31 Years Ago: Guns N’ Roses Release ‘Use Your Illusion I’ & ‘II’

In retrospect, the much revered “classic” lineup of Guns ‘n’ Roses were together for a relatively short time, with the first significant changes to the band in the early 90s, but even with the initial changes to the group, it was still one hell of a ride that the band enjoyed after the monstrous success of their debut album Appetite for destruction and the follow-up compilation Lie.

While it could have been easy to capitalize on the early successes and get another album out quickly, the band instead chose to double down on their work and release an ambitious two-volume compilation that September. 17, 1991 called Use your illusion.

Front man Axel Rose told Rolling stones in 1991 that the project was well thought out and a calculated career move, choosing to challenge themselves to do something special rather than take the easy way out.

“People want something, and they want it as soon as they can get it,” says Rose. “Needy people. And I feel the same way, but I want it to be right—I don’t want it to be half-necessary. Since we put out Appetite for destruction, I’ve seen a lot of bands put out two to four albums and who cares? They went out, they did a big tour, they were big rock stars in that period. It’s what everyone is used to now – the record companies are pushing it. But I don’t want to be part of it. We didn’t just throw something together to be rock stars. We wanted to put something together that meant everything to us.”

But getting there was no easy task. The band had a tumultuous split with the drummer Steven Adler after his hard partying ways became too much for the band to ignore. Adler would later file a lawsuit against the group. Guns N’ Roses also said goodbye to manager Alan Niven among other key members of their crew.

Rose stated: “There’s a great desire to keep what we have together. I mean, we’ve already lost a guy. Actually, we’ve lost a lot of people. It would have been nice to stay with Alan [Niven]. It would have been nice to work with certain photographers, certain security, road crews, stage hands… Whether you’re happy you’re in a situation or not, there’s always a part of you that says, ‘I wish I could have been happy there, just stayed happy somehow.”

Guns N’ Roses, “You Could Be Mine” – Live at Rock in Rio (1991)

But as one chapter ended, another began. In 1990, keyboardist Dizzy Reed were invited to join the group. And with Adler on the way out, the group needed a new drummer and found their man Matt Sorumwhich the band had seen drumming with The cult. “Having a keyboard player in the band was something they talked to me about a long time ago,” Reed said. “I never really thought it would happen.”

But Reed got the call at just the right time, as he was about to be kicked out of his apartment just as he got the invitation. As for Sorum, he took over behind the kit for a majority of the songs, although Adler still got credit on the song”Civil war.”

With the new lineup intact, Guns N’ Roses began putting the disc together in 1990 and spent nearly a year recording it. The band made use of numerous studios including A&M, Record Plant, Studio 56, Image Recording, Conway Studios and Metalworks Recording Studios.

Guns N’ Roses, “Civil War”

Ever the perfectionists, the band also mixed 21 tracks with engineer/producer Bob Clearmountain, but later scrapped the mixes and started from scratch with Bill Price mixing. But when it came down to it, Guns N’ Roses had set the bar high with their previous work and were keen to maintain that push for excellence.

“I’ve had a good understanding of where I wanted Guns N’ Roses to go and the things I wanted Guns N’ Roses to achieve musically,” says Rose, “And I can’t say that everyone got hold of it. We compete with rock legends and we try to do the best we can to possibly be honored with such a position. We want to define ourselves. Appetite was a cornerstone, a place to start. It was like, ‘Here’s our land, and we just put a stake in the ground. Now we have to build something”.

Published on Sept. 17, 1991, Use your Illusion I and II arrived with great fanfare. The second volume opened at No. 1 on the Billboard Album Chart, where the first volume finished at number two.

As for the separation of the tracks, Rose told Here Today Gone To Hell“We didn’t actually take into account that people knew more songs on II than I. We thought that ‘Civil War’ and ‘Knocking on heaven’s door‘ would be old news, rather than people wanting to get their hands on it. We looked at it as the first half of Use your illusion I was more like the energy Appetite for destruction, and would be much more fun to skateboard to. We thought of it that way. We thought it would be more successful in the beginning and we had to work on it IIbut actually II picked up the pace faster, so it gave us time to work on I and also drive wide and push it.”

Guns N’ Roses, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” – Live in Tokyo (1992)

He added: “I would say ‘Civil War’, ‘Heaven’s Door’, ‘Breakdown’, ‘Estranged’, ‘Locomotive’ and the second version of ‘Don’t Cry’ are a bit deeper and more mature than some others. by the songs on the first page of Illusion I. They are just as important to us, but were funnier and more raw expressions of emotion.”

The first song that came was from Use your illusion II album. The driving rocker”You could be Mine” was used for their soundtrack for the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day after Arnold Schwarzenegger personally invited the band to dinner at his home to negotiate a deal. The song actually had a long history with Guns N’ Roses, with guitarist Slash reveals that the song’s earliest origins date back to the first pre-production session to Appetite for destruction.

Other Use Your Illusion II songs to hit included the band’s cover of Bob Dylan‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, the power ballad’Yesterday,” the protest song “Civil War” and the powerful “alienated.” While most of the Use your illusion II songs wouldn’t become big radio hits, they became classics in the Guns N’ Roses catalog.

Guns N’ Roses, “Estranged”

Of “Civil War”, bass player Duff McKagan told Rockline, “Basically it was a riff that we would do at soundcheck. Axl came up with a few lines at the beginning. And… I went to a peace march when I was a little kid with my mom. I was like four years old. For Martin Luther King. And it was then: “Were you wearing the black armband when they shot the man who said, ‘Peace could last forever’? It’s just true experiences, really.”

As for “Estranged,” Rose would become particularly attached to the emotions the track evoked. He told Here Today Gone to Hell“There’s something really wild, for me, about performing ‘Estranged’ because I suddenly realized that I don’t want to sit at the piano and play this song to keep the energy of the song going. I have to move around, and there’s something about being able to be up there and moving around under it that’s actually a gift, a gift or something. To be able to dance and rejoice in a song. It came from situations and emotions that killed me. You know , we mean pretty much everything we say. We don’t put down anything we’re not willing to stand behind or try to stand by for the duration. “Estranged” also has a video that’s part of a key trilogy for the band that also included clips for Use your illusion I the songs “Don’t Cry” and “November Rain”.

Speaking of Use your illusion Iit was more successful at radio, with the tracks “Don’t Cry”, “November Rain” and a cover of Paul McCartneys”Live and let die” all command the airwaves. Fans also latched onto such favorites as “Garden of eden“and”Right next to hell.”

Do not Cry” proved to be one of the band’s biggest hits and a key track in linking the two albums together, as different versions of the song appeared on both discs. Use your illusion I tracks were hit, with Use your illusion II version with alternative lyrics and a slightly different melody. Also notable on “Don’t Cry” is a backing vocalist who appeared on a number Use your illusion numbers – Shannon Hoon – who would later become famous as the vocalist for Blind Melon. Hoon and Rose both hailed from Indiana and moved to Los Angeles to pursue music and found a common bond in their journey. Hoon also appeared in the video for the song.

November rain,” an epic power ballad, climbed all the way to No. 3 on the Billboard 100. It was also a track long in the works, with Traci Guns revealed that Axl had been working on it as early as 1983.

Guns N’ Roses, “November Rain” music video

Guns stated that Rose started the track on piano, adding, “It was the only thing he knew how to play, but it was his. He’d say, ‘Someday this song’s going to be really cool.’ And I’d say, ‘ It’s cool now.’ “But it’s not done, you know,” he used to say. And like, whenever we were in a hotel or wherever, there’d be a piano; he’d just play that music. And I’d go,’ When are you going to finish it, you know?’ And he said, ‘I don’t know what to do with it.'” With a killer guitar solo from Slash, orchestral backing and numerous tempo changes, the track would become a classic, well executed from its earliest incarnation…

As for the touring cycle, it took its toll on the band. There was the incident in St. Louis when Rose was cited for inciting a riot after walking into the crowd after a photographer. There was the ill-fated 1992 tour with Metallica where riots broke out. And during the run, Izzy Stradlin grew tired of life in the band and eventually left, with Gilby Clarke eventually joining the group.

Amidst the fame and drive for success, it was a tough road to tread. But as Slash stated in an almost creepy way Rolling stones interview given what was to come, “You know, I love the band with all my heart. I mean, there’s going to be a time when it’s all going to end, the tour’s going to end, the album’s going to die, and I’m going to keep jamming with cats, that I dig and play with. But then we’ll just take another record. I don’t think anything’s really gonna break us. The only thing that ever made it seem like that was just our own damn insecurities. flip out, because everything seems to be so much.”

He added: “Sometimes you say, ‘What the hell?’ Then you try to see where you can escape to and there’s nowhere to go. We’ve been doing this for so long that we really would all feel a little lost and lonely if it fell apart and we had to go out and make solo records … Because it wouldn’t be Guns. None of us could recreate that. Axl has so much charisma — he’s one of the best singers out there. It’s his personality. He can go out and do something. What scares me is if the band falls apart, I’ll never be able to shake the fact that I’m the ex-Guns N’ Roses guitar player. And it’s almost like selling your soul.”

Unfortunately, Guns N’ Roses would record another album, the cover album The Spaghetti Incident, with much of their “classical” core intact. Slash would leave in 1996, McKagan a year later, leaving Rose as the only original member and a decade-plus process of putting together Chinese democracy album amid several lineup changes took the band out of the limelight for a good portion of the late 90s and early 2000s.

But in the early 90s, there weren’t many acts that could touch Guns N’ Roses and Use your illusion albums was an example of a band that, on top of their game, pursued something special. Both albums would go on to be certified seven times platinum by the RIAA, and the wealth of singles from the two discs remain staples of the band’s catalog to this day.

Guns N’ Roses’ Dizzy Reed reflects Use your illusion Albums

Guns N’ Roses Songs Classified


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