Guns N' Roses: the unconventional story of GN'R Lies

Axl Rose
(Image credit: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo)

Guns N' Roses' follow-up to Appetite For Destruction was not a conventional album but two EPs bolted together; one old, one new, with both attracting controversy for very different reasons.

The first four tracks were originally released in 1986, ahead of Appetite… as a limited edition EP entitled Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide. Ostensibly, the EP was issued on the band’s own independent label Uzi Suicide, although it later transpired that the band had already signed to Geffen. 

Moreover, it also later emerged that the EP wasn’t a live recording at all. Its four tracks were studio demos, to which were added ‘live ambience’ taped at GN’R gigs – crowd noise and some between-song banter from Axl and Slash.

However, if the format and branding of Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide was a little hokey, the music was not. Two of the four tracks were covers that spoke volumes about where Guns N’ Roses were at. 

Nice Boys, a song by Aussie bruisers Rose Tattoo, was a flat-out bar-brawl boogie with Axl revelling in the role of troublemaker-in-chief, while the Aerosmith classic Mama Kin was another perfect fit, introduced by Axl as “a song about your fuckin’ mother!” 

The two original songs were just as good: Move To The City recalled Aerosmith in their druggy mid-70s prime, and Reckless Life summed up the GN’R ethos in three blistering minutes.

If the first half of GN’R Lies showed new fans where Guns N’ Roses had come from, the second showed where they were headed – and that was straight into the biggest controversy of their career. The four previously unreleased studio tracks were recorded in 1988, precursors in style for MTV’s later Unplugged series, the onus on acoustic guitars. But while they eased in gently with Patience, a tender love song, complete with whistled melody from Axl, that became a worldwide hit single, the other three tracks were anything but sweet.

Used To Love Her had a catchy melody belied by a deadpan refrain of, ‘I used to love her… but I had to kill her!’ A reworking of You’re Crazy had Axl cussing even more than in the original Appetite… version. And then there was One In A Million, with Axl as self-proclaimed “small-town white boy” from Indiana offering frank opinions on the society he encountered in his adopted hometown of LA.

But what Axl saw as the unvarnished truth was widely viewed as outright racism and homophobia, provoking a huge media backlash led by gay rights activists and fellow musician Vernon Reid, guitarist for black rock band Living Colour. Even the most vocal of Guns N’ Roses supporters found the song hard to swallow. Slash, whose mother was black, was also clearly not comfortable.

Guns N’ Roses had known what was coming. GN’R Lies had come with artwork satirising the tabloid press and was pointedly subtitled: The Sex, The Drugs, The Violence, The Shocking Truth. But the storm would rage on for years to come. 

When Guns N’ Roses appeared at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley Stadium on April 20, 1992 – an event to honour the Queen singer and to raise public awareness of AIDS and benefit AIDS charities – gay rights groups were incensed, although Rose was embraced by Elton John on the Wembley stage.

With one song, Axl Rose could have ended Guns N’ Roses’ career there and then. But that was Axl’s way. And in the final analysis, there has never been a song, before or since, in which Axl Rose has sung with such raw emotion. That’s him – take it or leave it.

Paul Elliott

Freelance writer for Classic Rock since 2005, Paul Elliott has worked for leading music titles since 1985, including Sounds, Kerrang!, MOJO and Q. He is the author of several books including the first biography of Guns N’ Roses and the autobiography of bodyguard-to-the-stars Danny Francis. He has written liner notes for classic album reissues by artists such as Def Leppard, Thin Lizzy and Kiss, and currently works as content editor for Total Guitar. He lives in Bath - of which David Coverdale recently said: “How very Roman of you!”