17th September 1991, the day Guns N’ Roses released their unprecedented two separate albums, Use Your Illusion I & Use Your Illusion II, is burned into the history of rock and roll forever.
By 1991, Guns N’ Roses were the biggest band in the world, coming off the success of their 1987 debut ‘Appetite for Destruction,’ which went on to become one of the best–selling debut albums of all time. Appetite for Destruction defined a generation and the end of the 80s, a decade of decadence on the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles. However, so many things were about to change for Guns N’ Roses in the following decade, and the 90s would also unfortunately, and very quickly, bring about the end of the original band.
By the end of the 80s, hair metal was starting to be considered passé. Rock and roll music fans wanted music that spoke to their generation rather than reverence for the decade’s opulence. The formulaic cookie-cutter production line of hair metal bands that were flocking to Sunset Strip was starting to grow tiresome, with many acts adopting the same look as the next band in hopes of finding their lucky break. In defence of these musicians in this era, they wrote many great songs that have stood the test of time, and this era of music still holds a fascination for many. But just like all good things, the hair/glam metal era was about to come to an end.
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Guns N’ Roses had a formula that set them apart from the pack, with their edgier bluesy sound and punky, urban cowboy vibe. The edgier sound to their music and look would help give the band street credit as well as create a bridge for them and what was about to become the new sound in the music world. The new, grittier punk–infused sound of the 90s originated from bassist Duff McKagan’s hometown of Seattle and was soon to be referred to as grunge. The spearhead of this movement would be a three–piece band from Seattle called Nirvana who would release their sophomore album, Nevermind, one week after Use Your Illusion I & II. But unlike Nevermind, the Guns N’ Roses’ albums were tremendous sellers from the very start. As time would tell, not even the mighty Guns N’ Roses would truly escape the inhalation of Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip music scene. By the end of their two-and-a-half year Use Your Illusion world tour in 1994, the writing was on the wall for Guns N’ Roses.
During 1989, the band had been starting to gear up their material for recording the highly anticipated follow up to Appetite. Slash, Duff McKagan, and at times, Izzy Stradlin, had decamped to Chicago in the summer of 1989 to write new material for the Use Your Illusion albums, waiting weeks for Axl Rose to join them. Although Slash called the Chicago sessions a “huge waste,” he admitted they produced “a few good tunes,” specifically, ‘Estranged’, ‘Garden of Eden’ and ‘Bad Apples.’ However, Rose was not the only member missing in action. Drummer Steven Adler’s drug addiction had really taken hold by now and eventually the band chose to move on without him. The band’s original line up played their last show on 7 April 1990 at a nationally televised Farm Aid concert, which, much to the fans’ dismay, was the last time that Adler was the drummer for Guns N’ Roses.
At the same time, Izzy Stradlin, the rhythm guitarist and widely considered the heart and soul of the band, was deeper than Adler in his own drug addiction. The one notable difference between Stradlin and Adler was that Stradlin could still play, just. Following an incident of being arrested for public urination (which earned him the nickname ‘Whizzy’), Stradlin decided to get sober and returned to his home in Indiana, where he detoxed and found sobriety; a factor which played a part in his decision to leave the band. On 7 November 1991, it was announced that Izzy Stradlin had left Guns N’ Roses, having played his final show as an official member on 31 August at Wembley Stadium.
Guns N’ Roses began recording in earnest in January 1990, a little over a year after the release of their follow up to Appetite, GN’R Lies. The drummer problem was solved by recruiting Matt Sorum of hard rockers the Cult, a band whose affinity for Stones–y riffing and trippy lyrics put them in the same league as Guns N’ Roses at the time. “He was f**king amazing,” Slash wrote in his autobiography, recalling a Cult show he attended in April 1990. After confirming his availability to join the band, Sorum left the Cult with their best wishes and became the official new drummer for the biggest band in the world. The other notable addition to the band was keyboardist Dizzy Reed, who would become the only musician other than Rose to stay in the band in the years leading up to their current reunion.
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Once the pieces of the puzzle began falling into place with the band and the song writing, the next task was to get all 35 songs recorded and then in the can, ready for release. Mick Clink returned as the album’s producer, the band’s only choice after the success of Appetite for Destruction. But in true Guns N’ Roses style, this was not going to be an easy recording process. It would be a staggering 21 months after recording began before Use Your Illusions I & II would see the light of day.
Ever the perfectionists, the band mixed 21 tracks with engineer/producer Bob Clearmountain, but later scrapped the mixes, starting from scratch with Bill Price of Sex Pistol’s fame handling the mixing. When it came down to it, Guns N’ Roses had set the bar high with their previous work and were intent on maintaining that push for excellence. This striving for perfection would come at any cost.
However, after many months of waiting, at the stroke of midnight on 17 September 1991, the Use Your Illusion I & II albums were finally released. The musical output of 30 songs, 16 on Use Your Illusion I and 14 on Use Your Illusion II, is immense, and every song has a back story. Here is a track–by–track guide to the back stories and rumours surrounding each song. I say rumours, as only the band knows the truth. It’s part of the mystic that is Guns N’ Roses.
Use Your Illusion I
‘Right Next Door to Hell’ is written by Rose, Stardlin, and Finnish guitarist, Timo Kaltio. The song opens Use Your Illusion I with an awesome bass line by McKagan and then Slash comes in and runs his pic up the edge of the E string. The subject matter of the song is about a dispute between Rose and his West Hollywood high–rise neighbour, Gabriella Kantor. Kantor had Rose arrested and sued Rose, claiming he hit her with a wine bottle. He denied the charges and labelled her a “fanatical fan.” The song itself is a real foot stomper and vigorously announces that Guns N’ Roses are back! It has this thunderously cool rock melody and incredible rhythm section with a notably different sound.
The immediate difference in my opinion in the sound of the band is Matt Sorum on drums. There is no doubt that Sorum is an excellent drummer. But the sound of the drums, as far as the feel is concerned, is very different to Steven Adler. Sorum does an incredible job on these albums and brings a whole new spectrum of colours to the pallette of the band, which I cannot imagine these songs without. What is missing though is the swing in the timing that Adler delivered so well on Appetite. It is without question Sorum’s technical treatment of the drums and solid–driving metronomic timing that make his drumming on the Illusions record one of the greatest recorded drum performances of all time.
‘Dust N’ Bones’, is a bluesy upbeat song that is written by Slash, Stradlin, and McKagan. The “highway 65” mentioned in the song is the same highway that runs through Indiana State where Stradlin and Rose grew up. Slash’s lead guitar on this song is exceptional and uses a voice box effect, the same as he did on Appetite’s ‘Anything Goes’. Rose brings a snarl and growl that are reminiscent of Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. ‘Dust N’ Bones’ is also the debut of Dizzy Reed on keyboards bringing a honky–tonk feel to the song. Guns N’ Roses were now officially and forever a six–piece band. Stradlin, the lead song writer, takes lead vocals on this track with Rose on backing vocals.
‘Live and Let Die’ is a cover of a Wing’s song written by Paul and Linda McCartney for the soundtrack of the 1973 James Bond movie. Rose and Slash had been discussing possible covers to be part of the Illusions records and they both agreed that they liked the song and Rose thought it sounded like the sequel to Appetites ‘Welcome to the Jungle’. The Guns N’ Roses’ version of the song remains true to the original other than it sounds like their version is on steroids with the huge drum sound provided by Sorum and Slash’s heavier guitar sound. Rose’s growl after the bridge is still one of the most incredible vocal screams in rock ‘n roll history. The horn section on the track is that same line up heard on ‘LIVE ?!*@ like a Suicide’ EP’s ‘Move to the City’ recorded in 1986. The horn section is called the ‘Suicide Horn Section’, and is led by McKagan’s brother, Matt KcKagan, who is a music teacher and a Mr Holland Award winner in Seattle. However, ‘Suicide Horn Section’ is not to be confused with the ‘976 Horn Section’ who toured with the band during the Use Your Illusions world tour. Also joining Rose on backing vocals is Blind Melon’s lead singer, Shannon Hoon.
On a personal note, as a fan: Rose gave the fans a lot of gifts in his time, and he has had his fair share of troubles mixed in and I want to leave those there. But one of Rose’s finest moments, in my opinion, is when he took this crazy kid from Lafayette, Indiana, with this incredible talent and exquisitely unique sounding voice, and introduced him to us, the fans of these albums. Blind Melon and all that followed was one of the wildest and most beautifully tragic rock ‘n roll stories of the 90s and there are a few! I adored Shannon Hoon and his work with the incredibly talented musicians that make up Blind Melon, one of the most underrated bands that deserves more recognition for their short but sublimely rich contribution to rock ‘n roll history. Rest in peace, Shannon Hoon.
Rose said of ‘Live and Let Die’ in 1990, “To me it’s like Ton Waits meets Metallica; it’s the way I sing it, so rough and scratchy. It’s working out really good. It sounds like us.” ‘Live and Let Die’ is the second single released from the album on 3 December 1991.
‘Don’t Cry’, written by Stradlin and Rose, was incredibly the first song they ever wrote together. The song was also on the sit list for the first ever Guns N’ Roses gig on June 6th, 1985. The song was released 17 September 1991, and is the first single of Use Your Illusion I. The song reached number 10 in the US charts.
The story behind the song is that Stradlin had been dating a girl called Monique Lewis. When they broke up, Rose found he had the feels for Lewis as well and decided to pursue her. Lewis had decided that she had moved on from the rock ‘n roll scene and refused Rose’s advancements. This upset Rose and moved him to tears and she told him, “Don’t you cry”, hence the lyrics and theme of heartbreak and unrequited love. In homage to Lewis, Rose has her face tattooed on his right bicep.
The song was not added to Appetite as the band wanted the song as an ace–in–the–hole for their follow up in case their debut album was not successful. ‘Don’t Cry’ is considered by many fans to be the best song on the album. Hoon once again also sings the vocals on this song. Notably, Rose gave Hoon equal lead vocal credits on the song in the album notes, with Stradlin on background vocals. Moreover, in the music video, Stephanie Seymour (Rose’s girlfriend at the time) plays Rose’s love interest. The fight in the video where they wrestle with a gun is a re–enactment of a real confrontation Rose had with his ex–fiancé, Erin Everly. Stradlin is missing from the video shoot, and a band member wears a sign inquiring, ‘Where’s Izzy?’ Stradlin later deemed the multimillion-dollar video “a pointless indulgence.”
‘Perfect Crime’ is written by Rose, Slash, and Stradlin. The song starts with a musical slap to the head and comes out of the gate swinging with strong guitar riffs. Slash said in 1992, “There’s a lot more going on in my guitar playing than there used to be, and hopefully it’ll always be like that, where I keep expanding.” Rose’s vocals are sung at break–neck speed and are dripping with passion and anger. During the track, with 1.09 minutes left on the song, a muffled Rose begins a countdown to end the song with the lyric “T minus 1.09 and counting….” The song was also almost included on Appetite as it was written during the time they were writing their debut and first performed on 31 October 1986 at a U.C.L.A. frat party.
‘You Ain’t the First’ is written entirely by Stradlin and he takes lead vocals. It is the only song on the album in ¾ timing as noted on the count in. The predominately acoustic recording could easily be an out–take from the previous GN’R Lies album. The song is a tribute to all the ex–girlfriends who have come before, and a prediction to all the girls who will come that “you ain’t the first” and you inevitably will not be the last.
The song would be dedicated to Stephanie Seymore on stage by Rose after their break–up. The vocals on this track are sung by Stradlin, Rose and Hoon, who are poignant with all three of them hailing from Lafayette, Indiana. This lazy porch rocker–of–a–waltz has a sting in its tail, lyrically, which adds a deeper shade to the song. Slash uses a dobro slide guitar to add a country feel. A highlight in the song is the outro, when McKagan states, “To the bar” to Stradlin’s “that’s a take.” As a fan, this personal touch leaves me wanting to follow the band to the bar as well. Stradlin penned “You Ain’t the First” after spending a boozy afternoon in a nearby club before going to the studio.
‘Bad Obsession’ is written by Stradlin and is a long–time song written by collaborator West Arkeen. The song is about overcoming drug addiction. Unfortunately, Arkeen would die of an accidental opioid overdose in 1997. Arkeen introduced McKagan to Stradlin when he first moved to L.A. He also taught McKagan the E chord on guitar, and McKagan then wrote ‘It’s So Easy’ from Appetite.
‘Bad Obsession’ begins with Slash belting out a heavy riff and is soon joined by Mike Munro from the Finnish band, Hanoi Rocks, on harmonica. He also plays tenor sax on the track. Reed provides a honky–tonk piano style, whilst Sorum opts for a healthy use of cowbell. The song predates ‘Mr Brownstone’ from Appetite but Rose often referred to the song as the sequel to ‘Mr Brownstone’. The blusey honky–tonk nature of the melody on the song is very reminiscent of ‘Honky Tonk Women’ by the Rolling Stones. However, in true Guns fashion, their honky–tonk offering has a stomping rhythm section with Slash driving the ship whilst Rose obsesses on the mic.
‘Back Off Bitch’ is written by Rose and Paul Tobias, a friend of Rose’s from Indiana. He was known as Paul Huge at the time and would, in 1997, be announced as the replacement for Slash when he left the band. This is a re–recorded version of ‘Back Off Bitch’ and Rose stated in an interview that the song was roughly ten years old.
According to Rose, the song was originally written in 1981 and is about his girlfriend, Gina Siler, who moved with Rose to L.A. in 1982. However, the relationship did not work out and Siler had Rose thrown out of their apartment due to anger issues. Stradlin plays a stunning guitar solo on the track and Sorum’s syncopated drum–fill opening treatment is fantastic as he continues to highlight his presence as the new drummer for the band. This song was on the set list for Guns N Roses’ very first gig in 1986. The misogynistic overtones of the song lyrics have not aged well.
‘Double Talkin’ Jive’ is another Stradlin solo–writing effort. The breakneck tempo set down by Sorum has many similarities to ‘You Could Be Mine’ from Use Your Illusion II. The song then drops into the groove of a jive, as promised by the title. The opening line, “A head, and an arm in a garbage can, don’t know why I’m here,” were body parts of a porn actor/director named Billy London, who had died in October 1990. These body parts were found by a homeless person in a dumpster behind the studio where the band were recording the Use Your Illusion albums at the time.
Furthermore, the line “No more patients” is often interpreted as a reference to the GN’R Lies song ‘Patience’, and how Stradlin is also losing patience with the antics of his lead singer. Slash performs a gorgeous extended flamenco–style guitar solo in the outro. The live performance of ‘Double Talkin’ Jive’ was often dedicated to many people with whom Rose was taking issue with during the Illusions tour, including at one point, Stradlin himself! Live performances of this song were stretched from its original three–minute length to more than eight minutes long.
The epic ballad ‘November Rain’ written by Rose, had been in the works since 1983. It was a song, that according to McKagan, had been worked up over many years by Rose. Part of the problem McKagan noted was the fact the band did not have a piano for Rose to compose with. Therefore, every time the band had a piano at their disposal, Rose would continue to work on his epic masterpiece. Rose was partly inspired by Mötley Crüe’s drummer, Tommy Lee and his piano part on their song ‘Home Sweet Home’ from the album Theatre of Pain.
‘November Rain’ was released as a single on 18 February 1992 and reached number three on the US music charts and was the longest song to ever be in the U.S. top ten Billboard Hot 100 at eight minutes and fifty seven seconds long (before it became surpassed by Taylor Swift’s 10-minute ‘All Too Well’ in 2021). The song was the last song recorded during the Illusion recording sessions.
Through Rose’s encouragement, Sorum’s drum part was heavily influenced by Elton John’s ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me’. Rose loved the drum part on the song and wanted Sorum to emulate it. Sorum uses the same drum–fill sound before the chorus on ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me’ and repeats his own version of the drum fill 23 times throughout ‘November Rain’. When questioned about this later, Sorum simply answered with “22 million sold.” Enough said.
At nearly nine minutes long, Slash and McKagan were not great fans of the song and needed to be convinced to add it to the album. Over time, they found their musical voices within the track, especially with Slash’s guitar solo. It’s an incredible sweeping melody pouring its way out the Marshall speakers. The guitar solo is one of the best examples as to why Slash is considered one of the greatest rock guitarists on the planet. The music video for ‘November Rain’ was the first music video from the 90s to reach one billion views on YouTube in 2018. The video itself cost $1.5 million to produce, making it one of the most expensive music videos of all time. ‘November Rain’ is Guns N’ Roses’ second-biggest hit behind ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine.’
‘The Garden’ is a trippy walk through the lush expanse of a magical landscape. This is another example of the musical genius that was West Arkeen. The melody structure that Arkeen brings to this song is his standout signature as a songwriter. The song is written by Rose, Arkeen, and a writer named Del James, whose short story Without You was the inspiration for the ‘November Rain’ music video.
Alice Cooper joined Rose on vocals and his vocal track was recorded in six takes, which took a little over an hour. He later commented that he knew nothing about the song other than the part he worked on. The result was the closest Alice Cooper ever came to being a rapper, and it sits beautifully within the song. A video was released for this song as well, which consists of the band in several New York urban settings with some strippers in the mix.
‘Garden of Eden’ is the punkiest track on the album. This badass ball buster has the tempo of a freight train. Rose comes in hard and fast with his vocal line, and never relents. This is undoubtedly the stand out element on the track. The song was released as a single on 17 September 1992 and has one of best music videos from the albums.
Ironically, it was the cheapest music video they made for the Illusions albums. It was shot the same day that they shot the video for ‘Yesterdays’ of Use Your Illusion II. The band was sitting around between takes and decided to make the video for the song in one take through a fisheye camera lens. The result is fantastic. The song was written over a prolonged rehearsal period in Chicago in 1989 by Rose and Slash.
On ‘Don’t Damn Me’, Rose and Slash are joined by Dave Lank in the writing duties. Little is known about Lank, so let him be damned (you’re welcome, Slash). Kidding. This song is one of Slash’s favourites from the album. It has a fantastic riff and Rose delivers an exceptional vocal performance.
The song is written in response to the critics’ reaction to ‘One and a Million’ off GN’R Lies, and is fairly self-explanatory. The song was not performed during the Illusions tour as the vocals have a high pitch that is too high and fast to replicate live.
‘Bad Apples’ is the most collaborative song on the album, with Rose, Stradlin, Slash, and McKagan all getting writing credits for the song. The track has a strong blues influence, and once again Slash shines, as only he can, on the lead guitar parts. Sorum brings a stellar performance from behind the kit, starting with the opening fills and continuing through to the last double–symbol splash.
Also, Reed once again adds his now signature honky–tonk piano parts and really finds his pocket within the band’s sound on this track, seamlessly weaving in and out of Slash and Stradlin’s guitar parts.
‘Dead Horse’, written by Rose, starts with an acoustic section. It features a guitar riff written, and played, by Rose. The song also features the sound of a nutcracker. The electric guitars soon come in for the heavier section which dominate the song. The song sounds like a sped–up country ballad or lament about the monotony of life. After the final climatic chorus, the acoustic opening section is reprised before ending with an audio effect of the song being fast-forwarded.
‘Coma’, written by Rose and Slash, is the longest song ever recorded by Guns N’ Roses at 10 minutes and 13 seconds long. Slash and Rose wrote ‘Coma’ based on their drug overdoses. Rose once said the end segment of the track is “one of the best things that [he’s] ever written.”
This dark tale of caution is an epic song. It’s like a sweeping musical trip of brilliance with no chorus. The most outstanding aspect of the song is that it was recorded in one take. They truly captured a drug trip gone wrong in a bottle. ‘Coma’ is considered by many fans to be their masterpiece. Rose, in an interview with Kurt Loader from MTV, described the song as “Slash’s baby.” Rose drew inspiration from a time when he downed a bottle of pills in an argument and ended up in the hospital. The voice–over in the track are the actual doctors that treated Rose during this overdose.
Use Your Illusion II
‘Civil War’ is the opener for Use Your Illusion II and is the last track with original drummer, Steven Adler, playing with the band. The song is written by Rose, Slash, and McKagan. Slash stated that the song was an instrument he had written right before the band left for the Japanese leg of its Appetite for Destruction world tour. Rose wrote lyrics and it was worked into a proper song at a sound check in Melbourne, Australia, in 1988.
The song opens with a soundbite from the movie Cool Hand Luke, then Rose whistles the traditional civil war tune, ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home’. The song was intended to be an anti–war song. McKagan explained where the song came from in a 1993 interview on Rockline. “Basically it was a riff that we would do at sound checks. Axl came up with a couple of lines at the beginning. I went 0n a peace march when I was a little kid with my mom for Martin Luther King. I was like four years old. It’s just true–life experiences, really.”
The song first appeared in 1990 on the compilation Nobody’s Child: Romanian Angel Appeal. It was then released worldwide in 1993, reaching number one in Poland, number two in Spain, and also charting in Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, and New Zealand. The song was first performed at Farm Aid in 1990, the only time it was played live with Adler on drums.
‘14 Years’ is another Stradlin and Rose collaborative writing effort. The song is about a guy who has had a long, tough relationship with a girl, and expresses how he feels in the song. Stradlin wrote it at a very young age, before he ever could have had that kind of relationship. Therefore, it’s not autobiographical. An earlier demo had different lyrics, with the first verse and the chorus slightly modified, while the second and third verses were given a complete makeover. Parts of the demo’s second verse would be used in the third verse of the final version, while the third verse is a slightly modified version of the demo’s first verse.
Stradlin takes lead vocals, with Rose on backing vocals. Therefore, ‘14 Years’ was only performed live when Stradlin was still in the band. It has been speculated that the song is about Rose and Stradlin’s friendship, with people pointing out that they had known each other for 14 years by the time the song was supposedly written. This has never been confirmed by the band.
‘Yesterdays’ is written by Rose with West Arkeen, Del James, and Billy McCloud. This pop–country ballad is one of the standout songs on Use Your Illusion II. The song was released as a single on 9 November 1992 and reached number eight on the UK singles’ chart and peaked at number 72 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
The video for the single is filmed in black and white. The first version features the band playing in an empty warehouse while the second version mixes clips of the band playing in the warehouse with photographs of band members during the Use Your Illusion tour, featuring Stradlin and Adler, who both were no longer with the band. The song adds yet another dimension to the album in an exceptional way.
The next track is a cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ which actually came out in 1990, in the movie Days of Thunder. The song had also been a staple in GN’R’s live set since 1987. A live version of the song was released on the 12–inch single of ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ the same year.
One of the best live versions can be found on YouTube in the footage of their 1988 concert, Live at the Ritz, in New York. What makes this cover version stand out is that Guns N’ Roses make the song their own while paying homage to Dylan’s original recording. The song was not a standout song during Dylan’s career and shows the depth of the band’s influences. Rose is quoted as saying he wanted to “introduce this song to the next generation,” and he most certainly did that.
‘Get in the Ring’ is a McKagan song with contributions by Slash and Rose. The song is directed at music critics who have offended the band, and more specifically, Rose, at some point. The version of ‘Get In The Ring’ on the album sounds live but it’s not. The band recorded it in the studio and added crowd noises to it. The chants of “Guns. And. Roses” and “Get in the ring” were recorded with the audience at a Saratoga Springs concert on 10 June 1991.
The song was originally titled, “Why Do You Look at Me When You Hate Me?”, which is its first line. It was then to be titled, “Get in the Ring Motherf**ker”, but that was changed, and the motherf**ker was dropped. The song is notorious for its level of profanity. The song suggests that Bob Guccione Jr.’s father (founder of Penthouse magazine) “gets more p*ssy” than Guccione and challenges him to fight. The younger Guccione responded in a letter to Rose, saying he accepted the challenge to a fight and could use the promotion to help sell magazines. Rose later backed down from the fight, reportedly after learning that Guccione Jr. had nine years of fight training.
‘Shot Gun Blues’ is another solo–writing effort from Rose. This is the biggest salute to the punk genre of the entire Illusions offering. This also happens to be McKagan’s favourite song on both albums, unsurprisingly, given his punk roots. This song is apparently inspired by a day in the life of Guns N’ Roses after Appetite blew the roof off the entire musical world.
Let’s go back to what was a normal Tuesday night was like for Guns N’ Roses in their hay day according to McKagan on Joey Diaz’s podcast ‘Uncle Joey’s Joint’. It’s the night of the MTV Music Awards of 1988 and Mötley Crüe were going to be presenting Guns N’ Roses with an award, which they did. However, backstage, the boys were loaded to the hilt on stimulants and were ready to pop with the amount of alcohol they had consumed. Stradlin, who was also no doubt high, happened to make an unwelcome remark about Mötley Crüe’s lead singer Vince Neil’s wife, Sharise. Stradin had allegedly assaulted Sharise a few weeks earlier at the Cathouse club in Los Angeles and Neil responded by hitting Stradlin and knocking him off his feet. When Rose got wind of this, he wanted to fight Neil and the challenge was set. A lot like in the Bob Guccione Jr. situation, nothing came of the challenge, even with the possibility of pay–per–view coverage. ‘Shot Gun Blues’ could have easily been on the Spaghetti Incident amongst the punk covers.
‘Breakdown’ is another offering solely from Rose. The song opens with Slash on banjo, some awesome rudimentary drum rolls from Sorum, and Rose whistling. Then Reed drops in with a beautiful piano part, introducing the melody to the verses, which are picked up by Rose’s vocals. Rose’s exceptional songwriting skills are very evident in ‘Breakdown’. This song is another rock ‘n roll masterpiece that is often overlooked. It is a brilliant song from top to bottom. Sorum also cements himself as the official new time keeper on this track.
The song continues with a brilliant set of syncopated – tom rolls and cymbal splashes, taking us back down to just Reed on piano, only for Sorum to drop his next beat, with Stradlin on support with rhythm guitar. Sorum then unleashes the entire kit, and we’re off!
Bassist McKagan has these awesome solo moments in transitional movements from verse to chorus to bridge. Rose holds nothing back in his vocal performance, giving screams, screeches, and growls with depth and beauty, as only he can. This is one of the most cohesive–feeling songs on the album by all the players. Apparently, the most difficult song to record on the album was worth the struggle, as it’s the hidden gem on the album.
‘Pretty Tied Up’ is Stradlin’s masterpiece of the Illusion sessions. This song is phenomenal. It begins with Stradlin playing a coral sitar, and according to Slash, Stradlin was so high on heroin when they wrote the track that he made a sitar out of a cymbal, a broomstick, and strings.
Stradlin was inspired to write “Pretty Tied Up” after seeing a dominatrix. He and a buddy went to meet her, and at her house she had a large man in women’s underwear and high heels tied up with duct tape against a wall, with an onion in his mouth. The lyrics are wonderfully x-rated, with eye-popping truth and satirical wit reminiscent of the beat novelist tone of the 1950s. Stradlin composes a fantastic combination of rhythm and melody with this song.
The music for “Locomotive (Complicity)” was written by Slash and Rose, who initially struggled to add lyrics to it. Rose even went so far as to ask their new manager at the time, Doug Goldstein, for advice, to which Goldstein replied, “I just manage the band. That’s your department.” However, despite the challenges, Rose delivers one of his more memorable vocal performances.
Rose, again, chose his subject matter to be about another relationship going sour. The song was written in a house Slash and Stradlin rented in the Hollywood Hills, following the conclusion of the Appetite tours. This song is another understated gem on the album.
‘So Fine’ is McKagan’s salute to his friend and punk rocker, Johnny Thunders, who died of a drug overdose before the albums were recorded. Thunders was a leader in the punk movement back in the 70s, with the New York Dolls, Johnny Thunders, and the Heartbreakers.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding his death. Interestingly, the song is one of the least punk songs on the album and more like a crooner ballad, more akin to the Sid Vicious version of ‘My Way’. Thunders had been a big inspiration for McKagan in his early punk days. He often refers to the early look of the band, with their cowboy boots and leather jackets as being very much inspired by Thunders.
‘Estranged’ is Guns N’ Roses’ second longest song and yet another song with Rose as solo writer. Rose said he penned the song during a more “bummed out” period of his life after his marriage to Erin Everly was annulled. This song has the same epic scope as ‘November Rain’ from the first album and really showcases the band with lots of guitar solos and keyboard bridges.
The music video for this song was released in December 1993 and was directed by Andy Morahan. It is the third part of an unofficial Del James’s series of videos (preceded by ‘Don’t Cry’ and ‘November Rain’) from both the Use Your Illusion albums. The video shows Rose being arrested by a group of special police officers, then taken to a mental health clinic, as definitions of various emotional disorders are seen on the screen. The protagonist (Rose) talks to the therapists about his emotional problems; a topic that was depicted in the video for ‘Don’t Cry’. In the end, the protagonist is released from the clinic and heads to an abandoned ship at sea, where the story reaches its climax: Rose jumps into the water and swims with a group of dolphins, gaining inner peace by doing so.
I agree with Rikki Rachtman when he expressed in an MTV interview that this video is the official moment the band lost sight of their fans. As Rachtman so aptly puts it, “The man is swimming with dolphins. What’s so street about that?!” The video’s estimated budget was $4 and you can watch the making of it on YouTube. ‘Estranged’ is widely considered to be one of the band’s best songs, with Kerrang magazine ranking the song number four on their list of the 20 greatest Guns N’ Roses songs. The song was released as a single on 17 January, 1994.
‘You Could Be Mine’ is a Stradlin and Rose song and is about Stradlin’s failed relationship with his ex–girlfriend, Angela Nicoletti. The song was featured in the 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Arnold Schwarzenegger befriended the band and gifted them each with a bullet-hole-riddled leather jacket. He also had the band members over for dinner at his home to negotiate the movie soundtrack deal, but surprisingly, it didn’t make it onto the soundtrack. The lyric, “With your b*tch slap rappin’ and your cocaine tongue, you get nothin’ done” appears on the inner sleeve of Appetite for Destruction.
The single reached number 29 on the US Billboard Hot 100, number three on the UK Singles chart, and number one in Finland, and Spain. It also became a top–five hit in more than 10 additional countries. The music video features clips from the movie and it couldn’t be put on the DVD, Welcome to the Videos due to licensing issues.
‘Don’t Cry (Alternative Lyrics)’ by Stradlin and Rose has the same backing track as found in Use Your Illusion I with alternative lyrics. Rose commented that he had had the song for so long that he now heard different lyrics in his head. This song is a good example of how the rest of the band needed to reel Rose in, as one ‘Don’t Cry’ is enough.
Finally, ‘My World’ by Rose is said to be a song that was written in three hours while on mushrooms. Rose said he didn’t even know he was on mushrooms since a friend of his slipped the drugs into his tea. This is an attempt by Rose to be a rapper, and it’s a fail. Apparently, the song is a tribute to Nine Inch Nails, Body Count, and NWA, all bands Rose greatly admired. Most of the band were unaware of the song’s inclusion on the album until it was released. This song has also been cited as a bridge to Chinese Democracy, 16 years later. Stradlin stated he hated the track and also had no idea if its inclusion. It is an awful end to what is otherwise a brilliant album.
The Use Your Illusion I & II albums were immediate hits, selling more than 14 million copies combined. “There’s a tonne of material we want to get out, and the problem is, how does one release all of it?” Slash said of the unusual twin–disc offering. “You don’t make some kid go out and buy a record for $70 if it’s your second record.” The gambit made history: No other artist had put out two records on the same day and claimed the top two spots on the Billboard album chart before. “We poured everything into those albums,” Sorum said of their creation. “The music was all that mattered.” Use Your Illusion I debuted at number two on the charts below Use Your Illusion II at number one, mainly due to the fact that the Use Your Illusion II album contained the main lead single of the two albums, ‘You Could Be Mine.’
Now on 11 November 2022, a boxset of both albums has been released by Guns N’ Roses. The latest package of the albums comes in a variety of forms, including 12–LP and seven–CD sets, a Blu–ray edition, and a digital release, all of which feature remastered audio. The full package includes 63 unreleased tracks and videos, with the “super deluxe” editions including the full Live in New York concert film from 1991, along with a 100–page hardcover book full of previously unreleased photos, a surfeit of memorabilia, including a replica Conspiracy Inc. fan club folder, a membership card, some glossy photos, and posters. There’s also single CD and double LP reissues of Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.
To conclude, don’t cry and have a breakdown. Get in the ring and follow your bad obsession to the garden full of roses nurtured by a November rain. You ain’t the first, so just live and let die. Stop flogging a dead horse and get out of your coma. Go eat some bad apples from the Garden of Eden. It’s the perfect crime. Don’t damn me. I live right next door to hell with all the dust and bones like a double talkin’ jive b*tch that needs to back off. I’ve been estranged for 14 years in my own civil war and spent my yesterdays knocking on heaven’s door. I’ve been pretty tied up in my world. You could be mine if it weren’t for the shotgun blues and the locomotive breakdown of my mind. I think these albums are so fine, so go get yourself a copy today, and to all those opposed, hmm, well …
Band photo credit: W. Axl Rose Archive – Robert John.