How Guns N’ Roses’ ‘It’s So Easy’ Destroyed a Friend’s Country Song
Guns N’ Roses needed something heavy, bombastic and uncompromising to follow the ultimate album opener “Welcome to the Jungle” on Appetite for Destruction. “It’s So Easy” fit the bill, 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.
Written by McKagan with help from his guitar-playing neighbor and band friend West Arkeen, the original song hardly resembled the final version in its infancy. In fact, according to Rose, 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 in 2006, 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 doing 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 the song came when McKagan picked 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 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.”
Subsequent Guns N’ Roses songs like “Yesterdays,” “You’re Crazy” and possibly “14 Years” 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.”
Slash added: “There’s a lot to say for that period of time when you start to lose the excitement of chasing chicks. 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 for Destruction was in a much higher register, making “It’s So Easy” stand out with a deeper drawl. Rose found some of his influence in a dating-service advertisement.
“I got the greatest picture,” Axl told Hit Parader in 1988. “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.”
Watch Guns N' Roses 'It's So Easy' Video
“It’s So Easy” was designed to be the first taste of Guns N’ Roses and was released as the lead single for Appetite for Destruction on June 15, 1987. Put out as a 7-inch double A-side with “Mr. Brownstone” on the flip, and as a four-track 10-inch 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 and the Bowie 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 said. "I like the filming of it, that whole aspect, but ... that’s where I’m spanking Erin – I’m spanking ‘Sweet Child.’”
The clip may have been a bit on the raunchy side, especially for the music-video network, but Rose looked at this track 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 1987. “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.”
Guns N' Roses memorably performed the song in October 1986 at Santa Barbara’s Arlington Theatre, when they opened for Alice Cooper. The gig is notable because Rose showed up late and wasn’t allowed into the venue. Guns N' Roses pressed on without him, with McKagan singing the song he penned.
At later shows, lines from this song tended to take 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 said in 1991 on MTV's 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 were real cool and we got away with it,” Rose later 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.”
“It’s So Easy” remained a huge part of the group's legacy. Not only has it been on the set list for Guns N' Roses' tours, McKagan even lifted its title for his 2011 memoir, It's So Easy: And Other Lies.
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