“November Rain” is quite an opus within the Guns N’ Roses canon. Stand it next to, say, “Anything Goes” from Appetite for Destruction, and well, it’s not hard to smell the ambition. That’s at least according to Matt Sorum, who spoke with Spitfire Audio back in 2015 about the track.
“Axl [Rose] wanted to make an epic record,” Sorum remembers about the sessions. “We couldn’t make the same record twice. We wanted to go forward, we wanted to move into a bigger arena… It was in Axl‘s mindset to make this grandiose piece of music. At first when I joined the band and the pianos were involved and the strings, I was like, ‘Whoa! I thought I was joining a two-guitar, bass and drum band.’ But then I understood.” You can watch the complete interview with Sorum below.
“For songs like ‘November Rain’ and ‘Don’t Cry’ and ‘Estranged’ — these big, sort of epic pieces — me and Axl sat, I believe over there on the floor, we ordered some Russian caviar, we had a bottle of vodka… and we listened to ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me’ by Elton John.”
Rose told Sorum that he wanted something similar to the tom fill on the Elton John track to go on “November Rain,” and hence, the signature fill was born. Ironically, John would later perform “November Rain” with Guns N’ Roses at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.
But, there’s more to the story of this seemingly ambiguous drum fill. Rose originally envisioned the three tracks— “November Rain” and “Don’t Cry” and “Estranged”—as a trilogy suite meant to be a 20-minute tour du force, and wanted the aforementioned tom roll to be used as a connector between the three.
“I said, ‘You want me to use the same drum fill?'” Sorum says. “He said, ‘Yes.’ So I did the most famous fill that drummers give me shit for all the time, it’s called the ‘Pat Boone–Debby Boone.’
“It was segued into “Estranged” and it was this huge, 20-something minute, epic thing, right? We cut it in half and made it separate, but it was part of what [Rose] called ‘The Trilogy’ — ‘Don’t Cry’ was included in that. So it all sort of was a story.”
That’s one thing you can always count on Axl Rose for: A story. Last year, “November Rain” was remixed and remastered with a newly recorded 50-piece orchestra section as part of the Use Your Illusion 30th anniversary reissue. A newly restored version of the original video with new mix can be seen below.
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