telling me to do in “Carry On Wayward Son”, I’m annoyed that it’s even become a discussion. Don’t come at me with your Sunday School nonsense. Peace? There will never be peace, even when I’m done.

“Paradise City” has another such dictatorial chorus and a pretty selfish one at that. This dude wants me to drop what I’m doing and take him home – Paradise City – where he can ostensibly roll around in the green grass with a bunch of naked chicks. Listen, pal. I’m not taking you anywhere. Walk your lazy ass down to the Greyhound station and get on a bus. I’m busy.

juke 7-Spinal-TapThis needs to be pointed out because other than the chorus, the lyrics are pretty damn good, even by Aerosmith’s standards. None of it really makes sense, but at least he’s trying to transcend the stereotypical “Pink Torpedo” type-shit endemic to the genre.

Captain America’s been torn apart
Now he’s a court jester with a broken heart
He said turn me around and take me back to the start
I must be losin’ my mind
“Are you blind?”
I’ve seen it all a million times

For rock n’ roll, that’s definitely passable. Slam that up against any other hot faux metal jam of the era and it stands up quite nicely. But then he’s gotta get the listener involved – it is after all, another rock n’ roll trope. Axl and I both know what he’s doing. But he could have just as easily said:

I’m going down to the Paradise City
Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty
I’m going home

Anyway, P-city is also one of the few songs on the record on which STEVE DOESN’T HIT THE COWBELL. But you can hear him fall off the beat on several occasions – most notably in the intro. It’s too bad that time-keeping isn’t something you can cook up in a spoon and shoot into a vein. If heroin was rhythm, Adler would be the second coming of Buddy Rich.

The back end of the jam proves to be a variation on the “Freebird/Hey Jude” motif: Two minutes of a great jam, and six minutes of filler that just…goes…on…forever.

Slash is absolutely flying on the outro solo(s). There are more than a few Joe Perry riffs tucked in, but by that point, enough is enough. They lost me somewhere around the third minute of the cut. Still, I’d put this on a list of Top 100 rock guitar solos.

Meanwhile, if you really pay attention to the drum fills before the outro jam, it’s popcorn popping. Steve is trying to be fancy with a bunch of rapid-fire John Bonham triplet-rolls and he just…can’t…pull it off.

I’m really surprised they let that slide, but they probably figured, “Hey, fuck it. We’re not Steely Dan and it’s already four minutes into the jam. Nobody will notice.” If anybody involved in the making of this record actually thought that was good drumming, they are far more incompetent than I imagined possible.

My Michelle

Hey, the Scorpions called, they want their intro back.

Of course, it dives right into a shitty, repetitive riff, and HERE COMES STEVE AND THE COWBELL.

juke 7-Chuckie-familyAxl sounds like Chuckie. I can’t sit through this crap. His falsetto is an attention-grabber, but a disappointment nonetheless. He has absolutely NOTHING to say, but as a front man, he had to do something to get over the noise of the band. And while a phalanx of singers were doing it and doing it much better, Axl, at the very least, had a good sense of where to use it – usually on the last 4X of the 128X chorus.

Think About You

COWBELL, COWBELL, COWBELL.

Seriously, this is complete shit. The guy can’t sing. The riffs are exhausted. The whole band sounds dehydrated and disoriented, like they’ve been wandering lost the desert for a week, looking for a hook.

All of a sudden they’re gonna be Cheap Trick in the sub-chorus and outro? This is embarrassing. Cut and paste amateurisms. Twenty-eight million copies of this record and counting? No wonder the rainforests are disappearing.

Sweet Child o’ Mine

I got nothing bad to say about this track, except Axl allegedly beat the shit out of Erin Everly, as in, daughter of Phil Everly. That’s not cool.

You’re Crazy

A case could be made for 1987, and this was actually pretty cool for the era. But there’s nothing beyond the surface of the scratching and screeching. It’s a bunch of sad riffs pieced together and a kid screaming over the top. He’s saying nothing of relevance, in the most offensive way possible.

***

Down at the Balt, there were plenty of nights where Freddie and I had nothing to say to each other, particularly when sporting events were on television. There was a period of time when he wouldn’t engage me in conversation unless drugs were involved. As the tide came and went, so followed the running dialogue.

juke 7A_bigger_band_album_cover_(Wikipedia)One of our most memorable discussions was borne by the release of a “new” Rolling Stones record, A Bigger Bang (2005).

Earl had wasted little time getting the disc into the jukebox. The band had recently announced a North American tour with a scheduled stop in Fantasyland, and rumors were rampant that Metallica would be the opening act. Regardless of that particular incongruity, the fact that the Stones were still putting out records really got under my skin.

One night I walked in and Freddie nodded, “Hey, man. New Stones in the box.”

“Not interested.”

“What?! I thought you liked the Stones.”

“Pffssshh. I said I liked Beggar’s Banquet.”

He opened a bottle of Budweiser and sat it in front of me. “Have you even heard any of the new stuff?”

“Not that I need to hear any of it, but in fact, I have heard two songs on the radio, both of which were awful. Tuneless. Shameful. The sound of old men getting older. And I don’t need that kind of aggravation.”

“Ah, come on. This is their best record since Steel Wheels.”

“Which blows, too. Not setting the bar very high, are you, Freddie? That’s like saying the new Bon Jovi is the best thing they’ve done since New Jersey. The new Stones record represents everything that’s bad about rock music.”

“OK, so what’s so bad about it?”

“What? Rock music or the Stones? The Stones are making piles of shit. It’s horrible music. It stinks.”

“Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean it stinks.”

“Actually, it does. That’s exactly what it means.”

“I think it rocks.”

“And you have terrible taste in music. What does that tell you?”

“So who made you the final alberter of music?”

“Arbiter.”

“What?”

“The final arb-i-ter of music. You said alberter.”

“Whatever. Who made you the final arbiter of music.”

“First, I’m impressed that you’ve tried to introduce that particular phrase into the conversation, because I’m sure I’ve used it with you before, and even you are capable of learning new tricks. As for the question itself. I did.”

“You did what?”

“I made myself the final arbiter of music AND good taste.”

Fred scoffed and turned away. “You know, I don’t know why I even bother with you.” He wagged a finger at me. “You’re just one of them guys. Not a hipster, not a snob, something else. You’re just one of them. You’re a hater.”

“Fred, listen. Are you familiar with a writer named Flannery O’Connor?”

“I dunno. Did I have to read him in high school?”

juke 7-oconnorc478“Her. You probably did not have to read her in high school. College English major? Yes. You’d be up to your ass in Flannery O’Connor.”

“Where you goin’ with this?”

“I’m going to draw an analogy to” – I pointed back and forth – “this, our conversation, using a line from one of her short stories.”

“Oh boy. Here we go.”

He genuinely laughed, put his foot up on a milk crate, and rested an elbow on his horizontal thigh.

I continued. “It’s at the end of the story and this bad guy is about to shoot this woman. It doesn’t matter why he’s going to shoot her, but he is. He says, ‘She would have been a good woman, if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.’ What this means is if the woman could have lived her life at gunpoint, more or less, she could have gained the self-awareness that she was woefully lacking. OK, now. Think of your taste in music as the woman in the story, and think of me as the guy who’s going to shoot her. I’m just here to make sure you live at gunpoint, so to speak.”

“You know, man. Fuck off. The Stones rock and you suck. They’ve sold millions of records, and you’re sitting here, doing what? Nothing. Playing pinball and talking about how I have no taste. Listen, pal, I don’t give a fuck what you think of my taste.”

“Fred, it isn’t personal. I’m just trying to get you to see things from a different perspective, that’s all.”

“Your perspective. Ha!”

“No, from a realistic perspective.”

“How does this relate to the new Stones record?”

“Just think about all the time, effort, and resources put into the Stones. Sure, they sell concert tickets as a nostalgia act. But for the money they spend putting out a new album – which isn’t really new or an album, it’s an excuse to mount a world tour – with the same amount of record label juice, they could put out 50 records by younger and more relevant bands. And they could still make money. What have the Stones ever done to help up and coming bands, other than opening slots on world tours? All they’ve done is line their pockets and perpetuate their brand. And everybody is expected to bow down to royalty. So fuck them.”

“I saw GN’R open for the Stones at the L.A. Coliseum in ’89. Drove down there with Earl. It was awesome.”

***

Anything Goes

Hahaha. Please. This is Aerosmith without the Aero or the Smith. Trash.

Oh great, a talkbox solo. Is that Joe Walsh? Assholes.

Rocket Queen

We’ve made it this far without hardly mentioning Duff. Fixed that for ya.

Slash tries his hand at slide guitar.

The porno sounds are gauche. And then, we’re treated to a detour into power pop. Bizzare. But you know we’re going back to the “Rocket Queen” chorus, it’s only a matter of How?

No detectible cowbell on this jam. Thanks, Steve. But lots of Slash.

At the end of the day, I’m not surprised this record has sold 28 million copies and counting. It reminds me of Shania Twain, Whitney Houston and Nickelback. People really enjoy listening to shit music. And frankly, I had a pretty good time with this track-by-track review. It brought back some amusing memories, like the year or so I used to wear a bandana. Or that I used to own a tie-dye t-shirt but never liked the Grateful Dead.

No matter what I think of GN’R and their insipid music, I guarantee every one of those clowns has a pad in L.A. with a real groovy swimming pool. I’ll bet Steven Adler’s pool is shaped like a cowbell.

* Editor’s Note: The author would like to point out that he’s listened to Chinese Democracy several times since these events took place, and would like to append the following comment: It’s not a bad album, but it’s Pro-Tooled to fuck. You can hear it being chopped up into compatible pieces. I’d be willing to bet the best song on the disc (“Shackler’s Revenge”) was recorded in different studios with different guys behind the board, and pieced together over a period of several years. It’s uneven as my first haircut. However, with Axl’s voice, everything seems to work I give it 6/10.
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2 Comments

  1. Sometimes I wonder if “Welcome to the Jungle” was a tribute to the book, The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair. Of course, the book is 100% better than the song.

    What would Freddie say? Would he have any clue?

    1. Freddie believed (correctly) that the song was about L.A. and the struggle faced by the busloads of kids who moved there to “make it big.” We actually discussed that. As for Upton Sinclair, he might has well have been a law firm for all Fred knew.

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