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Certain Songs #574: Guns N’ Roses – “You Could Be Mine”

June 23rd, 2016 · No Comments

Guns you could be mine Album: Use Your Illusion II
Year: 1991

The summer of 1991 was a weird time for me.

I was in between girlfriends, bands and had finally gotten my life together to the point where I was just a semester away from graduating from college. In addition, I’d unexpectedly started living alone in the Tower District again.

So everything was pretty much in the air at that time.

But there was one thing I knew for sure, so sure that I wrote these exact words in my journal: “Prediction: the next Guns N’ Roses album is going to be very important to me.”

And while I’m sure that sentiment was at least partially due to whatever advance press the Illusion twins were getting, I’m guessing that it had way more to do with this song, the video of which was exploding all over the MTV that summer.

Said video, BTW, is yet another tentpole in my ongoing theory that Slash is a Time Lord. Why else would the Terminator travel back in time and target Guns N’ Roses but to make sure their time traveller doesn’t get in the way of his mission?

Meanwhile, musically, the song is the most perfect expression ever recorded of the Guns N’ Roses hybridization of Aerosmith & The Sex Pistols. “You Could Be Mine” is filled with big rumbling drum builds, feedbacky guitars and of course Axl’s sneer, which is at its sneeringest on the chorus.

You could be mi-innne
But you’re way outta li-iiine
With your bitch-slap rappin’ and cocaine tongue
You get nothin’ done
I said you could be mine

And the end, with Axl playing call-and-response with Izzy & Duff while Slash piles on the guitars and Matt Sorum pounds away, is utterly thrilling, getting harder and hotter until Axl ends the whole thing with a long scream of “miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiineee, yeah!”

I mean, I wanted a whole album of this stuff! Stat. Though in retrospect that would have been fucking exhausting.

Looking at it a quarter-century later, what we ended up getting was weirder, wilder and far more complex. If at the time, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II seemed like the bloated results of too much ego, too much money and too much drugs, then I think time has been incredibly kind to these records.

What seemed like ego in 1991 seems like generosity in 2016. Like they knew that they were going to explode like a supernova and that explosion was going to swallow everything whole, so might as well get these songs out there before that happens.

Like Sandinista! Or Warehouse: Songs & Stories, other examples where a band that instinctively knew it was nearing its last legs said “fuck it, here’s everything we got.”

Of course, I’m just glad I got to witness the supernova from a safe enough distance.

Official Video for “You Could Be Mine”

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Certain Songs #573: Guns N’ Roses – “Estranged”

June 22nd, 2016 · No Comments

Guns Estranged Album: Use Your Illusion II
Year: 1991

Believe it or not, I didn’t do every song I truly love from Use Your Illusion II.

That means I didn’t write about the perfect classic rockness of “Yesterdays,” or their over-the-top version of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” which featured a gospel choir singing the title over a stop time just because they could, or even “Locomotive (Complicity)” where the chorus has some of the best John Bonham drumming not done John Bonham.

But this gorgeous thing, I couldn’t resist.

With Axl’s whispered “alone” at the beginning as a signpost, Slash making his guitar cry to the heavens throughout, the multi-faceted “Estranged” kills even “November Rain” as an epic power ballad.

I fucking love Axl’s vocals on “Estranged,” especially on the I-guess-it’s-a-first chorus:

So nobody ever told you baby
How it was gonna be-eeeee
So what’ll happen to you baby
Guess we’ll have to wait and see-eee

Which is followed by a “ONE, TWO” and a glorious jumble of Matt Sorum’s drums and Slash’s keening guitar before finally getting into the song proper.

But that’s really a lie: there really isn’t a song proper in “Estranged,” as it’s as restless as its songwriter, one W. Axl Rose. So “Estranged” doesn’t really build properly from slow to fast or quiet to loud as it meanders through “all the changing seasons” of Axl’s psyche.

Whether or not that’s a good thing is, of course, entirely up to you. As always, best to have Slash’s guitar light the way.

There is another irony in “Estranged.” It’s a break-up song, natch, but of course the real-life break-of of Axl and Stephanie Seymour meant that she couldn’t (or wouldn’t) appear in the video, which I guess was supposed to be a sequel to “Don’t Cry” and “November Rain.”

In any event, this was all over two years after the Illusion twins came out and nobody gave a shit. Not only had The Spaghetti Incident?!? already come out, pretty much all of their singles after “November Rain” had completely stiffed, and MTV had started moving away from videos once and for all.

So while the “Don’t Cry” & “November Rain” videos felt like events, the “Estranged” video felt like a bad hangover from a party you didn’t even want to go to in the first place.

Official Video for “Estranged”

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Certain Songs #572: Guns N’ Roses – “Pretty Tied Up”

June 21st, 2016 · No Comments

guns pretty tied up Album: Use Your Illusion II
Year: 1991

My favorite Guns N’ Roses song is subtitled “The Perils of Rock ‘n’ Roll Decadence,” but since someone announces the song as “The pearls of rock ‘n’ roll decadence” at the outset, it’s once again Guns N’ Roses trying to have it both ways.

And given it’s written by my man Izzy Stradlin, its no surprise that “Pretty Tied Up” argues a pretty good case for both pearls of rock ‘n’ roll and the perils of decadence.

Opening with the sound of an electric sitar weaving in and out of an circular riff, “Pretty Tied Up” alternates dreamy, psychedelic verses with a cowbell-driven footstomping chorus straight out of the glam-rock playbook.

Speaking of rock ‘n’ roll decadence, Slash adds his own with the first wah-wah solo that actually worked since the back half of Jimi Hendrix’s second solo on “All Along The Watchtower.”

After that solo, the song halts for a second so that Axl can gather himself to top the BDSM imagery that had dominated the first verse with some true decadence:

Once you made that money it costs more now
It might cost a lot more than you’d think
I just found a million dollars
That someone forgot
It’s days like this that push me over the brink
Cool and stressing

“I just found a million dollars that someone forgot.” I’d call it the first humblebrag, but of course, it’s just a straight-up boast, all the more so because I seem to remember reading somewhere that it was actually true.

After the final chorus, all sorts of madness breaks loose, as they repeat the end of the chorus again and again while Slash overdubs about 15 more wah-wah solos until the fade.

“Pretty Tied Up”

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Certain Songs #571: Guns N’ Roses – “Breakdown”

June 20th, 2016 · No Comments

Guns Use Your Illusion II Album: Use Your Illusion II
Year: 1991

Out of all of the ridiculous epics that either graced (or ruined, depending on your opinion) the Illusion twins, the piano-driven “Breakdown” is easily my favorite.

For one thing, it’s got one of most sublime musical passages in all of their music. It’s about 1:20 in, and Axl has already sung the first verse, Izzy & Slash have slammed in with some power chords, and the whole song comes to a near halt for a second, before a gorgeous jumble of drums, pianos and guitars weave in and out of each other for just a couple of measures until a Matt Sorum snare slam kicks the song into gear.

After that, Dizzy Reed’s piano and by a modified Bo Diddley beat in and out of the stop-time choruses power “Breakdown” musically, and Axl is singing reflective lyrics in his wistful voice.

When I look around
Everybody always brings me down
Well is it them or me
Well I just can’t see
But there ain’t no peace to found
But if someone really cared
Well they’d take the time to spare
A moment to try and understand
Another one’s despair
Remember in this game we call life
That no one said it’s fair

Slash weighs in after the first chorus with a tremendous solo, and again at the end, when “Breakdown” kicks into its highest gear, climaxing with Axl quoting/stealing/appropriating Clevon Little’s monologue from Vanishing Point.

Ah, Vanishing Point, a film that holds a weird place in my personal film history. It came out in 1971, but there was no way I saw it before 1974 or 1975. But I know I saw it in the theaters, so it maybe have been a revival.

All I remember about it is this: it had a weird structure — starting near the end (which gave it its name — there was a DJ played by the Sheriff in Blazing Saddles, and it was the first time I ever saw boobs in a movie. Or any screen, I guess. One of the characters was a girl riding a motorcycle in the nude, because I guess that’s what happened in the Southwest in 1971?

Anyways, I always like to imagine that the reason that Axl chose to monolog from Vanishing Point not because he felt it said something about heroism or freedom, but because it was the first time he saw boobs in a movie, too!

Probably not, though.

Oh, and one more thing: two things I discovered while researching all of the Guns N’ Roses posts: One: they have a lot of fan-made videos for the songs that didn’t have proper videos, nearly all repurposing clips from their proper videos.

And two: the comments section of Guns N’ Roses videos aren’t a place for the faint-hearted.

Fan-made video for “Breakdown”

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
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Certain Songs #570: Guns N’ Roses – “Get in The Ring”

June 19th, 2016 · No Comments

Guns Use Your Illusion II Album: Use Your Illusion II
Year: 1991

Back in 1977, The Clash were offended that CBS released “Remote Control” as a single and responded with “Complete Control,” one of the greatest lyrics ever written about the need for artistic freedom, combined one of the most ferocious performances ever put to vinyl.

Both the music and lyrics perfectly complemented each other, and the combination resulted in a song that is an undisputed classic, full stop.

A dozen or so years later, Guns N’ Roses were offended at how they were being portrayed by various music writers and responded with “Get in The Ring,” which features one of the worst, most petulant lyrics ever written. Like a Donald Trump speech put to music.

But the music!! Not as amazing as “Complete Control,” duh, but for sheer power and utter momentum, it’s almost impossible to top full steam ahead power that “Get in the Ring” has achieved by the time it gets to its best lyric:

You may not like our integrity, yeah
We built a world out of anarchy
Oh yeah!

Of course, that’s after Axl’s rant, which is quite possibly the stupidest thing I love as much as I do. At the time, it struck me as just stupid, but as the band ramps up the music around it, now it seems funny. And getting funnier every year.

And that goes for all of you punks in the press that want to start shit by printin’ lies instead of the things we said.
That means you Andy Secher at Hit Parader, Circus magazine
Mick Wall at Kerrang, Bob Guccione Jr. at SPIN
What you pissed off ’cause your dad gets more pussy than you?
Fuck you! suck my fuckin’ dick!
You be rippin’ off the fuckin’ kids while they be payin’ their hard earned money to read about the bands they want to know about.
Printin’ lies, startin’ controversy.
You want to antagonize me? antagonize me motherfucker!
Get in the ring motherfucker!
And I’ll kick your bitchy little ass!
Punk!!

Of course, Guccione, who — unknown to Axl, I’m guessing — was an amateur boxer, responded and accepted the challenge. And of course, nothing ever happened.

I mean, except for this song, which climaxed with boxing noises and an announcer saying “And in this corner, weighing in at 850 pounds, Guns N’ Roses” as the band — and overdubbed fake crowd — chanting “Get in the ring” over and over and over as Slash kicked the song ever higher.

Of course, now that announcer would have to say: “And in this corner, weighing in at 850 pounds, W. Axl Rose!!” See what I did there?

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Certain Songs Spotify playlist
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Certain Songs #569: Guns N’ Roses – “Civil War”

June 18th, 2016 · No Comments

Guns civil war Album: Use Your Illusion II
Year: 1991

One of the fun parts of doing something like Certain Songs is that I get to finally explain some of my long-held but hardly-expressed theories. Which I have a lot of!!

And here comes one of the most indefensible: not only is Use Your Illusion II the greatest Guns N’ Roses album, it’s the greatest metal album ever made by Americans.

You’ll, of course, note that “Americans” qualifier. Because Led Zeppelin. And maybe even Black Sabbath & Deep Purple. So if you’ll accept that (and that GN’R qualify as “metal”) — and of course there’s no reason you have to — then what’s better?

Some of you might say one of those Metallica albums, and sure, but if I’m going to be honest, everybody else in the universe loves Metallica more than I do. So nope.

And because I was never really into thrash or hair metal, to me, the only competition is Van Halen (which beats Women and Children First on account of what kind of bolt from the blue it truly was), Superunknown and Rocks.

All worthy, and I’ve always loved Rocks beyond measure (and I really shorted Aerosmith in Certain Songs because they were the first band I wrote about and I had no idea how extensive my writing was going to end up being) (so damn straight I’ll get back to them), but I’ve been listening to Use Your Illusion II pretty fucking consistently for the past 25 years.

And “Civil War” sets the template for the rest of the album, which is full of epic songs alternating with blistering rockers. But unlike the epics on Use Your Illusion I, “November Rain” & “Coma,” a song like “Civil War” never felt self-consciously epic, but rather just ended up that way.

Starting with a Cool Hand Luke sample over an acoustic guitar, but driven by a big riff and lord knows how many guitar solos, “Civil War” does the quiet loud quiet thing — featuring Axl alternating his crooning voice and his screeching voice — before settling into its big thesis statement:

And
I don’t need your civil war
It feeds the rich while it buries the poor
Your power hungry sellin’ soldiers
In a human grocery store
Ain’t that fresh
I don’t need your civil war

Eventually, driven by Dizzy Reed’s rollicking barrel-house piano, “Civil War” launches into its rave-up coda with Axl repeating the chorus, and its so dense and powerful that it feels like an announcement.

“Attention! While Use Your Illusion I was exactly what you might have expected, we’re going to shift into a whole new gear with Use Your Illusion II!”

And the rest of Use Your Illusion II was the proof.

Which, I realize, is a bit ironic, as “Civil War” was actually the first thing recorded for the Illusion twins, and as such, the only song to feature original drummer Steven Adler, but it just means that they wanted to imbue each disc with its own personality, and “Civil War” was the best way to establish the personality of Use Your Illusion II.

“Civil War”

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Certain Songs #568: Guns N’ Roses – “November Rain”

June 17th, 2016 · No Comments

Guns november Album: Use Your Illusion I
Year: 1991

In the early 1990s, if you wanted to prove how big of an artist you were, it wasn’t about your riders or groupies or drugs or private planes.

Nope. It was about how big your videos were. We didn’t know it at the time, but the early 1990s was the the last great moment of the MTV-oriented video era, and Guns N’ Roses took full advantage of the gynormous budgets guaranteed by their stardom to make ridiculously over-the-top videos that matched both their ridiculously over-the-top songs and their ridiculously over-the-top egos.

And sitting on the top that they were constantly going over? “November Rain,” W. Axl Rose’s attempt to write “Stairway to Dream On.”

And while the “November Rain” video seemed insane and nonsensical, that’s only if you don’t realize that it was secretly outing Slash as a Time Lord. Called, er, “Slash.” You see, the wedding — you know, where Axl is basically showing off that his girlfriend is supermodel Stephanie Seymour — takes place in and the wedding takes place in his TARDIS.

And now the most famous scene in that video — one of the most famous scenes in any music video — where Slash walks out of the giant church where the wedding is plays his guitar solo while a helicopter shot reveals that the church is larger on the inside that it is on the outside suddenly makes sense, right?

Back then of course, it didn’t make any sense, because whoever heard of a Time Lord playing guitar? Now, of course, we know better. Though we should have realized it then, because how else would Slash get a CREEM T-shirt in 1992?

That said, make all of the fun you want, because the popularity of “November Rain” has been as huge as the song, and the nearly nine-minute single made the top ten, and the video was not only the top video on MTV that year (though it didn’t win the VMA), since it was put on YouTube in 2009, it’s been watched over 600,000,000 times.

Official Video for “November Rain”

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Certain Songs #567: Guns N’ Roses – “Double Talkin’ Jive”

June 16th, 2016 · No Comments

Guns Use 1 Album: Use Your Illusion I
Year: 1991

Izzy Stradlin was always my favorite. While he could have seemed like the lukewarm water between Axl Rose’s fire and Slash’s ice, to me he was also the guy who embodied the straight-ahead rock ‘n’ roll groove at the heart of Guns n’ Roses.

He was also arguably the best songwriter in the band, which was why their first move after he left was to do a covers album, and their second move was to break up.

But of course, all of that was in the future, because in September, 1991 — in the middle of a three-month release period that solidified 1991 as my favorite year ever for music — Guns n’ Roses were the biggest fucking thing on the planet, thanks to their larger-than-life decision to release what was essentially two double albums on the same day.

I remember going to Tower Records to buy the Illusion twins the evening they came out — though not at midnight, because in September of 1991, I probably wasn’t in any shape to go anywhere at midnight — and coming across an indie-rock friend of mine (who might be reading this exact post), who asked me why I was there. And when I told him it was to buy Guns n’ Roses, he looked at me like I was kidding.

But, of course, I wasn’t, and songs like the Izzy Stradlin-sung “Double Talkin’ Jive” more than justified my decision.

Like so many of the songs on Use Your Illusion I, “Double Talkin’ Jive” comes absolutely roaring out of the gate, with a huge riff in one speaker and Matt Sorum’s utterly unforgiving beat powering the song, and slams into a stop-time chorus where Izzy — backed by Axl — believably sings about a life that he probably never led:

Double talkin’ jive
Get the money motherfucker
‘Cause I got no more patience
Double talkin'(lies)
-I got
No more patience
Man

Barely a minute in, we’ve had a couple of verses and choruses so Slash takes over for a long long guitar solo that — with Sorum egging him on — soars and soars and soars until it finally fades into a classical guitar segment that reminds me of Black Sabbath at the end of “Symptom of The Universe”

On one level, it’s probably a bit of a throwaway, but on another level, it’s all so well thought out and so incredibly well-played that it never failed to thrill, especially when you figure that the classical guitar segment was also supposed to be a bit of a chill room for the next song, the epic “Novemeber Rain”

“Double Talkin’ Jive”

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Certain Songs #566: Guns N’ Roses – “Sweet Child O’ Mine”

June 15th, 2016 · No Comments

Guns Appetite For Destruction Album: Appetite For Destruction
Year: 1987

Right. This song. A number #1 hit single in 1988, which seemed a little weird even then, because it wasn’t like it as a slow power ballad, or even a conventional pop song that ended with the chorus repeating over and over again.

But what “Sweet Child O’ Mine” did have was loads of drama, and a weird seat-of-your pants feel to it that somehow connected deeply to just about anybody who heard it.

Of course, I could be reading too much into its origin story here. At this point who doesn’t know that Slash accidentally came up with that instantly familiar heart-rending riff while warming up, and Izzy Stradlin & Duff McKagan — especially Duff, whose bass during the opening is Mike Mills level of hook — encouraged him by working around it?

Not to mention the fact that Axl Rose was smart enough — or at least in a good enough mood — to write one of his more sappy lyrics around the whole thing. Right?

I mean, he could have just as easily been in a fight with Erin Everly and written the lyrics for “Back Off Bitch” that day, but instead she forever wins the “Greatest Love Song Written About A Specific Person Who Is The Daughter Of A Rock Legend” competition.

And adding to the seat-of-your pants feel of course, was the whole “where do we go from here” section, which even more than the forever riff or the lovely chorus, sealed the deal for the song, because that’s always the story of any relationship: what’s next? No one wants a dead shark on their hands.

Toss in Axl’s “hi-yiiides” and “mi-yinneees” and you got a song that rocks too much to be a power ballad, is too purty to be a straight metal song, with a guitar hook that Peter Buck or Johnny Marr could have written and an undeniable chorus that doesn’t get worn out.

It all adds up to a song that somehow became one of the most important things in the world during that awful summer of 1988.

Also: I still think the Miss Alans should have covered this, as I’m sure I kept telling them.

Official Video for “Sweet Child O’ Mine”
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=sweet+child+o+mine

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Certain Songs #565: Guns N’ Roses – “Paradise City”

June 14th, 2016 · No Comments

guns paradiseAlbum: Appetite for Destruction
Year: 1987

Has there ever been a more perfectly crafted stadium rock song? Especially when you consider that it was by a band that hadn’t even come close to playing stadiums?

Sure, I guess you could make a case for “We Will Rock You / We Are The Champions,” but Queen were already huge by the time time News of The World came out, and I still think that “Paradise City” is — at the very least — more relatable. After all, very few of us well ever be champions, but we all got a shot at paradise.

“Paradise City” announces its intent for raised lighters from the opening chiming guitars and kick…snare, kick-snare from Stephen Adler, before launching into not into it’s riff, or its verses, but its chorus.

Because sometimes you need to lead with what’s going to get 60,000 people singing in unison from the very start.

Take me down to the paradise city
Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty
Take me home (oh won’t you please take me home)
Take me down to the paradise city
Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty
Take me home (oh won’t you please take me home)

And not only did “Paradise City” open up with its utopian chorus, there were enough harmonies — including that wonderful low voice — to instantly stick the song deep in your head almost instantly.

After that, Izzy Stradlin starts playing some chords, and there’s even a synth hanging out, as Slash sends some guitar notes heavenward before launching into the supersized churning AeroZep riff that powers the rest of song.

“Paradise City” is unlike the rest of the mostly dour Appetite For Destruction, and sounds more joyous than anything else in their catalog. Though of course, Axl has to toss in his counterpoint during the bridge that the Paradise City is “so far away,” but luckily we’re all listening to Slash’s circular riff that’s running across that bridge so we’re not really worring about what Axl has to say.

Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good policy in general.

After that, it’s all about the chorus. Let’s all sing! And just to make sure everybody in the whole stadium gets their money’s worth, “Paradise City” pretends like its ending, but instead, spends it’s last minutes barreling towards the paradise city like they’ve got a legion of cops on their trail and if then can just get there, they won’t get arrested.

So with Slash powering the car with the energy coming soloing his ass off and the rest of the band singing the chorus over and over, “Paradise City” reaches its goal of being the greatest stadium song ever, and collapses at the end, spent and happy.

“Paradise City”

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