In March, 2004, tired of waiting for Guns N’ Roses to get on the stick and finish Chinese Democracy, their supposed first album of original material in 12 years, Geffen Records released the slapdash compilation Greatest Hits—also known as the album Axl Rose wanted to kill. Supported by bandmates and ex-bandmates, he filed an unsuccessful lawsuit against the label, claiming it was unauthorized and would do damage to the band’s reputation.
The group’s enduring fan base, excited for any product at all, helped the release shoot into the Top Ten, despite its unimaginative packaging and lack of significant remastering. Still, it was a way for a new generation of rock fans to experience hits and anthems that defined the late 80s and 90s—“Welcome to the Jungle,” “Sweet Child o Mine,” “Paradise City,” “November Rain” and their version of “Live and Let Die.”
The Indiana-born Rose, a former church choirboy who changed his name from William Bailey at 17, met Stradlin in Los Angeles in 1984. With Tracii Guns (guitar) and Rob Gardner (drums), they formed a rock band called, in turn, Rose, Hollywood Rose and L.A. Guns. When Guns and Gardner left, they were replaced by two members of Road Crew, drummer Steven Adler and top-hatted, colorful guitarist, Slash. Bassist Duff McKagan completed the lineup for the newly-christened Guns N’ Roses.
Following the disastrous US Hell tour in 1985, Guns N'Roses released an EP, Live?!*@ Like A Suicide. Geffen signed the band in 1986 and reissued the EP the following year.
The band’s legendary 1987 debut, Appetite For Destruction, went on to sell 20 million copies worldwide and reached #1 in the U.S. a year after its release date. In 1989, the eight-track album G N'R Lies was issued, becoming a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic, as were the singles "Sweet Child O' Mine" (written about Rose's girlfriend and later wife Erin Everly, daughter of Don Everly), "Paradise City" and "Patience."
Despite their success, GN'R often took their role as rock’s new bad boys fairly seriously, with numerous incidents involving drugs, drunkenness and assorted public disturbances in 1989/90. Some of the tabloid-worthy exploits included Stradlin urinating in public on an aeroplane, Slash and McKagan swearing live on television while collecting trophies at the American Music Awards, and Rose's on-off relationship with Everly.
In September 1990 Adler was replaced by Matt Sorum from the Cult, and their 1991 world tour brought comparisons with the heyday of the Rolling Stones. In September the band, in an unusual but very successful marketing move, released the dual albums Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, preceded by a version of Bob Dylan's "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." Further hit singles, "You Could Be Mine" (featured in the movie Terminator II) and "Don't Cry" pushed the albums to the top two slots on the Billboard album chart.
Izzy Stradlin finally found the whole GN'R thing just too much, and left late in 1991, going on to form the Ju Ju Hounds; he rejoined in 1995. Slash, proving his versatility, went mainstream, appearing on recordings by Dylan and Michael Jackson and contributing to tribute albums to Muddy Waters and Les Paul; he later established his own spinoff band, Slash’s Snakepit, and scored the smooth jazz instrumental hit “Possession Obsession.”
In late 1993, GN'R released the popular but controversial The Spaghetti Incident, a collection of cover versions with a punk foundation, which included a song written by mass murderer Charles Manson. Not concidentally, the main inspiration behind the project, Duff McKagan, had his debut solo album released at the same time. Then Gilby Clarke departed and was replaced by Rose’s Indiana friend Paul Huge, who contributed to a cover of the Stones’ “Sympathy For the Devil” for the Interview With The Vampire soundtrack.
In 1997, Robin Finck, formerly of Nine Inch Nails, replaced Slash. In November 1999, Rose surprised everyone by contributing the industrial metal track "Oh My God" to the soundtrack of End Of Days. The band jogged along, with a revolving door of personnel, but still featuring Axl on lead vocals. Slash's Snakepit opened for AC/DC, while the "new and improved" GN'R played out and Axl claimed to still be working on the much-vaunted new CD Chinese Democracy.
In early 2003 the core of Velvet Revolver, Duff, Slash and Matt, begins to jell. On May 13 Scott Weiland announces that he will be the lead singer for the band, momentarily named Reloaded. On June 6, Dave Kusher is officially drafted. Renamed Velvet Revolver, they play at the El Rey in Los Angeles, RCA releases Set Me Free and in October comes the arrest of Scott Weiland on felony DUI charges. He agrees to enter rehab for six months.
Slash and Duff sue Axl in April, claiming he ripped them off for over $1M. Velvet Revolver leaves on tour and, in May 2004, Geffen releases the hated GN'R Greatest Hits. It soars to the top of the charts in the UK - their first hit since 1991's Use Your Illusion. GN'R cancels a concert in Lisbon and Buckethead quits the band. In June 2004 Velvet Revolver bursts out of the gate with a huge hit CD, Contraband.