You think “November Rain”, you think: a tiny white chapel, a hugely expensive video, a wailing guitar solo at the edge of a cliff. You think: impassioned vocals, one of the longest songs to hit the charts – and the most ambitious moment in Guns N’ Roses’ career. In short, you think: arguably the best rock ballad in history.
Though it took until September 1991 for the song to be released, on Use Your Illusion I, ‘November Rain’ had by that point been in Axl Rose’s arsenal for almost a decade. Former Rose bandmate and LA Guns guitarist Tracii Guns has recalled that Axl began working on the song in 1983, while the recent super deluxe and Locked N’ Loaded editions of Appetite For Destruction have revealed that it was once considered for release on GNR’s incendiary debut album.
The ‘November Rain’ piano demo
Captured at the 1986 Sound City sessions, during which the band worked on material considered for Appetite For Destruction, a 10-minute ‘November Rain’ piano demo sees Axl laying down the basic framework of the song. Built on just piano and vocals, the demo is entirely recognisable as the ‘November Rain’ that the world would come to know, from the stately piano intro to the gear-shifting outro – just without the strings or Slash’s coruscating guitar solo. The backing vocals are, however, present and correct, along with Axl’s fully committed lead, which edges towards the final version – arguably the most emotive singing of his entire career.
The ‘November Rain’ acoustic demo
‘November Rain’ was also tried out as a far shorter acoustic guitar demo, clocking in at five minutes. Apparently, tentative versions of this incarnation were performed at early GNR gigs. The 1986 Sound City demo version of this arrangement is driven by fingerpicked guitar and gentle percussion, while Axl finds his way around the song, sometimes repeating the “I just keep on walking” refrain. This version finds a gentle conclusion, but, comparing the two, it’s clear that ‘November Rain’ was built for piano.