of the week

In 1975, Freddie Mercury fought tooth and nail to prevent Bohemian Rhapsody from being edited and got his way. Don Henley was also insistent that Hotel California was not to be edited and this week’s suggestion was another long song which did get edited and riled the song’s writer and singer. He either didn’t fight it hard enough or, more likely, didn’t know it was going to be edited. Sweet Child O’ Mine, in its original form was just under six minutes, but the radio edit had two whole minutes lopped off. “I hate the edit of Sweet Child O’ Mine,” he explained in a Rolling Stone magazine interview. “Radio stations said, ‘well, your vocals aren’t cut.’ My favourite part of the song is Slash’s slow solo, it’s the heaviest part for me. There’s no reason for it to be missing except to create more space for commercials so the radio station owners can get more advertising dollars. When you get the chopped version… you’re getting screwed.” And how right he is. Thankfully, rock radio stations do tend to play the full version.

In 1987, Guns N’ Roses, who had formed two years previous and comprised, singer Axl Rose, Duff McKagan on bass, guitarist Slash, Izzy Stradlin on rhythm guitar and, after a very brief stint by Rob Gardner, Steven Adler on drums, they released their debut album Appetite for Destruction which was pretty much ignored across the USA until……MTV came to their rescue. They agreed to showcase the music video to Welcome to the Jungle for three consecutive nights and instantly because the most requested video by the viewers. On the back of this, G N’ R’s label sent out specially pressed singles from the album to stacks of radio stations with quite a number following MTV‘s lead and began playing Welcome to the Jungle, Paradise City and Sweet Child O’ Mine and within a month they were hitting the Billboard chart all reaching the top 10 and Sweet Child O’ Mine making number one.

Axl Rose was born William Bailey in Indiana and his religious parents encouraged their son to sing in church which he did and his parents refuse to let him listen to rock and roll music claiming it was evil. At school he won a radio and began secretly listening to the music his parents forbade. He became a delinquent and was arrested over 20 times whilst still at school. When he was 17 he learned that his father, Stephen, was actually his stepfather and that his real father’s surname was Rose. He also learned that his father had been murdered in 1984 and tracked down his grave in a cemetery in Illinois and decided to use Rose as his stage name. Axl was the name of the first band he was briefly in and used that as a Christian name. His name is an anagram of oral sex but whether Axl knew and decide that at the time is not clear.

Sweet Child O’ Mine began as a poem that Rose was writing about his then-girlfriend Erin Everly, the daughter of Don Everly of the Everly Brothers. They were dating for around four years followed by a swift marriage in Las Vegas followed by an even swifter split after Erin claimed that Axl was abusing her and the marriage was annulled.

The poem only consisted of a couple of lines and when Rose found he was unable to complete it, he shelved it. Rose told Alice Cooper on his Planet Rock radio show, “I had written this poem, reached a dead end with it and put it on the shelf. Then Slash and Izzy (Stradlin) got working together on songs and I came in, Izzy hit a rhythm, and all of a sudden, the poem popped into my head. It just all came together. A lot of rock bands are too… wimpy to have any emotion in any of their stuff unless they’re in pain. It’s the first positive love song I’ve ever written, but I never had anyone to write anything that positive about, I guess.” He also acknowledged that, despite the sweetness of the song, his relationship with Everly was “extremely volatile.”

Slash’s striking guitar intro hits you like bullet and, in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Slash explained its inspiration, “It’s a combination of influences from Jeff Beck, Cream and Led Zeppelin to stuff you’d be surprised at: the solos in Manfred Mann’s version of Blinded By The Light and Gerry Rafferty’s Baker Street.”

Rose was a fan of Lynyrd Skynyrd and loved their southern sound and so listened to a bunch of their songs before recording his vocals for Sweet Child O’ Mine. The opening line, ‘She’s got a smile that it seems to me reminds me of childhood memories, where everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky’ was in Rose’s head from years before as he recalled in an interview with the Los Angeles Times: “That ‘blue sky’ line actually was one of my first childhood memories – looking at the blue sky and wishing I could disappear in it because it was so beautiful.”

In 2013, Guitar World magazine published a list of top 100 guitar solos of all-time with Sweet Child ranking at number 37. Slash bettered himself with his solo in November Rain coming in at number six.

The song has been covered multiple times and in multiple styles. Texas, Sheryl Crow and Flat Pack have given it a go and, in 2009, John Lewis used a mellow version by Taken By Trees which was a pseudonym for the Swedish singer Victoria Bergsman for its Christmas TV advert. In the 2008 film The Wrestler, Randy ‘The Ram’ Robinson played by Mickey Rourke enters the ring to the song. Rourke and Rose were good friends and Rose allowed its use in the film for a nominal fee as it was classed as a low budget film but Rourke was awarded Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture at the Golden Globe awards and thanked Rose accordingly. It’s also cropped up as an instrumental version in an episode of The Office and, more recently, was featured in the 2022 film Thor: Love and Thunder.

Uncut magazine interviewed Slash in 2008 and asked him where the weirdest place that he had heard one of his songs to which he replied, “The weirdest thing is hearing muzak versions of Sweet Child O’ Mine in elevators and shopping malls. I’ve even heard an arrangement of it for harp. Recently I was in a hotel and the lounge pianist was playing it. I get a mixture of emotions when that happens. Part of it is ‘hey wow, that’s our tune!,’ part of it’s embarrassment at even noticing it, part of it’s bewilderment of somebody else playing your music, someone who knows nothing about you, who has never met you, who is just playing your music as part of a thousand pieces of material that they have to play. Imagine how, say, Paul McCartney must feel, hearing his music absolutely everywhere.”