For the past few weeks, the music world has been firmly entrenched in Nirvana nostalgia. Hell, even Rocks Off took a crack at it, looking up all the expensive memorabilia on eBay related to the band. But in September 1991, another album hit the store shelves that had a lot of impact too, for better or worse.
Guns N' Roses finally unleashed their double album, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II on September 17, 1991, after years in production. The albums, sold separately, were marvels of rock excess, and the tour behind the works began months before they even hit stores.
The band's original line-up would only release one more album together, 1993's covers record The Spaghetti Incident?, before splintering in the mid-'90s after years of inactivity. Axl Rose's version of the band just announced a November 4 date at the Toyota Center here in Houston with Buckcherry. Tickets went on sale this morning, in fact.
Earleir this week, the band was also nominated for the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and we can't wait to see who will be onstage to accept the honor if they get elected into the hall. We assume their will be a lot of terse looks and wooden hugs.
The Illusion albums are a lot to take in, with 25 songs, a litany of style changes, and enough pomp and circumstance throughout to make Freddie Mercury smile. To be honest, it's not all amazing, and there are some things that still confound fans, even after two decades.
You could call it the band's Exile On Main Street, their "White Album" and their Waterworld all rolled into one package. It was massively successful and came at a time when the band was the biggest band on the planet, loved by teens, cool parents, and Arnold Schwarzenegger alike.
Here be a few facts about the Illusion albums, including a set list from the tour, which was infamous for extremely late starts, due to Rose's whims. Even still, it looks like you got almost 30 songs from one of the best and tightest rock bands in history.
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The late Shannon Hoon sang backup on "You Ain't the First", "Live and Let Die" "The Garden" "Don't Cry." Hoon's sister had gone to high school with Rose back in Indiana and the Blind Melon singer and Rose struck up a friendship in Los Angeles during the recording of the albums. (You have heard the Hoon/Numbers story, right?)
Steven Adler, who was kicked out of the band ahead of the strenuous recording sessions, is only credited for drums on "Civil War." New drummer Matt Sorum is credited for the rest of the album, including the choir parts on "November Rain." Sorum, of course, would do time with Slash and Duff in their Velvet Revolver project later down the line.
The band scrapped the tracks they were mixing with Bob Clearmountain once they found out he had planned to ditch Sorum's drums for drum samples instead. They started mixing from scratch with engineer Bill Price, who worked on albums by The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Pretenders and The Jesus & Mary Chain.
In 1998, the album was pared down to a single disc for sale in places like Kmart and Walmart, which did not sell the double-discs previously. It included both versions of "Don't Cry" to boot.
"So Fine" from Illusion II was sung and written by bass guitarist Duff McKagan in tribute of the recently deceased Johnny Thunders, who died during the recording of the albums. The song is reminiscent of Thunders' own "You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory," which the Gunners covered on The Spaghetti Incident? later on.
"My World" is the last track on Illusion II, and up until the release of the discs, no one else in the band seemed to know about the song. The sound of the track, a sort of proto-rap-metal, industrial rap, would be all the rage just half a decade later. Many think this was Axl trying to telegraph a new Guns sound that wouldn't include the rest of the band.
Izzy Stradlin quit the band on November 7, 1991, just weeks after the albums were released. But according to Duff McKagan's recent memoir, It's So Easy, the guitarist's departure had been a long time coming, since at least their dates opening for the Rolling Stones in 1990. By 1991, Stradlin had been traveling and lodging apart from the band for years.
The albums were released at midnight on September 17, 1991, and together had sold half a million copies by 2 a.m. Illusion II debuted in the top spot on the Billboard 200 chart with first-week sales of 770,000 copies, while Illusion I took second place with 685,000. They have since gone seven times platinum.
The original version of "November Rain" was about 25 minutes long, but was whittled down to just nine. Reports from band members and friends have Axl working on this piece as early as 1983.
The Illusion tour was seen by almost seven million fans, spanned more than 190 dates and three calendar years, had two riots, and saw Soundgarden, Metallica, Faith No More, Nine Inch Nails, Skid Row, Smashing Pumpkins and Body Count all supporting the band at various times. The show hit Houston three times, once for a two-night stand at the Summit on January 9-10, 1992, and back again that fall at the Astrodome September 4 with Metallica.
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A Typical Illusion Tour Set List
Perfect Crime Mr. Brownstone Right Next Door To Hell Bad Obsession Live and Let Die It's So Easy Yesterdays Dust N' Bones Double Talkin' Jive Civil War Patience You Could Be Mine November Rain My Michelle 14 Years Nightrain Welcome to the Jungle Pretty Tied Up Rocket Queen Don't Cry Knockin' on Heaven's Door You Ain't the First Used to Love Her Move to the City Sweet Child O' Mine You're Crazy Locomotive Out Ta Get Me Dead Horse Estranged Paradise City