Guns N' Roses' best songs speak to the anxiety of a desperate young band trying to find love and success in the cruel dog-eat-dog world of Los Angeles. This list of their 10 greatest tracks ignores a few hits in favor of some album cuts that have better stood the test of time while losing none of their snarling urgency.
Though an album full of despair and anger, Appetite for Destruction did have its faint rays of hope. "Paradise City" finds singer Axl Rose dreaming of a better world "where the grass is green and the girls are pretty" far away from the crime and depravity he sees all around him. The song also features one of the best uses of a police whistle in a hard rock anthem.
Sporting a stripped-down, acoustic sound, "Patience" recalls the hard-edged vulnerability of classic Rolling Stones ballads like "Wild Horses." While never an astonishing singer technically, Rose has always been able to convey tenderness and warmth, and this song highlights his talents nicely. Stepping away from the conventions of hard rock on "Patience," GNR hinted at the stylistic risks they'd take on their subsequent albums.
Axl in full-on sap mode. Channeling his inner Elton John, Rose wrote this lush, ridiculously melodramatic piano-with-strings weeper for a true love. Hardcore fans may have rolled their eyes, but there was no denying the emotional sweep of "November Rain" and its willingness to reach for the truly epic. Contemporary rock bands aspiring to write lighter-worthy arena ballads almost always crib from this source.
One of the underrated creative forces within the band was guitarist Izzy Stradlin. He takes over lead vocals on this track that he wrote, a nasty short-story portrait of a lowdown hood who's just looking for his next payday. There are grander rock songs on the Use Your Illusion albums, but there are few that are as instantly memorable as "Double Talkin' Jive," from its turbo-charged drums to its blazing solo and Spanish-guitar outro.
Some of Guns N' Roses' best songs were never singles because their lyrical content was way too risque for radio. A perfect example is "It's So Easy," a powerful but deeply frightening exploration of a loveless, depraved society obsessed with cheap sex and copious amounts of questionable substances. Let's be clear: This is an ugly song about people's basest desires, but like earlier groups such as the Sex Pistols, GNR bracingly illustrate that ugliness from the inside out.
Axl Rose lays it all on the line on the other great sprawling ballad from the Use Your Illusion records. A combination of lost-love song and midlife crisis, "Estranged" is nine minutes of disheartened confusion as Rose whispers and whimpers over a stately piano and Slash's beautiful guitar solo. The GNR frontman survives an emotional rollercoaster in the song, but just barely.
One of the best paranoid diatribes in hard rock, "Out Ta Get Me" rants and rages against authority. Part of the track's power is that it's not entirely clear if Rose's anger is even justified: Are the cops really after him or is it all in his head? Regardless, the song captures most adolescents' pent-up frustration with an adult world that tries to impose its will on them.
Arguably the most underrated of GNR's hits, "Yesterdays" is an intensely melodic kiss-off to the past. The band never put much stock in optimism, but here Slash's guitar and Rose's piano surge with hopefulness as Axl tries to turn his frown upside-down. But even in this relatively sunny song, Rose understands that childhood pain cannot ever be completely forgotten, a theme that haunted the Use Your Illusion albums' desire for transcendence.
It was a song that Slash thought was silly initially. But "Sweet Child o' Mine" went on to rewrite the rulebook for '80s hard rock, showing a dozen crappy hair-metal bands how you could write an expressive love song without losing your dignity in the process. As they demonstrated throughout Appetite, "Sweet Child o' Mine" announced that GNR were a new kind of band, one that was tougher and meaner than their competition but also more poetic and soulful as well.
Before it became the song to psych up audiences at football stadiums, "Welcome to the Jungle" was just a startling assault of guitars and Axl Rose's full-throttled howls. It's hard to think of a better examination of Los Angeles sleaze in all its neon-tacky glory than "Welcome to the Jungle" - you can practically hear the city's denizens chew up and spit out the next crop of wide-eyed newcomers looking for fame and fortune. This was the world where Guns N' Roses came together in the 1980s, but as this song (and the album that contained it) proved, they were talented enough to capture its grimy, scandalous essence better than any other band around them.