19 January 2008

Rock epic of the month: "November Rain" (Guns n' Roses) 1992

Rock epics of the month is a series of posts where I'll look back on classic examples of what I think is the greatest excess of rock and roll - the rock epic.

This month, I have a contender for the worst rock epic ever recorded, if that's at all possible.

The cock rock wave of the late eighties was something of a wonder. How could the kids of the late eighties be so blind as to not see what a colossal embarrassment this was for rock and roll?

Guns n' Roses usually get lumped in with this particular school of rock, but this itself is embarrassing. Cock rock, or hair metal or glam metal as it was also sometimes known, was an execrably poor representation of rock and roll, best exemplified by the worst acts of the genre such as Poison, Mötley Crüe, Van Halen and the appallingly bad Warrant and Ratt. The common thread was that lead guitarists who appeared to get off on their own instruments were lauded as the Nordic gods the players also tried to look like.

Guns 'n Roses were usually regarded as being somewhat better then their competition. Consequently, as an example of an eighties cock rock outfit, they're not the best example. Especially since, they actually had some good tunes.

"November rain" wasn't one of these. It was one of the tracks on Use your illusion I, one of GnR's Use your illusion double set. Use your illusion was the bookend for cock rock - a celebration of the genre in all its glory, delivered in an over the top double album package. Not only that, but there was no discount here - if you wanted the full package, you had to pay twice.

And the albums did have some mighty fine tunes, even if the best ones such as "Dust n' bones" and "14 years" were written by Izzy Stradlin and thus, will probably never be performed live ever again.

On to "November rain".

This is one of the most overwrought ballads ever recorded. And you know, for the money that was spent on recording this, GnR could have done a lot better than the cheesy keyboards and synth flute lines employed throughout. Particularly since they also used a string section.

Axl Rose's voice is pretty much the main instrument in this. There must be about nine verses to this because it seems to go on forever, and it's probably at this point that he sees himself as the new Elton John.

But at three guitar solos and 8:53, is it any wonder that cock rock imploded after this?

Former Guns n Roses guitarist Tracii Guns reckoned that Rose had been working on the song since well before 1983, when Guns was in the band. It's certainly possible - Rose is known for, if nothing else, taking his own sweet time in realising his ideas.

The video that accompanied the release of this song as a single was enormously expensive, but probably featured the peak of cock rock's fortunes - the moment in the third guitar solo where Saul "Slash" Hudson climbs onto Rose's piano and solos away happily, oblivious to the impending market collapse facing cock rockers everywhere.

In fact, the combined effect of this song, the bombast of the accompanying video and the sheer overweight bloatedness of Guns 'n Roses musical ideas did more to kill off cock rock than the grunge explosion.

Here it is in all its glory. Enjoy.


Romulus Crowe said...

Haven't heard the term 'cock rock' before, but I guess it refers to the position of the lead guitarist's instrument? Pressed into the place where a normal man might have something in the way?

Hmm, when it comes to glam rock, we had Gary Glitter, who didn't turn out to be such a good ad for the genre. And the Sweet, who tried to be 'hard' while looking like the 'three little girls from school' in The Mikado. Damn, Beethoven looked ten times harder than the whole band!

I think, at that time, I was listening to early Kraftwerk (pre-pop, when there were just the two of them) and Tangerine Dream.

Could explain a lot...

Greg said...

For my money, the worst part of the film clip is the circling helicopter shots of Slash soloing in front of that tiny windswept church.

It always bugged me that his guitar wasn't plugged in. And no, there was no radio mic either.

Still, that probably says more about me than cock rock.

Dikkii said...

G'day Romulus.

Yes, it's true that the cock rock of the eighties came out of that period of the seventies where rock bands tried ever so hard to look "hard" just like The Sweet.

Your three little maids comment had me laughing out loud. I just had to go looking for pictures, and I know what you mean, although for real kabuki nightmares, you can't really go past the cover of Poison's first album from 1986. Truly dreadful.

You can't get much more of an antidote to bad seventies glam rock than Kraftwerk or Tangerine Dream, although I will contend that T-Rex, Bowie and Roxy Music did put out some great work from that period.

Dikkii said...

Greg, if we ever wanted reality in music videos, we would have switched off years ago.

And besides, would this video have been less funny if it didn't have that footage?

My answer is, sadly, yes.

Plonka said...


It's a brave man that takes on one of the greatest songs (and bands) of the 80's.

Thanks for that Dikkii. I never did like the clip much, but you have to consider that cock-rock also meant the "story filmclip", which usually left everyone scratching their heads.

Dikkii said...

I liked the fact that they wrote that bit at the end explaining that the video was meant to be a representation of someone or other's short story - "Without you" by Del James.

Although I'm not sure if the bit where the best man gets up during the ceremony and walks out ostensibly to satisfy some primal urge to play a screaming climax of a solo outside another church could be taken as canon in any way.

Greg said...

I think it's the artlessness of it that irks me, rather than lack of realism.

I submit that the clip would have worked better had two B-double semi-trailers rumbled out of a distant dust cloud on the horizon, come to a screeching halt to the left and right of the church, while Slash casually sidles up, jacks his axe in (revealing their payloads to be enormous speaker stacks) and then starts his solo - literally blowing the church away in a desecrating whirlwind of splintered weatherboard.

(Close with pull-shot on fallen cross.)

Indulging in that 3 minutes into a 9 minute clip says cock-rock to me.

Dikkii said...

Certainly, that scenario woulda made more sense.

And would have been quite funny in an "Excellent!!" kinda way.

Indulging in that 3 minutes into a 9 minute clip says cock-rock to me.

Well, at three solos in a nine minute tune, that roughly comes to one every three minutes. So I think that they had the timing right.

Plonka said...

Nice one Greg...:) Where were you in the 80's when we needed that sort of vision?

The trucks and speaker stacks remind me of an episode of Reboot where Megabyte crashes Enzo's birthday party and Megabyte and Bob have the most amazing guitar duel.

Dikkii said...

Good ol' ReBoot. One of Canada's finest cartoons, and I wish that I saw more of it other than the couple of episodes that I did.

The Rev. Jenner J. Hull said...

Yeah. Hate "Novemember Rain." But I hate "Civil War" even more. That's the one where Axel decides he just has to have a fucking whistling solo at the beginning, right? What a douchebag...

I wish I could go back in time and let Axel know that it was Slash's band. At least Slash could play the flying fuck out of a git-fiddle.

Although, I have to say, one of the best songs I've heard in a long time is "Better," from the never-to-be-released GN'R album "Chinese Democracy." (It was leaked on the Net a few years back and, to the best of my knowledge, was featured in a movie or commercial or something.)

I was skeptical until a buddy of mine played it for me, and was surprised as Hell when the song kicked serious ass. Even my brother, who hates GN'R with an undying passion, admits that the song rocks.

But, then again, I'm a rabid fan of anything involving the riff-slinging madman Buckethead, and he does tend to sling the riffs like it's nobody's bidness.

Plonka said...

Dikkii: One of Canada's finest cartoons

Umm... 3D. It was the very first 100% computer animated show.

and I wish that I saw more of it other than the couple of episodes that I did.

I had it all on tape but the kids wore it out. I'm currently in the process of downloading all 4 seasons but it's excrutiatingly slow...:(

Dikkii said...


Umm... 3D. It was the very first 100% computer animated show.

Pff. Cartoon. CGI. They're both animated. ;-)

Howdy, Jenner:

I wish I could go back in time and let Axel know that it was Slash's band. At least Slash could play the flying fuck out of a git-fiddle.

Or even Stradlin's band. Most of the tunes on Use your Illusion were written by him. Certainly most of the ones that didn't suck were.

And you have tweaked my curiosity about 'Better'. Buckethead always seemed like a square peg in a round hole in the Gunners.

I would love to check out the work that Buckethead did with Messrs Claypool, Worrall and Mantia in Colonel Claypool's Bucket of Bernie Brains. Sounds like a hoot.