Use Your Illusion Zero: Celebrating The 20th Anniversary Of Guns N' Roses' Two-Disc Opus By Editing It Down To One Disc

useyourillusion_cover.jpg
Over the weekend, a key album that came out in 1991 celebrated the 20th anniversary of its release date: Guns N' Roses' double-disc, piano-laden Use Your Illusion was released on September 17, 1991, giving late-'80s arena rock what was probably its last gasp of commercial supremacy/artistic overreach and setting up the very long, ultimately unsatisfying wait for Chinese Democracy. It's by no means a perfect album—it's overstuffed with songs that originally appeared on soundtracks and compilations, not to mention a few experiments that just should have stayed in the vault—but it's still extremely satisfying in more than a few spots thanks to the musicianship on board, and you can hear elements of its outsized ambition and reliance on arena-rock tropes even in present-day albums like Born This Way.

Of course, as an editor with multiple digital-music programs that allow for playlisting, my impulse when listening to the albums now is to nip and tuck at will, or at least slim the dual tracklistings to only those crucial songs that can fit onto a 90-minute cassette. There is a single-disc version of Use Your Illusion out there, but it, to put it plainly, is no good at all—two of its 12 tracks are covers (save those for the deluxe reissue of The Spaghetti Incident?!, please), another two are versions of "Don't Cry," and it doesn't even have Axl Rose's blanket indictment of anyone in his way/progenitor to every annoying song about drinking "haterade" that's graced a band's later-career cutout-bin offerings "Get In The Ring." Below, my (sequenced!) attempt to slim down the album to a single disc's worth of music.

Here's the playlist on Spotify. Justifications below.

1. "Right Next Door To Hell"
This frenzied kiss-off to an awful neighbor works as an opening salvo on the actual record, too. Much better than "Live And Let Die," which inexplicably opens the official single-disc version.

2. "Back Off Bitch"
As someone whose interest in music extended to actually trying to play it as a kid, I would make frequent trips to a store near my Long Island hometown that sold things like violin strings and piano-etude books. It also had a sizable CD and cassette collection in the back, and among its cassette offerings was a wide assortment of bootlegs—board tapes, crowd recordings, and leaked demos of Guns N' Roses' material in particular. The period between GN'R Lies' release and the eventual issue of UYI seemed like an eternity to my impatient teenaged self, and so my friends and I would gorge on these cassettes, which had construction-paper inlays and which, all told, had about eight versions of this song scattered throughout their tracklistings.

3. "Dust N' Bones"
WHERE'S IZZY—oh, he's right here, singing lead! OK then.

4. "Locomotive (Complicity)"
The one time on the album where you actually get to hear its title sung by Axl, and the doubling of his voice here sounds pretty unnerving on headphones. Also, on an album that had a surfeit of codas, this was probably the best, a chugging beat pushed along by otherworldly moans.

5. "Perfect Crime"
UYI had a couple of super-fast barnburners; this one edges out the similarly speedy (and eventual single-with-lyric-assistance-video) "Garden Of Eden" because of the way its screechy intro segues well into "Locomotive" conceptually, as well as Axl's "you wanna fuck with me?" back and forth with the "blind man following [him] in chains."

6. "So Fine"
Duff's Johnny Thunders tribute is one of the album's dark-horse tracks. It could also make a fine way to wind up the record's first side (oh, album nostalgia!), with the way it sort of moseys to its conclusion.

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12 comments
Rob Selover
Rob Selover

Dude, seriously? You left out "My World???"

Breakdown is the best song on both albums - give it another listen.

Josh B
Josh B

I was with you until you disparaged "Coma." OK, the middle section is a bit overwrought, but it would still make my single disc comp. The last part of the song is one of my favorite Axl moments

jerkstore
jerkstore

YO EVERYONE POST ON MY FORUM AT LOVETOPOST.FREEFORUMS.ORG.....WILL CHECK THIS ALBUM OUT LATER

Al Shipley
Al Shipley

I tried to make a pared down UYI over the summer but when I listened to the playlist more recently it didn't flow at all, it's SO much easier in theory than in practice. My version had more songs but other than the puzzling inclusion of "So Fine" I don't have many gripes with yours, may have to listen to it sometime and see how it flows.

jess
jess

maura clearly thinks war is actually civil.

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

This is excellent—you've turned it not only into a tighter album but a more natural followup to Appetite.

My one quibble: no "Yesterdays." I know it's a bit obvious and on-the-nose, but I like it.

(Also, rendit is right—you should probably break down why "Civil War" isn't on here. It's a defensible move, but it's probably your most surprising cut.)

maura
maura

I never really liked "Civil War"—and it's way long. Better to include one of the seven-minute-plus tracks that deserves all of its running time.  Also I tried to avoid tracks that were previously collected elsewhere (the one song that I really waffled on was "You Could Be Mine").

Chris Molanphy
Chris Molanphy

As I said to you the other day, leaving off "You Could Be Mine" makes much more sense to me. It’s probably the best straight-up pop single GnR ever recorded (not counting “Sweet Child,” which is something more than a pop song to me), but it's just that: a single. "YCBM" really sticks out on the album like this other, shiny thing, totally out of step with the rest of Illusion. It can be removed, not because it sucks, but because its awesomeness is as a standalone, a one-off.

For the record, your running time is only about 65 minutes. On an 80-minute CD, "Civil War," "Yesterdays" and "You Could Be Mine" (all radio hits) could barely fit as bonus cuts. I've created an iTunes playlist with your rundown, plus a five-second pause and then those three tracks.

rendit
rendit

But seriously where the hell is 'Civil War' c'mon Maura. 

rendit
rendit

You forgot 'Im God'. 

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