The story behind Guns N’ Roses’ ‘November Rain’
By EG Manilag, Staff Writer
As an electric guitar player, “November Rain” is really close to my heart. This great song is a classic power ballad played by the famous rock band Guns N’ Roses (GNR) on their album Use Your Illusion I. It’s truly one of my favourite songs to play when I’m feeling emotional and melancholic.
For the most part, especially being a guitar soloist, the music’s amazing guitar solos were the key factor that inspired me to listen. Its heartfelt tune synthesized with a mysterious orchestra-like arrangement in the background perfectly suits the entire solo rhythm. The song’s emotionally intense lyrics and narrative style music video inspired me as well. No one could ever make such a deep and meaningful song like this other than GNR themselves. Those who have heard the song already likely know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s definitely a song that deserves retrospection.
Although “November Rain” was officially released in 1991, it had already been in the works for almost a decade. According to Tracii Guns, the band’s former founding member, Axl Rose had been working on the song since 1983.
“When we were doing that EP for L.A. Guns, like ’83? He was playing ‘November Rain’ —and it was called ‘November Rain’ —you know, on piano. The guitar solo is amazing. Way back then. It was the only thing he knew how to play, but it was his. He’d go, ‘Someday this song is gonna be really cool,’ and I’d go, ‘It’s cool now.’ ‘But it’s not done,’ you know, he used to say. And, like, anytime we’d be at a hotel or anywhere, there’d be a piano; he’d just kinda play that music. And I’d go, ‘When are you gonna finish that already’, you know? And he’d go, ‘I don’t know what to do with it. I need Moody’s help,’” Guns said.
Another cool fact about the song is that before being released, it was played into two demo versions: Acoustic and piano. Both versions were recorded live in the 1986 Sound City Session. In the acoustic part, the song is gentler compared to the “November Rain” that we know; and in the piano version, the song more closely resembles the official version. After five years of thorough recording, the song was officially released. Clocking in at 8:59, the final version of “November Rain,” like most of us have heard, sounded like a full orchestra playing. I’m emphasizing this because this arrangement was singlehandedly orchestrated by Axl Rose himself.
“November Rain” was one of the most expensive music video promos in history, with a budget totalling over $1.5 million. It was directed by the famous Andy Morahan, who also directed popular George Michael music videos. The music video was originally based on a book by Del James called Without You, which depicted a narrative of love and many other things that come and go with it. The protagonists of the video were Rose and his girlfriend at the time—supermodel and actress Stephanie Seymour. The massive expense paid off though, with the group seeing a surge in popularity and awards.
“We got into doing these huge production videos and by ‘November Rain’ it was too much, just too involved. At the end of the day it was a great video but that’s when I started realizing that it was getting out of hand,” said Slash to Q magazine in July 2004.
Since then, the song found its way reigning into the ’90s top charts in MTV and Billboard Hot 100. Their music video also won “Best Cinematography” award at the 1992 MTV Music Awards, where it also received a Video Vanguard award. At the end of the show, the song was performed by the band together with Elton John on piano.