Greatest Hits more often than not fail to capture the true brilliance of an artist, since they mostly focus on their more popular songs, rather than their best ones. Universal Records released the Guns N’ Roses Greatest Hits in March 2004, despite lawsuit by Axl Rose and former members of the band who all tried to stop the release. Despite the angst by the band, the album went on to debut at number 3 on the billboard 200 and remained in the top 200 for 138 consecutive weeks. The album has sold over 5 million copies since its release.
Guns N’ Roses were one of the biggest bands in the late 80s/early 90s, releasing a total of 5 albums. Their debut album Appetite for Destruction remains the highest selling debut album of all time in the US. This greatest hits serves as a safe starting point for potential fans, offering a decent array of world re-known hits such as ‘Patience’, ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ and ‘November Rain’, without delving too deep into the band’s fairly short back catalogue.
As mentioned earlier Appetite for Destruction was Guns N’ Roses most successful album, but only 3 songs make the greatest hits. ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, ‘Paradise City’ and ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ are all included, rightly so since they were the biggest hits from the album. ‘Nightrain’ and ‘It’s So Easy’ were both released as singles, and are fan favorites, but surprisingly they were both omitted from this compilation album. The three included tracks are highlights of the band earlier success, representing their signature sound; the fast and melodic riffs, the up-tempo and often aggressive nature of the songs and the melodic choruses. Slash is often the true star of the show, with the solo in ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ being a highlight.
One of the main complaints against the compilation is that too many covers were included. Out of the 14 songs on the album, 5 are covers. ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ is the only song that truly deserved to be included, since it’s one the most popular songs Guns N’ Roses have ever released. ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ is a mess of a song, released in the mist of group conflict, a time when the band was far past their saving point. ‘Live and let Die’, ‘Ain’t it Fun’ and ‘Since I Don’t Have You’ are all good covers, with ‘Ain’t It Fun’ being particularly entertaining with Slash metallic guitar work and Axl’s strained but interesting vocal performance and also features Michael Monroe as guest vocalist, but considering the brilliant original songs omitted they should have all been replaced by original songs.
Despite the band’s short life, they actually altered their sound quite a lot in the decade or so they spend in the spotlight. From the raw aggressiveness of Appetite, to the stripped-down acoustic Lies and then to the grandiose Illusions double album. ‘November Rain’, ‘Don’t Cry’ and ‘Civil War’ represent this later era sound of Guns N’ Roses well, with the keyboard becoming one of the main protagonists in the band’s sound. ‘You Could Be Mine’ is also included, an Illusion track which demonstrated that Guns N’ Roses still could rock out with the best of them despite the more diverse sounding songs. The opening drum solo and the Axl’s bullet speed singing are in top shape as he sings about divorce and betrayal.
With a new found for Greatest Hits, we find bands that haven’t even got going yet releasing compilation albums, making that album the only one worth buying since it contains the only songs that are worth listening to from the band. When it comes to a band like Guns N’ Roses, a Greatest Hits is nothing more than a launch band for any casual listener who might be thinking about taking a plunge into their entire catalogue (which is not huge to start off with). Could it have been better? Definitely. Does it serve its purpose? Entirely.