Today is the 51st birthday of Izzy Stradlin, who most simply remember as the rhythm guitarist in Guns N' Roses. But if that's all you know about him, it's really sad, because a lot of what made GN'R the band it was was due to Stradlin's inspired writing. His dedication to fusing punk and Rolling Stones-esque rock is what managed to turn a project that could have just been another hair band in the '80s to one of the most significant acts ever.
It's partly his own fault, this relative anonymity. Stradlin has always been a low key guy, and in later years has been damn near reclusive. In a band with Slash and Axl, pretty much anyone would fade into the background. He found life on the road too hard to keep himself drug free, not to mention the ever increasing madness of Rose, and he quit the band during its 1991 tour.
Since then he's done some mildly successful solo work, and even helped craft songs for both Velvet Revolver and the Axl-only Guns. He seems perfectly content to be involved in rock and roll as long as he doesn't have to go out on the road. Stradlin remains a brilliant songwriter and a talented guitarist, but nobody ever talks about his lead-vocal contributions to Guns. Y'all musta forgot about...
"14 Years" is one of the rarest songs in the world... it's a tribute to how much someone appreciated the company of Axl Rose. Stradlin wrote the tune as a testament to their long friendship and creative partnership, and took lead vocals on both the recording and live performances. Rose handled the chorus. When Izzy left the band, it was no longer performed on stage, but when Stradlin joined Rose back on stage last year he busted it out once again.
It's a bittersweet tune, and more than a few verses sound like Gwen Stefani-level digs. That said, look at Axl's face in that video when it cuts to him in the chorus! He sports the greatest, "When you're right, you're right" grin you've ever seen. Lyrically, it's not Stradlin's best work, but the sheer honesty of it makes it memorable.
"Double Talkin' Jive" Now "Double Talkin' Jive" is a criminally underrated Guns tune, and one of Izzy Stradlin's most overlooked works of genius. Stradlin wrote the song after finding actual human body parts in a garbage can outside of the recording student, and it's a wonderful mixture of Appetite energy and Illusion experimentation.
That's the album cut up there because I wanted you to hear Stradlin absolutely kill that vocal line, but Rose always sang it live. Even after Stradlin left, the tune was still a regular part of the set... a fact Rose handled with just about as much grace and dignity as you can imagine.
"You Ain't the First" Rose, Stradlin, and Shannon Hoon all share equal billing on "You Ain't the First," the only Guns N' Roses tune completely in waltz time and one that serves as a nice little, folksy break on Use Your Illusion I. While it isn't exactly a hit single, it does link the band back nicely to the feel of Lies.
"Dust and Bones" The real reason I wanted to do this article is because I think "Dust and Bones" is not only woefully underappreciated as a cut from Illusion 1, but as a song just in general. Stradlin's lyrics are a desolate ode to the frailty of human existence, all delivered with that bluesy punk approach that made him such a potent songwriter.
It's also an example of how wonderful Rose can be as a backing vocalist, supporting and accenting the power of another with his distinctive voice. Maybe if someone had sat his happy ass in the back more often and let Stradlin keep things on an even keel once in a while Rose might not have ended up such a raving raisin cake.
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