Producers: Mike Clink and Guns N’ Roses
Track listing: Civil War / 14 years / Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door / Get in the Ring / Shotgun Blues / Breakdown / Pretty Tied Up / Locomotive / So Fine / Estranged / You Could Be Mine / Don’t Cry (Alt. Lyrics) / My World
October 5, 1991
Following the success of Appetite for Destruction, Guns N’ Roses had not only become a success, but a phenomenon, albeit a controversial one. First, singer Axl Rose was taken to task for some seemingly racist and homophobic lyrics in the song “One in a Million,” included on the 1988 EP G N’ R Lies, which climbed all the way to number two. Then Rose was charged with inciting a disturbance after jumping off the stage during a performance in St. Louis. Once again, drugs clouded the picture, as the band sacked drummer Steven Adler, who allegedly wasn’t able to kick his habit. And, finally there was the music — so much music, in fact, that it couldn’t be contained on one CD. So Guns N’ Roses went against logic and tradition: The band’s official follow-up to Appetite for Destruction would not be on album, but two released simultaneously.
Use Your Illusion 1 and Use Your Illusion II were released on September 17, 1991. When the albums entered at number two and Number One, respectively, the Guns became the first act to hold down the top two positions on the album chart since Jim Croce had achieved the feat with You Don’t Mess Around with Jim and I Got a Name in 1974. While that triumph was certainly significant, the future had appeared anything but rosy for the Gunners in the months prior to the albums’ release.
“We had just gone through the whole fiasco of trying to get Steven off drugs,” recalls bassist Duff McKagan. “We did everything we could, but it didn’t work out. We were really frustrated because we didn’t have a drummer.” The band auditioned several, but nothing clicked. “It was kind of depressing,” he says. Finally, one night McKagan and guitarist Slash went to see the Cult. Both were impressed by the performance of the band’s drummer Matt Sorum. The pair approached Cult singer Ian Astbury, who informed them that the group was going on hiatus. “It was like bing, bang, boom. A month later we were in recording. We were elated. We were a band again.” The Guns’ sixth member, keyboardist Dizzy Reed, a friend of the band from their club days, was added in 1990.
“There was no pressure,” McKagan says. “There was no pressure of trying to follow up anything.” At first, the band had no plans to issue two separate albums. ” We knew we had tons of shit, but we didn’t know how much we were going to record. But we just kept recording more and more. We didn’t think we would put them all out.”
A few of the tracks were familiar to the group’s fans. “You Could Be Mine,” featured in the blockbuster film Terminator 2: Judgment Day, was released as a single on June 25. Early versions of the Guns’ original “Civil War” and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” appeared on Nobody’s Child (a Warner Bros. benefit album for Romanian orphans) and the Geffen soundtrack to Days of Thunder, respectively.
Illusion II was the higher-charting album, likely due to the inclusion of the familiar material, but there was no master plan in sequencing the albums. “We just made our own tapes and wrote down our own sequences without talking to each other, and kind of mashed them altogether,” says McKagan.
At first Geffen was caught a bit off guard by the band’s ambitious plans. “It was pretty much inevitable that we were gong to have to have two albums, so we told Geffen,” says McKagan. “And they got over the shock.”
THE TOP FIVE
Week of October 5, 1991
1. Use Your Illusion II, Guns N’ Roses
2. Use Your Illusion I, Guns N’ Roses
3. Ropin’ the Wind, Garth Brooks
4. Emotions, Mariah Carey
5. Metallica, Metallica