Revisiting Guns N’ Roses classic “Use Your Illusion I & II”

The 8 sided record  that set a milestone in Rock music was released on September 17,  1991

Revisiting Guns N’ Roses classic “Use Your Illusion I & II”

The 2 double LP extravaganza of “User Your Illusion I&II” was one of music industry most daring releases. Over 4 Million cpies of both albums were simultaneously released on September 17th, 1991 for retail sale, making it the largest ship-out in pop history in the US. The 2 albums are Guns N’ Roses finest moment, the band successfuly crossed the 1980’s barrier to the 1990’s, something that most of 80’s Rock bands had a hard time doing it back then , due to rise of Alternative Rock popularity and Seattle’s Grunge bands, one of the reasons Guns N’ Roses successfully did it was because of the blending of Hard Rock with Pop sensibility, which was common to Alternative Rock bands.

“Use Your Illusion” albums are considered a milestone in Rock music, both volumes together have sold over 10 Million copies in the U.S only, it went No. 1 worldwide in several countries and it’s an historical document of a period in music, 1991, where similar to for example 1967, a batch of classic Rock albums were released (Nirvana’s “Nevermind”, Pearl Jam’s “Ten”, Metallica’s “Black Album”, Soundgarden’s “Badmotorfinger”, Queen’s “Innuendo”, R.E.M’s “Out Of Time” among many others). Some notable guests in the album includes Blind Melon lead singer Shannoon Hoon, who is also featured in the “Don’t Cry” video and Alice Cooper . Featuring some of their greatest songs, “Use Your Illusion” generated a string of hits for Guns N’ Roses such as their Bob Dylan’s cover “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, “Don’t Cry”, “Garden Of Eden”, “Yesterdays”, “Civil War”, “14 Years”, “You Could Be Mine”, “November Rain”, “Estranged” or their Paul McCartney’s cover of “Live And Let Die”. The band did a series of music videos linking together with each other, something that also became hugely popular. This was also a period of changing in the band as their original line up with drummer Steven Adler and founding member guitarist Izzy Stradin (who was one of the main composers in the albums) was broken. Adler was replaced by former The Cult drummer Matt Sorum and Stradin by Gilby Clarke, also during this period Dizzy Reed joined the band as a keyboardist. Although Adler still played in a few tracks of “Use Your illusion” he never did any of the concerts for it. The line up of Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan, Gilby Clarke, Matt Sorum and Dizzy Reed became their most popular one during the 90’s.

“Use Your Illusion I”

“Use Your Illusion I” opens with “Right Next Door To Hell”, classic Guns N’ Roses Hard Rock feeling, followed by “Dust N’ Bones” a bluesy riff with pop beat, the 3rd song “Live And Let Die”, originally recorded by Paul McCartney in 1973 for the James Bond movie of the same title, was one of the band’s biggest hits in the album, Guns N’ Roses were able to adapt the song in such an unique way that made people forget about the original version, a slow piano tempo with an intermission of  bombastic speed up drums and guitar. “Don’t Cry”, that was actually one of the first songs the band ever wrote back in the mid 1980’s was another big hit of the album, this power ballad features two versions, being the difference is in the lyrics, “Original Lyrics” and “Alt. Lyrics”. The one included on “Use Your Illusion I”, “Original Lyrics”, was used in the music video and became also the most popular one. The first side of the record ends with the Punk influenced “Perfect Crime”, Side 2 features all classic Guns N’ Roses songwriting style, “You Ain’t The First”, “Bad Obsession”, “Back Off Bitch” and ends with one of the best songs in the album “Double Talkin’ Jive” written by Izzy Stradin, a hard rock song that blends in with a Spanish guitar melody riff, something unusual in Guns N’ Roses. The second record, Side 3, opens with the epic “November Rain”, a piano based ballad that runs for almost 9 minutes and despite the duration became one of the hits in the album, an expensive music video was produced to the song and it was almost always aired completely, as well as the song in the radio. “November Rain” it’s one of Guns N’ Roses finest crafted songs, written by Axl Rose, it’s reminiscent of some Elton John and Queen songwriting style, both two giant influences on Axl Rose, the song was performed in a duet with Elton John on the 1992 MTV VMA’s. “Garden Of Eden” a fast beat Rock song where we can sense again the Punk influence, scored another hit for the band, “The Garden” and “Don’t Damn Me” were less successful and appealing. despite the co-lead vocals of Alice Cooper in “The Garden”. Side 4 features “Bad Apples”, “Dead Horses” and one of the best songs in the album, which closes the record, “Coma”. Despite not being a hit for the band, “Coma”, that runs for over 10 minutes, it’s a fantastic song where we can listen to the powerful rhythm section of Duff Mckagan bass and Matt Sorum drums loud and clear.

“Use Your Illusion II”

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“Use Your Illusion II” Side 1 it’s a non-stop string of hits for the band, opening with the beautiful “Civil War”, followed by the autobiographical “14 Years”, the pop and catchy “Yesterdays” and finishing with Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” one of their absolute smash hits. Side 2 didn’t scored any hit songs but even so, are great Rock songs, it opens with “Get In The Ring” followed by “Shotgun Blues” and finishes with “Breakdown”. The second record, Side C, opens with “Pretty Tied Up” followed by a Rose/Slash composition “Locomotive” and finishes with the McKagan mellow “So Fine”. The final side of the album, Side4, opens with another epic, “Estranged”, although less popular than “November Rain”, it followed the same structure and feeling, only it’s more based on guitar rather than piano. The song features amazing solos by Slash, and it proves the talent Axl Rose has to write complex and beautiful songs. Another big budget music video was made for the song, the final one for the “Use Your Illusion” albums. “You Could Be Mine”, included on the soundtrack of the 1991 blockbuster movie “Terminator 2” it’s one of the best songs on the album and overall one of Guns N’ Roses best songs ever. The powerful electrical Rock song became a classic and like all the other songs in the album, sounds fresh to this day. “Don’t Cry” with the alternative lyrics follows and the album closes with “My World”, a short track featuring Rose’s raping to a drum n’ bass loop.

The Tour

The albums were supported by the “Use Your Illusion World Tour” that is one of the longest concert tours in rock history, consisting of 194 shows in 27 countries.It was also a source of much infamy for the band, due to riots, late starts, cancellations and outspoken rantings by Axl Rose. During the second leg of the U.S tour, The Brian May Band opened for Guns N’ Roses, however their initial plane was to have Nirvana as their opening acts, a band in crescent popularity back then due to the success of their breakthrough album “Nevermind” but Nirvana said no to Guns N’ Roses, specially due to Kurt Cobain’s hate for the band from whom he had no appreciation at all, that  started one of Rock music’s most famous rivalry. Later on,  Metallica joined Guns N’ Roses, both bands playing together supported by Faith No More, Body Count, Motörhead and Seattle’s Grunge band Soundgarden. The “Use Your Illusion Tour” ended in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on July 17, 1993. The tour set attendance records and lasted for 28 months, in which 194 shows were played. The show in Buenos Aires marked the last time that Sorum and Clarke would play in the band, as well as the last time Slash performed in the group until rejoining in 2016.

Art Work 

The cover art of the album simply combines the color schemes from the covers of “Use Your Illusion I” and “Use Your Illusion II”, which were originally designed by Mark Kostabi. The image is a detail of the Raphael painting “The School of Athens”.

Volume I

Side 1
1 “Right Next Door to Hell” (Axl Rose, Izzy Stradlin, Timo Caltia)
2 “Dust N’ Bones” (Slash, Stradlin, Duff McKagan)
3 “Live and Let Die” (Paul McCartney, Linda McCartney)
4 “Don’t Cry” (Original) (Rose, Stradlin)
5 “Perfect Crime” (Rose, Slash, Stradlin)

Side 2
6 “You Ain’t the First” (Stradlin)
7 “Bad Obsession” (Stradlin, West Arkeen)
8 “Back Off Bitch” (Rose, Paul Tobias)
9 “Double Talkin’ Jive” (Stradlin)

Side 3
10 “November Rain” (Rose)
11 “The Garden” (Rose, Arkeen, Del James)
12 “Garden of Eden” (Rose, Slash)
13 “Don’t Damn Me” (Rose, Slash, Dave Lank)

Side 4
14 “Bad Apples” (Rose, Slash, Stradlin, McKagan)
15 “Dead Horse” (Rose)
16 “Coma” (Rose, Slash)

Volume II
Side 1
1 “Civil War” (Axl Rose, Slash, Duff McKagan)
2 “14 Years” (Rose, Izzy Stradlin)
3 “”Yesterdays” (Rose, West Arkeen, Del James, Billy McCloud)
4 “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (Bob Dylan)

Side 2
5 “Get in the Ring” (Rose, Slash, McKagan)
6 “Shotgun Blues” (Rose)
7 “Breakdown” (Rose)

Side 3
8 “Pretty Tied Up (The Perils of Rock n’ Roll Decadence)” (Stradlin)
9 “Locomotive (Complicity)” (Rose, Slash)
10 “So Fine” (McKagan)

Side 4
11 “Estranged” (Rose)
12 “You Could Be Mine” (Rose, Stradlin)
13 “Don’t Cry” (Alt. Lyrics) (Rose, Stradlin)
14 “My World” (Rose)

 

Personnel:
W. Axl Rose: lead vocals, piano, choir and synthesizer programming on “November Rain”, acoustic guitar on “Dead Horse”, backing vocals on “You Ain’t The First” and “14 Years”
Slash: lead guitar, acoustic and slide guitar on “The Garden”, dobro on “You Ain’t The First”, acoustic guitar on “Civil War”
Izzy Stradlin: rhythm guitar, backing vocals, acoustic guitar on “You Ain’t The First”, lead vocals on “You Ain’t the First” and “14 Years”
Duff McKagan: bass guitar, backing vocals, acoustic guitar on “You Ain’t The First”, percussion
Matt Sorum: drums, backing vocals, choir on “November Rain”
Dizzy Reed: keyboards, piano, organ on “Yesterdays”, backing vocals

Additional Personnel:
Steven Adler: drums on “Civil War”
Shannon Hoon: backing vocals on tracks 1, 2, 4, 5, 12
Alice Cooper: lead vocals on “The Garden”
Johann Langlie: programming on “November Rain”
Reba Shaw, Stuart Bailey: backing vocals on “November Rain”
Jon Thautwein, Matthew McKagan, Rachel West, Robert Clark: horn on “Live and Let Die”
West Arkeen: acoustic guitar on “The Garden”
Mike Clink: nutcracker on “Dead Horse”
The Waters: backing vocals on “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”

Recorded during: December 1989-August 1991 at A&M Studios, Record Plant Studios, Studio 56, Image Recording, Conway Studios & Metalworks Recording Studios
Produced by: Guns N’ Roses and Mike Clink
Release Date: September 17th, 1991
Label: Geffen

Singles:
“Don’t Cry” Released: September 17, 1991
“Live and Let Die” Released: December 3, 1991
“November Rain” Released: February 18, 1992
“You Could Be Mine” Released: June 21, 1991
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” Released: May 1992
“Yesterdays” Released: October 26, 1992
“Civil War” Released: May 3, 1993
“Estranged” Released: January 17, 1994

Strongest tracks:

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”, “Don’t Cry”, “Garden Of Eden”, “Yesterdays”, “Civil War”, “14 Years”, “You Could Be Mine”, “November Rain”, “Estranged”, “Live And Let Die”, “Dust N’ Bones”, “Coma”, “Double Talkin’ Jive”, “Perfect Crime”

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Watch Guns N’ Roses 1992 video for “November Rain”

 

Listen to “Use Your Illusion I & II” on Spotify

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