Guns N’ Roses Find Warped Inspiration From Elton John on ‘My Michelle': The Story Behind Every ‘Appetite for Destruction’ Song
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Elton John is far from the first artist anyone would think of while listening to Guns N’ Roses‘ Appetite for Destruction, but his classic early hit “Your Song” played a key role in the composition of one of its songs.
John’s romantic ballad offered the early spark for the seventh song on the album, “My Michelle” — something of a surprising connection, given the latter song’s opening lines, “Your daddy works in porno / Now that mommy’s not around / She used to love her heroin / But now she’s underground.” That’s a far cry from the flowery sentiments expressed in Bernie Taupin‘s lyrics for “Your Song,” but frontman Axl Rose didn’t really have John in mind when he penned the lyrics — it’s just that John’s song happened to be on the radio when a female friend of the band told Rose she’d always wanted someone to write a song about her.
“We were driving to a show … and that song came on, and I was like ‘Oh, that’s such a beautiful song; I wish someone would write a song like that about me,'” laughed Michelle Young in a 2014 interview. “And then, lo and behold came ‘My song.'”
As it happens, Rose’s initial draft of the lyrics might have been much closer to Taupin’s sweet tone. He reportedly wrote a version — described as “99 percent sweet” by Young, who said she never heard it or saw the lyrics — that was ultimately abandoned in favor of something that offered a much more honest, albeit exaggerated, picture of her life. Given the somewhat unflattering details and Rose’s blunt approach, there were some concerns among the Gunners who’d known Young for years, particularly guitarist Slash, whom she’d dated when the two were in school.
“Slash called first and said something like ‘Please be honest about this, I’m really scared’ or something like that. Then I remember Axl called,” Young recalled. “He would always call me and sing me new songs. He would play this drumbeat on his knee and sing and snap to me on the phone whenever he had a new song, he would call me and sing a little and ask my opinion of it. So, when he called again with that I was just like ‘Okay, go ahead,’ so then he sang it and was just like ‘What do you think?'”
Young offered her casual approval, not thinking much of it at the time — partly because she was, as she later put it, “so out of it at the time” and partly because she naturally never expected it to be recorded, let alone end up on one of the biggest hit albums of the era. Given that she ended up sitting for an interview about the song more than 20 years after Appetite for Destruction was released, “My Michelle” obviously ended up being a far bigger part of her life than she could have guessed, and although her connection to the GNR legacy hasn’t always been a happy one, she eventually came to appreciate it.
“As much as I love watching people love the song when I would go see them in concert, it was a strange thing to have influence my life,” admitted Young. “It was amazing seeing them play it in a big coliseum … I’m looking around thinking it’s amazing because I’m watching it and I’m anonymous and no one knows it’s me because I can watch it from a distance. That part of it is really special and cool, seeing people react to it, but at the time when the song came out I can say it was never a blessing, it was always a curse, let’s just say.”
Rose and John became friends later, and even performed together from time to time. They appeared onstage at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in 1992, performing “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The bond helped Rose overcome his previous homophobic statements he made in public and occasionally in his songs. Later that same year, John joined Guns N’ Roses onstage at the MTV Video Music Awards for “November Rain.” And in 2004, Rose inducted John into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
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