Recently, much to my amazement, I learned that David Simon Cowell prefers the original version of Guns N’ Roses “Don’t Cry,” which appeared on Use Your Illusion I, to the alt lyrics version, which appeared on Use Your Illusion II.
We’ve addressed the Use Your Illusions before, but it’s worth noting that the inclusion of two musically identical versions of the same song with different lyrics on albums released simultaneously is the ultimate example of the pomposity and vanity that defined Guns N’ Roses in the early ’90s.
As I wrote back then:
The alt lyrics are vastly superior to the original. Lyrics were never GNR’s strong suit, but… “Give me a whisper/And give me a sign/Give me a kiss before you/tell me goodbye”? Yuuuuck.
Correct, slightly younger Dilemma! But let’s break it down some more.
First, the original version:
Talk to me softly
There’s something in your eyes
Don’t hang your head in sorrow
And please don’t cry
I know how you feel inside I’ve
I’ve been there before
Something’s changing inside you
And don’t you know
Unless Axl’s getting into an unexpected “Metamorphosis” reference here, this opening verse and is bland and trite. Don’t be sad, baby! I’ve been sad! It’s not that bad!
Don’t you cry tonight
I still love you baby
Don’t you cry tonight
Don’t you cry tonight
There’s a heaven above you baby
And don’t you cry tonight
The chorus is basically the same throughout both versions, so we shan’t be printing it again. Without hearing Shannon Hoon’s backing vocals, these are just words on a page.
Give me a whisper
And give me a sigh
Give me a kiss before you tell me goodbye
Don’t you take it so hard now
And please don’t take it so bad
I’ll still be thinking of you
And the times we had…baby
So what we have here is…a breakup song, and a poorly executed one at that. It seems that Axl senses his beloved is about to give him the old heave-ho, and he’s gallantly trying to comfort her through this difficult time and make the dumping easier on her. Which totally seems like something real-life Axl would do in that situation — as opposed to say, throwing her down a flight of stairs, smoking some meth and then breaking every dish in the house.
And please remember that I never lied
And please remember how I felt inside now honey
You got to make it your own way
But you’ll be alright now sugar
You’ll feel better tomorrow
Come the morning light now baby
Axl is now fondly remembering the lost relationship, choosing to focus on the shared love instead of the bitter ending. An alternate way to interpret this is that Axl is already thinking about the next girl he’s going to fuck, probably in about 90 minutes.
Original lyrics, just like original recipe Kentucky Fried: drab. Ho hum. These lyrics could have been written by any junior high school kid with an acoustic guitar. There’s no inherent Axl-ness here. So let’s check out Extra Crispy:
If we could see tomorrow
What of your plans
No one can live in sorrow
Ask all your friends
Times that you took in stride
They’re back in demand
I was the one who’s washing
Blood off your hands
Alright, we’re starting out with some blood. Already better. Axl’s already forcing awkward phrasing to fit the meter too, which is a Rose hallmark (“what of your plans”). The first verse of the alt lyrics gives us a sense of foreboding and unnamed depression instead of a mere breakup song.
I know the things you wanted
They’re not what you have
With all the people talkin’
It’s drivin’ you mad
If I was standin’ by you
How would you feel
Knowing your love’s decided
And all love is real
Axl is at his best when he’s swinging for the fences and dealing with universal themes (and using apostrophes instead of the letter “g” at the end of gerunds).
I thought I could live in your world
As years all went by
With all the voices I’ve heard
Something has died
And when you’re in need of someone
My heart won’t deny you
So many seem so lonely
With no one left to cry to baby
That’s the stuff: “so many seem so lonely with no one left to cry to baby” delivered in that patented Axl caterwauling. That delivers a climax that’s missing in the original version. This song could ostensibly be about a breakup too, albeit from a much more interesting angle, but I think the singer is addressing a suicide victim. Axl is regretting that he couldn’t do more to save her while empathizing with her choice. This version of the song is dark and weird, as it should be.
The alt lyrics also go much better with the infamous video for “Don’t Cry,” which bizarrely mixes images of the GNR performing the song on a rooftop with Axl trudging through the snow, Axl fighting with Stephanie Seymour, a catfight, Duff smoking, Slash murder/suiciding off a cliff, and Axl shaking green and naked under his grave. (It’s the best video ever.)