Is Guns N’ Roses a “hair band”? A reasonable discussion can be (and has been) had on this point. On one hand, they certainly had the hair and played a similar hard rock style. They got their start during the “hand band” era and they had the characteristic power ballads in their catalog, including “Patience” and “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, both of which clock in at 5:56.
At the same time, it always seems like a disservice to lump them in with contemporaries like Poison, Mötley Crüe, Warrant and the like. There are some stylistic differences, both musically and in presentation. Guns N’ Roses never seemed to be interested curating an image as wild, out of control rock stars. Of course, thanks to Axl Rose’s shenanigans, they didn’t have to, but I digress.
It may be fair to characterize GnR as the ultimate evolution of the hair band; descended from what came before it, only bigger, better and more successful. While other acts were selling glam images and pop hook-laden records, Guns N’ Roses had more of a punk, rock and metal edge to them. Not quite as much as Metallica, another big-haired contemporary who never get lumped in with the glam scene, but at some midpoint in between. And while other hair bands might have had some popular success, none made the imprint that Guns N’ Roses did. Appetite for Destruction just turned 25 and it’s still the bestselling debut album of all time.
In late 1991, when grunge replaced hair metal as the “in” sound, most of the hair bands more or less just died out. Def Leppard managed to put out a well-received album afterwards and Metallica (never really in the conversation) reached the height of their success with their self-titled “Black” album before turning into a table. Otherwise, Use Your Illusion I & II were pretty much the last hurrah for anything resembling hair metal. Released 3 weeks after Pearl Jam’s Ten, a week before Nirvana’s Nevermind and three weeks before Soundgarden’s Badmotorfinger, the twin albums went head-to-head with grunge’s best for awhile. Two two albums were a massive success, combining to sell over 35 million copies worldwide, but not even that could stem the tide of changing tastes.
Ultimately, it took the defining opening guitar riff of the 90’s to unseat a band and a movement that had spawned the defining opening guitar riff of the 80’s, just four years prior. Slash’s opening on “Sweet Child O’ Mine” may have been a joke at the time, but it’ll go down in history as one of the best.
Sweet Child O’ Mine – Guns N’ Roses