“Sweet Child o’ Mine” is a song by American rock band Guns N’ Roses, appearing on their debut album, Appetite for Destruction. Released in August 1988 as the album’s third single, the song topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart, becoming the band’s only number 1 US single. Billboard ranked it the number 5 song of 1988. Re-released in 1989, it reached number 6 on the UK Singles Chart. Guitarist Slash said in 1990, “[The song] turned into a huge hit and now it makes me sick. I mean, I like it, but I hate what it represents.”
Slash has been quoted as having an initial disdain for the song due to its roots as simply a “string skipping” exercise and a joke at the time. During a jam session at the band’s house in the Sunset Strip, drummer Steven Adler and Slash were warming up and Slash began to play a “circus” melody while making faces at Adler. Rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin asked Slash to play it again. Stradlin came up with some chords, Duff McKagan created a bassline and Adler planned a beat. In his autobiography, Slash said “within an hour my guitar exercise had become something else”. Lead singer Axl Rose was listening to the musicians upstairs in his room and was inspired to write lyrics, which he completed by the following afternoon. He based it on his girlfriend Erin Everly, and declared that Lynyrd Skynyrd served as an inspiration “to make sure that we’d got that heartfelt feeling”. On the next composing session in Burbank, the band added a bridge and a guitar solo.
When the band recorded demos with producer Spencer Proffer, he suggested adding a breakdown at the song’s end. The musicians agreed, but were not sure what to do. Listening to the demo in a loop, Rose started saying to himself, “Where do we go? Where do we go now?” and Proffer suggested that he sing that.
The “Sweet Child o’ Mine” video depicts the band rehearsing in the Huntington Ballroom at Huntington Beach, surrounded by crew members. All of the band members’ girlfriends at the time were shown in the clip: Rose’s girlfriend Erin Everly, whose father is Don Everly of The Everly Brothers; McKagan’s girlfriend Mandy Brix, from the all-female rock band the Lame Flames; Stradlin’s girlfriend Angela Nicoletti; Adler’s girlfriend Cheryl Swiderski; and Slash’s girlfriend Sally McLaughlin. Stradlin’s dog was also featured. The video was successful on MTV, and helped launch the song to success on mainstream radio.
To make “Sweet Child o’ Mine” more marketable to MTV and radio stations, the song was cut from 5:56 to 4:59, for the video/radio edit, with much of Slash’s solo removed. This drew the ire of the band, including Rose, who commented on it in a 1989 interview with Rolling Stone: “I hate the radio edit of ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine.’ Radio stations said, “Well, your vocals aren’t cut.” “My favorite part of the song is Slash’s slow solo; it’s the heaviest part for me. There’s no reason for it to be missing except to create more space for commercials, so the radio-station owners can get more advertising dollars. When you get the chopped version of ‘Paradise City’ or half of ‘Sweet Child’ and ‘Patience’ cut, you’re getting screwed.” The video uses the same edits as the radio version.
A 7-inch vinyl format and cassette single were released. The album version of the song was included on the US single release, while the UK single was the “edit/remix” version. The 12″ vinyl format also contained the longer LP version. The b-side to the single is a non-album, live version of “It’s So Easy”.
On an interview on Eddie Trunk’s New York radio show in May 2006, Rose stated that his original concept for the video focused on the theme of drug trafficking. According to Rose, the video was to depict an Asian woman carrying a baby into a foreign land, only to discover at the end that the child was dead and filled with heroin. This concept was rejected by Geffen Records.
There is also an alternative video for “Sweet Child o’ Mine” in the same place, but with different shots and filmed in black & white.
W. Axl Rose – vocals
Slash – lead guitar
Izzy Stradlin – rhythm guitar, backing vocals
Duff “Rose” McKagan – bass guitar, backing vocals
Steven Adler – drums