All 81 Guns N’ Roses Songs, Ranked From Worst to Best
W. Axl Rose turns sixty today. There was a time (pardon the pun) that nobody thought any original member of Guns N’ Roses would survive to see thirty, but here we are — the lead singer of the self-proclaimed “Most Dangerous Band in the World” is just five years away from scoring senior citizen discounts on movie tickets. And while he may not sound or look quite as good as he once did, Rose is undeniably sounding and looking great for his age. I mean, I’ve known a lot of sixty year olds, and none of them seemed fit to do anything for three a hours night with limited breaks, let alone run around and perform under hot lights.
This despite the fact that the Lafayette, Indiana native has been, to put it mildly, self-destructive. Disregard the partying, of which there has clearly been a great deal. Rose has been a notorious diva, the kind of celebrity who is highly divisive even at the height of his popularity. He was arguably responsible for inciting multiple riots. He’s arrived for shows hours late and stormed off the stage hours early. He’s only made a handful of recordings over the course of thirty-five years. He stayed mostly out of the spotlight for over a decade while making the most expensive album of all time, and then, upon finally releasing that album, did almost nothing to promote it. He’s gone through band members, managers, and producers the way most people go through socks, and he’s had more lawsuits than he has hot meals.
But not only is he alive — not only does he have a career — but he’s goddamn thriving. Love him or hate him, you have to admit, that’s incredible.
Through kismet or happenstance, I saw Guns N’ Roses perform at the Roseland Ballroom (R.I.P.) in Manhattan on February 10, 2012, just days after Rose turned fifty. After the band lead the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” for their frontman and namesake, Rose noted that “I have now been in Guns N’ Roses for half of my life.” Since he has now been in Guns N’ Roses for more than half of his life, this seemed like a good time for one mega-fan/apologist (i.e., me) to take stock of Rose’s legacy.
To that end, I have now compiled a list of every Guns N’ Roses song, ranked from worst to best. While GN’R is by no means a solo project — Rose would be nothing without his myriad collaborators — the singer, songwriter, and namesake has stood firmly at the helm all these many decades, and he’s the only member of the band to appear on each every one of their songs. I don’t know if he’ll ever read this post, but I do know his lawyers will (Hi, Howard!), and I hope they look at this relatively-small but highly-impactful body of work and swell pride.
Quick note: I’m only including official studio releases, and these are my opinions and my opinions alone. Furthermore, they’re my opinions alone at this particular moment in time — ask me to make this list again in a few years and it might look different. So don’t get your bandana in a bunch when you inevitably disagree with some/most/all of it.
And on that note, here’s the list…
81. “My World,” Use Your Illusion II (1991)
This was ostensibly a solo electronic track Axl recorded while on ‘shrooms and stuck on the end of the album. Izzy Stradlin once claimed he’d never even heard it until he got his copy of the record. It barely counts as a GN’R song at all, truth be told.
80. “One in a Million,” GN’R Lies (1988)
The music for “One in a Million” is great, and Slash’s solo might be an all-timer… which makes the song’s gross lyrics all the more disappointing.
79. “Sympathy for the Devil,” Interview with the Vampire Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, (1994)
Slash has called this “the sound of a band falling apart,” as apparently Axl added additional lead guitars by his friend Paul Tobias without consulting with anyone else in the group first. Which is too bad, because as far as straightforward, unnecessary updates of classic songs go, this sounds pretty good.
78. – 68. Everything from “The Spaghetti Incident?” That Isn’t “Since I Don’t Have You”
“The Spaghetti Incident?” is no one’s favorite Guns N’ Roses record. It’s a covers album consisting mostly of fairly faithful renditions of punk classics. The band basically recorded it for fun during downtime from promoting Illusion. Most of the recordings are quite good, and there are definitely some fine additions to the Axl Rose Codex of Silly Voices (he does “Down on the Farm” with a faux-cockney accent, making him sound more British than Charlie Harper did on the U.K. Subs’ original despite the fact that Charlie Harper is actually British). But they don’t put their own spin on the material, so it’s mostly just, like, whatever, y’know?
67. “If the World,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
This is a really interesting attempt at writing something completely different for GN’R — a love song that blends flamenco and electronica.
Unfortunately, it’s not a super-successful attempt writing something completely different for GN’R, and ends up sounding like a rejected theme for a James Bond movie. Appreciate the effort, though.
66. “Oh My God,” End of Days Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (1999)
This is a weird song with a weird history. At the time, it was the public’s first taste of a post-Slash GN’R, and it seemed to bolster rumors that the album which would eventually be called Chinese Democracy was going to be very Nine Inch Nails-ish. But Rose would later dismiss it as “a demo” the label forced him to release, and then-guitarist Robin Finck would later profess to never actually having heard it prior to its release (his parts for the song were “heavily manipulated” by producer Sean Beavan) while indicating that he didn’t think it was very representative of Chinese Democracy as a whole.
Still, Rose obviously had some positive feelings about the track, which Guns performed a handful time circa 2001/2002, and reportedly re-recorded with one of their later guitarists, Buckethead (although that recording has yet to see the light of day).
As it stands, “Oh My God” is an interesting curiosity. It’s the band’s only song with Josh Freese on drums; it’s one of their only songs with Tobias on guitar; it also has guest guitars by Gary Sunshine (Circus of Power), who was allegedly working as Rose’s guitar teacher at the time, and Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction), who Rose had been trying to lure to the band for years. “Oh My God” might be an asterisk, but it’s not one that can be dismissed out of hand.
65. “Nice Boys,” GN’R Lies (1988)
Guns N’ Roses take an over-caffeinated Rose Tattoo jam and add a baggie of cocaine.
64. “Mama Kin,” GN’R Lies (1988)
Like “Sympathy for the Devil,” this is a straightforward, largely unnecessary cover of a band (in this case, Aerosmith) whose influence on GN’R was already readily apparent. Unlike “Sympathy,” it doesn’t leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth.
63. “Think About You,” Appetite for Destruction (1987)
A well-written but fairly generic love song. On Appetite for Destruction, it’s back-to-back with the superior “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Putting the only two songs on the album that aren’t about violence, drugs, sex, and the life of a Los Angeles street tough together seems like a logical idea, but it kinda slows the record’s momentum, TBH.
Love that cowbell, though!
62. “Reckless Life,” GN’R Lies (1988)
This is a cover of a song Rose and Izzy Stradlin originally wrote for their pre-GN’R project, Hollywood Rose, and, indeed, it feels like GN’R before GN’R figured out how to be GN’R. Put another way… “Reckless Life” is a glance into an alternate reality in which Guns N’ Roses’ sound was a bit closer to that of their glam peers.
61. “Perfect Crime,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
“Perfect Crime” is one of the many Appetite and pre-Appetite era songs to find its way onto the Illusions. It sounds Judas Priest hired Slash to add his fattest, funkiest guitar tones to a track while Rose plays a cadre of colorful characters in a one man show (check out that gremlin voice when he says “Ostracized, but that’s alright… I was thinkin’ about something myself”).
60. “Back Off Bitch,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
This is another song from the early days that didn’t get released until Illusion (it’s co-written by the aforementioned Paul Tobias), and another song with a readily-apparent classic metal influence. I could listen to Axl’s “Whoa-oh-oh”s for hours. If it’s a little low on this list, that’s mostly because I believe the band has other aggro songs that are a little more interesting.
59. “Anything Goes,” Appetite for Destruction (1987)
This another GN’R song where some excellent music is marred by dumb lyrics. It feels like a record label executive told the band they needed a sex anthem on their album because “Talk Dirty to Me” and “Bathroom Wall” were hits. Of course, this ain’t exactly “Cherry Pie” — Slash snuck in an extended talk box solo, Axl retained his usual talent for a memorable turn of phrase (sample lyric: “Panties ’round your knees with your ass in debris/ Doin’ that grind with the push n’ squeeze”), and the lyrics are actually less misogynistic than some others on the same album (see: “It’s So Easy”). Still, I think it would age better if it wasn’t so shallow and immature.
58. “Street of Dreams,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
By no means a bad song, “Street of Dreams” nonetheless feels like a too-self-conscious attempt to recreate the magic of “November Rain.” And while Robin Finck’s vibe-over-skill style of lead guitar playing is usually highly engaging, the solo on this song sounds really pushes its luck and basically sounds like a bad take no one bothered to replace.
57. “Get in the Ring,” Use Your Illusion II (1991)
This song was a really big deal when it was first released because it called out a lot of publications and their staff for “printin’ lies, startin’ controversy,” and did so in an often-poetic manner. Take, for example, this missive directed at Bob Guccione, Jr., who was the publisher of Spin at the time, and whose father, Bob Guccione, Sr., was the publisher of Penthouse:
What, you pissed off ’cause your dad gets more pussy than you?
Fuck you! Suck my fuckin’ dick!
I like to think that GN’R recorded “Get in the Ring” today, MetalSucks would be included.
ANYWAY, this song starts strong and is another fine example of Axl Rose doing all kinds of weird and silly shit with his voice (why does it sound as though the verse that begins “You got your bitches with the silicone injections” recorded underwater?). But it has a weird structure with no real chorus, and today, the whole #fakenews angle seems sophomoric and whiney.
56. “Move to the City,” GN’R Lies (1988)
Izzy Stradlin, the unsung hero of Guns N’ Roses, wrote this song when “Welcome to the Jungle” was but a twinkle in Slash’s eye. It’s a real foot tapper, and the too-rare GN’R song to include a horn section. The band definitely went on to write better songs, but “Move to the City” still bops.
55. “Riad N’ the Bedouins,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
I think this was meant to be an update of that kinda classic metal influence evident on songs like “Perfect Crime.” While I usually appreciate Axl’s penchant for producing songs that have like 78 different things going on at once, I kinda think the busyness hurts this track a bit.
54. “Absurd” (2021)
Fans dreaming of a reunion between Axl Rose, Slash, and Duff McKagan were likely more than a little taken aback when this was the first new song the trio released after getting back together. The version that was originally conceived for Chinese Democracy, “Silk Worms,” went much heavier on the electronica… but I think it works much better this way. Slash’s little surf rock moment at the :36 mark alone…
53. “Scraped,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
Mileage may vary on the chorus of auto-tuned Axls that kicks this song off and the sci-fi Bumblefoot guitar solo that follows, but as a get-up-n’-go anthem, “Scraped” is undeniably kick-ass (the lyrics are also uncharacteristically optimistic for Axl, which is interesting). I also really appreciate the way the music beneath the chorus changes the second time it’s played.
52. “Shotgun Blues,” Use Your Illusion II (1991)
This song is just as angry and foul as “Get in the Ring” (Rose tells whomever the song is addressing to “suck my ass” before unironically calling them “so low class”), but it also feels more like a song than just a rant set to music.
51. “So Fine,” Use Your Illusion II (1991)
I still find the lyrics of this song deeply, deeply confusing. Mostly it feels like a fairly straightforward love song… but then there’s this part where Duff goes, “I owe a favor to a friend… my friends, they always come through for me.” Like… what? Is he… is he trying to get this woman to whom he’s singing to fuck his friend? Is that what’s happening here?
Weird lyrics asides, this is a good song.
50. “Live and Let Die,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
The rare cover that’s better than the original. They didn’t change much, they just gave it a little extra oomph. It probably also helps that it’s not associated with a Roger Moore-era James Bond movie that rrreeeaaallllyyyy has not aged well.
49. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
I also happen to think this is better than the original, or any of the 17 trillion other covers. This might actually be the GN’R cover where the band most noticeably deviated from the original. Matt Sorum’s fill on the drums at the 2:41 mark raises my adrenaline a little bit every time I hear it.
48. “Since I Don’t Have You,” “The Spaghetti Incident?”
I remember when this came out, people were, like, shocked that GN’R would cover a doo-wop song. But they nailed it. As a bonus, they got Gary Oldman to star in the music video. As a bonus bonus, Axl added the line “Yeah, we’re fucked” at the start of the guitar solo, which was definitely not in the Skyliners’ 1958 original.
47. “Yesterdays,” Use Your Illusion II (1991)
I always thought this was a lesser Illusion track… until I turned thirty, and it suddenly felt meaningful as fuck. Now that I’ve just turned forty, I’m actively afraid to listen to it, for fear it will turn me into a puddley mess.
46. “Shadow of Your Love” (1987)
I will never understand how “Think About You” made it onto Appetite and this ended up as a B-side.
45. “You Ain’t the First,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Are you listening, Fred Durst? This is how you write a gross song about heartlessly discarding a sexual partner.
Side note: I’m not 100% sure who yells “To the bar!” at the end (Duff maybe?), but I’ve always loved that they left it in there.
44. “The Garden,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
From a semiotics perspective, “The Garden” works on a lot of levels, ’cause we never actually learn what “The Garden” is (Drugs? Booze? Sex? Stardom? All of the above?). Purely as a hard rock song, it’s extremely catchy, and the contrast between Axl’s vocals and those of Alice Cooper are pretty great (Cooper might be the only vocalist alive who can somehow sound more devilish than Rose). Its major fault is that it’s structurally pretty flat, and while Slash’s solos are good, they’re also a little repetitive. Like, this song is 5:19, but it would probably be better at 3:19, y’know?
I think its placement on Use Your Illusion I also hurts it, ’cause it’s sandwiched by two vastly superior tracks (“November Rain” and “Garden of Eden”).
43. “Shackler’s Revenge,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
If you’re a Buckethead fan, you don’t have to be told that he co-wrote this song — that is readily apparent from almost the moment it begins. It’s a fairly weird mix of funk (those fat Buckethead riffs), country (the bridge), disco (also the bridge), rock (the chorus), nu-metal (all the weird screechy guitar parts), torturing R2-D2 (the guitar solo), and the grunts of men rowing an old Viking ship in unison (also the guitar solo). Although I understand why some fans don’t dig it, I think it’s a strong example of what makes Axl Rose’s vision so singular.
42. “I.R.S.,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
Remember when fucking Mike Piazza leaked this song to Eddie Trunk? Like, that is something that actually happened. What the actual fuck.
41. “Hard Skool” (2021)
I will never understand how they released “Absurd” before they released “Hard Skool,” which sounds exactly the way the vast majority of the world wants the reunited GN’R to sound. If I were to write this list a few years and a few hundred listens from now, I suspect it would be higher on the list. There’s a lot of really great stuff here, most notably the second half of Slash’s guitar solo (1:50), played over some most excellent cowbell, and the quieter post-solo section (2:00), which almost sounds like it was lifted from “Estranged.”
40. “Better,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
Robin Finck’s most foot-tappin’ contribution to Chinese Democracy. The chorus sounds like it was imported from a different song, but whatever.
39. “Chinese Democracy,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
The epic introductory track to one of the most anticipated records of all time announces Axl’s vision for the album with a bang: it’s a potent mixture of classic GN’R elements (Axl’s “It’s So Easy”-style vocals, Bumblefoot’s slinky guitars beneath the verses) and styles previously untouched (the “Smells Like Teen Spirit”-ish main riff written by drummer Josh Freese, Buckethead’s sci-fi guitar solo).
38. “Sorry,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
By way of contrast, “Sorry” is one of the few songs on Chinese Democracy that (mostly) sounds like it could have been a Slash-era tune. It has a very Western feel, some excellent backing vocals by Sebastian Bach, and one of Buckethead’s very best solos. I suspect even those who mostly disliked Chinese Democracy like this song. But also, yeah, Axl’s Count Chocula-esque delivery of the line “But I don’t want to do it” (:36) is still totally bizarre. I love it.
37. “This I Love,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
Axl first mentioned this song in a Hit Parader interview circa 1993, and it was somehow one of the last Chinese Democracy tracks to ever leak out to the public. As a result, it achieved something of a mythical status among GN’R fans. I don’t know if it lives up to that level of hype, but it certainly stands out in their catalog. Mostly symphonic and not that far off from some Andrew Lloyd Weber songs, it makes “November Rain” sound like “Raining Blood.” The orchestral parts are gorgeous, though, and Robin Finck’s deeply soulful guitar solo is an album highlight. That Finck never got to play it live feels like a crime.
36. “Right Next Door to Hell,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Remember when Axl allegedly smashed a bottle over his neighbor’s head? When I was a kid, a lot of people thought this was literally about that incident. I don’t think that’s true. But the song is definitely a rageful thrasher of the highest order, and one of GN’R’s most traditionally “metal” songs. There’s also some pretty startling imagery in the lyrics that illustrate Axl’s ability to write a memorable turn of phrase (e.g., “Times are hard, thrills are cheaper/ As your arms get shorter, your pockets get deeper”).
35. “14 Years,” Use Your Illusion II (1991)
The third-most memorable song sung by Izzy.
34. “You’re Crazy” (electric), Appetite for Destruction (1987)
I prefer the acoustic version. Does that make me… uh… y’know?
33. “Bad Apples,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Axl Rose’s funky plea for privacy (“If it were up to me, I’d say just leave me be”) is more complex than just bellyaching about suddenly being famous — it also has a tinge of confusion regarding people’s interest in the band’s work (“I’m just normal guy”) and even some self-loathing (“Why let one bad apple spoil the whole damn bunch?”). It’s also another one of those songs that is guaranteed to get stuck in your head after one listen, and it has one of Slash’s less-appreciated solos.
32. “Don’t Damn Me,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Fun fact: Axl Rose declaring “Alright, that sucked!” at the end was actually part of the inspiration for the name of this website. Listening to it now, the whole song could be this blogger’s anthem. I’m not sure what it is about the steadily-building slower section that starts around the two minute mark, but it demands I drop whatever I’m doing and listen to it more carefully every goddamn time I hear it. At 2:25, when Axl harmonizes with himself, and the second Axl drops to a lower note at the end? M’wah! Brilliant.
31. “Prostitute,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
Fans first got a taste of this song when Guns released their Making [email protected]*!Ing Videos VHS tape about the creation of the “Estranged” clip, when Axl plays the piano part under the closing credits. For years, the rumor was that said piano part was, in fact, “This I Love.” But, as you can see, I think it’s actually better than that song. It also has an excellent use of a string section, albeit done in a completely different manner; Axl’s series of rhetorical questions in the post-chorus (“What would you say if I told you that I’m to blame? And what would you do if I had to deny your name? Where would you go if I told you I loved you and then walked away?”) feels deeply emotional; the gradual, not-at-all rock conclusion is beautiful. It a stellar finale, a befitting ending to album of such breadth.
30. “Catcher in the Rye,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
This song, about the murder of John Lennon, is another one of the Chinese Democracy tracks that could easily have been part of the original Slash era. It’s initial kinda “strolling in the park” vibe ultimately gives way to something considerably more visceral. The first guitar solo, but Bumblefoot, is very good; Robin Finck’s concluding solo, over which Axl sings at the end, is great.
29. “Don’t Cry” (original), Use Your Illusion I (1991)
This is technically the first-ever Guns N’ Roses song, written by Izzy and Axl about a woman they’d both dated.
Am I the only one who prefers the version with the alternate lyrics? I admit, the melody and the lyrics for that version are a little darker. Maybe that’s why I prefer it?
28. “Nightrain,” Appetite for Destruction (1987)
I suspect a lot of people are gonna be baffled that I’m not placing this much higher. Like, it’s probably a top ten song for most GN’R fans, and it’s usually the last track the band plays live before their encore.
But it feels like one of the most stereotypically glam songs in the band’s catalogue. Not even just because the whole thing is about getting fucked up; the music is just boilerplate ’80s cock rock. Granted, it’s excellent boilerplate ’80s cock rock, but still. I think this track’s value to fans is most sentimental. It just lacks a certain weight, y’know?
27. “Dust N’ Bones,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
The second-most memorable song sung by Izzy is also the one that feels the most revealing of the enigmatic rhythm guitarist. It’s by no means a ballad, but the vibe is extremely chill, and the lyrics are downright taoist:
She loved him yesterday
He laid her sister
She said okay
An’ that’s all right
Elsewhere, Izzy seems to both describe the end of his adolescence in Indiana and foretell of his eventual decision to quit GN’R:
Ya get out on your own
And you take all that you own
And you forget about your home
And then you’re just fuckin’ gone
I guess what I’m saying is, this might be the most Izzy Stradlin song Izzy Stradlin ever wrote for GN’R. And he wrote a lotta shit for GN’R.
26. “Dead Horse,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
This is on a very, very short list of songs where the solo is just the melody played on guitar but it seems cool instead of lazy/amateurish.
25. “Out Ta Get Me,” Appetite for Destruction (1987)
About as good a song about being hassled by the cops as a white guy from small town Indiana was ever going to write.
24. “Pretty Tied Up (The Perils of Rock N’ Roll Decadence),” Use Your Illusion II (1991)
Cool ranch dressing.
23. “Civil War,” Use Your Illusion II (1991)
This song is literally the only reason I’ve ever seen Cool Hand Luke. Also, when I was a kid, Axl asking “What’s so civil about war, anyway?” seemed like the most cleverest thing ever, although even at that tender young age, I knew it made no sense.
22. “Used to Love Her,” GN’R Lies (1988)
Someone told me this song is actually about Axl’s dog. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I do know that when I was all of eleven years old, I performed it at my first-ever guitar recital, and the reaction from the parents was, er, mixed.
ANYWAY, this may be the most chill song ever written about committing murder (or putting your pet to sleep, I guess). I mean, the vibe here is generally kinda “wistful last days of summer,” not “she’s buried right in my back yard.”
21. “Double Talkin’ Jive,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
I think a lot of people forget/don’t realize that the lead vocals on this track are by Izzy. That’s largely because, for whatever reason, it’s the only one of their Izzy-sung tunes that they kept playing even after Izzy left the band (Axl took over vocals). But whatever. I’m thrilled they still play it. It’s fucking awesome. About half the song is just Slash’s solo, and about a quarter of that solo is fucking flamenco. It’s such a strange decision to end the song that way, but it totally works. A wonderful example of what set GN’R apart from their peers.
20. “Garden of Eden,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
This song is so cocaine-y it will give you a nosebleed.
19. “Bad Obsession,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
GN’R’s only real foray into southern rock, and it’s a doozy. Although Slash’s work on the Travis Bean is the clear star here, the best moment is actually the little fill Matt Sorum plays during the second chorus, around the 2:42 mark. It’s so simple, but so effective!
Fun fact: “Bad Obsession” was written before the more-famous “Mr. Brownstone,” which also deals with addiction.
18. “Locomotive (Complicity),” Use Your Illusion II (1991)
I maintain that not only does this track totally rip, but it’s one of the more profound angry break-up songs ever written by an arena rock band. Incidentally, it’s also the song from which Use Your Illusion takes its title.
17. “Breakdown,” Use Your Illusion II (1991)
This might be the single most underrated GN’R song ever. It’s epic, it’s introspective, it’s campy (Axl’s basso profundo “Lemme hear it now!”), Dizzy Reed actually has something meaningful to do, and the way Slash’s filthy, slinky guitars kinda take over around the 5:21 mark makes me sexually aroused every time I hear it. This is also one of those songs where it’s worth really listening to the symphony of Axls doing back vocals during the chorus, because he’s doing all kinds of weird, wonderful shit.
16. “Patience,” GN’R Lies (1988)
It’s entirely possible this song isn’t higher on the list because I’ve heard it so many times I’ve kinda become numb to it. I also kinda miss the band doing their weird electric rendition during live shows.
15. “You’re Crazy” (acoustic), GN’R Lies (1988)
The amount of sheer vibe on this recording is just bonkers. I really believe this blows the version on Appetite out of the water.
14. “Madagascar,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
Why is this song called “Madagascar?” And why is the guitar solo played beneath audio samples of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech along with various movies, including Casualties of War, Braveheart, and the exact same part of Cool Hand Luke used on “Civil War”? I have no idea. Furthermore, yeah, the audio samples make the track feel kinda haughty.
Despite this, “Madagascar” is a true epic, and another one of those great GN’R songs that deserves multiple listens with the best speakers or headphones possible, because there’s just so much going on.
Not-coincidentally, it’s also one of Chinese Democracy‘s less-divisive cuts.
13. “There Was a Time,” Chinese Democracy (2008)
“There Was a Time” feels like everything Axl was trying to accomplish with Chinese Democracy captured in one glorious track. It’s a really satisfying of mix of new and old — it includes a choir and a string section, electronic drum beats, an incredible hook, three separate guitar solos taking up approximately half the song’s runtime, and at least one singularly out-of-left-field choice (in this case, to repeat the phrase “It was the wrong time” over and over again during the chorus, again in the lower registers of Axl’s voice). Like, I think Axl was trying to write something that was somehow Use Your Illusion-y, Queen-ish, and Garbage-esque all at once. And he kind of succeeded.
12. “Sweet Child O’ Mine,” Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Look, as I’m sick of this song as anyone, but there’s a reason it was GN’R’s breakthrough. Two things have always made it stand out from the pack: i) despite being a love song, Slash’s solos actually feel bittersweet, not celebratory, and ii) despite being a love song, Axl’s anxieties still slowly take over the track (“Where do we go now?”), to such a degree that by the end of the song, he’s full-on wailing like this was “Welcome to the Jungle” or something (Duff’s bass playing is also aces). This song is not, in other words, a straight pitch down the middle, and I think that’s part of why people gravitate towards it.
11. “Don’t Cry” (alternate lyrics), Use Your Illusion II (1991)
Maybe I prefer this one because it wasn’t on MTV every hour for like a year straight? But like I said before, it’s also much less than inviting than the original iteration — whereas the version on UYI1 ends on a comforting note (“You’ll feel better tomorrow come the morning light”), this one, er, not so much (“So many seem so lonely with no one left to cry to”).
10. “You Could Be Mine,” Use Your Illusion II (1991)
Only a troll would argue this song doesn’t rip. Arguably the most Appetizing on the Illusions records.
9. “My Michelle,” Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Another great example of how GN’R elevated the entire glam genre. The music is dark, foreboding, filthy, and tasty AF, while Axl’s lyrics vacillate between brutal honesty (“Your daddy works in porno/ Now that mommy’s not around”) and surprising empathy (“Everyone needs love/ You know that it’s true/ Someday you’ll find someone that’ll fall in love with you”). “Fallen Angel” this ain’t.
8. “Welcome to the Jungle,” Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Lots of songs try to capture the grime of Los Angeles in the mid-’80s, but few nail it as hard “Jungle.” Chew on this: is Axl screaming because he’s angry… or because he’s scared?
7. “Paradise City,” Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Maybe the most anthemic, oddly feel-good condemnation of the American dream ever written. Because glam was largely aspirational in nature, bands of this era rarely addressed class differences, and if they did, it was via a third person narrator, to put a little distance between themselves and the issue at hand.
6. “Rocket Queen,” Appetite for Destruction (1987)
It’s wholly appropriate that this is the closing cut of Appetite, because it’s the closest song on the album to an Illusory track. I mean, it’s basically two completely different songs mashed together, one condemnatory, one melancholy; again, this is the kind of breadth that you just weren’t gonna get from an Enuff Z’Nuff release.
Also, it has a recording of Axl fucking drummer Steven Adler’s girlfriend. So that’s pretty interesting.
5. “November Rain,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
If any song can lay claim to being its generation’s “Stairway to Heaven,” it’s “November Rain.” We take for granted now how weird it was in 1991 for an arena rock band to release a nine-minute orchestral, piano-centric love song… let alone one that, like “Rocket Queen,” basically becomes a completely different song near the end. And, sure, the synthetic symphony hasn’t aged super-well… but everything else about the song certainly has. And in all seriousness — how much ass does the final two minutes kick? The answer is, all of it. It kicks all of the ass.
4. “Coma,” Use Your Illusion I (1991)
A harrowing, cinematic, 10+ minute prog-metal roller coaster meditation on suicide, “Coma” is another one of those GN’R songs you have to respect, even if you don’t like it. Most bands will go their entire career without making something this dense.
3. “Mr. Brownstone,” Appetite for Destruction (1987)
The catchiest song ever written about heroin addiction, and one of the five best uses of a wah pedal in rock history. Come at me, bruh.
2. “It’s So Easy,” Appetite for Destruction (1987)
If “Welcome to the Jungle” clues you in that Appetite isn’t gonna be your run-of-the-mill glam album, “It’s So Easy” smacks you in the face and tells you go crying back to Winger if you don’t like it. It’s an unapologetically snotty, squalid, nihilistic, abusive bully of a song, too polished to be punk, too dark to be classic rock, that way I imagine Aerosmith might sound after spending years trapped in the penal system of a country that doesn’t care much about prisoners’ rights. I mean. FUCK.
1. “Estranged,” Use Your Illusion II (1991)
“Estranged” is the most capital-E Epic song in a catalogue full of epic songs. Not a second of its nine-and-a-half minute runtime feels wasted. The leads are the highlight of Slash’s storied career — the first time you ever heard that lick he plays throughout the first half of the song, you knew immediately it was a classic (and that’s before you even get to one of his two mind-blowingly-great guitar solos). Lyrically, Rose lays his soul bare, maybe even more so than on another emotional Guns tunes (incidentally, it’s also the only GN’R song on which Rose dates himself: “Old at heart, but I’m only 28/ And I’m much too young to let love break my heart”). Like “Locomotive” or “Sorry,” this is ostensibly a break-up song… but unlike those songs, it’s absent of any Rose rage. Instead, the vocalist opts to express all the other colors of the heartbreak rainbow: confusion, disappointment, introspection, self-doubt/self-blame, and, ultimately, perseverance. “Estranged” is so fucking good, it not only justifies Guns N’ Roses’ existence, it justifies the entire state of Indiana. Let’s see Poison do that.