One of the most underrated aspects of Guns N’ Roses was their ability to record insanely good covers. Whether they were taking on Bob Dylan’s ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ or ripping through the punk classic ‘New Rose’ by The Damned, Guns N’ Roses always had a knack for channelling the greats through their own music. Hell, they created a whole covers album, “The Spaghetti Incident?”, because they had too many good cuts for an EP.
If one cover stands above the rest, however, it would have to be the band’s take on Paul McCartney and Wings’ James Bond-theme classic ‘Live and Let Die’. The extreme theatrics and insane vocal notes hit by McCartney would seem almost impossible to replicate, but Axl Rose and the boys stepped in to do the song justice.
When asked about how the cover came to be in a 1992 interview, Slash explained that it was a shared affinity for the song between Rose and himself that led the band to originally record it.
“It’s one of those songs, like ‘Heaven’s Door’, that Axl and I have always loved,” Slash said. “It’s always been a really heavy song, but we’d never discussed it, and didn’t know that we each liked it. We were talking one night about a cover song and that came up, and we were like, ‘Yeah! Let’s do it!’ So I went to rehearsal with Izzy and Matt and Duff, just to see whether we could sound good playing it, and it sounded really heavy.”
The cover recreates the full orchestra of the Wings original, right down to the horn stabs and dramatic crescendos. Those elements of the track were courtesy of Rose himself, who gamely stepped behind the synthesiser to recreate the sounds of an entire fleet of trumpets and saxophones. Even though the band had keyboard specialist Dizzy Reed in their ranks at that point, Slash said that Axl saw to the synthesiser parts personally.
“When we did ‘Live and Let Die’, it was all synths – those horns are not horns,” Slash explained in his 2007 autobiography. “What Axl did there was really complex; he spent hours dialling all that shit in, getting the nuances just right, and I have to give him that.”
For those fans who were listening closely to the backing chorus of voices, a familiar voice might have popped out. That was Blind Melon singer Shannon Hoon, who grew up in the same Indiana area as Rose. Rock fans knew Hoon from Blind Melon’s hit ‘No Rain’, a major MTV staple, but Hoon had actually befriended Rose and recorded with Guns N’ Roses before Blind Melon’s self-titled debut was released in 1992. Hoon sang co-lead on ‘Don’t Cry’ and was also present during the sessions for ‘Live and Let Die’.
Listen to Guns N’ Roses cover of ‘Live and Let Die’ down below.