Guns N’ Roses in 1987
“I was f@#king with that stupid little riff,” Slash said of the origins of Guns N Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
This “dumb little riff” is, by the way, the riff that in 2004 total guitar magazine readers voted the greatest guitar riff of all time, beating the opening riffs of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”, Deep’s “Smoke on the Water” Purple, Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man”, Nugent’s Ted “Stranglehold” and all the other great guitar riffs that are going through your head right now.
It’s all about perspective in the end, and it’s clear that Slash’s perspective on the riff differs from that of a lot of other people.
But before we get to the end, what about the beginning?
In the summer of 1986, Guns N’ Roses was dropped about two years from the LA Guns/Hollywood Rose merger that had given the band its new name and, after extensive restructuring, a lineup of five former Hollywood members. Rose – vocalist Axl Rose, guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan, and drummer Steven Adler. A ragtag group of early ’20s rockers (Rose and Stradlin were 24, the others 21 or 22), GN’R managed to become Hollywood’s most dangerous band, California’s famous Sunset Strip with the drink , drugs and young ladies their weapons of choice. Fittingly, the home base was a two-story Hollywood pad known as The Hellhouse.
Their explosive live sets got people talking, which got GN’R signed to Geffen Records, which saw them move out of The Hellhouse and into director Cecil B. DeMille’s former home in the distraction-free neighborhood of Griffith. Park in Los Angeles. In this place less than 10 miles and several light years from the Sunset Strip, Slash started playing this stupid little riff. Their first album, appetite for destructionwas indeed done, but with a day of writing still on the schedule, he got his fingers warmed up with this riff.
“It was kind of an interesting pattern,” Slash said. rolling stone. “But Jesus Christ, I never thought it was going to become a song.”
The rest of the band had their own take on that circular arpeggio figure that Slash had, and rhythm guitarist Stradlin quickly joined in on a few chords. McKagan fell next with a cascading bass line during the second round of Slash’s riff. Adler gave a beat and a jam was officially happening.
As the four players riffed, Rose was in her room getting inspired. The music made him think of previously dropped words he had jotted down for his girlfriend at the time, Erin Everly. “I had written this poem, I was at an impasse and I put it on the shelf,” Rose said at the time. “Then Slash and Izzy were working on songs together…all of a sudden this poem came to mind.”
Not at all known for her tender and intimate words, Rose nonetheless let flow a vulnerable set of lyrics that spoke of childhood memories, eyes of the bluest skies and warm, safe places. This renegade leader of Hollywood’s most tireless rock band was getting all soft and mushy.
“For me at the time,” Slash said, “it was a very savory ballad.”
“It was like a joke”, is how McKagan once said. “We were like, ‘What is this song? It will be nothing.
But Rose had a different perspective, so he double-crossed over to a familiar touchstone for more inspiration. “I come from Indiana, where Lynyrd Skynyrd is considered God,” Rose said at the time. appetite for destruction came out of. “I went out and got some old Skynyrd tapes to make sure we had that sincere feeling.”
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It was August 1986 when GN’R and producer Mike Clink recorded “Sweet Child O’ Mine” at Rumbo Studios in Los Angeles. “‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ was easy to record,” Slash said. Q magazine in 2005, “aside from the guitar intro. It took me all afternoon to time it and be in the right place when the drums came.
When they finished it, Guns N’ Roses had a six-minute mid-tempo rocker with one of the last great extended guitar solos, built on Slash’s silly little riff, the band’s powerful music and sensitive lyrics. from Axl.
“This song made the hairs on my arms stand up,” producer Clink said Q. “It was magical.”
It did the same for American audiences when it was released as a single in June 1988. Child O’ Mine” almost resonated. immediately.
Guns N’ Roses was on the opening route for Iron Maiden when the single was released, and everything changed quickly. McKagan, in Stephen Davis’ 2008 comprehensive tome Watch You Bleed: The Guns N’ Roses Saga, noted how “before, only the people in front even knew who we were. They came to see us because they were our fans, all two dozen. After, when [we performed ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’], everyone was standing with their lighters on. It was amazing, night and day. It happened so fast. »
Three months after its release, on September 10, 1988, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” began a two-week stay at #1 in the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. Three months later, it was #5 on Billboardthe 1988 year-end chart. The radio airplay and simple black-and-white video helped make Guns N’ Roses a household name, and on the broad shoulders of “Sweet Child O’ Mine”, appetite for destruction has sold over 18 million copies in the United States and 28 million worldwide.
More than three decades later, it’s easy to assess the song’s place in rock & roll history. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” Appears On A Whole Bunch Of All-Time Lists, Perhaps Most Particularly Blenderthe index of the 500 greatest songs since you were born, where it is n°3; Q magazine’s Top 100 Guitar Tracks (#6); and rolling stoneThe 40 greatest songs that changed the world.
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But it always comes down to perspective. Everyone has one. “One of the things that always bothered me about ‘Sweet Child…’ was that it was a rhythm ballad, which didn’t fit what Guns N’ Roses was as far as I was concerned” , said Slash. But as he said Q“It would cause such a reaction – just playing the stupid opening notes used to conjure up this hysteria – so I finally got to enjoy it.”
And for one last perspective, Axl has finally married Erin, the inspiration for “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Although the marriage fell apart before the first anniversary, the song is one for the ages.