Although it was likely far from the biggest problem facing the band at the time – compared to personality conflicts, substance abuse and the way everyone adjusted to fortune and fame – songwriting credits on the records showed just how complicated and contentious things had gotten.
Except for two cases where they had outside help, publishing for every song on Guns N’ Roses’ 1987 debut, Appetite for Destruction, was collectively credited to the five members of the band: Axl Rose, Slash, Izzy Stradlin, Duff McKagan and Steven Adler.
But drummer Adler was fired early in the Use Your Illusion sessions, and the four remaining original band members are listed together as cowriters on just one of the two albums’ 30 tracks: “Bad Apples.”
It’s not that there weren’t disagreements to overcome in the Appetite days. “We found ourselves arguing about things we’d never had to deal with before,” bassist McKagan wrote in his memoir, It’s So Easy: And Other Lies, about the band’s early discussions regarding publishing splits. “No, I wrote that part; no, I wrote that part. It got heated for about a week as we tried to hash it all out. … We finally agreed to split everything equally across the board. Our lawyer enshrined it in writing – and thank God for that.”
Watch Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Bad Apples’ Video
Guitarist Slash remembered things differently in his 2008 autobiography, writing that the band came to that agreement only after singer Rose was granted a cut of Adler’s share. “There’s no way Steven gets 20 percent, the same as I do,” he quotes Rose as saying. “I want 25 percent, and Steven gets 15. He’s a drummer. He doesn’t contribute to the writing as equally as the rest of us.”
Regardless of which account is true, Slash recalled things got more complex for the Use Your Illusion songs. “The days of band members getting a straight 20 percent were long gone because there were so many outsider writers this go-round, especially on the old songs that existed before Guns that were now in the equation, such as ‘Back Off Bitch,'” he explained in Slash. “We also had to factor in [new drummer] Matt [Sorum], who wasn’t a full-fledged member: He hadn’t been around during the writing of the songs, though he’d played on all of them.”
According to the guitarist, things got even trickier when the band tried to figure out splits for the songs he and McKagan crafted while waiting weeks for Rose to join them in Chicago for a two-month songwriting session in the summer of 1989. “For the most part Axl wasn’t even there, so the splits he devised for songs like ‘Garden of Eden,’ ‘Don’t Damn Me’ and ‘Get in the Ring’ were totally arbitrary,” Slash noted.
Even though he called the time spent in Chicago a “huge waste,” Slash noted the band was able to produce “a few good tunes,” specifically “Estranged,” “Garden of Eden” and “Bad Apples.”
According to McKagan, when Rose finally did arrive in Chicago, matters worsened, which ultimately contributed to the band losing another original member. “[Axl] got there, got into a fight with a girl we had befriended, and trashed the place where we were living,” the bassist recalled.
This all took place just before a teetering Stradlin made his appearance during the Chicago sessions. “Already nervous because of his court-mandated sobriety, Izzy came upstairs, took one look at all of the damage Axl had just wrought (not to mention the various powders all over the place) and hightailed it the fuck out of there,” McKagan noted in It’s So Easy. “His day-to-day involvement with the band pretty much died that day.”
Guitarist Stradlin officially left the band on Nov. 7, 1991, less than two months after the Use Your Illusion albums were released. McKagan and Slash’s last show with what was left of the band’s classic lineup took place on July 17, 1993.
Despite all the trouble that surrounded the creation of “Bad Apples,” it’s hardly become a big part of Guns N’ Roses’ legacy. According to Setlist.fm, the song has been played only twice in concert, and its video is made up entirely of repurposed footage from the earlier “Don’t Cry” clip.
In 2016, after more than two decades apart, Rose welcomed Slash and McKagan back to the band for a series of successful reunion tours. Adler made a couple of brief onstage guest appearances alongside his former bandmates, but Stradlin opted not to join because of financial disagreements. “They didn’t want to split the loot equally,” he tweeted at the time. “Simple as that. Moving right along.”
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