This year, a lot of legendary rock albums are celebrating their 20th anniversary, with Nirvana's Nevermind and U2's Achtung Baby marking the occasion with deluxe reissues. In fact, 1991 represents one of the biggest bumper crops of blockbuster albums in rock history, the likes of which have not been seen since: Pearl Jam's Ten, Metallica’s self-titled “black album,” the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Majik, and R.E.M.'s Out Of Time all representing peaks of popularity for huge multi-platinum bands. But during that year, one band above all the others seemed to dominate headlines, album charts, rock radio and arenas: Guns 'N Roses.
On September 17, Guns 'N Roses released the long-awaited follow-up to their mega-seller 1987 debut Appetite For Destruction (a 1988 placeholder EP, G 'N R Lies, went five times platinum, as evidence of their huge success). Instead of one album, or even a mere double album, Use Your Illusion I and II were a pair of overstuffed 75-minute albums of new music, comprising a total of 30 songs between them, packaged separately as two full price albums. Fans were happy to plunk down money for both, and the frenzied week of release resulted in a record for the greatest amount that two albums had ever sold in one week (which would not be broken until 2007, when Kanye West and 50 Cent mobilized fans with a sales war). The promotional campaign for the Use Your Illusion album was epic, with a three-year world tour and a total of nine music videos, most of which were lavishly expensive with hyped up MTV world premieres.
By the mid-90s, the charismatic frontman of Guns 'N Roses, Axl Rose, was the only member left of the classic lineup. For over a decade, Rose and an assortment of hired guns labored on a follow-up album, Chinese Democracy, which took on mythic status as it was continually delayed, before landing with a thud in 2008. In the end, the failure of Chinese Democracy was not that it was indulgent and unhinged, but it could never be as entertainingly indulgent and unhinged as Use Your Illusion. Besides Nirvana's tragic end, most of those groups from '91 have spent the last 20 years thriving commercially or at least cultivating a loyal fanbase, while Guns have alienated the world with one embarrassment after another.
Indeed, though Use Your Illusion I and II each sold seven million copies, and several of its singles remain perennial radio staples, its legacy is not one of changing the course of popular music like Nevermind, or brilliantly reinventing a band like Achtung Baby, but one of epic largesse and raging egomania. The project's most famous single is the nine-minute multi-suite symphonic power ballad "November Rain," and the little-played "Estranged" (famed as the most expensive video of all time at one point) is widely ridiculed for its scenes of Rose jumping off an aircraft carrier to swim with dolphins.
But most of all, the Use Your Illusion era cemented Rose's reputation for throwing temper tantrums in the press, threatening other rock stars, firing bandmates, jumping into the audience to assault fans, and canceling shows at a whim. And the Axl Rose captured on those two albums is just as angry and unpredictable, often inserting spoken asides, dramatic dialogue, movie quotes and general bitch slap rappin’ with his cocaine tongue in between properly sung lyrics. So on the 20th anniversary of Use Your Illusion, here are the 20 most memorable interjections that appear on the album:
20. “You think anyone with an I.Q. over fifteen would believe your shit... Fuckhead. Nothin’ but a fuckin’ pussy.”
Verbal abuse being a running theme of most Guns N Roses songs, this little aside from “Shotgun Blues” is a good place to start.
19. “Cool and stressing (Pronounced: Kool Ranch Dres’ing)”
Of course, Rose could have a pretty odd sense of humor, too, which manifested itself several times on Use Your Illusion, particularly in the lyric booklet, which helpfully suggested two alternate meanings for the enigmatic phrase spoken in the middle of "Pretty Tied Up."
18. "Yeah this song is dedicated to All the Guns n' fuckin' Roses fans who stuck with us through all the fucking shit. And to all those opposed...Hmm... well ”
”Get In The Ring” is the album's most infamous instance of Rose taking to the mic to vent his opinions and frustrations, but it was also a chance for one of his bandmates to get in on the action, with bassist Duff McKagen ending the track with this parting shot to the band's detractors.
17. “Fuck you...Bitch”
The opening track from Use Your Illusion I, “Right Next Door To Hell,” set the tone quickly. Rose is often remembered for the impressive feat of holding a note for nearly 30 seconds at the end of "Don't Cry," but here more entertainingly he screams the "you" in "fuck you, bitch" for about 15 seconds, spanning about half of Slash's guitar solo.
16. “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach... So, you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it! Well, he gets it! And I don’t like it any more than you men”
Use Your Illusion II opens with this sample of dialogue, spoken by actor Strother Martin in the film Cool Hand Luke.
15. “Let me hear it now, yeah. Get down with yo’ bad self!”
One of my favorite books in Continuum's 33 1/3 series on individual albums is Eric Weisbard's entertaining volume about Use Your Illusion I and II. And one of Weisbard's most memorable touches in the book is to nickname the sleazy low voice Axl Rose delivers many of the album's spoken asides in as Deep Downer. And no song on the albums is derailed more by that voice than "Breakdown," in which the chorus is marred by Deep Downer's incessant calls of "let me hear it now" and, at one point, a truly unfortunate James Brown quote.
14. “I got some genuine imitation bad apples. Free sample for your peace o’ mind, only $9.95”
Some more embarrassing attempts at jive talk leading into the first chorus of "Bad Apples."
13. “And in this corner weighin' in at 850 pounds, Guns N' Roses"
Often, Rose takes on various roles in his spoken word set pieces; here, on "Get In The Ring," he becomes the announcer standing in the middle of the boxing ring, introducing his own band. I've often wondered if he actually attempted to accurately measure the total weight of the band's five members—an average weight of 170 pounds almost seems a little high, given that GNR were all fashionably stick thin at that point, many of them nursing serious drug habits.
12. “T minus 1:09 and counting. Ostracized but that’s alright, I was thinkin’ about somethin’ myself. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8!”
Sometimes, Rose could flip between several personas in a row. He adopts a different voice for each of the three consecutive lines during the bridge of “Perfect Crime." First he's a canned announcer in a control room, then the ostracized Deep Downer, then a screaming counting banshee. In Slash’s 2007 autobiography, the guitarist writes about how Rose had begun isolating himself from the rest of the band before the Use Your Illusion sessions, and would often record his vocals without any bandmates present. One wonders if this was less about Rose wanting to concentrate on his singing and more about laboring over these bizarre and intricate asides.
11. “It’s a critical solution, and the east coast got the blues. It’s a mass of confusion, like the lies they sell to you.”
Sometimes Deep Downer would speak in rhyme, but this couplet is simply dropped into the beginning of the speedy "Garden of Eden" before the drums kick in, not a proper part of the song's lyrics.
10. “There goes the challenger being chased by the blue blue meanies on wheels. The vicious traffic squad cars are after our lone driver, the last American hero, the electric sitar, the demi-god, The super driver of the golden west! Two nasty Nazi cars are close behind the beautiful lone driver, the police cars are getting closer-closer... Closer to our soul hero in his soul mobile. Yeah baby! They about to strike, they gonna get him. Smash! Rape! The last beautiful free soul on this planet. But... it is written if the Evil Spirit arms the Tiger with claws Brahman provided wings for the Dove. Thus spake the Super Guru."
Like fellow early 90s superstar Michael Bolton, Axl Rose is a cinephile. And in addition to the Cool Hand Luke sample that opens the album, Rose recites this lengthy quote from Cleavon Little's radio DJ character in the film Vanishing Point in "Breakdown."
9. “We’re starting to lose this guy, get some people in here, get the crash cart, clear the airway, we’re losin’ him. Zap him again. Zap the son of a bitch again. I want an IV stat, you better clear the airway, we’re losin’ him"
The longest of the album's three epic tracks pushing past the eight-minute mark, "Coma" also featured the album's longest stretch of dramatic dialogue and sound effects, as a heart monitor beeps and medical professionals chatter jargon at each other trying to save Rose's life. But it's Deep Downer who shows up to ominously command "zap him again" as Rose is defibrillated.
8. “We practice selective annihilation of mayors and government officials for example to create a vacuum, then we fill that vacuum. As popular war advances, peace is closer.”
This monologue spoken by Rose over the bridge of "Civil War" is credited in the liner notes simply to "Peruvian Guerilla General," although it's unclear if it's an actual quote from an actual person or some character Rose came up with in a creative writing exercise.
7. “Bye bye, so long, bye bye. It's glad to know ya. Bye bye, bye bye. Aw...so long.”
These are the closing statements by the album's sole celebrity guest star, 70s shock rocker Alice Cooper, who shows up at the end of "The Garden" to delivery a scenery-chewing rhyme, and then bids farewell with the borderline incoherent turn of phrase "it's glad to know ya." Not quite as memorable as the other cameo he made around the same time in Wayne’s World.
6. “Hey, wha’d’ya think he’s tryin’ to say there, anyway? I think it’s something each person’s s’posed to take in their own special way. Fucking bitch.”
In a strange little meta exercise, Rose ends one of the album's nastiest songs, "Back Off Bitch," by enacting a little dialogue between a couple of listeners, pretending to puzzle over the track's fairly straightforward message.
This announcement, presented in the liner notes as above in caps lock and parentheses, is whispered by Rose in "Estranged," just before one of Slash's greatest guitar leads comes screaming in overhead.
4. "You just better start sniffin’ your own rank subjugation jack ‘cause it’s just you against your tattered libido, the bank and the mortician, forever man and it wouldn’t be luck if you could get out of life alive.”
Although the cover of Bob Dylan's “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” is pretty faithful, if flowery, Rose can't help but add a little something to the classic rock standard, having someone named Josh Richman provide a little phone interlude (completely with dialing sound effects), leaving a hostile and pretty much nonsensical answering machine message.
3. “Let’s do it... let’s do it... let’s do it. Oh my distorted smile. Guess what I’m doing now.”
The long Use Your Illusion ordeal comes to an end with one of its most infamous Axl Rose indulgences, an obscene two-minute rap song which even features a brief skit of simulated copulation (unlike the sound of Rose actually having sex as captured on Appetite For Destruction's "Rocket Queen"), and one last very creepy Deep Downer interjection.
2. "And that goes for all 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 cuz 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 wanta antagonize me? Antagonize me motherfucker. Get in the ring motherfucker, and I'll kick your bitchy little ass. Punk!”
Rose calling out several rock magazine journalists and publishers by name in "Get In The Ring" remains perhaps his most infamous rant on-record to date, second only to the racist and homophobic ravings on the earlier track "One In A Million." Say what you will about Guns 'N Roses, but they really earned that explicit lyrics sticker.
1. “What’s so civil ‘bout war anyway?”
We conclude this list the same way as one of Use Your Illusion's grandest anthems, "Civil War," with Rose's oft quoted rhetorical question, rendered especially profound and ironic in the context of all the fights instigated and grudges addressed elsewhere on the album.