In the 1980s, Los Angeles was a mecca for so-called “glam rock” bands and the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” lifestyle with which they came to be associated. On any given night inside clubs like the Troubadour and the Whisky a Go Go, you could not only hear bands like Hanoi Rocks and Mötley Crüe or, later, Winger and Warrant, but you could also witness an expression of that lifestyle as decadent as any the music world had seen. The rise of “grunge” bands like Nirvana and alternative rock effectively put an end to that scene in the early 1990s, but the first blow was struck by one of their own: Guns N’ Roses, the band that made its big popular breakthrough on July 23, 1988, when their first hit single, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” entered the Billboard Top 40.
To the guys in pop-metal groups like Poison, Guns N’ Roses might have seemed at first to be just another fellow hair band, but Axl Rose and the rest of the classic GN’R lineup—Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler—were interested in rock and roll that was much more raw, angry and honest than what the pop-metal bands were playing. Originally formed out of the ashes of two other groups—L.A. Guns and Hollywood Rose—Guns N’ Roses played in a style that owed much more to the pure hard rock of the 1970s than to the showy heavy metal of the 1980s. Signed to Geffen in 1986, GN’R released their first full-length album, Appetite For Destruction, the following summer, and with it their debut single, “Welcome To The Jungle.” Appetite For Destruction would eventually be certified 15-times Platinum, and “Welcome To The Jungle” would become a massively popular Top 10 hit, but neither the album nor its first single was an immediate success. It took nearly a year of touring and the release of a second single, “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” to earn Guns N’ Roses a place in music history.
Built around an opening riff that GN’R guitarist Slash considered a silly throwaway, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” went on to become not just a #1 hit on this day in 1988, but also a true rock classic. Voted onto “greatest” lists by Rolling Stone, Blender, the RIAA, BBC and the like, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” made stars out of Guns N’ Roses, and it made so-called “power ballads” like Poison’s “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” seem weak by comparison.