‘You Ain’t the First’ Became Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Drunken Pirate Song’
When Guns N’ Roses returned to their studio after a boozy afternoon in a nearby club, the result was what then-drummer Matt Sorum described as a “drunken pirate song.”
He was so intoxicated, he admitted, that he’d been unable to keep time on his bass drum, leaving the job to his roadie while Sorum concentrated on trying to play a tambourine. The result was “You Ain’t the First,” a track written by Izzy Stradlin that appeared on Use Your Illusion I in 1991.
“Producer Mike Clink, in those days, he was more like a babysitter than a producer,” Sorum told Gretch Generations. “So we would get there at noon, and Slash was really the band leader, so we'd walk in the studio and pretty much sit down and we had all these rough forms of songs written, like working titles ... and basically lay them down, and then Axl [Rose] would make sense of what it was lyrically.
“But one time I remember, we went across the street to this club called Crazy Girls, which was a gentlemen's club. We went to have our afternoon cocktails," Sorum added. "It was happy hour, and drinks were cheap, so we had more than a couple.”
Listen to Guns N’ Roses Perform ‘You Ain’t the First’
When they returned to the studio, Sorum said Clink took one look at them and “he's like, 'You guys are … go home!’” But they didn’t want to. “We go, 'Whoa, come on – we wanna jam!' And Izzy had this strong song called 'You Ain't the First,' and if you listen to it, it's basically a drunken pirate song. But we were in the perfect state of mind to track it.”
Sorum admitted that he “could barely hit the kick drum,” so he got his drum tech to “go ‘boom’” in his place. “I was so drunk. But the tambourine, if you listen to it, it's even a little wobbly, but it's kind of perfect,” he added. “So that's what you hear on the record – acoustic guitars, a bass drum, my tech playing it because I couldn't stand up, swinging a tambourine.”
There was an upside to their approach to the session, he said: “You go back to those older records of what we grew up to, you go, 'Man, why is it so great? Why do I feel so much when I listen to the music, the human connection of what's going on with the track?'" Sorum said. "When you get in there and people start getting too clinical, it takes away whatever gives that sort of emotional feeling to your heart. It takes away the real human connection.
“I can't connect to a lot of music that's very linear – because of human nature, as a drummer even, we want to speed up and slow down,” Sorum added. “It's got to move a little bit.”
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