If you haven’t been living under a rock for the first few weeks of 2016, then you’ve heard the big news of the music world: Guns N’ Roses are back! Now you’re probably thinking “huh? GNR have been touring together for years now. I just saw them last time they were in town!”. Well, for the past few years, you’ve been following the “new” Guns N’ Roses. That line-up consisted of front man Axl Rose and an array of revolving musicians who, while talented, were never going to take the place of the old guard. For the last 10 to15 years, this was about as close as you were going to get to seeing GNR. Well, now you’re in luck because the original Guns N’ Roses will reunite this Spring with two shows at Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena followed by a headlining slot at this year’s Coachella festival (assuming Axl shows up of course). When I say the “original” GNR is returning, I only mean bassist Duff McKagan and key guitarist, Slash, are back alongside Rose. Duff rejoining is no surprise as he’s been on good terms with Rose for awhile now and has even made several appearances onstage performing alongside the new line-up. The real shocker here is Slash and Axl appearing for the first time together since the former quit in 1996. Both men shared a longtime resentment for one another following a fallout over the band’s direction and have barely spoken in the years that followed. In late 2015, Slash revealed in an interview that him and Axl were friends again which sparked the rumors of a homecoming.
In addition to Rose, Slash, and Duff, Dizzy Reed, Guns’ longtime keyboard player since the early 1990s is expected to retain his place in the group but as of right now, neither Steven Adler nor Izzy Stradlin are expected to return. Both men were fired for their drug problems during the group’s heyday. Adler even appeared on season two of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab. Despite his demons however, Izzy, like Duff, has played a few GNR shows in recent years so don’t be too surprised to see him turn up at a show here or there. Drummer, Matt Sorum, and guitarist, Gilby Clarke, also aren’t welcomed back.
Alright now I’m in the mood! Let’s take a quick look at the musical history of Guns N’ Roses and relive some of my fondest memories of one of my favorite bands.
Believe or not, I actually didn’t start listening to Guns N’ Roses until the late 90s, over a decade after their debut and at least five years removed from their prime. The first Gun N’ Roses song I ever heard (or that I actually listened to and liked) was November Rain. It was used in a video package to promote Extreme Championship Wrestling’s flagship event, November to Remember. The eight minute epic was background noise to the likes of Tommy Dreamer, Shane Douglas, and The Sandman among others beating the tar out of one another. While the wild brawling caught my eye as a kid, that song caught my ears and was stuck in my head for weeks. I searched for the name of that somber tune for what seemed like an eternity due to there being no smartphones back then or a internet connection beyond 56K. Finally, my brother assured me that it was it was a song by a little group named Guns N’ Roses. Clever name, I thought. Not long after, I caught the actual music video of the song and it remains one of the more baffling musical clips ever. I mean, seriously, was it ever discovered how the woman dies?
For my 12th birthday in 1998, one of the gifts I requested was “the Guns ‘N Roses album with November Rain on it”. With my mother having not much to go on and with help from my brother, I was able to score my very first CD (along with Metallica’s Black Album, which I also received that day), 1991’s Use Your Illusion I.
To this day, it remains one of my favorite records ever. The opening track, Right Next Door To Hell, is heavy and creates the perfect precedent for the following tracks. One of my favorite albums openers ever. The next song, Dust N’ Bones might actually be my favorite non-single GNR tune. Then we go into a cover of Paul McCartney’s Live and Let Die, the theme to the eponymous James Bond flick. Finally, another sad ballad in Don’t Cry which is the prelude to November Rain. Very few albums start out so strongly than Use Your Illusion I. Shock rock legend, Alice Cooper, even makes an appearance on The Garden which goes into the super heavy cut, Garden of Eden. As a kid, I thought I was so edgy singing the lyrics to Back Off Bitch to all my classmates. I was so cool, man. So outspoken, so rebellious, ya hear?
UYI I was the first in a double album. Released that say day was Use Your Illusion II. Many fans argue which volume is better but I’ve always maintained that UYI I was superior if just for the strength and nostalgia of November Rain. Like it’s predecessor, UYI II starts off strong with Civil War which opens with a snippet from of the Captain’s line from the 1967 Paul Newman film, Cool Hand Luke; “What we have here is failure to communicate”. Next is 14 Years, a very underrated song from GNR that doesn’t get enough love. While UYI payed tribute to Sir Paul, we have another homage to a retro musician with a cover of Bob Dylan’s Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. It was sung in the tongue that is only Axl with his signature squeal. UYI II also contains an alternate version of Don’t Cry with different lyrics but again, I’m going to have to go with the original here. I think the song Estranged deserves a mention as well. Clocking it at over nine minutes, it is without a doubt, one of the most monumental tracks these guys ever recorded. There’s only one thing that could be said about the music video: Dolphins. In 1992, the band released the single You Could Be Mine for the soundtrack of Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The video starred Arnold Schwarzenegger himself in character cruising among a mob of fans in concert trying to hunt down the various members of band. Incidentally, this wouldn’t be the last collaboration between Schwarzenegger and Rose as the industrial-tinged GNR track, Oh My God, wound up on the soundtrack to End of Days in 1999.
After the release of the Illusion albums, the band embarked on a co-headlining tour with Metallica bringing Faith No More along as openers. One of the more noteworthy incidents from the tour was when Metallica singer James Hetfield was severely injured onstage when he got caught in the group’s own pyro, burning him. This led to a massive riot at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Canada when GNR were unable to save the day, instead cutting their set short. I missed out on a lot of concerts in my lifetime due to either being too young or not taking enough initiative to buy tickets but if there was a show that I truly wish I would have been at, it was this one. Three of my all time favorite bands on one bill? Yes, please. The tour did two shots at Giants Stadium in Jersey in 1992 but being six years old and having parents who weren’t really into this kind of music kind of stomped on any chances of me seeing this. It is sort of sad to hear that the two headliners never got along. I would have loved Axl joining the metallers onstage for a rendition of Nothing Else Matters!
I basically went backward in GNR’s legacy growing up so I didn’t get to listen to the entirety of their smash debut Appetite for Destruction until the early 2000s. Aside from the three singles, Welcome to the Jungle, Paradise City, and Sweet Child O’ Mine, which radio played to death, I hadn’t heard anything from the record. Boy, how dumb did I feel when I finally got my hands on it and listened to the whole thing straight through. Everyone song on there is nothing short of outstanding. Everything from It’s So Easy and Nightrain to Anything Goes and Rocket Queen are some of rock’s absolute best.
After that, I was able to get my hands on GN’R Lies, the EP they released after the success of AFD. It contained the acoustic jam, Used To Love Her which apparently was about Axl’s deceased pet dog though it made reference to killing a former female lover and burying her in the backyard. Here’s a weird tidbit: there was a news story that made the rounds in 2006-2007 where a man was convicted for murdering his wife and when detectives searched his house for clues, they discovered his computer with only one downloaded song, this one. The song was actually played during trial to a perplexed jury. Ah, America. Not only that, it contained a longtime misheard lyric from yours truly who thought “I used to her love but I had to kill her” was “I used to love her but I had tequila”. Stupid, I know. The CD also had Patience, a popular song from their discography that I was never really crazy about and a stripped down version of You’re Crazy, the 10th track from Appetite. I prefer this version more because it sounds more intimate and focused.
Guns N Roses also released a covers album in 1993 entitled The Spaghetti Incident?. It was sort of forgettable outside two notable covers: The Misfits’ Attitude and Soundgarden’s Big Dumb Sex. The band always had a punk rock edge so I was glad to find out they were fans of the horror punk legends and redoing one of my favorite tracks of theirs to boot. The Soundgarden cover was odd to me because usually you don’t see tribute records like these containing works of contemporary artists. Nonetheless, it was a pretty decent re-imagining.
After 1994, the band went off the rails and sparked nearly two decades of bad blood between certain members. After Slash quit, Axl searched long and hard for another guitar player that had a quarter of the talent he had. He eventually settled on virtuoso axeman, Buckethead; a pretty damn great musician whose gimmick was that he sported a mask and a bucket..on..his…head. Yeah, you can’t make this stuff up. He famously made an appearance playing with Axl and crew during the close of the 2002 MTV Video Music Awards, a performance that was negatively received everywhere. That incident just fueled the legend of Axl being one of the flakiest, most burdensome people in music to work with. Differences between Axl and Mr. Head heated up and he was gone by 2004. In his place came a dude named Bumblefoot, a Brooklyn native who was hired by Rose on the recommendation of Joe Satriani. Was it in Guns’ contract that the lead guitarist must go by a single name pseudonym? He would leave the band in 2014 and was the last notable member of the new iteration of GNR.
No, I will not talk about the constantly delayed Chinese Democracy. You’ve all heard enough about that by now.
How excited are you for the reunion? Will you be going to any of the announced shows? Would you go if they head to your town? Will Axl even make it onstage? I’m not sure what my answer is but as the song goes, “anything goes tonight”.