The late 1980s and early 1990s were dominated by one band, Guns ‘R Roses, with Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II creating a new standard and new marketing technique for releasing double-album sets.
With the seemingly endless controversies the band created, feuding with tour partners, punching fans and causing riots, the short life of the band was to be expected, but the quality and volume of music they produced while together was simply amazing and offers dark insight into the black heart of rock and roll.
“Estranged” is the single best insight the band offers into how fame and fortune and mental illness can affect the mind and is by far the best song the band released. It is a dark and driven song, with hard-rocking guitars and honest gut-wrenching lyrics. Like many of their songs, it speaks to the dichotomy of relationships and the pain that is part of the human condition.
And, in addition to the depth of emotion in the lyrics, the song is full of change-ups and musical variety, highlighted by Axl Rose’s powerful voice.
Even Guns ‘N Roses’ most loved songs are not happy-go-lucky love songs. “November Rain”, arguably the most powerful ballad the band released, and the second best of their songs is filled with the pain of heartbreak. Strangely, when it was first released and even now, people tend to think of it as a long song, despite that it ends with the lovers parting.
“Civil War” very nearly made it to the top of the list based on the ending monologue alone, asking “What’s so civil about war anyway?” This is not your parents’ protest song, but it could have been if your parents’ were cooler. The sarcasm and social commentary of the lyrics is unmatched in most modern music.
“Look at the leaders we followed, look at the lies we’ve swallowed,” with hard-hitting lyrics and a clear view of the world around them, the band casts a microscope over the excuses people use for war and the knowledge that “history hides the lies” that we buy into when we go to war. And, the band felt strongly enough about the song that it was the first single from Use Your Illusion I or II to hit the radio.
Axl Rose’s attempt to fight back to critics who didn’t seem to get the sarcasm of the bands lyrics, or want to give them any artistic freedom comes in at number five “Get In the Ring.”
The song very clearly calls out industry and media moguls for slights against the band and their music. The song rocks and I particularly like that the band stands up for itself and does it with music.
Number five on my list is the song that broke Guns ‘N Roses on the national music scene, “Sweet Child O’ Mine”. The song was actually the second single from Appetite for Destruction, but “Welcome to the Jungle” didn’t attract half the attention that “Sweet Child o’ Mine” did until it was re-released after people knew the name of the band.
It seems kind of odd to add a cover to the list, especially when the original artist was the Rolling Stones, but the Guns “N Roses cover of “Sympathy for the Devil” was almost as good as the original. The song was released for the soundtrack of “Interview with A Vampire” and a lesser band might have shied away from covering work by the legendary Mick Jagger and associates. Axl and company did it with flair and took the song to number 10 on the Billboard charts.
Number seven is “Ain’t it Fun” and the ever-controversial “One in a Million” is number eight, largely because it took the chance of being not politically-correct and pointing in the same tongue-in-cheek manner to the deep social issues facing the country.
At number nine is “Patience”. How can you not love a rock love song that manages to incorporate whistling and still attract the affection of millions. Honestly, beyond the whistling, the song is about the depth of commitment required for a meaningful relationship.
Finally, at number ten, is the antithesis of “Patience,” “Used to Love Her.” “Used to Love Her” is the ultimate break up song, with a fun little twist.