Great songs can happen to mediocre bands. We hear it all the time in music, less so often in metal, where "hits" are scarce and most metal bands with one actual high-charting single (Faith No More, Living Colour, Queensrÿche) support their place in history with a few great albums. But near the top of the mediocre band/great song heaps sits Rose Tattoo, barely remembered today as the Australian metal band that isn't AC/DC.
Most of Rose Tattoo's songs are routine hard rock fare without the leery charm of Bon Scott and the Young brothers. However, on "Nice Boys," they hit it out of the park, with the band's usual slide guitar riffs and badder-than-thou lyrics coming together for one solid jukebox anthem.
Rose Tattoo's version isn't all too different from Guns N' Roses' more famous cover on G N' R Lies. But why is it inferior?
To these ears, Rose Tattoo are trying too hard. The guitar playing feels labored next to Slash's, the vocals sound strained vs. Axl's feral interpretation. Both versions are great, and both bands have chemistry, but only one of them is iconic.
Chuck Klosterman, the literary world's most vocal GNR fan, might agree. "Because rock is so tied to the abstract concept of 'cool,' it seems distasteful when anyone tries too much," he once wrote in Spin. "Bands that are unpolished and lazy (the Replacements, Pavement, Motörhead) are always more likeable than groups that do 'whatever it takes' to achieve a modicum of success (Bon Jovi, Jimmy Eat World, Flickerstick)."
Now that we know that Axl can spend decades working on a song, it's clear that Guns N' Roses are neither unpolished nor lazy. But on "Nice Boys," they played the part with the finesse of a Scorsese cast.