Guns N’ Roses ‘Use Your Illusions': 20 Facts Only Superfans Would Know
Appetite for Destruction may have been the best-selling debut album of all time, but some of Guns N' Roses' best masterpieces were found a few years later when they released the Use Your Illusion albums.
The albums, released as two double LPs on Sept. 17, 1991, are seen by many as the beginning of the end of the world's most dangerous band. After going from five guys living in the same loft to absolute superstars within just a few short years, both success and excess started to tear the members apart.
In come the pianos, background vocalists, and million-dollar music videos and you have perhaps the final great work of Guns N' Roses. Though they went on to release the punk-covers album The Spaghetti Incident?, the classic lineup of the band dissolved over the next few years.
Axl Rose released Chinese Democracy a decade and a half later with a new band behind him, but Duff McKagan and Slash have since returned to the band for the Not in This Lifetime tour, and new music is highly anticipated.. As heard in the Use Your Illusion II song "Breakdown," "Everything was roses when we held onto the guns."
On the anniversary of the two albums, here are 17 facts only superfans would know.
1. They sold exceptionally well right off the bat.
According to a New York Times article from 1991, a spokesperson on behalf of Geffen Records said the two albums sold 500,000 copies in the first two hours of their release. That was without the help of major retailers like Kmart and Walmart, who refused to stock the albums due to their levels of profanity.
2. Both albums topped the charts.
Use Your Illusion II was the slightly more popular of the two albums, debuting at No. 1 with 770,000 sales in its first week. UYI I debuted at No. 2 with 685,000 copies. The two albums dominated the top of the chart at the same time the week of Oct. 5, 1991.
3. "Fuck you, St. Louis!"
After Rose's casual stage dive during "Rocket Queen" at their show in St. Louis in July of 1991, "Fuck you, St. Louis!" was included in the liner notes for the albums. The band wouldn't play in the city again until 2017.
4. Some of the songs were written before Appetite.
"Don't Cry," "Back Off Bitch," "Bad Obsession," "The Garden," "You Could Be Mine" and "November Rain" were all written prior to the release of Appetite for Destruction, but were left off for several different reasons. "Don't Cry" was often performed by the band during their early days on the Sunset Strip before they were even signed.
Rose had a skeletal, piano-only version of "November Rain" written years before he was in the band. A piano version and an acoustic version were both recorded during their 1986 Sound City sessions.
5. When "Civil War" led to a civil war.
"Civil War" was the first track recorded for the Illusion albums, and the last featuring original drummer Steven Adler. He had a longstanding battle with drug addiction, as did several other members of the band, but it affected his work more than it did for the others.
When it came time to record the song, he was nodding out in the studio and could barely play. The engineers had to layer the different segments Adler had recorded into one track. He was fired shortly after.
6. Where's Izzy?
Izzy Stradlin didn't stick around much longer either. He quietly left the band in November of 1991, just two months after the albums were released. The band was no longer the way he saw it during the Appetite years, so Gilby Clarke took his place. There's a brief flash of a "Where's Izzy" sign in the "Don't Cry" video.
7. "Without You"
The videos for "Don't Cry," "November Rain" and "Estranged," played in that order, are viewed by Axl Rose as a sort of movie. The treatments for the videos are based on the short story "Without You" by Del James, a friend of Axl's, in the book The Language of Fear. James wrote the story based on the lyrics to "November Rain," which were written years before the song was completed.
Victoria's Secret model Stephanie Seymour was cast in the "Don't Cry" video, and she and Rose immediately started dating. She also stars in the perplexing "November Rain" video, where her character dies. The couple broke up before the filming of "Estranged," making the videos fit the theme of "Without You" even further.
8. Axl Rose put the pen to the paper.
The energetic, angry number "Don't Damn Me," featured on UYI I, is a direct response to the backlash Rose received in the years prior due to the controversial GN'R Lies track, "One in a Million." Though the singer has since acknowledged the ferocity of the song, he stood by his beliefs when recording the Illusions.
"So I send this song to the offended / I said what I meant and I've never pretended / As so many others do intending just to please / If I damned your point of view / Could you turn the other cheek"
9. A synthesized masterpiece.
"November Rain" is the most epic ballad on the records, known for its orchestral and string section. But...they're not real. Rose actually orchestrated the arrangement himself using keyboard tones. The only times a real orchestra played the song with Guns was during the recording of the music video, and the band's performance of the song at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, where Rose was joined by Sir Elton John on the piano.
10. A little help from Hoon.
Blind Melon frontman Shannon Hoon offered guest vocals on "Live and Let Die,” “November Rain,” “The Garden,” “You Ain’t the First” and “Don’t Cry.” He's even featured in the "Don't Cry" video, and performed it live several times with the band. Also hailing from Indiana, Hoon's sister knew Rose, which is how they developed a friendship and eventual collaboration.
11. Hidden message in "Locomotive."
In the UYI II "Locomotive," which was one of Slash's personal favorites, Rose sings a set of lyrics that some have speculated were a message in response to the criticism he received when making the albums. Many who have worked with the frontman have admitted that he's an absolute perfectionist, so the albums took much longer to complete than they would have if there weren't so many extravagant elements included.
"You can use your illusion / Let it take you where it may / We live and learn and then sometimes it's best to walk away / Me I'm just here hangin' on / It's my only place to stay at least for now anyway / I've worked too hard for my illusions / Just to throw them all away"
12. Zap him again!
UYI I's closer, "Coma," is the longest song Guns N' Roses have ever released. The song is personal to both Slash and Rose, who wrote the lyrics based on a time he overdosed. "It's Slash's baby," Rose told MTV in an interview in 1992. "But I started writing about when I OD'd four years ago. The reason I OD'd was because of stress, I couldn't take it. I grabbed this bottle of pills in an argument and just gulped them down, and I ended up in the hospital."
"But I liked that I wasn't in the fight anymore. I was fully conscious that I was leaving," he continues. Apparently, the anticipation of the album coming out and the tour is what forced him awake.
13. "November Rain" broke records.
Clocking in at just under nine minutes, "November Rain" peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the longest song to ever crack the Top 10 of that chart. The video was also the oldest music video on YouTube to hit a billion views until 2019, when Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" beat it.
14. The Godfather of Shock Rock made an appearance.
Alice Cooper himself sang on "The Garden" after Slash mentioned that Rose's vocal style sounded like him on the song. This wasn't the band's first rodeo with Cooper, as they had been invited to open for him in the mid-'80s. Rose never showed up for the show, so McKagan and Stradlin improvised on vocals instead. Luckily, he forgave them.
15. A head and an arm.
"Found a head and an arm in a garbage can" is the opening line of the song "Double Talkin' Jive," and it's based on a true story. Police found body parts in a dumpster near a studio when the band was recording. Stradlin sings that line and the rest of the verses, and Rose is on the choruses.
16. The Perils of Rock N' Roll Decadence.
"Pretty Tied Up" was written by Stradlin after befriending a dominatrix. "She gave us some tequila or something and she goes in the bedroom and we walk in and there's this big fat naked guy with an onion in his mouth. He's wearing women's underwear and high heels and he's tied up with duct tape against the wall," he told Musician.
There's a play-on words later in the song, where "cool and stressing" is actually pronounced "kool ranch dres'ing" — specified in the lyrics.
17. A sociopsychotic state of bliss.
The final track of UYI II is the industrial, synth-rap track "My World." The song is credited only to Rose, who apparently was on shrooms when he wrote it. The rest of the band didn't know the song even existed, but the singer went ahead and made sure it was included in the new song catalog.
18. A story of a man.
"So Fine," co-sang by both Rose and McKagan, was written entirely by the bassist as a tribute to New York Dolls guitarist Johnny Thunders. McKagan was heavily influenced by punk, and Thunders was his idol.
19. Axl Rose played a little guitar on it.
Rose wrote and played the opening riff for the song "Dead Horse," which appears on UYI I. He's seen playing it in the music video and there is footage of him playing it live as well.
20. Its mission was to "bury Appetite."
While Appetite for Destruction was responsible for skyrocketing the band into stardom, they knew they had a lot of work to do to live up to expectations. "I just want to bury Appetite. I like the album, but I'm sick of it. I don't want to live my life through that one album," Rose told MTV in 1988.
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