“Alright, this one’s a new one. This is one of our newer ballads. This is something called Sweet Child O’ Mine…”
With these words, onstage at the fabled Whisky A Go Go club in West Hollywood on August 23, 1986, Axl Rose introduced the world to what would become not only Guns N’ Roses signature anthem, but one of the most iconic songs in hard rock history.
Listening now, perhaps the most remarkable thing about Guns’ debut of Sweet Child O’ Mine is how fully formed the song already is. It’s clear that the group haven’t quite worked out exactly how to close the song – with Axl trying out different variations on the now familiar “Where do we go now?” refrain – but in all other aspects, the version aired that Saturday night is the version that producer Mike Clink would capture on tape for Appetite For Destruction.
Famously, Guns initially had some reservations about Sweet Child…, considering it rather out-of-step with their trademark raw rock ’n’ roll sound, and there’s a hint of apprehension in Axl Rose’s post song comment, where he says “In case we put you to sleep, I wanna remind you that next weekend, we’ll be playing at the Santa Monica Civic with none other than Ted Nugent…”
Guns’ show at the Whisky that August evening was significant and memorable for other reasons. That same night, the quintet also debuted Mr. Brownstone (“This next song is a brand new one. And I think it goes with a little word of warning. I’ve seen a lot of my close friends, and I’ve seen a lot of other people I know, get really fucked up when they discover this drug called heroin. The next thing you know, your life is fucked…”) and another new song, Ain’t Going Down, which would finally get released in 1994 on a Guns N’ Roses’ pinball machine. It was also, according to Slash, the very first night that he wore his trademark top hat.
“I got the top hat that day,” he revealed to his friend Marc Canter in the excellent Reckless Road photo book. “I was really high and the hat was great because it could help me balance…”