I have been a Guns N’ Roses fan for most of my life. When Appetite for Destruction came out I was a moody teenager and that record became the soundtrack of my life. I have remained a fan of these musicians…but I cannot say of the band as whole because of what the Slash-less incarnations of the band became.
I am always curious to look at what ripped this band apart. 30 years after they became the saviors of Rock N Roll it really seems that they could have been my generation’s Rolling Stones. However it is almost a universal rule that what makes bands greats is also what rips bands apart. That is certainly true of GN’R.
A lot of the GN’R books I have read point to the double album release of Use Your Illusion the point where the band started to burn out. Many believe that had that album been a single record that the band would have had an extra few years of life…or another tour/album release cycle in it. While I certainly agree that the Use Your Illusion records should have been more limited I think by the time we got to that point the writing was already on the wall.
For me this becomes an art versus commerce argument. The record company in charge of turning a profit on GN’R’s art failed to plan long-term. Given the volatile lives of the members maybe they just decided to cash in all at once. The major mistakes happen way before the band sat down to record Use Your Illusion. The big mistake was the business plan following the huge sales of Appetite for Destruction and what the band should do next.
That makes the question what is Use your Illusion was one record irrelevant. Had they thought more long-term by the time the band was ready to record that record all of the material leftover from the Appetite era would have been released. For me the mistake happens when the GNR Lies album is put out.
Since I am a smart ass this is what I would have done.
The idea here is to keep the band away from the self indulgence that led to a serious backlash from the fans, to stay away from over exposure that led to that backlash and to keep the members of the band from self destructing. Ultimately that may have been a futile effort but lets see what you think of my plan for Guns N’Fucking Roses.
Let’s rewind to 1988.
Appetite is blowing up. The band is on huge tours first supporting big acts and then headlining. The record had been record at least two years before and Geffen Records has a hot act without a new product to sell. They solved this by releasing GNR Lies in November of 1988 and the record gets one single (Patience) and eventually goes five times platinum. Hard to argue against that. Solid move to make money over what was arguably the hottest band in North America.
While Lies is an above average record it did nothing to release material that the band had already written. The A side of the record was just a re-release of Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide that had come out in December of 1986. The B side were mostly acoustic songs were only three were originals. The fourth was a slowed down acoustic version of Your Crazy.
Now I get the benefit of hindsight here. I know what is going to happen in 1989. I know how GNR was just a little too early to become the premiere act on what was going to become the next big thing. MTV Unplugged would premiere in November of 1989. GNR and Geffen were a year too early and could have been positioned perfectly to be the first huge act to take on this format.
That does leave the question on what should have been done to get the band a new product for Christmas 1988. I would have done something like this…Take the A side of Lies which was already a record elsewhere and re-release that. Those four tracks are strong enough on their own to have a product for the Christmas season.
That would put us in January of 1989 and the band is returned from the 7 legs of the Appetite tour and ideally ready to record some new music. In this scenario that B side of Lies has been written and flushed out and possibly even had demos recorded.
The marketing plan is to debut the new record and have GN’R perform live on the premiere of Unplugged. That leaves a decent stretch of no new product so something has to come out in the first or second quarter of 1989 for Geffen to profit and the fans to consume. This is where I wold have dropped another EP. A four to six song record to burn off what remained of the Appetite material and whatever new songs that did not have a home, alternate versions of songs, and live staples.
Both versions of Back off Bitch, Bad Obsession, Don’t Cry, You Could Be Mine, Locomotive, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, Live and let Die, and others meet this criteria. Of course the band would also still perform live at different events throughout 1989 like it did. It would give the band opportunities to play these songs live and the great things about musicians is they all have ADD. Once they write, record, and then play a song so many times they get sick of it and want to move on to other things.
That’s the whole point here. We want to get GN’R to the Use Your Illusion era wanting to try new things; wanting to expand their creativity, and most importantly having rid the closet of songs that were written for previous albums. That leaves the Gunners in a place to create something new.
The proposed GN’R Unplugged record in my mind would be built around Patience, Used to Love Her, One in a Million, an acoustic version of Dead Horse, and whatever else the band had been working on at that time.
After the record is released the band goes on a smaller tour to support it and then cycles down to go about the process of recording the next album. The goal of this was to burn through their already polished material and get the band to the Illusion era not only wanting to do new things but have an audience ready for new songs.
If the Unplugged record comes out in November of 1989 and the band goes on an 18 month World Tour in support that puts us in the Summer of 1991. There the band could take a break from the road, start writing and ideally have a record ready for release for Christmas 1992. To be supported by tour beginning in 1993.
Of course the other real X-factor here is the debut of Nirvana nationally and how much music changed after. GN’R led to contributed to that greatly with their acts of self-indulgence both personal and musically. Had GN’R had a polished single album powerhouse like Appetite ready to drop maybe Alternative Music would be a quirky side note to what main stream acts like GN”R were doing at the time.
What I know for certain GN’R had the catalog and the talent to be the Rolling Stones for Generation X. I also think had someone been able to hold their egos is check that they would have had the chops to take on Alternative Music and win. There however is no way to tell if any changes to how they developed would have changed the personality conflicts within the band. Those were certainly big factors in their breakup but without question they suffered from over exposure as well. Had some longer term thinking been applied from the jump we would likely be talking about the most successful band in history. I mean we already kind of are…the real history of what GN’R and its members have done over the last 30 years is the stuff of legends.