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Choose Your Illusion: Our Writers Cut Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Use Your Illusion’ Albums In Half

Guns N' Roses Use Your Ilusion Split

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Guns N’ Roses‘ monumental twin Use Your Illusion albums, we asked six of our writers to weigh in on the debate that’s raged ever since the records were released in September 1991: How would you cut these 30 songs and two-and-a-half-hours of music down to just one record?

To make things easy, we had just one rule: a 15-song maximum limit, with no restrictions on the running time. As you can see below, the resulting “Choose Your Illusion” track lists and explanations varied wildly:

Michael Gallucci – Albums shouldn’t last longer than 45 minutes. After that, you’re going to start to bore your audience with each passing song. That’s the main problem with Guns N’ Roses’ two Use Your Illusion albums: They go on way too long. My single-disc edition of the album still runs a little more than an hour, but it’s more manageable than the overstuffed two-and-a-half-hour version Guns N’ Roses gave us. I like the bookends the band originally gave us for both records, so I left them in, with “Right Next Door to Hell” (Use Your Illusion I‘s opening track) starting my album and “My World” (II‘s closer) ending it. I also included the albums’ big ballads, covers and more ambitious tracks. Guns N’ Roses already gave us a great rock ‘n’ roll album with Appetite for Destruction. Use Your Illusion was all about their growth and diversity. My single-disc edit emphasizes that.

1. “Right Next Door to Hell”
2. “Live and Let Die”
3. “Don’t Cry”
4. “November Rain”
5. “Coma”
6. “Civil War”
7. “Yesterdays”
8. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
9. “Estranged”
10. “You Could Be Mine”
11. “My World”

Nick DeRiso – There’s a lot at play in trying to re-sequence Use Your Illusion, as even an edited version still needs to take in the breadth of Guns N’ Roses’ ambition as well as the looming changes ahead. As such, lengthier tracks like “November Rain,” “Civil War,” “Locomotive” and “Coma” have to remain, even at the expense of some shorter, punchier tracks. Then there’s the issue of some very familiar songs. I left off both cover songs because the Wings song is superfluous and the Bob Dylan tune had already appeared on the soundtrack to 1990’s Days of Thunder. As fun as it is, Alice Cooper’s rather pointless guest turn got the axe too. The hit single “Don’t Cry,” in this scenario, would have had to arrive back then as a stand-alone release, since I think the alternate version is far superior. I also liked the one-two punch of that song (including the lyric, “If you could see tomorrow, what of your plans? No one can live in sorrow; ask all your friends”) with a final farewell moment for the soon-to-depart Izzy Stradlin. “Pretty Tied Up” makes it clear that his time with the band has drawn to a close, as Izzy sings: “Once there was this rock ’n’ roll band rolling on the streets; time went by and it became a joke.” In between, Guns N’ Roses still get a chance to touch on influences, including punk rock and the Rolling Stones, even as they reanimate a leftover from their career-defining debut with “You Could Be Mine”

1. “Right Next Door to Hell”
2. “Perfect Crime”
3. “Double Talkin’ Jive”
4. “Locomotive”
5. “November Rain”
6. “Don’t Damn Me”
7. “Garden of Eden”
8. “Dead Horse”
9. “Civil War”
10. “Yesterdays”
11. “You Could Be Mine”
12. “Coma”
13. “Don’t Cry” [Alt. Version]
14. “Pretty Tied Up”

Matthew WIlkening – This exercise made me realize I love almost exactly half of these two albums. The “Live and Let Die” and “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” covers would be the next things to add if there was room, but it’s better to focus on original material. A lot of the stuff that got left off seems a bit gimmicky and overly concerned with putting across a rebellious attitude all these years later: “Get in the Ring,” “Bad Apples,” “Don’t Damn Me,” etc.

1. “Right Next Door to Hell”
2. “Perfect Crime”
3. ‘Dust N’ Bones”
4. ‘Don’t Cry”
5. “Double Talkin’ Jive”
6. “You Ain’t the First”
7. “November Rain”
8. “Garden of Eden”
9. “Coma”
10. “Bad Obsession”
11. “Civil War”
12. “14 Years”
13. “Locomotive”
14. “You Could Be Mine”
15. “Estranged”

Michael Christopher – “Coma,” fan and Slash favorite, kicks mine off. Something about the sound of a heartbeat introducing an album by a band that many thought would die before it released its debut feels poetic. It continues in more concise, rocking doses with the hardest hitting tracks coming one after another, and finally coming up for air with the whimsical and airy “Yesterdays.” The tempo dips but the music is no less intense before ramping back up again with “Locomotive” and closing out with the original Use Your Illusion II opener, “Civil War.” The problem with the big ballad “November Rain” is that it sounds dated and overblown; even when it came out, it had a grandiosity that felt more at place in the coke-fueled 80s. That’s what some people love about it; others think it’s too pompous for its own good. “Estranged,” on the other hand, is much more layered. It feels less over the top and more like a story because of all the shifts it goes through. The lyrics are absolutely devastating, and the guitar work by Slash fits the mood so perfectly that Axl Rose thanked him in the liner notes. It’s the proverbial crown jewel in the Guns’ canon, which is why it’s slotted center in the track listing.

1. “Coma”
2. “You Could Be Mine”
3. “Don’t Damn Me”
4. “Pretty Tied Up”
5. “The Garden”
6. “Double Talkin’ Jive”
7. “Yesterdays”
8. “Estranged”
9. “Don’t Cry” [Alt. Version]
10. “14 Years”
11. “Locomotive”
12. “Bad Obsession”
13. “Breakdown”
14. “Dead Horse”
15. “Civil War”

Matt Wardlaw – I like and respect the vision that Axl Rose and the band had for these two albums. It was an epic statement. With the idea of a condensed version of Illusion, I wanted to keep the spirit of what was originally captured and present an album that still would collectively have a schizophrenic mood and feel a bit excessive — and yet one that would ultimately feel more concise. I set out to make Use Your Illusion a traditional 10-track album, and it’s one that still clocks in at an hour, even after you strip out 20 songs. I’ve always really enjoyed an album that begins with a knockout. Sometimes, it’s a killer rock tune that sets the tone for what you’re going to hear on the rest of the record. And in other cases, it’s an epic, which is obviously the path I went with, opening the album with “November Rain,” which functions as an incredible nine-minute overture to open the album, one that makes quite an impression and leaves the listener wondering exactly what kind of journey they’re going to take. From there, we move through three straight solid rockers before slowing things down for the first time with “Don’t Cry.” “Estranged” is the next epic that makes an appearance, clocking in at nearly 10 minutes. “Get in the Ring” and “Back Off Bitch” (along with “Double Talkin’ Jive” earlier in the running order) ensures that this still would have been an album that the average kid wouldn’t share with their parents. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” is the lone cover song on the album — it was hard leaving “Live and Let Die” on the sidelines, but I felt like “Knockin’” fit better with this running order, and sticking with 10 tracks, I didn’t want to dilute that by having two covers in the track listing. The revised album wraps up in a grand fashion similar to how it began with “November Rain,” by closing with “Civil War.” 10 songs — and even in this condensed form, there’s still a lot to listen to and process and perhaps in this layout, it would have been easier to understand, grasp and ultimately hold as a classic album.

1. “November Rain”
2. “You Could Be Mine”
3. “Right Next Door to Hell”
4. “Double Talkin’ Jive:
5. “Don’t Cry” (Original)
6. “Estranged”
7. “Get in the Ring”
8. “Back Off Bitch”
9. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”
10. “Civil War”

Eduardo Rivadavia – Like most people, I’ve always felt that Use Your Illusion II was the superior set, and so its songs took nine of the 15 available slots. Many of my exclusions from Use Your Illusion I represent what I like to think of as Izzy Stradlin’s “I wanna go solo” songs — better suited for just that instead of a Guns n’ Roses album. I stuck to hard-rocking, in-your-face material that carried the torch lit on Appetite for Destruction, opening with a vicious tandem of “Right Next Door to Hell” and “Back Off Bitch.” Next comes one of my all-time favorites, the downright nasty “Double Talkin’ Jive,” the power ballad “November Rain” and then the underrated “Dead Horse,” after which we enter epic territory with “Coma.” When all is said and done, “Civil War” may be the most weighty, relevant, powerful Illusion song of them all, and Guns’ cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” ain’t far behind, so I think inserting the comparatively brief and breezy nostalgia of “Yesterdays” between them is necessary, especially with the venomous “Get in the Ring” waiting on deck. Heading down the final stretch, I’ve always been a sucker for the piano-rolling-thunder of “Breakdown,” the Arabian-infused perfection of “Pretty Tied Up,” the tireless clickety-clack of “Locomotive” and the maudlin sweetness of “So Fine.” But none of these can scale the grandeur of the majestic piece de resistance “Estranged.” The late ’90s caused many Guns N’ Roses fans to forget just how magical the band had been during its heyday, so this condensed reworking of Use Your Illusion is one heck of a reminder.

1. “Right Next Door To Hell”
2. “Back Off Bitch”
3. “Double Talkin’ Jive”
4. “November Rain”
5. “Dead Horse”
6. “Coma”
7. “Civil War”
8. “Yesterdays”
9. “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door”
10. “Get In The Ring”
11. “Breakdown”
12. “Pretty Tied Up”
13. “Locomotive”
14. “So Fine”
15. “Estranged”

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Next: 25 Most Destructive Guns N’ Roses Moments

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