On this day 27 years ago, one of the most iconic pair of albums in rock history was released. Guns N’ Roses was known as the band that saved rock and roll in the 1980s as hair and glam metal were infecting the sunset strip. Appetite for Destruction was released in 1987, putting blues and passion back into an industry that was being dominated by synthesizers and having “nothin’ but a good time.”
With the success of Appetite and 1988’s Lies, GN’R had the complete attention of rock fans. 1991 gave us the Use Your Illusion albums, perhaps the last fight of classic rock as Seattle’s grunge wave started to become most prevalent. This double album features grandiose ballads and instrumental and technological experimentation in addition to their traditional hard rock sound.
Both albums have since been certified 7 times platinum by the RIAA. So while many people were too attached to the anger and rawness of Appetite to accept the artistic innovation of the Illusions, the albums definitely did well, allowing the band to sell out stadiums for the years following its release and generating some of their biggest hits.
In honor of the 27th birthday of these records, Alternative Nation has decided to rank the songs of both in one list.
- My World
I don’t really have anything to say about this song other than it sounds like an experimental mess with sex sounds laid on top.
- Garden of Eden
Can anyone understand any of the words in the verses? This track is experimental and hard-hitting, but…nothing special. “Suck on that!”
- Perfect Crime
This song is just a burst of energy and a pissed off Axl repeating not to fuck with the bad side of him. It’s catchy, but definitely not a favorite.
- Shotgun Blues
“Shotgun Blues” is Axl at his finest – cursing and snarling at the subject…again. The chorus is catchy and it is overall full of energy, but not their best work by any means. This seems to be a recurring theme of the tracks that are ranked low on this list.
- Get in the Ring
Despite the ranking of this song, I do like it. The crowd chanting “Guns N’ Roses” and the whirly guitar intro set the scene in an entertaining way. The entire song is Axl bitching, firing shots at media personas and threatening to kick their asses. I think it’s hilarious and I love singing along to it, which is why I prefer it over the previous few that had similar topics. My favorite part is that Mick Wall wrote a biography about Axl even after being one of the victims he called out.
- Dust N’ Bones
A bluesy, western sound along with rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin on lead vocals makes this song stand out. Izzy does sing lead on a few songs throughout the double-album.
- Back off Bitch
While a ton of people probably just shun this song as being one of Axl’s “misogynistic moments,” I actually think it’s entertaining as a woman. Written before Appetite even came out, “Back off Bitch” certainly served a more relevant purpose to Axl around the time it came out, which was after his divorce from Erin Everly. His voice sounds more whiny than usual in this song and it is more forgettable than a lot of others, but the chorus is catchy.
- Right Next Door to Hell
This is the first track on Use Your Illusion, therefore it is technically the opener for both albums. It starts the 138-minute long journey on a high energy, in-your-face note. Featuring Axl’s signature screech, a heavy bass intro from Duff McKagan, and a balls-out riff from Slash, nostalgic Appetite lovers most likely enjoy the roughness and anger in this song.
- So Fine
“So Fine” was a ballad written by Duff McKagan as a tribute to Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls. Axl sings the verses and Duff sings the choruses and the bridge. His voice stands out as he brought in most of the punk influences to the band. The opening melody reminds me a lot of their cover of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.”
- 14 Years
Another track written and sang mainly by Izzy Stradlin, “14 Years” has an interesting story. The title is in reference to the length of time Izzy and Axl had been friends, and according to a few sources online, they had coincidentally each written a song with this as the title. The finished result is a combination of parts from both of their songs, and is sang by both of them during the chorus. The lyrics definitely have a more negative connotation surrounding the relationship the song is focusing on…so who knows what each of them were alluding to when writing it.
The guitar riffs on “Locomotive” are addictive. Not much is typically said of this song, but I do like it, especially because of the humorous lyrical content. “You know I’d like to shave your head, and all my friends could paint it red.” Axl’s voice is auto-tuned during the very angry, ex-bashing verses. There is actually a quote that is in reference to the albums themselves where Axl whines, “I’ve worked too hard for my illusions just to throw them all away.”
- Don’t Damn Me
“Don’t Damn Me” has a very distinct melody during the chorus, it’s hard not to get it stuck in your head. This song, or snark, is a response to the criticism the band received after the release of the infamous “One in a Million” on Lies. There is a good lyrical quality as Axl rips and tears through the verses. It seems like most of this double album was his way of saying, “I’m going to do what I want because I can and you can’t stop me.” One of Axl Rose’s most unique traits was his controversial side. Now he’s just…there.
- Pretty Tied Up
The opening guitar chime reminds me of snake charming. It eventually turns into a sleazy song about sex and being a rock and roll band. But it grooves.
- You Ain’t the First
“You Ain’t the First” is one of the greatest “fuck you” songs in rock. It’s acoustic and slow, and extremely belittling to the subject. I mean, the title says enough as it is. “You was just a temporary lover, honey you ain’t the first. Lots of other came before you woman, said but you been the worst.” The best part is the end when the take is finished and you hear, “to the bar!”
- Dead Horse
The beginning of “Dead Horse” actually gives us Axl Rose strumming away on an acoustic guitar as he sings. Then there is a breakdown and the song turns fast paced. It’s a catchy song overall.
- Bad Apples
Saloon-rock meets badass band from Los Angeles – that’s what I think of when I hear this song because of the honky-tonk piano melody and bo-diddley rhythm. Lyrically, it tells the tale of the glamorous but not-so-glamorous lifestyle of being rich and famous. Pity.
- Don’t Cry (Alternate Lyrics)
Though I do not prefer it over the original version, “Don’t Cry” is such a great song overall that it still sounds really good with different verses. The verses in this version are actually more complex. When describing how the second set of lyrics came to him, Axl said that when they went to record the original version in the studio, these new words just flooded his brain and he needed to go with it and get it down. Of course, the original became the hit and the one everyone knows and loves, but there was a time when both were circulating on the radio and people weren’t sure which version it was going to be. If you listen closely to the beginning, Axl’s opening “oooh” is different. That’s how I decipher them.
- Double Talkin’ Jive
A staple in their Illusions and Not in this Lifetime Tour sets, “Double Talkin’ Jive” is just another classic track telling the rest of the world not to fuck with Guns N’ Roses. This track overall places less of an emphasis on Axl than most of the others do, with an isolated drum intro from Matt Sorum, Izzy on lead vocals during the verses, and a Spanish-style solo from Slash to close it out.
- The Garden
This song has a haunting sound and is generally mellow, until you get to the chorus. Then, you hear Alice Cooper. Talk about plot twist.
“Yesterdays” is a very pleasant sounding track – it’s light and has happy vibes. Looking back on the years of your life can always be an emotional thing, and this song captures that perfectly.
- Live and Let Die
When GN’R does covers, they do them damn well. This is a heavier take on the original number by The Wings, and hearing Slash shred where there would normally be a horn section definitely spices things up. Axl’s demonic scream and jumpkicks while he performed it live adds another feisty element as well.
One of several longer songs featured on the Illusions, “Breakdown” stands out a lot for its sound. It has a very bluesy, southern rock sound with a banjo and heavy piano melodies. It starts out slow and progressively picks up in tempo, and by then it’s hard to understand what Axl is singing but it’s enjoyable to listen to regardless.
- Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door
And I repeat…when GN’R does covers, they do them DAMN WELL. This is one of the first songs I ever remember hearing by the band, and I was so captivated by the many voices Axl uses throughout it, almost like a vocal version of having multiple personality disorder. It’s slow and melodic, and features a sing-along breakdown before the final chorus. It’s one of their strongest live performances, and is definitely a great way to honor Mr. Bob Dylan. Plus, ot was featured on the soundtrack for “Days of Thunder.”
- Bad Obsession
Co-written by West Arkeen, who had an unfortunate end related to the subject of this song, “Bad Obsession” is the “Mr. Brownstone” of the Illusion albums. The song has such an intense blues vibe to it between the horns and the harmonica, it’s hard not to dance around to it.
- You Could be Mine
If the pounding drum intro by Matt Sorum doesn’t immediately grab your attention, then I don’t know what would. This is one of the most badass, high-energy songs on both albums and was even featured on the soundtrack for “Terminator 2.”
- Don’t Cry (Original)
This song is a call-to-action that typically makes the listener do the opposite. Cry. One of their signature ballads, “Don’t Cry” is actually the first song the band ever wrote together as a group, and there are really awesome videos online of them performing it at The Central in 1986. The crowd talks during most of the video but goes silent when Axl picks up his pitch during the bridge. The recorded versions featured on the Illusions actually feature Shannon Hoon from Blind Melon on backup vocals, little known to many people.
I really don’t think this song was given enough of a chance by most people, mainly due to its length. It is one of the most personal songs to Axl. In a 1990 interview with MTV, he recalls a time where he tried to OD on pills, slipped into a brief coma, and woke himself out of it as fears of an unfinished record hit him like a tornado. Slash also said this is “his baby,” and you can really hear the passion in the riff that’s repeated several times throughout it. It builds gradually, and the ending where Axl rants just goes on and on but is so high in lyrical intricacy. “No you don’t need a doctor, no one else can heal your soul.” They played it at almost every Not in this Lifetime show, which I think added a new element that the Illusions tour didn’t have.
- Civil War
This is the opener to Use Your Illusion II. After controversial instances the band faced in the past, mainly due to Axl’s lyrics, the band needed to play it safe when tackling a political topic – and they nailed it with this one. It appeals to human emotions, to logic, and to the system. There are two different verse/chorus ensembles, making the mood shift back and forth between soft and heavy. The instrumentation is immense and Slash’s solos cut through like a jagged knife. Unfortunately, this was the first and only Illusions song that features Steven Adler on the drums before he was fired. Still, “Civil War” is one of the most powerful pieces of music Guns N’ Roses have ever released, period.
“Estranged” is a masterpiece. It’s deep emotionally and the music, between the keyboards and the guitars, is phenomenal. In the video “The Making of Estranged,” Axl explains that Slash was very thoughtful when creating the solos for it because he knew how much the song meant to him. It describes the agony of a failing relationship and the pain that follows the end. Ironically, though written before Axl’s breakup with Stephanie Seymour, they did break up just prior to the making of the music video, which she was supposed to be in along with “Don’t Cry” and “November Rain.” What better substitution for a Victoria’s Secret Model than dolphins?
- November Rain
At this point it may seem like a cliché, but “November Rain” is truly one of my favorite songs ever. A lot of people were skeptical about Guns doing such an intense romance song with a piano and orchestral sounds, but you really cannot deny the beauty of it. It’s one of the longest songs they have recorded, but it never drags on as there is such diversity in sound throughout it. Slash’s guitar solo in the middle is one of his most recognizable as it is SO full of emotion. The song is heavily influenced by Elton John, as Axl was a huge fan of him, and they even played it together at the 1992 MTV VMA’s (speaking of, the music video is awesome too even though no one understands what happened in it). Another fun fact about this song is that there was no actual orchestra during the recording – Axl spent days in a room with the switchboard playing with the sounds to create it. The orchestra was only used for aesthetic purposes in the music video. This is one of the best ballads in rock and roll. And that’s why it’s number one on this list.
PS – if you watch “Don’t Cry,” “November Rain,” and “Estranged” in that order – the videos are supposed to play like a movie.
Let us know what your favorite songs are!