If you flicked on MTV over the summer of 1991, you’d probably have been faced with the surreal sight of Axl Rose staring down the shotgun of a cyborg in sunglasses. By this point, there was a list of people who might have considered terminating the mercurial Guns N’ Roses frontman. Fortunately for Rose, however, this was merely the video for You Could Be Mine and the killer robot was Hollywood beefcake Arnold Schwarzenegger, there to promote its inclusion on the soundtrack to Terminator 2. In July 1991, this was simultaneously the coolest video, most anticipated single and part of the best movie on Earth. It couldn’t fail.
Strange, then, that Guns N’ Roses had buried this classic song in the vaults for nearly five years. Scan the inlay card to 1987’s Appetite For Destruction and you’ll find the key lyric – ‘With your bitch slap rappin’ and your cocaine tongue you get nothin’ done’ – printed almost as a band mission statement. Meanwhile, Slash told Total Guitar magazine in 2011 that the music was nailed when GN’R and producer Mike Clink hunkered down for initial sessions at the SIR Studios in Hollywood.
“That song, and Perfect Crime, we started writing when we were doing pre-production for Appetite,” he revealed. “You Could Be Mine was one of Izzy’s riffs, and as always with Izzy [Stradlin, guitar], he’d play something and it would catch my ear, and I’d play along, but in my own sort of style. That was what was so magical about Izzy and I: we never sat down and worked out anything.”
Every so often, I feel it’s necessary to use a tremolo on something!
A chaotic squall of punky chords with a white-hot solo, Slash pushed for You Could Be Mine to appear on the band’s hedonistic debut, noting in his autobiography that “it’s more reminiscent of that time than anything else on the Use Your Illusion albums”. Tracklisting limitations wouldn’t allow that, but by the time Guns headed into A&M Studios for the Illusion sessions, You Could Be Mine had lost none of its smash ’n’ grab attitude. “That song didn’t change at all,” Slash told Total Guitar, “apart from the fact that I used a tremolo bar on the solo. Every so often, I feel it’s necessary to use a tremolo on something! So on almost every record, you’ll find one song that has it.”
By necessity, Slash deviated from his standard Derrig Les Paul and believes he turned to his red BC Rich Mockingbird (the mahogany- body, Seymour Duncan-equipped model certainly appears in the video). “I must have had my Mockingbird by then and I know I used a guitar with a tremolo,” he recalled. “I had a lot of guitars for Use Your Illusion, but amps were the one thing I didn’t have a lot of, as always. At that point, I was using Marshall Jubilees and a couple of JCM800s.”
Although it wasn’t written specifically for Terminator 2, the track’s slamming brick-wall tone and breakneck pace were the perfect soundtrack to being chased by a relentless shape-shifting assassin from the future. According to a Schwarzenegger interview clip on YouTube, the film and song were also brought together by an unlikely mutual respect.
"They’re big fans of Terminator,” he noted of the line-up, “and they’ve expressed that many times. I’ve always been a fan of their music, so we checked into what it would be like to do a video together, or to get some of their music.”
We had a lot of shots with Arnold!
Slash concurred that it was Schwarzenegger’s personal enthusiasm – not a Carolco Pictures boardroom meeting – that scored You Could Be Mine a place on the soundtrack. “I know that Arnold liked the song ’cos he was the guy who made the final decision,” recalls the guitarist. “Duff and I actually went and hung out at his house. He seemed to be into the whole thing. We had a lot of shots with Arnold!”
Fast, hard and steeped in danger, You Could Be Mine was the starting pistol to a thrilling decade. Fast-forward 20 years and it was the song that started to break some ice between the classic Roses line-up, with Duff joining Axl onstage in London in October 2010 to perform it. “The show is going on and I’m watching it, and somebody comes over with a bass,” he told a Seattle DJ. “Now I haven’t played You Could Be Mine since 1993, [so it] was like, ‘Oh God! I can play it, I think I remember it.’ I’d forgotten the second part of the bridge, and I had to look at Bumblefoot to see where the next chord was. But it was fun!”