Why Guns N’ Roses Created Two Contrasting Versions of ‘Don’t Cry’
A couple of reliable cliches come to mind for Guns N' Roses' "Don't Cry": "if at first you don't succeed" or perhaps "twice as nice."
The track, which peaked at No. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1991, has the distinction of being included on both volumes of the Use Your Illusion albums, in markedly different forms.
The version of Use Your Illusion I is mostly hopeful and optimistic, with reassuring promises that "you'll be all right now, sugar," "you'll feel better tomorrow" and "there's a heaven above you." On II, however, the song becomes a paean to dark defeat, with Axl Rose (assisted by Blind Melon's Shannon Hoon) intoning, "I was the one who's washing blood off your hands" and "I know the things you wanted, they're not what you have."
If Illusion I's "Don't Cry" eyeballs a potential happy ending, II's is the sneering goodbye over the singer's shoulder as he heads down the road. In Watch You Bleed: The Saga of Guns N' Roses, author Stephen Davis opines that "the romantic illusions of a young man reaching for the heavens have become the sleepless nights and bad dreams of a fading rock star ... . A whiff of decay was in the air, the pathos of a young band grown out of what had made it cool in the first place."
Listen to 'Don't Cry' From 'Use Your Illusion I'
That's a lot to put on song that was likely the oldest material on the Illusion set, written as "Don't You Cry Tonight" by Rose and guitarist Izzy Stradlin during the spring of 1985, not long after the band's formation. Rose told Rolling Stone that "it was [about] a girl that Izzy had gone out with, and I was really attracted to her, and they split up. I was sitting outside the Roxy, and I was really in love with this person, and she was realizing this wasn't gonna work out ... and she was telling me goodbye, and I sat down and just started crying, and she was telling me, 'Don't cry.' The next night we got together and wrote the song in five minutes."
GNR worked on "Don't Cry" during sessions for the group's 1987 debut album, Appetite for Destruction, but was not satisfied with the results. A demo version recorded at Mystic Studio is featured on the CD single, along with both Illusion versions of "Don't Cry." Hoon, a Hoosier state expatriate like Rose and Stradlin, was brought in to provide both complement and counterbalance to the vocals. In his memoir, guitarist Slash noted that Hoon "made that song all the more soulful."
Listen to 'Don't Cry' From 'Use Your Illusion II'
"Don't Cry" is also considered of a piece with the Illusion epics "Estranged" and "November Rain," forming a trilogy inspired partly by "Without You," a short story by Del James, a writer and friend of Rose's who had served as GNR's road manager. He also cowrote a track on each of the Illusion albums.
“Don’t Cry” was given an appropriately epic video, a multimillion-dollar affair that lived up to its sign-off that "there's a lot goin' on." With references to, among other things, Rose's volatile relationships with his ex-wife Erin Everly and his girlfriend at the time, Stephanie Seymour, it features scenes of violent romantic turmoil and dangerous psychological imbalance, ending with shots of the singer's burial plaque in a cemetery. Rose isn't the video's only "casualty," as one segment depicts Slash, in the midst of a fight with his girlfriend, steering a car off a cliff to a fiery end, only to emerge back above, playing the guitar solo.
Watch the Music Video for 'Don't Cry'
But the band, joined by Hoon, looks like it's having a fine time playing "Don't Cry" atop the Transamerica building in downtown Los Angeles, circled by helicopters illuminating the group with searchlights. Pointedly absent is Stradlin, who chose not to attend the shoot.
A "Where's Izzy?" sign makes a brief appearance in the clip. On Nov. 7, 1991, fans got the answer when it was announced that Stradlin, who had cowritten 12 Illusion tracks, was out of the band. He headed back to Indiana and formed his own group, the Ju Ju Hounds.