Skip to content

Every Guns N’ Roses Song, Ranked

20. “Out ta Get Me” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987)

Nobody has ever wondered why Axl Rose became a star, but if they did, I’d point them to the video of Guns N’ Roses performing “Out ta Get Me” at the Ritz in 1988. The rock-star prototype wearing skinny leather and a louche grin and sporting sinewy arms and a sheen of charisma, Axl is supremely at ease transitioning from high kicks to his sexy lil’ snake dance. He screeches every 15-year-old boy’s rebel yell, “They’re out ta get me,” exactly as they wish they could scream it, and launches a million 15-year-old girls’ bad-boy fantasies. It’s a bratty song, yes, but it’s galvanizing, solely because of the man singing it. — R.H.

19. “Coma” (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)

The other self-indulgent masterpiece on Use Your Illusion I — and like “November Rain,” it features towering performances by the band’s two key frontmen. Musically it’s a staggering composition by Slash, its nonlinear, formula-free structure reminiscent of the shock-rock freakouts of early Alice Cooper records, but it’s held together thanks to its bevy of riffs and sense of theatricality. Lyrically, on the other hand, “Coma” is a stark, honest, and bleak commentary on the last days of ‘80s glam-metal, as Axl reflects on an overdose of pills years before. “It’s so easy to be social, it’s so easy to be cool, it’s easy to be hungry when you ain’t got s**t to lose,” he says at one point, wryly referencing one of the most infamous songs on Appetite for Destruction. Mere months later the grunge scene would explode, wiping out glam-metal’s commercial appeal in one fell swoop, but ironically, that scene of “integrity” and “substance” would yield far more high-profile premature deaths than the Sunset Strip ever did. — A.B.

18. “Shackler’s Revenge” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)

In some ways, this Rock Band-debuted single is just a steroidal update of what the flailing, pointless “Oh My God” was probably supposed to be: screeching Deftones opening riff, programmed industrial funkadoodles last heard in 1997, and disco midsection, check, check, double-check. But in other ways, there’s just no other band that sounds like this. None of their hair-metal contemporaries cared about technology or progress like GN’R’s reclusive frontman, and no Nine Inch Nails disciples have a world-class singer to build soaring melodies or laser-beam soloing around. So here’s an unholy marriage of the two, with a twist on what sounds like a classic Axl-denial-zonked chorus of “I don’t believe there’s a reason”: He called it his response to school shootings. It’s a step toward solicitude, the last thing anyone expected from Chinese Democracy. — D.W.

17. “One in a Million” (G N’ R Lies, 1989)

The most controversial song by the most nihilistic superstar in American rock history, one man’s misanthropic invective against the society that spawned him. The Bad Words alone would get “One in a Million” blackballed today, and William Bruce Rose sinks into them with unblinking villainy — at one point even commenting, “That’s right,” just in case you doubted his intent. But as vile as Axl’s credos against “immigrants and faggots” and “police and niggers” are, it’s impossible to read them as straight-faced — the song’s picturing of Axl as small-minded country boy is as cartoonish as him still chewing on a hayseed when getting off the bus in the “Welcome to the Jungle” video. (The irony is writ large by the final group Axl calls out: “Radicals and racists.”) Delivered over Neil Young minor chords and eerily disembodied whistling, its clear that “Million” is meant as its writer’s chilling parody of his own sense of cultural displacement, of historically poor race relations in late-’80s L.A., and of protest songs in which any artist ever pretends to be totally above the fray themselves. — A.U.

16. “Since I Don’t Have You” (“The Spaghetti Incident?” 1993)

The Skyliners’ clean-cut 1958 doo-wop smash found new life as the lead track to GN’R’s Spaghetti Incident, with the band keeping keeping the original’s plinking piano and waltzing pace, but adding in Slash’s searing solos and Axl’s glass-cracking squall — one of the band’s greatest, if least-characteristic, all-around performances. Sadly, this slow-dancing single also birthed the last video to feature original band members Duff McKagan and Slash, as well as drummer Matt Sorum and rhythm guitarist Gilby Clarke. But it does have a maniacal Gary Oldman playing a gleefully grinning demon, which really is an ideal way to fizzle out on MTV. — R.B.

15. “You Ain’t the First” (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)

You can take the boy outta the country but you can’t take the country outta the boy. What was so beautiful about Axl’s voice is how he could careen from caterwauling in one song to humming a lullaby in the next. In the swinging, bluesy shuffle “You Ain’t the First,” Izzy’s high, sweet backing vocals and aching lyrics about love wearin’ out its welcome snap together like puzzle pieces with the tinge of redneck that will (hopefully) always linger in Indiana-born Axl’s voice. A near-perfect sweet-and-lowdown rock ballad. — R.H.

14. “Get in the Ring” (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)

Few artists outside of Michael Jordan carried chips on their shoulders quite like Axl Rose. And so three quarters of the way through the grandest full-length statement of his career, he wedged in “Get in the Ring,” a hilariously petty and bullying track that names names of every writer and publication — yes, including this one — who dared besmirch his and his band’s good name, ultimately declaring: “I don’t like you / I just hate you / I’m gonna / KICK YOUR ASS!” But no rock star sounds as much in his element when playing the small-time antagonist like Axl, who seems to be having the time of his life spitting venom over the song’s bizarrely lithe, sashaying groove, powered on by the imaginary sound of the fans cheering from home. It takes a special kind of self-delusion to still view yourself as an underdog when your band is the biggest thing the music industry has seen since the other MJ, but that’s a large part of what made Axl such a singular figure in rock history, and “Get in the Ring” remains the window with the best view into his intoxicating madness. — A.U.

13. “Don’t Cry” (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)

The first chapter in GN’R’s unofficial three-part “Illusions” video series inspired by writer and friend Del James, “Don’t Cry” is one of the last great power ballads of the pre-grunge era, with Axl begging his soon-to-be-ex partner to show him one final sign of affection over a gratifyingly huge chord descent. GN’R’s sorrowful tone (helped with backup vocals from Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon) is only made more powerful by Matt Sorum’s slow, echoing percussion, Slash’s reverberating wail, and Axl’s crushed-sounding tonigh-ayayayayayayahhhhh. — R.B.

12. “It’s So Easy” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987)

When Appetite for Destruction came out in 1987, it first hit young listeners like an elbow to the head. If opener “Welcome to the Jungle” wasn’t harrowing and tough enough, “It’s So Easy” comes in, right on its heels, and blasts into the meanest, nastiest, most swaggering heavy rock since the New York Dolls. Axl ditches his usual squawk for a snide drawl, which suits the song perfectly as he spews brash lines about Hollywood groupies: “It’s so easy, easy when everybody’s trying to please me.” The misogyny is undeniable, sung by an arrogant, 25-year-old kid who’s so wrapped up in the Sunset Strip scene that he doesn’t know any better: “You get nothing for nothing if that’s what you do / Turn around bitch, I got a use for you.” In this age of self-serving “thinkpieces” and critics with hurt feelings, a rock group wouldn’t dare to even go that far anymore, but 29 years ago, bands still could be dangerous. Tipper Gore targeted Guns N’ Roses, parents were pissed off, but their sons and daughters bought the album in droves. — A.B.

11. “Estranged” (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)

This nine-minute epic chronicles a troubling time in Axl’s romantic life, in which his marriage to model Erin Everly (for whom he previously wrote “Sweet Child O’ Mine”) was annulled. The resulting lyricism portrays an aching, broken person who feels disproportionately aged (“Old at heart but / I’m only 28 / And I’m much too young / To let love break my heart”) and who’s starting to lose the plot (“When you’re talking to yourself / And nobody’s home…”). “Estranged” augments its singer’s frayed emotions with one of the band’s most complex orchestrations; Slash churning out a series of heart-bursting guitar wails and Rose punctuating his saga with weighty piano chords. — R.B. 

10. “You Could Be Mine” (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)

It took four long years for Guns N’ Roses to put out a new heavy-rock single in the wake of Appetite for Destruction, and “You Could Be Mine” was a brilliant choice. Written by Axl and Izzy Stradlin prior to the recording of GN’R’s debut (the line “With your  bitch slap rapping and your cocaine tongue, you get nothing done” appears on the inner sleeve of Appetite) the band smartly saved it for the next record, and the song, released partially to help promote Terminator 2: Judgment Day, kicked the summer of 1991 off with a shotgun bang. Led by a thunderous intro by former Cult drummer Matt Sorum, it’s a potent piece of sleaze, proof that the band had not lost a step. In fact, they were leaner and sleeker than ever before — though Guns N’ Roses were firmly entrenched in the mainstream in 1991, the attitude of ’87 was still there thanks to this old nugget. — A.B.

9. “Mr. Brownstone” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987)

The only “Old Hollywood” that interests me is Sunset Strip in the 1980s – gold lamé leggings, all-leather everything, hair teased with so much spray you had to be careful when flicking your lighter, and absolutely zero chill. Galloping right out of the gate, “Mr. Brownstone” manages to hold that pace, sprinting right in the middle with a typically face-scrunching guitar solo from Slash. But it’s more than just a barely veiled, extremely danceable ode to heroin: “I used to do a little, but a little wouldn’t do,” Axl sings in double time, neatly summing up the inevitable tumble of all opiate users and the era of excess, while foreshadowing the eventual destruction of both. — R.H.

8. “The Garden” (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)

Written prior to GN’R’s 1987 debut, but released on the band’s second full-length album, “The Garden” famously features both Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon on backing vocals and two spoken-word asides from shock-rock virtuoso Alice Cooper. “No, you aren’t losing your mind,” Axl promises with Mad Hatter-like perfidy. “You’re just in the garden.” The simple drug metaphor extends itself into sonic highs and lows, with woozy — even blissful — guitar whimpers and Cooper’s hallucinogenic growl, forcing the listener to submit to the alternately entrancing and terrifying “crazy man’s utopia.” — R.B.

7. “Patience” (G N’ R Lies, 1989)

This tender ballad, one of four acoustic tracks on the 1989 stopgap release G N’ R Lies, turned out to be one of Guns N’ Roses’ biggest hits, not to mention a highly prescient song for American popular culture. Written by Izzy Stradlin, it showed that these bad boys of Sunset Strip rock‘n’roll had a sappy side, but unlike Poison, whose approach to acoustic balladry was puppy-dog-cute, there is so much musical substance to “Patience.” Just listen to the six-string interplay between Izzy and Slash: The chemistry and artistry on display is sublime. Axl, meanwhile, sells the love song brilliantly, sounding like he’s baring his soul rather than pandering to his audience, conveying more feeling in two bars of whistling than in most hair-metal power choruses. Seven months after the single stormed the charts, MTV debuted their Unplugged series, and soon every rock band was following Guns N’ Roses’ lead, desperate to pull off their own “Patience” but never succeeding. — A.B.

6. “Better” (Chinese Democracy, 2008)

Many Guns N’ Roses songs realign themselves several times through melodic sections, mean rejoinders and thrashing turns from one movement to the other, usually on the back of a virtuosic, bleeding-rainbow guitar solo. The unexpected highlight of the band’s most-resented album compresses these parts into a crowded, claustrophobic elevator where they’re forced to sit more still than they prefer, and they rage appropriately within the confines of the glass. Not quite a power ballad, “Better” nonetheless has a salty sadness streaking down its bulging neck veins — it’s closer to something Henry Rollins would shout outside a recent ex’s window. But therein lies the gift of this band, who serve as the adenoidal voice of the overly heard. Males in extremis have commanded artistic situations in such wide-ranging works as Raging Bull and The Marshall Mathers LP. And longtime contributor, first-time caller Axl Rose’s high-pitched sputtering through artless bits like “I never wanted you to be so full of anger” might help convince you that bitterness can have soul. — D.W.

5. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987)

That now-iconic weeeeer-ner-ner-ner-NER-ner-NER-ner guitar lick is just the start of what would become GN’R’s most commercially successful single, their only U.S. No. 1. Written for Axl’s then-wife Erin Everly, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” is a love song in the most classic sense of the term: A grin from her is enough to send Axl spiralling into euphoria, and too long of a gaze at her beauty could reduce him to tears — c’mon, you know the words. But aside from its enduring emotional resonance, “Sweet Child O’Mine” is an improv success story. Not only was Slash’s introductory solo taken from a guitar warm-up routine, but the ending breakdown of Axl’s “Where do we go now?” was a result of him literally asking his bandmates how to wrap up the track. Turns out he had the answer all along. — R.B.

4. “Locomotive” (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)

Axl Rose habitually examines failed romance in his songs, but rarely as brutally as in “Locomotive,” which claims that its antagonist, assumed to be then-girlfriend Stephanie Seymour, “raped me because you climbed inside my world and in my songs.” Such unfiltered hate-writing hasn’t always been well-received — the eight-minute anthem is frequently cited as another example of Axl the Misogynist. (“I’ve been doing a lot of work and found out I’ve had a lot of hatred for women,” he acknowledged in 2012). But gender-based judgment aside, no other band could keep a song as big and volatile as this on the tracks — few moments in the GN’R catalog are as suspenseful or stunning as how Axl seems to lose the rhythm on the song’s chugging chorus, but gains it back just in time to careen into his “I know it looks like I’m in-saaa-aaaane” wail. “Locomotive” embodies everything for which the band — and most notably Axl himself — is legendary: their rhythmic and emotional combustibility, fist-pumping guitar chunks, bruised lyrics, and ceaseless quest to understand the oft-confused space between an artist’s reality and illusions. — R.B.

3. “Nightrain” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987)

“Well I’m a West Coast struttin’, one bad mother / Got a rattlesnake suitcase under my arm.” Track No. 3 of one of the greatest opening trifectas in rock’n’roll history, “Nightrain” might get its title from a particular brand of cheap wine the band drank, but it’s all about attitude, and the song simply bursts with it. The opening lick and subsequent riff is total Aerosmith/New York Dolls worship, but when that ferocious, anthemic chorus kicks in (“Loaded like a freight train…”), it becomes a clear-cut original, all five members coalescing into one mean machine: “I got a Molotov cocktail with a match to go / I smoke my cigarette with style.” When it comes to pure, visceral, celebratory energy, no Guns N’ Roses number comes close to topping this one. — A.B.

2. “November Rain” (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)

The song that proved, once and for all, that Axl Rose wasn’t totally full of s**t. In a catalog chock full of failed commentary, misguided rabbit-hole dives, and general reach-exceeding-grasp hubris, “November Rain” is the band’s one epic statement that is absolutely everything it promises to be. It soars like “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” it invigorates like “Dream On,” it evolves and surprises like “Stairway to Heaven.” It’s so cinematic in scope that its peerlessly iconic music video feels less like an accompanying short than a necessary visual outgrowth. And its sense of understanding and empathy — always tricky concepts for Axl & Co. — is not only undeniable, it’s stunningly potent, making the countless aphorisms that comprise its lyrics resound like the simple truths more frequently found in Smokey Robinson or Paul McCartney songs. As much as GN’R are defined by their violence and vileness, “November Rain” showed that the band was as capable of embracing humanity as they were denying it. It’s not the first song you think of when Guns N’ Roses comes to mind, but it’s the reason they still come to mind as frequently as they do. — A.U.

1. “Welcome to the Jungle” (Appetite for Destruction, 1987)

By 1987, the glam-metal of Hollywood had gotten so high-gloss, so mousse-abused, so stinking of Aqua Net, that bands were focusing primarily on the glitter instead of the gutter. Nikki Sixx woke out of his drug-fueled stupor to write Mötley Crüe one brilliantly gritty slice of L.A. life with “Wild Side,” but aside from that, the scene was far more populated with bands trying to score their own “Home Sweet Home”. Then along came Guns N’ Roses, with that false-start riff that spirals downward rather than skyward. Instead of looking up quixotically at the marquee at the Whiskey, you’re gazing down at broken bottles, dirty needles, and used condoms. The wide-eyed rural boy or girl stepping off the bus thinking they’re going to make it big will surely be eaten alive in a world of demeaning work and shattered dreams.

“Welcome to the Jungle” struts almost playfully, Axl sounding like a West Coast Ratso Rizzo giving a tour of Hollywood, sharing a savage take on the American Dream. He offers a word of warning masked as a lascivious come-on (“And you’re a very sexy girl, very hard to please / You can taste the bright lights, but you won’t get there for free”) and then ropes the subject in (“When you’re high you never, ever want to come down”). It’s all “fun and games” before the bottom falls out, the song descends quickly into hell — brilliantly echoing the sinister drama of Alice Cooper with the ominous bass line and screeching guitars — and Axl delivers the pay-off: “You know where you are? You’re in the JUNGLE, baby! You’re gonna DI-I-I-I-IE!” Another victim is claimed, a myth is debunked, and rock‘n’roll history is rewritten thanks to a landmark song that, with one hack of its machete, rendered the entire Sunset Strip scene irrelevant. — A.B.