Take Me Away To That Special Place: Remembering The Day Guns N’ Roses Found Their Sweet Spot
Guns N' Roses were against the ropes by August of 1988. Just a month later, however, they were the undisputed heavyweight champions of rock 'n' roll thanks to a knock-out punch delivered in the form of a song called "Sweet Child O' Mine".
After their first two singles "It's So Easy" and "Welcome To The Jungle" failed to get any traction on radio and MTV, Geffen records still believed in the band and their album 'Appetite For Destruction'. They decided to release "Sweet Child O' Mine" in the middle of August 1988.
Within days the video took off on MTV and radio began playing it in heavy rotation. The song continued to soar up the Billboard charts before it finally hit #1 on September 10th, 1988. It had been over a year since the album was initially released and, finally, Guns N' Roses were seeing their rock 'n' roll dreams come true.
I was a 16-year old high school kid at the time. A friend of mine had the 'Appetite For Destruction' album long before it hit. I remember the first time I heard the album. I had a part-time weekend job cleaning at a restaurant/bar in Southington called The Hall of Fame Restaurant (now the Cadillac Ranch). We would all bring our favorite cassettes to play over the speaker system while we cleaned. My co-worker and friend Matt brought in 'Appetite' one weekend.
Now at that time I was used to hearing the sleek, highly-produced, pristine-sounding bands like Def Leppard, Poison and Whitesnake. They all rocked hard but did it with a Top 40 polish. 'Appetite' was different. It was hard-edged, in-your-face, dirty, high energy rock 'n' roll. It was a wake-up call.
Maybe that's why the first two singles off the album didn't hit home. It would take a ballad like "Sweet Child O' Mine" to break everyone in. And did it ever break. Capitalizing on the success of "Sweet Child O' Mine", "Welcome To The Jungle" was re-released and by year's end Guns N' Roses was the biggest band in Rock 'n' Roll.
What's interesting is that Slash, to this day, isn't a big fan of the song. He came up with the riff while getting warmed up before gigs. He thought it was silly. He likened it to the sound of a circus song. Just earlier this month the BBC 2 listeners voted the riff the second greatest of all time behind Jimmy Page's riff on the Led Zeppelin classic "Whole Lotta Love". Slash's reaction was to laugh it off.
Here are some other interesting notes on "Sweet Child O' Mine" from the website Song Facts:
- The lyrics came from a poem Axl Rose was working on. He wrote the song about his girlfriend, Erin Everly, who is the daughter of Don Everly of the Everly Brothers. They married in 1990 but divorced a month later.
- Slash told Rolling Stone magazine: "It's a combination of influences. From Jeff Beck, Cream and Zeppelin to stuff you'd be surprised at: the solos in Manfred Mann's version of 'Blinded By The Light' and Gerry Rafferty's 'Baker Street.'"
- Axl listened to a bunch of Lynyrd Skynyrd songs before recording his vocal. He liked their down-home, genuine sound and wanted to duplicate it on this track.
- This won Best Single, Heavy Metal/Hard Rock at the 1989 American Music Awards. The group performed "Patience" at the show with Don Henley sitting in for Steven Alder (who was sick) on drums.
- In 1989, this won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Heavy Metal Video.
- A third verse Axl wrote was edited out because the record company thought it made the song too long.
- While the song was climbing to the top spot, Guns N' Roses was touring as the opening act for Aerosmith. By the end of the tour on September 15, G N' R had eclipsed their headliners in popularity and were chosen for the cover of Rolling Stone for their November 17 issue.
- In the video, a few moments before Slash's solo takes off, Axl can be seen taking off his jacket. Axl had so many bracelets on his arms, he had trouble getting his jacket off, which made them do a number of retakes. Axl stated in a 2006 radio interview with Eddie Trunk that, "the video they wanted to do for the song was supposed to be of an Asian woman carrying a baby into the United States. At the end of the video, the baby is cut open and there is heroin inside because that's what the song is about."
- In an interview with Uncut magazine February 2008 Slash was asked where the weirdest place that he'd heard one of his songs was. He replied: "I've heard 'Paradise City' and 'Patience' in some odd places, but the weirdest thing is hearing Muzak versions of 'Sweet Child O' Mine' in elevators and shopping malls. I've even heard an arrangement of it for harp. Recently I was in a hotel and the lounge pianist was playing it. I get a mixture of emotions when that happens. Part of it is 'hey wow, that's our tune!,' part of it's embarrassment at even noticing it, part of it's bewilderment of somebody else playing your music, someone who knows nothing about you, who has never met you, who is just playing your music as part of a thousand pieces of material that they have to play. Imagine how, say, Paul McCartney must feel, hearing his music absolutely everywhere."
- This is the most covered song that Slash has ever written. He told UK's Metro newspaper: "There are some really good instrumental versions for the piano or violin, but I've been horrified by some muzak versions. I've been sitting in a doctor's office thinking, 'That sounds familiar,' and then realizing it's someone's interpretation of what I've written. That can be a creepy feeling."