It’s hard to remember a time when people were so keyed up for the release of a music artist’s new album that they’d stand in Disney World-over-winter-break-sized lines outside brick-and-mortar music stores that wouldn’t start moving til midnight just to be among the first to own them. Back in 1991, Guns n’ Roses were so friggin’ huge that their two albums Use Your Illusion I and II commanded that kinda demand.
You also must remember that the Gunners hadn’t released a full-length anything since 1987’s Appetite for Destruction (we’re not including the something old, something new EP, G N’ R Lies). Nowadays releasing material every four years for Guns n’ Roses would be considered prodigious—as the band averages a full-length album about once every six years. But in 1991, the anticipation for new G n’ R music was so off the charts that MTV practically coerced the band into releasing a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” because the then music-video network couldn’t stop playing the Gunners’ performance of the song from a 1988 concert at New York’s The Ritz. It wasn’t even an authorized video, it was just Guns singing some song that wasn’t on either overplayed Appetite and Lies, and that’s all that mattered.
So when the clock struck midnight on September 16, 1991, music stores (don’t look for them they’re not there anymore) all over the country opened their doors and Gunners’ fans poured in in droves to purchase both Use Your Illusion albums. (At the time both Kmart and Walmart refused to stock it because of both albums’ objectionable lyrics.) Guitarist Slash snuck into the Tower Records on Sunset Boulevard—the same locations where he used to work—to secretly take in the spectacle.
When the accounting was done, Use Your Illusion II (which featured the first single “You Could Be Mine”) old-sold I 770,000 to 685,000 in only the first week. But no one could imagine it would be the last album to feature (most of) the band’s classic line-up and the last album of Guns originals for 17 years (!).