"Where do we go now?" That was the question Guns N' Roses posed to lead singer Axl Rose's girlfriend in the band's sweet but hard-driving love ballad "Sweet Child O' Mine." The third single off GNR's debut album, Appetite for Destruction, "Sweet Child O' Mine" took the band straight to the top of the Billboard charts, helping launch their career and establishing them as rock-and-roll legends.
It is rumored that Rose was the only member of Guns N' Roses who thought "Sweet Child O' Mine" would be more than filler on Appetite for Destruction. But from the time he first heard the track, the band's producer Mike Clink was sure the song was special.
The behind-the-scenes stories about "Sweet Child O' Mine" reveal how the band turned a circuslike guitar riff Slash considered a "joke" and some lyrics based on a love poem into one of the most accomplished songs in Guns N' Roses' discography.
- Photo: Geffen
Slash Said He Was Messing Around With A 'Stupid Little Riff' And Rose Encouraged Him To Keep Playing
Slash's famous guitar riff, which opens "Sweet Child O' Mine," started off as nothing more than a funny joke.
While talking about how well the band worked together, Slash explained to Guitar Center in 2008, "Anytime anybody came up with something, it was just like the rest of the band just innately knew what to do. Songs almost wrote themselves." In the case of "Sweet Child O' Mine," he recalled:
One afternoon I was sitting around with Izzy [Stradlin] and Duff [McKagan] and had stumbled on this sort of melody, this sort of unorthodox pattern, and I was trying to perfect playing it because it was sort of a finger-twister. Duff and I think Izzy started playing some chords behind it, and it started taking on a life of its own.
Unbeknownst to me, Axl [Rose] was upstairs and heard it, and had some ideas... A couple days later or the next day at rehearsal, Axl goes, "Hey, play that song you guys were jamming in the living room yesterday," and so we started playing it. It just became this tune.
Slash remembered that the riff "started off as a... joke" and that thanks to Rose, it "turned out to be a huge anthem." Years after "Sweet Child O' Mine" was released, that "joke" of a D-flat riff was voted the No. 2 guitar riff of all time in a 2014 BBC poll.
Rose Composed The Lyrics For 'Sweet Child' Based On A Poem He Wrote For His Then Girlfriend Erin Everly
At the time the band was getting ready to record Appetite for Destruction, Rose was in a relationship with Erin Everly (daughter of Don Everly from the pop duo The Everly Brothers). When he heard the guitar riff Slash had come up with, he was reminded of a love poem that he tried to write to Everly. He based the lyrics for "Sweet Child O' Mine" off of this poem.
Rose admitted, "It's the first positive love song I've ever written, but I never had anyone to write anything that positive about, I guess." Indeed, it is the polar opposite of his other musical work, which includes ballads like "Back Off B*tch."
Although the song became a huge hit, Rose's relationship with Everly did not last. The couple married in April 1990, but the marriage was annulled less than a year later.
Duff McKagan Thought The Song Was A Joke
Like Slash, the bassist for GNR, Duff McKagan, did not take "Sweet Child O' Mine" very seriously at first. As he later admitted to Hit Parader:
It was written in five minutes. It was one of those songs, only three chords. You know that guitar lick Slash does at the beginning? It was kinda like a joke because we thought, "What is this song? It's gonna be nothing. It'll be filler on the record."
Slash was just messing around when he first wrote that lick.
Producer Spencer Proffer Suggested The 'Where Do We Go? Where Do We Go Now?' Breakdown At The End Of The Song
Before they decided to go with Mike Clink as their producer, the band worked with Spencer Proffer to record some demos. When he heard "Sweet Child O' Mine," Proffer thought the song needed a breakdown after Slash's solo.
In his autobiography, Slash remembered they were sitting in the control room trying to figure out what to use as the breakdown section when Rose started ad-libbing, "Where do we go." He described the scene:
Axl said, more to himself than the rest of us, "Where do we go now?... Where do we go?"
"Hey," Spencer said, turning the music down. "Why don't you just try singing that?"