Use Your Illusion I & II The Album and Music

Use Your Illusion I & II

September 17, 1991 (Uzi Suicide/Geffen)

The Album

Two albums were released to make up for the delay.  They were issued separately so that fans could afford them.  This was the first time in history that a band released more than one album on the same day.  The Use Your Illusion albums were originally titled "G N' R Sucks" (creating a pattern along with G N' R Lies) but the name was changed when it was decided that there would be two albums released simultaneously, rather than one double-album. This original title was the inspiration for a fan site by the same name.

The Use Your Illusion albums represent a turning point in the sound of Guns N' Roses. Although they did not abandon the hard rock tendencies so vivid in their first album, Appetite for Destruction, Use Your Illusion I demonstrated, for the first time, more or less, elements of blues, classical music, and country. For example, lead singer Axl Rose plays the piano on several tracks of both albums. In addition, with the Use Your Illusion Tour, both the music and stage presence of the band became more theatrical, in the tradition of progressive rock. This fact is evidenced by the numerous music videos produced in conjunction with these albums. Use Your Illusion I contains two of the three songs, "November Rain" and "Don't Cry", whose videos are generally held by fans to be a trilogy.  The third song, "Estranged", is on Use Your Illusion II.  It was songs like "November Rain" which brought Guns N' Roses popularity among music fans who usually did not listen to hard rock or heavy metal.

Besides stylistic differences, another new aspect seen in Use Your Illusion I was longer songs. "November Rain", an epic ballad, is over 8 minutes long, and "Coma" is more than 10 minutes long.

Bolstered by the single "You Could Be Mine," Use Your Illusion II was the slightly more popular of the two albums, debuting at #1 on the U.S. charts (although both went on to reach 7x platinum sales).  In addition, Use Your Illusion II is more political than most of their previous work, with songs like "Civil War", a cover of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door", and "Get in the Ring" dealing respectively with the topics of violence, law enforcement, and media bias. The thematic material deals less with drug use than previous Guns N' Roses albums. 

The Use Your Illusion albums can be taken as a single cohesive work, and certain elements of Use Your Illusion II underscore this intent. For instance, both albums have a version of the song "Don't Cry". Both albums also have one cover song; "Live and Let Die" by Paul McCartney (Use Your Illusion I) and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door" by Bob Dylan (Use Your Illusion II). Each of them also has at least one track sung by other members of the band: lead vocals on "So Fine" are performed by bassist Duff McKagan, lead vocals on "14 Years", "Dust N' Bones" and "Double Talkin' Jive" are performed by Izzy Stradlin (rhythm guitarist).  A number of songs on the album were written in the band's early days, but were not included on Appetite for Destruction. "Back Off B*tch", "Bad Obsession", "Bad Apples", "Don't Cry", "November Rain", and "The Garden" are part of this group.

The cover art of these two albums is identical except for color which represents significant theme differences in the albums: Use Your Illusion I is red, and has, for the most part an angrier, heavier sound; Use Your Illusion II is blue, and has a softer, more bluesy sound.

The cover was done by Mark Kostabi, who took detail from Raphael's fresco The School of Athens and edited it.  Universities in Greece taught classes by subscription.  A student had the right to tell the professor what he wanted to learn and if a student felt he was not taught accordingly, he did not have to pay the professor for the classes.  Axl dropped out of high school because he disagreed with the subjects he was forced to learn and visited the library every day to learn more about art and music.  Apparently, those departments were under funded at Jefferson High as many schools were during the 1970s.  The School of Athens painting reflects this experience in Axl's life.

The Music

Right Next Door To Hell was written about Gabrialla Kantor, Axl's neighbor who claimed he hit her with a wine bottle when she knocked on his door and complained that his music was too loud.  The charges were dropped due to lack of evidence.

Dust N Bones was written and performed by Izzy Stradlin.

Live and Let Die is a Paul McCartney cover that was the 007 theme song.  It was inspired by the Bible.  The "open book" is The Bible. The Bible says "go out and preach the Gospel to All Nations" but because some people are so stubborn you've just got to let them go to Hell and save yourself.  As it says in Matthew 8:21--Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." 8:22--But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."  This song appealed to Axl for two reasons.  He was raised in a strict Pentacostal home and the lyrics themselves speak of his childhood innocence and how the changing world affects him.

Don't Cry was written by Izzy and Axl about Izzy's breakup with Angela Nicoletti and Axl's breakup with Gina Siler, both of which occurred on the same night. Izzy was standing and Axl was sitting outside the Roxy both crying after Angela and Gina broke up with them.  Both women approached them and each said, "Don't cry," and that was the entire inspiration for one of GNR's biggest hit ballads.  The two heartbroken men went home and wrote this song in five minutes.  It was the first song written by Guns N' Roses and it was first performed live at the Roxy in 1986.  This also the song that got them signed to Geffen Records. 

Perfect Crime might have been inspired by The Language of Fear by Del James.

You Ain't The First was written by Izzy about Angela Nicoletti cheating on him.  The phrase, "to the bar," stated by Duff refers to the Rainbow Lounge located in LA on the Sunset Strip where Axl and the band hung out.

Bad Obsession was written about Axl's relationship with his mother and his battle with heroin addiction.

Back Off Bitch was written about Gina Siler and first performed mid-1984 by Hollywood Rose at the Music Machine in Los Angeles.  "I met her when I was 13, and went out with her later. But we ran into a hassle and I wrote this song." - Axl.  Gina left him in 1985 because of his heroin addiction.

Double Talkin Jive was primarily written about Axl's step-father. It's basically a 'rage song'. The meaning lies solely in the title which is a reference to contradictory verbiage, i.e., double-talk or lying.  As Axl has stated during many live performances, "this song is to all the mother fuckers who said you wouldn't get anywhere in life."  Double Talkin' Jive was dedicated to Warren Beatty during the Paris pay-per-view concert in 1992.

November Rain was written about his relationship with Gina Siler.  Axl stated that if he could not get the song recorded the way he wanted it, that he would quit the music industry.  It is one of the most popular songs by Guns N' Roses.  November Rain was #1 on the Rock 1000 in 2006, an annual countdown of the top 1000 rock songs by New Zealand radio listeners.  It consistently remains one of the most requested songs on rock music radio stations.

At 8 minutes and 57 seconds, it is an epic rock ballad (in the tradition of "Stairway to Heaven" and "Free Bird") and one of the longest songs not only on that album but also that Guns N Roses has ever recorded (both distinctions go to the 10 minute long "Coma"). It is also the longest song to reach the top twenty of the Billboard Hot 100. On the radio, however, "November Rain" is played in a shortened version of approximately six minutes. November Rain does however hold the record for the longest guitar solo in a US top ten hit ever.  The longest song in history is actually Pink Floyd's "Echoes" at 23 minutes, 31 seconds.

According to Tracii Guns, former L.A. Guns guitarist and co-founding member of Guns N' Roses, Axl Rose had been working on the song since at least 1983. In an interview, he said the following about November Rain: "When we were doing that EP for L.A. Guns, in '83, he was playing 'November Rain' on piano way back then.  It was the only thing he knew how to play, but it was his.  He'd go, 'Someday this song is gonna be really cool.'  And I'd go, 'It's cool now.'  'But it's not done,' he used to say.  And anytime we'd be at a hotel or anywhere there'd be a piano, he'd just play that music.  And I'd go, 'When are you gonna finish that already?'  And he'd go, 'I don't know what to do with it.'

The Garden was a hallucinatory experience written by Axl and West Arkeen about a strip club in San Francisco called "The Garden of Eden" where there is a lot of sex and drugs. It's also about resisting the temptation to fall into the trap.  The lyrics delivered by Alice Cooper were written by Del James.  Ironically, another of Axl's songs is titled "Garden of Eden" in which this strip club is also mentioned but it's more about the fight to ban Heavy Metal music.

Garden of Eden was written about Al and Tipper Gore's PMRC (Parent's Music Resource Center) movement to ban heavy metal music. Frank Zappa, 60s folk artist, was also waging a battle against this movement. The PMRC was responsible for the parental advisory warning label on rock music. The label first appeared on the Use Your Illusion albums.  There is a strip club in San Francisco called The Garden of Eden that is mentioned briefly in this song.  The song, The Garden is about the strip club itself.

Don't Damm Me was Axl's response to the media and fans who failed to understand him, his music, or the motivation behind it.  In my opinion it is his most poignant song to date.  Madagascar runs a close second.

Bad Apples was written about Hollywood gossip and his celebrity status.

Dead Horse was written by Axl when he was feeling suicidal.  He played acoustic guitar during the intro.

Coma was written by Axl after he attempted suicide by drug overdose after the filming of the Welcome to the Jungle video in August of 1987.  "Writing Coma was so heavy I'd start to write and I'd just pass out. I tried to write that song for a year. I wrote the entire end of that song off the top of my head. It just poured out." - Axl.  Dr. Michael Smolens, Sam Straton and Steve Rogers, credited in Coma were the doctors and ambulance attendants who saved Axl's life.  During the recording session, Axl asked if they would like to help and they agreed.

Civil War, a war protest song, was written for "Nobody's Child", a fundraising compilation album directed by The Beatles' wives to benefit Romanian orphans.  The album was released on July 17, 1990.  Notably, the United States was involved in no major military operations at the time of its recording, so it is mostly thought of as a tribute of sorts to 1960's anti-Vietnam protest songs.  On September 27, 1993 Duff McKagan explained where the song came from in an interview on Rockline: "Basically it was a riff that we would do at sound-checks. Axl came up with a couple of lines at the beginning.  I went on a Martin Luther King peace march with my mom when I was four years old."  The lyrics were also inspired by "White Man" by Queen and the book, "A Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley.  The song samples a speech from the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke and features a Peruvian militant general speech.  The song also pays homage to the American Civil War song "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" with snippets of the tune used in the intro, and then again in the outro.  Lastly, the song ends with a word play on the word, "civil".  It is the last song in which drummer Steven Adler played for Guns N' Roses at Farm Aid IV on April 7, 1990 before being replaced by Matt Sorum.

14 Years was written and sung by Izzy Stradlin though it closely reflects Axl's own experiences.  It was written about all the pain and chaos in his life. It even includes a message to his parents, "I tried to see it your way." Axl went to church, sang in the choir, studied the Bible, and taught Sunday school--anything to win his parents approval and make them proud of him. Despite his best efforts, he was still beaten and abused. Axl was 14 years old when he began to rebel. Add another 14 years to 1976 and you get 1990, the year this song was recorded. The Use Your Illusion albums were released in 1991 and the tour lasted through 1992. Add 14 to 1992 and you get 2006, the year of Axl's comeback. As soon as he re-appeared, people began spreading ugly rumors about him just as they had before. The chaos has begun again. 14 years from now, he will be 58. Will he still be performing by then? I certainly hope so.

Yesterdays was written about Axl letting go of his youth and innocence after moving to LA.

Knockin' On Heaven's Door was written by Bob Dylan for the movie, "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1969). Dylan was featured briefly in the film.  It represents Axl's depression and suicidal thoughts. He added the phone sound and last verse spoken by Josh Richman.  The lyrics were also inspired by the Bible. 

Matthew 7:7 "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you."
Luke 13:24 "He said to them, 'Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to."  13:25 "Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door; you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' But he will answer, 'I don't know you or where you come from.'  13:26 "Then you will say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets'."  Revelation 3:20 "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me."

Get In The Ring was written about rock magazine editors printing lies about Axl and the band, and it was directed towards them by name in the lyrics.

Shotgun Blues was written about Axl's challenge to Vince Neil of Motley Crue.  Vince accepted, but they never fought.

Breakdown was written about the loneliness Axl felt after his breakup with both Erin and Stephanie.  Axl cries a lot (what he refers to as 'breaking down') and he's not ashamed to admit it.

Pretty Tied Up (The Perils Of Rock N Roll Decadence) was written by Izzy about Axl taking over the band and the effect it had.  The woman referred to in the song is Erin, who Axl had hog tied and stuffed an apple in her mouth for a video that was destroyed afterward.

Locomotive (Complicity) was written by Axl after Erin divorced him.

So Fine was written and performed by Duff.  It was dedicated to the memory of Johnny Thunders who was also Angela Nicoletti's cousin.

Estranged was written about Axl's breakup with Erin before their divorce.

You Could Be Mine was written by Izzy about his failed relationship with Angela Nicoletti.  Elton John wrote the line "we've seen that movie, too".

Don't Cry (Alternate Lyrics): Axl stated in the Making F***g Videos: Don't Cry documentary that "the lyrics came to him spontaneously while they were recording the original version."

My World was a Rap Metal number written by Axl while listening to Public Enemy.  It was a surprise to a few members of the band. The track was essentially an Axl Rose solo, and most of the members did not even know it existed until the album was released.  The song is about how people misunderstand him.

A list of unreleased songs recorded during the Illusion sessions:

"Sentimental Movie" (originally demoed in 1990 on Unwanted Illusions)
"Bring It Back Home" (originally demoed in 1990 on Unwanted Illusions, released on Chinese Democracy)
"Crash Diet" (originally demoed in 1990 on Unwanted Illusions, released on Chinese Democracy)
"Just Another Sunday" (originally demoed in 1990 on Unwanted Illusions, released on Chinese Democracy)

All of the above songs were written in 1985-1986.