The 8 Ball 4.26.14: Top 8 Guns N' Roses Songs
Posted by Jeremy Thomas on 04.26.2014
From "November Rain" and "Paradise City" to "Get in the Ring," "Welcome to the Jungle" and more, 411's Jeremy Thomas counts down the top 8 Guns N' Roses songs!
Welcome, one and all, to the 8 Ball in the Music Zone! I'm your host Jeremy Thomas and as always, I will be tackling a topic and providing you the top eight selections of that particular category. Keep in mind that this list is meant to be my personal opinion and not a definitive list. You're free to disagree; you can even say my list is wrong, but stating that an opinion is "wrong" is just silly. With that in mind, let's get right in to it!
Before you start reading, have you bookmarked 411Mania.com yet? It's the easiest thing in the world to do, and it'll get you your daily dose of entertainment news that much quicker! Typing the URL out in the address bar is such a pain, don'tcha think? Hell, make it your home page and it'll be that much easier for you!
Also, do you Twitter? If not, you should! And while you're at it, add these to your list of people that you follow so that you can get the latest updates!
It's that time of week, folks...welcome to another edition of the 411 Music Zone 8-Ball! Jeremy Thomas, hosting as always, and this week we're inspired by the news that broke yesterday about a new potential Guns N' Roses album hitting next year. For those that missed it, guitarist Richard Forus said at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards this week that the band is working on new material and could release a new LP next year. That put me in a G N' R mood and so this week we're going to take a look at the greatest songs in the hard rock band's history.
Caveat: As usual with my single-act top songs list, I was looking specifically at original songs performed by the band/artist as opposed to covers. This left out the entire The Spaghetti Incident? album, which is no great loss in most cases, but also some songs that are well-received from the rest of the group's discography like "Knockin' On Heaven's Door," "Live and Let Die" and Mama Kin." You will also notice (spoiler alert) that there are no tracks off of Chinese Democracy and that's not going to surprise most of you. I consider it an underrated album but none of the songs stand up to the band's classic discography. As one final note, some people may think this should be called "Top 8 Guns N' Roses Singles" and there are a lot of their promotional releases here; it must be noted though that the band released a LOT of songs as singles. If you take out Chinese Democracy and The Spaghetti Incident?, G N' R released nineteen out of forty-four songs as singles so almost half of their tracks. So I did consider non-singles too, but the list just shook out the way that it did.
Just Missing The Cut
• "Nightrain" (1989)
• "Used to Love Her" (1988)
• "Rocket Queen" (1987)
• "You Could Be Mine" (1991)
• "Don't Cry" (Original) (1991)
#8: "Get in the Ring" (1991)
Kicking off our list this week is one of the more vehement and overt attack tracks of a mainstream hard rock band. "Get in the Ring" was an eye-opener on Use Your Illusion II, positioned after the more introspective and melodic tracks of "14 Years," "Yesterdays" and "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." Then right out of nowhere comes this song, which starts off with a live "Guns N' Roses" chant from a crowd before Slash's guitar work lulls is into an abrasive, fast-paced shot directly across the bow of music critics that loved to take their own shots at the band. The song was originally written by Duff McKagen and was called "Why Do You Look at Me When You Hate Me?" The band shortened it to the much better-sounding title that it was released under and the rest is history. The song doesn't have a traditional verse-chorus structure, instead going for a series of verses until you get to that blistering rant by Axl where he calls out music critics by name. The diatribe actually got Bob Guccione, Jr. angry to the point that he accepted Axl's challenge to a fight, but of course it never happened. When it comes to going off fully loaded on your critics, this song is one of the most unapologetic and best.
#7: "Civil War" (1990)
Second on our list is the most sociologically potent song in the band's repertoire. "Civil War" was a track off the band's double LP set Use Your Illusion, which was released as separate albums on the same day. This one was on the frankly-superior second part, which you'll see mined for one other choice in just a minute. "Civil War" was the first song heard before the album's release, showing up on the Nobody's Child: Romanian Angel Appeal charity LP in 1990 before it appeared on the band's LP. It's quite a change from the group's best-known content; this one is a gentler, more melodic number akin to some of the band's other greatest songs but also not afraid to go hard when it's time. It kicks off with a line from the classic film Cool Hand Luke and then Axl Rose starts whistling over a little light guitar. The lyrics are very powerful; they're socially-impactful without being political. The song was written by Rose, McKagan and Slash and you can hear some of the best in the band's songwriting skill throughout this song. It touches on a lot of important moments in modern geopolitical conflict from an American standpoint: the JFK and Martin Luther King assassinations, Vietnam and more. It's an emotionally-arresting narrative that includes some fantastic guitar work by Slash and a great breakdown in the middle. It gives me chills every time I hear it because of its beautiful sound combined with the power of its message and its ability to seriously rock.
#6: "Estranged" (1994)
One thing that Guns N' Roses has always done well is epic songs. The group has no shortage of length numbers, as with many rock bands, but a few of them are just absolute musical brilliance. Near the top of that list is "Estranged," the final song on this list from Use Your Illusion II. The song eschews the more operatic and expansive elements of some of their other epics, instead choosing to go for a more experimental and stripped-down performance. Axl Rose threw the traditional pop song structure out the window again for this one and backed away from the band's hallmarks, instead incorporating complete shifts in tone and a series of long verses punctuated by Slash's fantastic guitar riffs and Matt Sorum's underrated drum work. The song features the most expensive music video of all-time at that point, budgeted at $4 million, but what really drew people in was the complete vulnerability of Rose's vocals and the band's daring in taking on a song like this. Obviously the song is very long but it never feels long, which is a difficult feat to accomplish particularly for a ballad. Even the term "emotional rollercoaster" doesn't seem quite accurate for this one; it underplays how many rises and falls this song has and yet still it works amazingly.
#5: "Patience" (1989)
"Patience" is Guns N' Roses' most gentle song, without a shadow of a doubt. It also happens to be one of their best, and one of the best ballads of the 1980s period. The song kicks off the non-live material on G N' R's 1988 disc G N' R Lies. The live material that precedes it on the album is all furious, breakneck music and the way that this one strips down to acoustic guitars--there isn't even drum work in the studio version--makes it almost whiplash-inducing. The most common inspiration cited for this song is Axl's disintegrating relationship with his then-wife Erin Everly (also the inspiration for "Estranged"), though that has never been confirmed. The lyrics are emotional without being trite; they avoid the trap of spelling everything out and that gives it a timeless accessibility that it would otherwise lack. This is the song that made people pause and realize that when he wasn't doing is hyena yowl (which is an entirely different strength), Axl could actually sing fairly well. The song remains a hallmark of the G N' R catalogue and Axl's live sets for a very good reason; it stands out as one of the band's best works without question.
#4: "Paradise City" (1988)
"Paradise City" is one of Slash's many, many crowning achievements as a guitarist. The song, a fantastic number from their debut LP Appetite for Destruction, is one of the few hopeful tracks on that particular album and man does it seriously rock. It's one of those songs that started off with a simple guitar riff: the group was in the back of a van and Slash began to play around, which resulted in them coming up with the lyrics on the spot. The end result was one of their most anthemic numbers, a pounding arena rock number that is sure to bring crowds to their feet to sing along with them. Axl's voice is perhaps at its most powerful here as he rockets his way through the rapid fire verses and then just lets go on the chorus. Slash delivers one of his best solos in this one and the escalation of the song's tone is perfect for a stadium number. It's not a surprise that it is one of his favorite songs in the band's catalog. It's always been a favorite of their live shows for obvious reasons and may just be their most well-known track in a catalog full of trademark songs.
#3: "November Rain" (1992)
How do you not discuss "November Rain" when touching on Guns N' Roses' best work? It's a virtual impossibility. The song, for which even the radio edit is ridiculously long (it is the longest song in history to enter the Billboard singles chart's top ten), stands as one of the most epic power ballads of all-time. It's overblown and very theatrical, with operatic elements and it borders on pretentious. But the fact that it never crosses that line makes it absolutely exceptional. The song is incredibly complex and uses more instrumentation than most people would like to imagine that hard rock bands are even aware of. Axl's piano work is very nice and his voice carries very emotively through the love song lyrics while Slash delivers not one but two extended guitar solos that are stunning in their skill. The song manages to maintain its length and quality because of the carefully built-in rises and falls; this is a song that travels along with the same sort of through-line that a full film would and it makes the pace important. They nailed that with ease and the lyrics are exceptional to boot. I've heard this song described as G N' R's "Stairway to Heaven" and honestly? That's not a bad way to look at it.
#2: "Welcome to the Jungle" (1987)
"You're to the jungle baby! You're gonna DIE!" That's the part that everyone remembers first from the band's breakout hit and the first one that many people heard from the group. "Welcome to the Jungle" was almost less a musical piece than it was a battle cry, and as the opening track of Appetite for Destruction, it told us exactly what to expect from this collection of Los Angeles rockers. It's important to note how important this song was for the band; just looking at them you wouldn't have thought much. The band looked largely like your prototypical hair band (if a bit more meth'd out) and that's not something that inspired "must-listen" status, even in 1987. But they sure as hell didn't sound like a prototypical hair band. "Welcome to the Jungle" takes hold of you from the opening guitar riff and then Axl's voice kicks in and you're taken away to the Jungle, which proves to be a wonderfully scary place. It's a hard-rocking, shredding number that isn't afraid to slow it down a couple of times...just long enough to catch your breath, really. And then it's back into Mach 5. This song, while not actually written about Los Angeles, captures the sleaze that people associated with the city just perfectly. It's an essential part of their catalog and it helped them become a household name.
#1: "Sweet Child O' Mine" (1988)
It's funny to think that Slash didn't initially like "Sweet Child O' Mine." He thought it was a sappy song that just came out of a string skipping exercise and was more of a joke than anything. And yet, it became the band's greatest song to date (and probably won't be topped). He eventually grew to love it of course, and why wouldn't he? From the unforgettable opening guitar riff all the way through to the final moments, "Sweet Child" largely redefined what hard rock was capable of. Is it a sweet love song? Absolutely, but that doesn't mean that the song wasn't bad-ass as well. Slash's guitar work, Axl's famous vocal work, Steven Adler's always-underrated drumming, Duff's bass line and the way it turns from a power ballad into a hard rock song by the end and never makes that transition seem jarring...all of these elements combine for an unforgettable piece of music. It's the band's most covered song without a doubt and none of the other versions have ever held the smallest candle to the original. This was one of the defining songs of rock music in the 1980s and represents the pinnacle of the band's work for me.
MUSIC VIDEO A-GO-GO
Look, I know I already talked about it above. But there's only one music video to show when talking about the best Guns N' Roses tracks. So for this week's Video A-Go-Go, enjoy "November Rain" below:
And that will do it for us this week! Join me next week for another edition of the 8-Ball! Until then, have a good week and don't forget to read the many other great columns, news articles and more here at 411mania.com! JT out.