If someone under a rock somewhere was unsure if Guns N’ Roses were the biggest band in the world as the ‘90s began, their association with the biggest movie in the world offered the evidence.
Terminator 2: Judgment Day was set to be a success long before its release date, and star Arnold Schwarzenegger knew he wanted GNR’s involvement. He was so determined that he invited the band to dinner, where he personally cut a deal with Axl Rose and his bandmates to use “You Could Be Mine.” The song played during the movie’s closing credits and also rang out during some early action scenes.
The production of the sequel to 1984’s The Terminator had been delayed partly because the technology to make it was still in development. And in the same way T2 had its roots in the ‘80s, “You Could Be Mine” existed in part even before GNR released their 1987 debut album, Appetite for Destruction.
During the first preproduction rehearsal for the LP, the band members felt so comfortable that they accidentally came up with a new song. In its early days, it had a different title: “Cocaine Talking.”
In a 1988 interview, bassist Duff McKagan explained its meaning – just after he alleged the band had no connection with drugs. “A lot of the drug rumors about us started because we have a song called ‘Cocaine Talking’ on the album,” he said. “But that song’s not about us. … If you listen to the lyrics, it’s about how all these nice young girls in L.A. can’t do anything before they do their coke. The song’s definitely not a pro-cocaine song. It’s about how the shit really fucks up your head.”
In 2011, guitarist Slash recalled that – except for the title – the song didn’t change much during its years on the shelf, saying that “You Could Be Mine” “was one of Izzy [Stradlin]’s riffs, and as always with Izzy, he would play something, and it would catch my ear, and I’d play along, but in my own sort of style.”
Watch Guns n’ Roses’ ‘You Could Be Mine’ Video
While the song didn’t make the album’s final cut, the lyric “With your bitch-slap rappin’ and your cocaine tongue, you get nothin’ done” appeared on the Appetite sleeve, like a portent of the future. By the time “You Could Be Mine” became part of T2‘s future, the drum track was played by Matt Sorum, who’d replaced the drug-addled Steven Adler.
“‘You Could Be Mine’ stands out because it represents my entry into Guns N’ Roses,” Sorum said in 2009. “I remember I had this punk-rock rolling beat at the top, and by accident I put that fill on. I threw it in because I was a huge fan of Terry Bozzio and he did that fill … but about 10 million times faster.”
In fact, the band was so carried away with the energy of creativity that Rose later realized he had made things difficult for himself with more than the usual amount of range-stretching screams. “The first time I had to play ‘You Could Be Mine,’ my mind went, ‘What have I done – I’ve gotta sing this now!’” he told radio host Eddie Trunk in 2011.
The accompanying video didn’t scale the budget heights of the singles to follow, but with Schwarzenegger’s appearance in character as the T-800 Terminator, it didn’t need to. While the majority of the scenes were shot at a concert, the closing moments showed the band members leaving the venue as the cyborg identified them as targets before concluding they were a “waste of ammo.” (Guitarist Stradlin was notably absent from the scene; he left GNR later that year.)
Released on June 21, 1991, as Guns N’ Roses’ seventh single overall, and the first to be taken from the two Use Your Illusion albums, “You Could Be Mine” went gold in the U.S. and became a global success – just like the movie.
Latter-day GNR drummer Frank Ferrer said it was his favorite song in the set list in 2016, noting that “it’s a lot of fun. That one’s like shifting in a car. …It’s balls out.” Still, Slash later admitted one regret: “It was written during the Appetite sessions, and I always felt that it should have been on that album,” he said in his 2008 memoir. “It is more reminiscent of that time than anything else on the Use Your Illusion albums.”
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Few bands have impacted rock ‘n’ roll the way they have, and even fewer have weathered as many changes.