The Last Great Epic Rock Anthem: Guns N' Roses 'November Rain'
When was the last time you heard a truly great long rock song that still left you wanting more?
In the 60s we had Iron Butterfuly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and The Doors "The End". The 70s led to some classic marathon rockers like Skynyrd's "Free Bird" and the Eagles "Hotel California" while Metallica's "One" really was the one and only one epic long rock song. The next decade got off to a promising start with the 1991 Guns N' Roses classic "November Rain". I can't think of another classic long rock song after that can you?
Written by Axl Rose, "November Rain" peaked at number three on the United States Billboard Hot 100 and at 8:57, was the longest song to enter the top ten of that chart at the time of its release. It was top 10 on several other music charts around the world.
Interesting that "November Rain" could have been an 80s jam since, according to Slash, the band recorded an 18-minute version of the song in 1986 during a session with guitarist Manny Charlton of the band Nazareth. In 2006 Axl said his bandmates didn't want to record the song as Slash and Duff McKagan were opposed to symphonic ballads. They wanted straight ahead rockers, which is pretty much what we got from the band's 1987 album Appetite For Destruction. Eventually, "November Rain" had its day under the sun in 1991 when it was included on Use Your Illusion I.
Before we give "November Rain" a listen, here is some more trivia behind the song courtesy of the website Songfacts:
The lyrics and the video are based on a short story by Del James called Without You. The story is part of a collection called The Language Of Fear, which was brought back to market in 2008 after being out of print. The new version of the book contains an intro by Axl Rose, who wrote: "Del James has a personal knowledge of most of the situations he writes about, and has a love of the gutter from having been there." James contributed lyrics to two Guns N' Roses songs: "The Garden" and "Yesterdays," and has directed several music videos.
Shannon Hoon from the group Blind Melon sang backup on the track. Hoon, who died of a drug overdose in 1995, grew up in Lafayette, Indiana near Axl Rose. (Something I just thought of: Blind Melon's biggest hit single was called "No Rain". "No Rain", "No-vember Rain"?)
Matt Sorum replaced Steven Adler as GN'R drummer in 1990. A former session drummer and bandmate of Tori Amos, his classical training helped bring a more classical sensibility to the band, which is best heard on this song. He told Songfacts that the drum pattern came together after they had been rehearsing the song, and Axl and Matt found themselves in the studio enjoying take-out from Greenblatt's Deli. Axl, a big Elton John fan, put on the song "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," which gave Matt an idea. "I said, 'God, listen to the tom toms on that,'" Matt recalled. "And Axl goes, 'Yeah, that's cool. So epic.' I go, 'What if I use that sort of a phrase as pieces of the song, almost like a melody that would work into the song structure.'" According to Sorum, "November Rain," "Don't Cry" and "Estranged" were conceived as one song, and the three tracks form a trilogy of sorts. Sorum played the same drum fill throughout those three songs. Sorum said that this was intentional, a way of unifying the songs. "That was my part in tying enough songs together to make it one voice," he told us.
On July 15, 2018, "November Rain" became the first video from the '90s to surpass one billion views on YouTube. At the time, Guns N' Roses also had the most-viewed '80s video with "Sweet Child O' Mine" at 692 million views.
The band filmed the video's outside shots of Slash playing his solo in New Mexico, where they had a church specifically transported. "I was always that guy who really could not care less about concept videos and all that kind of stuff," he laughed to Yahoo Entertainment. "I just showed up to do it... I really just couldn't get into the cinematic and theatric kind of concept thing. So, I just would write my own part, like: 'This is what I'll do, and you guys do whatever.'" What Slash didn't realize was that director Andy Morahan had an aerial shot planned from a helicopter that would leave him thinking he might die. "When I got out onto the set and did my thing, I noticed that this helicopter would come back and forth at extremely fast speeds and get really, really low... And I thought, 'Well, this'll be my last day on Earth,'" Slash recalled. "It was the kind of thing where you're just resigned to the fact that you're probably gonna die. And at that point in time, I was pretty much had that (mind-set) - I didn't have very much fear of death in those days. Anyway, we shot it and I had no idea what it was going to look like afterwards. But it ended up looking pretty cool. But I didn't know it was going to be as memorable as it turned out to be."
LISTEN TO AUTHOR STEVE BALTIN TALK ROCK ANTHEMS IN EPISODE 90 OF BOOKED ON ROCK: "ANTHEMS WE LOVE: 29 ICONIC ARTISTS ON THE HIT SONGS THAT SHAPED OUR LIVES"