Guns N’ Roses Destroy a Friend’s Country Song With ‘It’s So Easy': The Story Behind Every ‘Appetite for Destruction’ Song
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To follow the ultimate album opener “Welcome to the Jungle” on Appetite for Destruction, Guns N’ Roses needed something heavy, bombastic and uncompromising. “It’s So Easy” — with Duff McKagan’s ominous bass intro and Steven Adler‘s rolling drums punctuated by spikes of Slash’s guitar before Axl Rose delivers the growling, menacing first verse — fit the bill to perfection.
Written by McKagan, with help from his guitar-playing neighbor and friend of the band, West Arkeen, the original song hardly resembled the final version in it’s infancy. According to Rose, in an interview with Eddie Trunk from 2006, it was more of a country and western ditty.
“’It’s So Easy’ was originally the ‘hippie ya-ya’ song. Duff and West wrote this song, like, on acoustic, and it literally went like, ‘I see your sister in a Sunday dress,'” Rose sang with a country inflection. “We were at [the rehearsal space] in L.A. and Slash just basically starts raping the song, and I ran up and started, like, doing like the evil Iggy Pop over it, while West is standing there and his face is like drooping, like, ‘My song …. ’ We just destroyed his song right there.”
The impetus for McKagan and Arkeen working on the track came from the latter picking up a drum machine and four-track cassette recorder – supposedly from a stiffed bus driver who used to work for Sheila E. – on the way home from his music college one day.
“We figured out how to use the stuff; the demo of “It’s So Easy” was pretty great,” McKagan told the A.V. Club years later. “West at this exact same time had taught me how to tune the guitar to open E. We used, like, every feature on the drum machine: cowbell, woodblock and everything on this demo. I sang it, tuned the guitars, put the drum track on and it was just this cool little lazy summertime hit.”
Later Guns N’ Roses songs like “Yesterdays” and possibly “14 Years” and “You’re Crazy” came from the same makeshift sessions. McKagan acknowledged that Arkeen teaching him the E-tuning was the birth of the piece – and also why he was given songwriting credit. Regarding the meaning behind the track, it wasn’t exactly highbrow. There may have not been an influx of cash at the time, but the band’s growing reputation as the act to watch on the Sunset Strip was providing the fruits of labor in other ways.
“It’s an account of a time all of us were going through,” McKagan said in a Geffen Records press release from 1987. “We didn’t have money, but we had a lot of hangers-on and girls that we could basically live off of. Things were just too easy.”
“There’s a lot to say for that period of time when you start to lose the excitement of chasing chicks,” Slash added. “You start going after really bizarre girls, like librarians and stuff, just to catch them and say I finally went out and caught a girl that wouldn’t be my normal date. Because everything else was starting to get … it’s so easy.”
The song is also notable for Rose’s vocal. Most of his singing on Appetite was in a much higher register, making “It’s So Easy” stand out with a deeper drawl. The singer found some of his influence in a dating-service advertisement.
“I got the greatest picture,” Axl said in a 1988 interview with Hit Parader. “I cut this ad out of a magazine. It’s this girl bent over so her ass is up in the air and it says, “It’s so easy.” It was an ad for Easy Dates. I sang in a low voice cause that fit the attitude of that song better. It wasn’t something I really thought about, I just started doing it. I just sing whatever the song deserves, and that song deserved to be sung different than the other material. It’s a hard, tight, simple, punk-rock song.”
The song was designed to be the first taste of Guns N’ Roses and chosen as the lead single for Appetite for Destruction. It was released June 15, 1987. Put out as a 7” double A-side with “Mr. Brownstone” on the flip, and as a four-track 10” where it was coupled again with “Mr. Brownstone” and had the Hollywood Rose cover “Shadow of Your Love” and “Move to the City,” it didn’t chart in the U.S. In the U.K., it barely cracked the Top 100 at No. 84.
A video for “It’s So Easy” was compiled from various live footage of the group playing in Los Angeles, primarily at the Cathouse. One night during filming, David Bowie – who had once dated Slash’s mother – showed up and apparently hit on Rose’s girlfriend Erin Everly, the inspiration for “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Fisticuffs reportedly ensued between the two singers and the Thin White Duke was thrown offset.
MTV balked at the promotional clip, mainly due to the shots of Rose with Everly tied up in a bondage setting, and it never got an official release beyond that. “I just think it’s corny, so … I don’t know,” Rose told Eddie Trunk. “I like the filming of it, that whole aspect, but … that’s where I’m spanking Erin – I’m spanking ‘Sweet Child.’”
Although the accompanying video was a bit on the raunchy side, especially for the music-video network, Rose looked at the song itself in a much different way. “You can hear ‘It’s So Easy’ and go, ‘Oh, this is a crazy song.” Yeah, it is, but it’s also art to me, and I have a wide spectrum of art,” he said in a 1987 interview. “A beautiful ballad with a full symphony where someone would call art is just as much art as ‘It’s So Easy’ to me, and I believe in art first.”
In October 1986, the band performed the song at Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theatre when it opened for Alice Cooper, a gig notable in the annals of GNR history because Rose showed up late and wasn’t allowed into the venue. The group pressed on without him, with McKagan singing the song he penned.
At later shows, certain lines in the song took on different meanings with audiences. And that led to some problems. “Our first major tour was with Motley Crue, and the audience was younger than most audiences we’d played, like on the Aerosmith tour, or on other tours, our own the tours and the tours with the Cult,” Rose told Kurt Loder in 1991 on the MTV program Famous Last Words. “And it was real hard to do the song ‘It’s So Easy,’ because there’s a line in there ‘I drink and drive, everything’s in sight.’ We were talking about kind of how we got away with things and we’re lucky to be here. It was real hard knowing that some of these kids would just go out and go, ‘Yeah! I drink and drive, everything’s in sight!’”
Even before that, Rose was telling interviewers that “It’s So Easy” was “a reflection of where I was then,” and that he had grown up since it was written. “There was a time when we were a little bit careless and thought we we’re real cool and we got away with it,” Rose said. “It’s not something we do now … or at least try not to – it’s not something I would do. I have to watch Slash, though; sometimes after a few too many he’ll try that ‘drink drive’ thing and we have to grab him.”
The legacy of “It’s So Easy” is a strong one. Not only has it been on the set list for most of Guns N’ Roses’ tours, McKagan even lifted its titled for his bestselling 2011 memoir, It’s So Easy: And Other Lies.
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