30 Years Ago: Guns N’ Roses Film Their ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ Video
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On Aug. 1, 1987, Guns N’ Roses stepped in front of the cameras at the shoot for the music video that would launch their incredible career.
That clip, for the Appetite for Destruction track “Welcome to the Jungle,” served as proof of Geffen Records’ cautious investment in the rookie band. Destruction had only just entered stores a few days earlier, and the record’s first single, “It’s So Easy,” had already fizzled out on the charts; at the time, few suspected GNR’s powerful potential.
Perhaps for that reason, director Nigel Dick — already an MTV veteran through his work with Tears for Fears — kept things relatively simple at the shoot, lining up a performance at the Whisky a Go Go where they could be filmed running through the song onstage and playing it in front of fans. Between the live footage, the band members were shown on the streets of Los Angeles, reclining with runway-ready women, or — in frontman Axl Rose‘s case — mainlining cable news in front of a pile of televisions, Clockwork Orange style. All pretty standard stuff for the era, but as was so often the case with Guns N’ Roses, there were some hairy moments along the way.
Former manager Alan Niven, who credits himself with the idea of copping a Clockwork Orange vibe and blending it with Midnight Cowboy and The Man Who Fell to Earth, recalled guitarist Slash being a particular problem during the shoot. Niven told Rolling Stone that at one point, Slash “sort of kidnapped” a vehicle being used in the shoot — and the next day, after Niven banned alcohol from the set in response, he turned around and asked for a beer.
At another point, Niven recalled Slash wandering into the middle of L.A. traffic, waving a bottle of Jack Daniel’s at “terrified rush hour motorists” — a situation only brought to Niven’s attention by a member of the crew.
“I explained, in short syllable Anglo Saxon, and with a certain degree of firmness, that this was behavior that was not suited to the circumstances,” said Niven. “Slash looked me silently in the eye, then turned and walked home – some six or seven miles away.”
In the end, whoever was responsible for the ideas and whatever the problems that might have occurred along the way, the “Welcome to the Jungle” video lived up to Niven’s stated goals, blending the urban decay, aggressive nihilism, and dystopian overtones of its influences into a piece of work that fit within the established template for a hard rock video of the era while still suggesting that this was a band capable of breaking every rule. Fittingly, it stayed off the airwaves for months, as MTV execs refused to put it in rotation and Appetite languished in the lower reaches of the charts.
According to A&R exec Tom Zutaut, who signed Guns N’ Roses and proved one of their most dogged evangelists at Geffen during those make-or-break early days, the label was ready to abandon promotional efforts after nine months — a span in which Appetite for Destruction moved roughly 200,000 copies and was “seen as a failure.” Informed by his boss that the company was pulling the plug on the album, Zutaut went over his head and called label chief David Geffen, convincing him to make one last push; Geffen, in turn, called MTV’s CEO, who agreed to air the “Welcome to the Jungle” video at 4AM ET.
“The next day, I had multiple phone calls from my office,” Zutaut told LA Weekly. “I got in around four in the afternoon, and the head of promotion told me the video had lit up MTV’s switchboards. He was yelling hysterically and said MTV finally added the video into rotation after just one play of ‘Welcome to the Jungle.'”
After simmering for months, Appetite finally exploded, with third single “Sweet Child o’ Mine” hitting No. 1, “Welcome to the Jungle” breaking the Top 10 after being re-released to radio and “Paradise City” rounding out the record’s trio of crossover hits on the way to 30 million copies sold (and counting). Guns N’ Roses — and mainstream rock — would never be the same after “Jungle” finally reached the airwaves, but even on that L.A. shoot, Dick knew he was watching something special.
“I became, for a while, the go-to guy for that kind of band, and I’d get all these awful band managers coming up to me, ‘The job you did for that band was amazing, man, so you’ve got to do for my band what you did for Guns N’ Roses,'” he told Rolling Stone. “You just go, ‘Oh my God.’ If the guy ain’t Axl, he ain’t Axl. You can be the best video director in the world, but if the singer doesn’t have his oats together, you’re f—ed.”
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