Under Review: The Most Dangerous Band in the World’s 1991 albums “Use Your Illusion I & II”

By on April 10, 2018

Guns N’ Roses: 2 Classic Albums Under Review – Use Your Illusion I & II explores “the most dangerous band in the world” and their history-making twin albums, released simultaneously in September 1991.

You’ll find this 90-minute 2012 documentary — along with other excellent music documentaries — in our Under Review section over on Night Flight Plus.

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Released at midnight on September 17, 1991, these ambitious G N’ R albums together sold half-a-million copies by 2 a.m., and 1.5 million copies within the first three days.

Illusion II debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart, while Illusion I took second place during the same week (the first time any artist or group had accomplished that particular feat!)

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Highlighted by concert footage (including exclusive backstage scenes),  rare photographs, and news footage, Guns N’ Roses: 2 Classic Albums Under Review – Use Your Illusion I & II reveals the often untold, behind-the-scenes stories about the recordings.

Keen insight is provided by close friends and colleagues, including Tim Yasui and Lizzie Grey of Spiders & Snakes, band merchandiser Howard Teman (who played piano on both albums), studio owner Skip Saylor, Teddy Andreadis, and Tracey Amos (backing vocalist on their “Illusion” tour).

Also featured is critique and commentary from a spate of veteran rock journalists and Guns N’ Roses biographers, including Lonn Friend (Life on Planet Rock: From Guns N’ Roses to Nirvana, a Backstage Journey through Rock’s Most Debauched Decade), Eric Weisbard (33 1/3’s Guns N’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion I and II), Dave DiMartino, Malcolm Dome and several others.

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Narrator Tony Pomfret ably guides us through the band’s beginnings, the recording their first album — Appetite for Destruction — and subsequent touring, before arriving at the twin albums at the heart of this documentary, Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II.

One of the highlights is footage of singer Axl Rose dueting with Elton John on Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody”!

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Read more about Guns N’ Roses: 2 Classic Albums Under Review – Use Your Illusion I & II below.

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Axl Rose — an anagram for “oral sex” — was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, as “William Bailey,” before taking his stepfather’s surname Rose.

In 1982, Rose moved to L.A. with guitarist and childhood friend Izzy Stradlin, with whom he formed Hollywood Rose.

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Soon Axl was singing with Stradlin’s roommate, L.A. Guns guitarist Tracii Guns, and along with his main man Izzy, they one by one replaced the L.A. Guns with new members: Michael “Duff” McKagan (bass) and  Steven Adler (drums).

Finally, lead guitarist Slash (b. Saul Hudson) came aboard in June 1985, replacing Tracii Guns.

This original lineup –their moniker Guns N’ Roses revealing how they’d arrived on the L.A. club scene from the remnants of two lesser bands — played their first show on June 6th.

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G N’ R were quickly touted as Hollywood bad boys with a reckless hedonistic penchant for sex, drugs and violence, an image they fostered themselves in interviews and song lyrics.

Their earliest songs — “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Paradise City,” for example — highlighted their rowdy, rebellious reputation.

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By March of ’86, they were signed to Geffen Records (for just $75,000), who released just 10,000 copies of their first EP, Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide on December 16, 1986.

Their debut full-length, Appetite for Destruction, released on July 21, 1987, initially featured cover artwork by artist Robert Williams (it was later replaced because several major retailers refused to stock the album).

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They landed opening slots on tours with the Cult, Mötley Crüe, Alice Cooper, Iron Maiden, and, in the summer of ’88, toured with Aerosmith.

When Aerosmith pulled out of the planned UK tour, Guns N’ Roses went over anyway, encouraged by favorable features on them in the UK metal/hard rock magazines (Kerrang! dubbed them “the most dangerous band in the world”).

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MTV weren’t initially too interested in airing their video for “Welcome to the Jungle,” so Geffen released their power ballad, “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” which vaulted them into the mainstream, a #1 charting hit.

Sales of Appetite started off slowly but eventually went on to sell 28 million copies worldwide in ’87 alone, setting a record for the best-selling debut album in America (18 million copies).

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“One in a Million” — a track on their new EP, Lies, rushed out on November 29, 1988 — found them mired in controversy (its sung from the point-of-view of a racist, bigoted white dude using words like “faggots” and “niggers”).

By the time G N’ R were opening for the Rolling Stones on their 1990 world tour, Steven Adler’s and Slash’s heroin use was so out of control that Axl Rose threatened to quit (Adler was replaced by the Cult’s Matt Sorum, and Slash got his junk habit under control).

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Fans were critical that Lies hadn’t contained much new material, so when G N’ R began working on their new album, they overcompensated by recording a double album’s worth of tracks.

One of these, “You Could Be Mine” was previewed in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, which arrived in theaters on July 3, 1991.

Another track, “November Rain,” was originally nearly 25 minutes long before it was edited down to just nine minutes (Axl Rose had been working on it as early as 1983).

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Kurt Cobain nixed Axl Rose’s idea of having Nirvana open for them on tour, G N’ R turned to other supporting acts — including Soundgarden, Metallica, Faith No More, Nine Inch Nails and other top bands — to open their “Illusion Tour,” which spanned more 28 epic months and attended by nearly 7 million fans.

Watch Guns N’ Roses: 2 Classic Albums Under Review – Use Your Illusion I & II on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.