Some covers are more equal than others. Good, Better, Best looks at three covers and decides who takes home the gold, the silver, and the bronze.
Guns N’ Roses’s “November Rain” is a huge song. Its size doesn’t just come from its length (it’s almost nine minutes long, making it the longest single ever in the Billboard Top 10). It’s not its long gestational period, either (Tracii Guns says that Axl Rose already had a working version of it in 1983, back when he was still with the L.A. Guns). Nor is it only the cryptic video (Axl lost somebody, for sure, but otherwise who knows was was going on exactly?). “November Rain” is an epic because in addition to all these elements, it takes the listener on a journey, and it’s one we’ve all been on before.
When the song begins, we’re dropped into a relationship on the edge. It’s been on-again, off-again, and both parties are unsure of where they stand. Slash’s first two solos during this part of the song soar, making you feel like everything is going to work out for these two. The last verse reinforces this feeling. When Axl sings “Never mind the darkness, we still can find a way. And nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain”, we feel like this couple has turned the corner and is on the right path.
And then comes the apocalyptic coda. Instead of tenderness, we get intensity. Between the thunder of the piano and the snarl of the third guitar solo, it’s clear that we ended up getting two songs for the price of one. This is the story of a relationship on the rocks, surviving through its ups and downs; and then the bloody aftermath, when nothing is left but loneliness and the need to rage.
Because of all the territory the original spans, any cover of “November Rain” has fertile ground for interpretation. An artist could focus on any part of the myriad emotions crammed into the original and explore further. Here are three covers that did a particularly good job with this power ballad.