If Axl Rose is to be believed, Guns N' Roses have all sorts of new tracks ready to be rolled out sometime soon. Forgive us for being skeptical, but this is a band that's released a single album in the past 20 years and is still able to sell a ton of concerts tickets based almost entirely on the music they released between 1987 and 1991, even though all the original members besides Axl are long gone. As we anxiously await new material, we asked our readers to select their favorite Guns N' Roses songs. Click through to see the results.
When Guns N' Roses reemerged from a hiatus in the early 1990s, they were smart enough to realize they couldn't just remake Appetite for Destruction and expect to grow as a band. Instead, they spent month upon month holed up at various Los Angeles studios crafting two albums full of bombastic, epic tracks inspired by Queen and Elton John. The second single from this double LP, Use Your Illusion, was "Don't Cry," a song originally slated for Appetite for Destruction. Axl was particularly enamored with the tune, which was inspired by his infatuation with Izzy Stradlin's ex-girlfriend, and it appears in different versions on both Illusion albums. The ambitious video is the first part a trilogy that includes "November Rain" and "Estranged," but good luck trying to follow the story arc.
Axl Rose wrote the instrumental that eventually became "Civil War" when Guns N' Roses were touring Japan in 1988, a time when the band was about to launch into its own civil war. Personality conflicts and drug problems were already starting to surface, and when the song was debuted at Farm Aid in 1990, the group was completely falling apart. Drummer Steven Adler was fired after the "Civil War" recording sessions when he proved, at least according to Axl, unable to put down a proper drum track.
Guns N' Roses were just about the biggest band in the world when they released G N' R Lies in the fall of 1988. Fans expecting more songs like "Welcome to the Jungle" were stunned to find that side two of the collection consisted entirely of acoustic songs. That side kicks off with "Patience," a haunting ballad by Izzy Stradlin that nearly stretches to six minutes and a huge radio hit that peaked at Number Four on the Billboard Hot 100.
At a time when hair metal bands like Mötley Crüe and Poison were glamorizing the never-ending party of the Sunset Strip music scene, Guns N' Roses decided to reveal the sad consequences of the lifestyle on their 1987 debut LP Appetite for Destruction. Nowhere is that more clear than on "Mr. Brownstone," which was born one night when Slash and Izzy were sitting around an apartment lamenting their difficult lives. "We were sitting there complaining, as junkies do, about our dealers," Slash wrote in his memoir. "It basically described a day in the life for us at the time." It was a lifestyle that quickly caught up to them, and before a performance of the song in 1989 Axl Rose tore into his bandmates. "I'm tired of too many people in this organization dancing with Mr. God Damn Brownstone," he said. "Unless certain people in this band get their shit together, these will be the last Guns N' Roses shows you'll fucking ever see."
Before they got famous and everything fell to shit, the five members of Guns N' Roses were actually close friends. It was during those critical early months that the group collaborated on many of their best songs. "Paradise City" came to life one night when they were driving home from a gig in a rented van. "We were drinking and playing acoustic guitars," Slash wrote in his book. "I came up with the jangly intro to what became 'Paradise City.' Duff and Izzy picked it up and started playing it while I came up with the chord changes. I started humming a melody and played it over and over. Then Axl chimed in: 'Take me down to the Paradise City.'" Who knows what other songs they could have come up with had they not turned one each other like wild dogs as soon as fame hit?
Is there a better opening song on a debut album than "Welcome to the Jungle?" It sets the stage perfectly for every other song on the album, and really for the band's entire career. Axl Rose once claimed the song was inspired by a chance encounter he had with a deranged man in New York City. "This black guy came up to me," he said. "He said, 'You know where are you are? You in the jungle, baby! You gonna die!'" The video for the show shows Axl arriving in Los Angeles on a bus, still with hay in his mouth, and he quickly becomes absorbed by the madness of the city. MTV originally only aired it late at night, but viewers loved it and they began playing it in prime time. It changed everything for the band.
The 12 songs on Appetite for Destruction reveal many aspects of the underbelly of Los Angeles, from porn to booze to heroin. As a sort of cleanser, they decided to end the album on a more positive note. "I wrote this song for this girl who was gonna have a band and she was gonna call it Rocket Queen," Axl said in 1988. "She kinda kept me alive for a while. The last part of the song is my message to this person, or anybody else who can get something out of it." Still, this being Guns N' Roses, those orgasmic moans you hear near the end of the song are Steven Adler's girlfriend Adriana Smith having sex with the singer.
It's quite clear that Axl Rose was in a dark place when he wrote "Estranged," a nine-minute yelp of agony about a lost love. "Old at heart, but I'm only 28," he wrote. "And I'm much too young to let love break my heart." It's one of the longest songs in the Guns N' Roses catalog, and when it came time for the video Axl had a bit of a conundrum on his hands. It was supposed to wrap up the trilogy of "Don't Cry" and "November Rain," but he'd broken up with video co-star Stephanie Seymour by this point. Axl's a bit of an outside the box thinker, so he decided to swim with dolphins instead. It's the least popular of the three videos.
There aren't a lot of Guns N' Roses songs that can be effortlessly covered by everyone from Carrie Underwood to Sheryl Crow to the Black Eyed Peas. Perhaps their most accessible tune, "Sweet Child O' Mine" was born out of a spontaneous jam the members of the band undertook very late in the sessions for Appetite for Destruction. Axl wrote lyrics about his girlfriend Erin Everly, even if he never quite finished them. The line, "Where do we go now?" was originally an honest question. He didn't know where to take the song at that point, but it seemed to fit and so it stayed in. It became their only Number One hit in America.
There's a hilarious episode of Beavis and Butt-head where Butt-head imagines his own wedding day: Slash is his best man and he marries a woman that looks exactly like Stephanie Seymour. It's a scene straight out of the video for "November Rain," something tattooed into the brain of anyone who watched even a little MTV back in 1992. The network played the clip (it seemed) 50,000 times that year, even though nobody is quite sure exactly how the bride died and why people at the wedding reacted so crazily to a little rain. One guy even jumps through the wedding cake. The song, clearly inspired by Elton John's "Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding," was something Axl slowly worked on for years, supposedly even back to 1983. He was finally ready to release it on Use Your Illusion I in 1992. It could have launched a whole new era of the band, but instead it stands as one of their final masterpieces. Some bands just weren't built to last.