In “Reconfigured,” we take liberties with revisionism by reediting, reimagining, and resequencing a particular album or albums in an effort to reconfigure the work into a stronger whole.
In 1991, Guns n’ Roses finally reemerged with the first full length album’s worth of material since their multiplatinum 1987 debut, Appetite for Destruction. The four year gap proved to be a fruitful one, as the band simultaneously released two full length LPs, totaling 30 tracks spread between them. Although well received critically and commercially, any multi-disc release carries with it requisite barstool pontification: “It would have been an incredible single disc.”
As great as their debut was, I still hold the Illusion albums as the band’s crowning achievement. In addition to a wealth of material, there’s also a great diversity across its 30 tracks. That’s not to say that it’s without filler, however. Attempting to separate my nostalgic love for these albums from my critical ear, I set out to create a single disc version of G N’ R’s two part opus.
Point of fact, a single disc version of Use Your Illusion was issued in 1998. Upon the initial release of the Illusion set, chain department stores such as K-Mart and Wal-Mart refused to stock the albums on account of their explicit lyrics. The later single disc version was produced for sale in these retail outlets, containing the singles and a few non-explicit album tracks. It’s a curious release, particularly given the time that had elapsed since the albums’ release and chart impact.
But I digress.
I give you a single disc version that paints with broader strokes to represent the breadth of the music from the project. I give you Use Your Illusion.
(cassette side 1)
1. Civil War
2. Dust N’ Bones
3. Garden of Eden
4. Bad Obsession
5. Don’t Cry (Original)
7. You Could Be Mine
(cassette side 2)
8. Double Talkin’ Jive
9. Dead Horse
10. November Rain
11. Pretty Tied Up
A much more concise release, yet one that still retains four of the albums epically long tracks, the shortest of which (“Civil War”) clocks in at over seven and a half minutes. As for the cuts, a few tracks (“My World,” “Don’t Cry (alt. lyrics)”) were filler even by 1991 standards. So they get cut.
In 2013, a number of other tracks (“Get in the Ring,” “Shotgun Blues,” “Back Off Bitch”) just seem too lyrically juvenile to justify their inclusion. What seemed rebellious and anti-authoritarian when I was 13 now just seems silly and trite.
Beyond those tracks, there aren’t a whole lot of duds across the two Illusion albums, although much of the remaining material is b-side quality at best. Yet many of the singles from the Illusion set either tacked on live versions of their a-sides, or rehashed the group’s earlier work. In this alternate reality, I’ve retained the same single releases, but reconfigured many of their tracklists to include what would now be non-album B-sides.
You Could Be Mine / Perfect Crime
The first single from Use Your Illusion was a well-timed summer release that brought the band back into rotation at MTV and rock radio, while also managing a tie-in to the summer blockbuster Terminator 2: Judgment Day. The initial b-side was “Civil War,” which seems rather wasteful as that track would receive its own single release two years later. Here, it’s replaced with “Perfect Crime,” an uptempo rocker that while good, was too similar to “Garden of Eden” for both to merit inclusion on the album.
Don’t Cry / Don’t Cry (alt. lyrics)
This actually mirrors the initial release, pairing both studio cuts of the album, each with a different set of lyrics. The alternate version is interesting in providing a new perspective to the song, but it’s a bit of double dipping, which is why it didn’t make the cut. But it’s certainly good fodder for a b-side to complement the hit version of the track.
Live and Let Die
Guns n’ Roses’ take on Wings’ James Bond tune brought new life and energy to the track, updating it for a new generation of rock fans. But it was cut from the single disc purely due to space considerations. Our reconfigured reality omits the song from the album. Here, “Live and Let Die” would be shelved until 1993, when it would be included on the covers album “The Spaghetti Incident?” In fact, “Live and Let Die” would serve as the lead single from the project, which would arguably have brought more attention to the disc than the group’s uncharacteristic cover of The Skyliners’ “Since I Don’t Have You.” [side note: The Skyliners are from Pittsburgh!]
November Rain / 14 Years / So Fine
I remember the “November Rain” single well, for I had the cassingle. But it always boggled me as to why “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was the b-side. Great song sure, but a) we already owned it and b) it was five years old by the time “November Rain” was released. In its reconfigured state, “November Rain” gets two b-sides on account of the single’s runtime. Izzy Stradlin’s “14 Years” fits well as a b-side to the epic “November Rain,” picking up the pace a bet and giving us a clean slate on Side 2. “14 Years” is followed by another cut that minimizes Axl’s role, trading verses with bassist Duff McKagan in “So Fine.” It’s an ok song, but not particularly compelling, and Duff’s vocals leave much to be desired.
“Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” / “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (live)
Like “Live and Let Die,” this hit was cut from the single disc for a few reasons. First, the studio version had already been commercially released on the Days of Thunder soundtrack in 1990. Moreover, the Guns version received greater exposure via their performance of the song at the Freddie Mercury benefit Concert for Life in 1992. In fact, that performance was excised from the concert and received significant MTV airplay. In our reconfigured world, “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” still gets issued as a single, albeit as a non-album cut.
Yesterdays / Bad Apples
Something else that struck me in listening to the Illusion albums repeatedly for a few weeks was how many of the album’s tracks have a blues-rock influence (my guess is that this came mostly via Izzy and Slash). “Bad Apples” is a great example of this influence seeping into the band’s hard rock sound. However, the blues rock vibe is better captured in other tracks such as “Bad Obsession” and “Dust N Bones.” That’s not to say “Bad Apples” is a bad song, only that it doesn’t shine as brightly as some of its siblings.
Civil War / Locomotive (Complicity)
“Civil War” didn’t see official release in the U.S. but many chain retailers in the states stocked the import EP, which also featured “Garden of Eden,” “Dead Horse,” and a 7-minute interview with Slash. It seems a stretch to assume that anyone who’d fork over the money for the “Civil War” EP wouldn’t already own both Use Your Illusion discs, rendering the other tracks excessive double dipping. I’ve elected to swap those two album cuts for a track I’ve relegated to the b-side, “Locomotive.” “Locomotive” has a great groove courtesy Slash, but there were only so many songs over 7 minutes that would fit onto the single disc.
Estranged / The Garden
And finally, the epic “Estranged,” not issued as a single until 1994, two months after the release of “The Spaghetti Incident?” (likely held up by production of the song’s elaborate music video). This single is actually kept in tact for our scheme – “The Garden” (featuring Alice Cooper) was the original b-side, although the song was excised from our single disc version, thus making it a non-album cut.
Take a listen, and let us know what you think!
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