Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Rocket Queen’ Celebrates One Friendship and Ruins Another: The Story Behind Every ‘Appetite for Destruction’ Song
Subscribe to Lone Star 98.7 on
“Stop faking!” Rose cried, pausing in the midst of his lovemaking with Adriana Smith inside a Manhattan recording studio vocal booth. Engineer Vic Deyglio set up mics along to floor to capture it all, completing the album-closing “Rocket Queen.”
Slash and Duff McKagan had brought the riff from a previous band. The groove for “Rocket Queen” grew out of a shared passion McKagan and Steven Adler had for funk music – specifically, in this case, Cameo. They left Rose to finish things – and, when Smith showed up in the studio, he knew just what he wanted to do.
“For that song there was also something I tried to work out with various people – a recorded sex act,” Rose told Hit Parader in 1988. “It was somewhat spontaneous but premeditated – something I wanted to put on the record. It was a sexual song and it was a wild night in the studio.”
Mystery surrounded “Rocket Queen,” however, since Smith wasn’t the queen in question. The track was dedicated to Barbie Von Grief, a whorehouse madam and early Rose benefactor who was specifically mentioned in the liner notes for Appetite for Destruction. “She kinda kept me alive for a while,” Rose once revealed.
Meanwhile, for years, nobody knew the true identity of Rose’s affections: Smith was, in fact, Adler’s girlfriend. “I would do anything Axl asked me to do,” Smith told Rolling Stone, years later. “He’s f—in’ magical.”
She wasn’t the only one who felt that way about Guns N’ Roses. The song title came from the name Von Grief devised for her own band with roommate Pamela Manning, who also supported Guns N’ Roses in their early days. “They were the underdogs, 110 percent of the time,” Von Grief later remembered. “They were always the bad guys – so, of course, we wanted them to win.”
“Rocket Queen,” which Von Grief says she helped write, walked the same fine line – starting out as a string of sleazy innuendos before emerging with a sweetly conveyed assurance of lasting friendship: “If you need a shoulder or if you need a friend, I’ll be here standing until the bitter end,” Rose sang.
“The last part of the song is my message to this person – or anybody else who can get something out of it,” Rose told Hit Parader. “It’s like there’s hope and a friendship note at the end of the song.”
Of course, that’s not the way things unfolded for Adriana Smith, whose orgasmic moans came to bely years of heartache.
She’d made her way to that vocal booth after finding out Adler was cheating on her, and apparently wanted to exact revenge. The only concession: She also wanted a bottle of Jack Daniels. When Adler found out what had gone on, he “f—ing freaked out,” Smith added. She was left to live a lonely ex-groupie’s life as Appetite for Destruction went supernova.
Unable to escape her youthful transgression, Smith says she “ended up drinking and using drugs over this for a really long time – because I had this extreme shame and guilt and stuff.” It became, she told VH1, a “weight on my soul.”
In time, however, Smith found happiness as a hair stylist and mom. She came to terms with it all, finally revealing her true identity in 2007 – 20 years after Appetite for Destruction was released. “It was a sense of closure for myself,” Smith told Live Metal. “I realized that it was something that I didn’t have to be ashamed of.”
Guns N’ Roses Songs Ranked Worst to Best