Meaning Behind the Spontaneous Guns N’ Roses Hit “Sweet Child O’ Mine”

With an unmistakable guitar riff opening and more than one billion streams on YouTube alone, it’s safe to say that the Guns N’ Roses song, “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” is an enduring classic. With only a few notes from the opening guitar line, fans around the world will be able to recognize the track on any airwaves.

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But what is the origin of this indelible song and how did a spontaneous jam during band practice kick off the writing process?

The Jam Session

According to the band, one of their biggest hits, “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” began in a jam session at the band’s home in Los Angeles. As the group’s iconic guitar player Slash and drummer Steven Adler were warming up at the home on the Sunset Strip, Slash began playing a melody and showing goofy faces to the drummer.

But what could have been a throwaway moment turned out to be the spark of something. Hearing the “circus” riff from Slash, the band’s rhythm guitar player Izzy Stradlin asked the lead player to play the riff again. As he did, Stradlin wrote some chords and the band’s bassist Duff McKagan came up with a line of his own. The song began to come together.

Said Slash in his autobiography later, “Within an hour my guitar exercise had become something else.”

The Lyrics

While the band jammed downstairs, lead singer and frontman Axl Rose heard them upstairs in his room and began to write some lyrics. He completed the song the next day—that’s how quickly the whole thing came about at first.

The song was based around his romantic partner, his girlfriend Erin Everly (the daughter of Don Everly of the Everly Brothers). Rose said the idea was also inspired by the “heartfelt” Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd. The band completed the song soon after, adding a bridge and a solo in the middle of the track.

On it, Rose sings,

She’s got a smile that it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky
Now and then when I see her face
She takes me away to that special place
And if I stare too long, I’d probably break down and cry

Whoa, oh, oh
Sweet child o’ mine
Whoa, oh, oh, oh
Sweet love of mine

She’s got eyes of the bluest skies
As if they thought of rain
I’d hate to look into those eyes and see an ounce of pain
Her hair reminds me of a warm safe place
Where as a child I’d hide
And pray for the thunder and the rain to quietly pass me by

The Recording, Where Do We Go Now?

Appearing on the band’s 1987 debut LP, Appetite for Destruction, a record that topped the Billboard 200, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was released as a formal single a year later in 1988. It hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart—the only song from the band to do so.

Prior to Appetite, the band recorded a demo of the song with producer Spencer Proffer, who suggested that the group add a breakdown at the end. The band liked the idea but didn’t know quite what to do. So, trying to get some inspiration, the group listened to the track on a repeating loop. Rose, listening to the song over and over again, began saying out loud, “Where do we go? Where do we go now?” Proffer liked the sound of that and told Rose to add that to the track. He did and the rest is history.

Australian Crawl

Despite the success of the track and the album it appeared on, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is not without its moment of controversy. Specifically, in 2015, the Australian outlet MAX ran a story by writer Nathan Jolly that indicated a fair amount of similarities between the Guns N’ Roses track and the 1981 song “Unpublished Critics” by the band Australian Crawl.

The article went viral and many around the world commented on the piece, noting the undeniable similarities. In fact, even McKagan commented on the article, writing that the songs’ commonalities are “stunning.” McKagan added, though, that the Los Angeles-born Guns N’ Roses had never heard “Unpublished Critics” prior to the 2015 article.

“We didn’t steal it from them,” said McKagan. “I swear. I never heard that song until a couple of days ago.”

Fans can judge the similarities themselves HERE.

PhotoBYKatarina Benzova / Courtesy The Oriel

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