Guest Editorial: The Best Tracks from Guns N’ Roses Use Your Illusion I & II Make a Better Album than Appetite for Destruction
Today, MetalSucks is re-joined by our old pal Doc Coyle (Vagus Nerve, ex-God Forbid), who has a rather bold assertion to make. Check out Doc’s thoughts on Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction and Use Your Illusion below, then head to comments section to weigh in with your thoughts!
Let’s just get it out of the way and lead with my confession that I discovered heavy music in 1991, and “November Rain” is the heavy metal-hard rock primordial ooze from which my taste as music fan was birthed. I love Appetite for Destruction, and it’s place as probably the most concise and perfectly executed hard rock album of all time is difficult to contend with (as I get shouted down by advocates of Back in Black or Led Zeppelin IV). As incredible as Appetite is, with the exception of the balladry of “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” the album primarily hits one Jack Daniels-fueled note of intensity and savage, pure rock n’ roll grit.
But on the Use Your Illusion albums, Guns N’ Roses said to the world, “We aren’t just a dirty rock n’ roll band. We want to go down in history with The Beatles, Queen, and Pink Floyd as a band who made universal music with mammoth scope and a timeless sonic vocabulary.” Guns N’ Roses soared to epic heights of experimental ambition, but to varying degrees of success.
Use Your Illusion suffers from the problems as most double albums. When a band is on a creative roll like GN’R was at the time, they want all of their ideas and output to be heard. The parallels between Metallica’s Load/Reload and Use Your Illusion are pretty stunning. Both bands were coming off generationally and culturally earth-shaking albums that just, in their essence, could not be topped. Think of Michael Jackson having to follow up Thriller… although Bad is right there (in my opinion). I can’t imagine the confidence that comes with making one of the biggest albums in history, but I think that soaring level of self-assuredness is what leads to bloated, self-indulgent double albums.
Since I was a kid, I fantasized about living in a world where Guns N’ Roses put out a singular, best-of Use Your Illusion album. Then, perhaps, so many of the old school fans wouldn’t hate it so much. Let’s talk about some of my guidelines when crafting a version of this single album, and what didn’t make the cut:
First off, I removed “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” because you can’t have an all-time great album with more than one cover song (here’s looking at you, Van Halen’s Diver Down). No one loves hearing Axl sing “dowow” more than me, so we’ll leave that as a bonus track.
There are some songs that are just straight up bad, like “My World” and “Get In The Ring,” the latter of which features a great intro, but devolves after Axl’s cringe-worthy rant threatening journalists (by name and publication).
There’s Punk N’ Roses, where GN’R let their punk cred fly by trying their hand at the style, but ultimately fell flat with just unmemorable clutter like “Shotgun Blues,” “Perfect Crime,” and, to a lesser extent, “Garden of Eden,” which is actually kind of charming and energetic, but feels like empty calories.
Then there’s Country N’ Roses, which was no doubt a sincere influence (remember all those boots and hats parading about?). But I didn’t like The Rolling Stones going country, and I’m not taking it from GN’R, either. Those are tracks like “You Ain’t The First” and “Breakdown,” where the honkey-tonk intro morphs into Billy Joel-esque yacht rock.
And lastly, there a few tracks, like “Bad Obsession” and “Bad Apples,” that aren’t bad per se, but are just kind of middle-of-the-road and disposable, reminding me of the blues band fronted by Bruce Willis (or ‘Bruno,’ the Die Hard star’s preferred musical alias).
I kept the running order at twelve tracks to stand on equal footing with Appetite for Destruction. When it comes to album length, less is always more. The MAIN goal here was to remove the bloat. That means a couple of tunes I really like had to be left off. But having a few leftover tracks to possibly replace the lesser songs on Chinese Democracy is not a bad thing.
- “You Could Be Mine”
“You Could Be Mine” is my favorite GN’R song, with “Nightrain” being a close second. If you need a mission statement, an opening salvo, this is how you open the follow up to Appetite for Fucking Destruction – with an undeniable, classic Guns N’ Roses rocker. It sets the table, just like “Welcome to the Jungle” did on Appetite. You kick your fans in the dick with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s size twelve boots.
- “Double Talkin’ Jive”
This one one of the songs the quality of which that sneaks up on you. The outro is what grabs, you because its flamenco chord progression really allows Slash to shine (although, when doesn’t Slash shine?). “Double Talkin’ Jive” has even become a staple of the band’s live show, with Slash doing an extended solo section that is truly moving. As track #2, it keeps the energy going and brings some epic flair to game early on, signaling to fans that the band has some new tricks up their sleeve, and this ain’t Appetite Part II.
- “Live and Let Die”
As I stated above, one cover song had to go, and “Live and Let Die” survives because it’s just a hit song, and great albums need a straight-up hit in the third slot. Also, this song just has more energy and rock n’ roll balls than “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” There is a lot of acoustic guitar, piano, and general exploration of melancholy and sensitivity on the Use Your Illusion records, but we have to make sure the album weighs in more on the hard rock, up-tempo side of the equation.
- “Don’t Cry (Original)”
You’ll notice in the early going there have already been three songs that were singles/videos. That’s right; this is the best of the best, and these songs were singles for a reason. “Don’t Cry” is so good it’s on both Use Your Illusion I and II. I’d leave it at it’s original spot as track four, because in studying album track-list order 101, I’ve learned that track four is where you bring the vibe down a bit. You have to construct peaks and valleys.
- “Don’t Damn Me”
“Don’t Damn Me” is my token energetic album cut. Guns tried several times to write raw, simple songs in the vein of Appetite, but most came up short and watered down the records. It takes a deft ear to find the gems in the mix. This is one of them. It has a signature punk-ish main riff and a somewhat middling Axl performance through the early going, but the song completely redeems itself with a monumental, goosebump-inducing middle eight. This song also serves to bridge the gap between the sprawling epics to come later on the album.
GN’R fans fall into one of two camps: those who accept Axl Rose swimming with dolphins, and those who don’t. I’m guessing you can tell where I stand. “Estranged” is where the rubber meets the road to illuminate listeners as to how the band evolved, and this new, expansive approach is what I like more about Use Your Illusion than Appetite. A song like this is so big in its ambition; I don’t think many modern rock bands dare to dream on this level. There is something pretentious there, but I am okay with pretentious art as long as it lives up to its own high expectations.
- “Civil War”
I ordered this imagining it was still the tape and record days where you had to re-set your middle point. “Civil War” was a great opener for Use Your Illusion II, but perhaps a bit too sobering. I think it works better as the first track to the B-side of an album. It’s a classic Guns N’ Roses song that probably just missed the cut for being a single.
- “Back Off Bitch”
I would count “Back Off Bitch” as album cut #2, and despite not-so-veiled misogynistic language, there is an infectiously tuneful and anthemic quality to the song that is difficult to deny. It was between this track and “Dust N’ Bones,” and again this song just had the requisite anger and balls to fill the gaps between GN’R’s newfound grandiosity.
I was again faced with a quandary between two songs. I actually enjoy the song “The Garden” more than “Yesterdays,” but I am not making this list for me. This is for the fans, and I get the feeling that “Yesterdays” is a bit more of a crowd pleaser. There is a saccharine, direct approach that simply connects with listeners, and it just feels like a well-executed, complete thought. The album also should not to lead into “November Rain” with an acoustic number like “The Garden.” It’s all about flow.
- “November Rain”
You knew it was coming; it was just a matter of when. I can’t imagine you are still reading this if you don’t like “November Rain,” but if you don’t like “November Rain”… how do I say this? You can go fuck yourself. With all due respect… Actually strike that. Go fuck yourself, but with with no respect due to you.
- “Dead Horse”
These two closing tracks, “Dead Horse” followed by “Coma,” remain in the actual running order used for the last two songs on Use Your Illusion I, because that is something they nailed perfectly the first time around. Although GN’R made a music video for “Dead Horse,” it still seems like a deep cut that is rarely talked about. I can still sing the intro word-for-word, and it’s just one of the best songs on the album, without question.
I know I said in the beginning of the article that “You Could Be Mine” and “Nightrain” were my favorite Guns N’ Roses songs, but “Coma” might be coming for that #1 spot with a bullet. It’s unquestionably the heaviest GN’R song, period. The main riff makes me want to punch people in the head. When Axl yells “Will someone tell me what the fuck is going on? GODDAMNIT!!!”, I start looking for school children to punch. It has everything you want from the Use Your Illusion era: epic and dynamic presentation with a ten-minute-plus running time, angry riffs, self-referential lyrics alluding to the abusive and hedonistic rock n’ roll lifestyle, it’s catchy as hell, and it features one of Slash’s most iconic guitar solos. This… is how you end an album.
“Dust N’ Bones”
“Pretty Tied Up (The Perils Of Rock N’ Roll Decadence)”
Check out Doc’s version of Use Your Illusion below. MetalSucks’ own Axl Rosenberg aengaged in a similar experiment for UYI‘s twentieth anniversary in 2011; you can check out his amalgamation of the two albums here.