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The betrayal at the centre of Guns N' Roses song 'Rocket Queen'

‘Rocket Queen’, the 1987 track by Guns N’ Roses, is one of the most notorious songs ever released. The final track from their lauded debut Appetite for Destruction is possibly the one track that perfectly encapsulates the band as a whole. The music is classic Guns N’ Roses, with Slash at one of his busiest points, but aside from that, it is the sounds panning in and out during the bridge that set it apart.

Of course, it sounds like a couple having sex because, well, it is a couple having sex. A band known for their unscrupulous sexual hijinx, it’s not surprising, even if it does send a chill down your spine. Allegedly, the sounds you hear are frontman Axl Rose having an intimate moment with a woman, Adriana Smith. Of the song, Rose said in 1988: “For that song, there was also something I tried to work out with various people—a recorded sex act. It was somewhat spontaneous but premeditated; something I wanted to put on the record”.

Rose got his wishes, but there would be a betrayal and the centre of the story. The woman in question, Adriana Smith, was the band’s groupie and stripper at the time, but also had been romantically involved with drummer Steven Adler for the past year. If the thought of a ‘band’ groupie and stripper is not enough to make you feel sick, all hope is lost.

When retelling the story a few years later, Smith claimed in a TV interview that Adler insisted that she was not his girlfriend, so she went to the mixing sessions at Mediasound Studios in New York, where some of the sessions for the album were taking place. She found Slash and Axl Rose there, and soon after, Rose propositioned Smith.

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He wanted them to have sex in the vocal booth so that the sounds could be recorded and put over the bridge of ‘Rocket Queen’. Allegedly, Smith replied that she would do it “for the band, and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s”.

Of the run-up to the act, Steve Thompson, an engineer on the record, said: “Axl wanted some pornographic sounds on ‘Rocket Queen’, so he brought a girl in and they had sex in the studio. We wound up recording about 30 minutes of sex noises. If you listen to the break on ‘Rocket Queen’ it’s in there”.

Just 19 at the time and being hailed by people as ‘The Rocket Queen’ afterwards, the recording had an adverse effect on Smith. After, she says that she spent years using alcohol and drugs “because I had this extreme shame and guilt and stuff”.

What about Adler? Well, he “freaked out” when he discovered what was happening. In a 2016 interview with The Mirror, Smith recalled: “Steven walked in and caught us in bed together. He freaked out and was holding my hand. Axl was talking and saying things like, ‘You wanna join in, buddy?’ Steven wasn’t happy and stormed out”.

Famously, Adler and Rose always had a fractured relationship, and this only made things worse. Adler would be fired from the band in 1990 due to his crippling drug addictions. They would carry on their hit-making run until the mid-1990s, when drugs and egos got in the way, a tale as old as time.

Listen to ‘Rocket Queen’ below.