The 50 greatest Guns N’ Roses songs ever, and the stories behind them

30. Get In The Ring (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)

In case anyone thought the Illusion-era Gunners had grown too soft, there was II’s seething fifth track, serving as a hard-rock soapbox from which Rose could strafe his perceived persecutors in the rock press. Written by Duff McKagan, originally titled Why Do You Look At Me When You Hate Me? and produced to give the bogus impression of a live show, Get In The Ring was GN’R at their rabble-rousing best. The moment when the lazy, bluesy intro kicks into double time can still thrill, but it’s the singer’s machine-gun rant – tearing into journos from Kerrang!, Hit Parader, Spin and Circus – that made the song notorious. HY

29. Pretty Tied Up (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)

It was as if Izzy Stradlin had sensed what was coming, such was the prescience in his lyrics to Pretty Tied Up, from the opening line – ‘The perils of rock’n’roll decadence’ – to the wry observation: ‘Once there was this rock’n’roll band rolling on the streets/Time went by and it became a joke’. All of this from a guy who had quit drugs, and, tired of the circus around them, was about to quit the band. And while Izzy wrote the words, it was Axl who sang them. But while the subtext was complicated, the song itself was simple. As its title implied, Pretty Tied Up was the true-life story of a girl Izzy knew who worked as a dominatrix. And Guns N’ Roses played it just right – down and dirty. PE

28. Yesterdays (Use Your Illusion II, 1991)

There was little of the Appetite-era venom in this light country strum, with its rippling piano and a lyric that seemed to suggest rising above old grudges (‘Some things could be better if we’d all just let them be’). And yet, even if you questioned its motives, Yesterdays’ sunbeam of melody proved the perfect partner to Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door during the mellow run on Illusion II’s first side. “We had lost a little bit of the mayhem and punk rock,” Slash wrote in his autobiography. “That was a good or a bad thing, depending on who you asked.” HY

27. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)

Guns N’ Roses repackaged Bob Dylan’s low-key 1973 hymnal for the hard-rock masses by doubling its length and dialling up the histrionics. They debuted it live at their first ever show at London’s Marquee, in 1987, before chucking a studio version on the soundtrack of the 1990 racing movie Days Of Thunder starring Tom Cruise. After the song reappeared in slightly tweaked form on Use Your Illusion II (the new ‘sniffin’ your own rank subjugation, Jack’ interlude came courtesy of Axl’s actor/ director buddy Josh Richman), it became the definitive version for anyone who wasn’t a Dylan fan. Dylan gave GN’R a papal blessing of sorts in 2009: when asked what he thought of them, he said they were “one of the best rock bands there’s ever been.” Bob wasn’t wrong. DE

26. Used To Love Her (GN’R Lies, 1988)

What if Buddy Holly had sung about killing Peggy Sue? That’s the vibe of this black- humoured ditty that tumbles along on three chords and a wink. Given Axl Rose’s stormy history with relationships, it was tempting to think Used To Love Her drew from real life. But Izzy Stradlin told Superstar Facts that the song was inspired by a “whining, self-pitying” tune he heard on the radio. “We rewrote it with a better ending,” he said. Of course, it wouldn’t be a GN’R song without some controversy surrounding it – in the early 2000s it appeared as evidence in two separate murder cases, as supposed motivation for the killings. BDM

25. The Garden (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)

A slice of psychedelic sleaze featuring a sneering guest spot from Alice Cooper (returning the favour after GN’R teamed up with him for a cover of Under My Wheels a few years earlier). If it was any other band, you’d wonder what the hell they were on. But this was Guns N’ Roses, so it’s pretty safe to say ‘everything’.

Alice Cooper: “We took Guns N’ Roses on their first tour, and the very first night, after they played, I told my band: “We’d better be very good tonight.” They had the attitude, the sound, the swagger. I had to send somebody out for bail money on that tour because one or two of them were in jail. So we were kinda like their big brothers and they knew they could call me any time.

“With The Garden, Axl called me at two in the morning: ‘Can you come over to the studio?’ I said: ‘Sure, I’ll be over, but I can’t spend three days doing it.’ When I came in, the scene in the studio was very clean. Axl was there, and maybe Slash or Duff, and everything was ready to go. The lyrics were there. I listened to the song three times and said:

‘No problem’. Axl didn’t have to describe what The Garden was about. Being a lyricist, I saw where they were going with it. I got the imagery. To me, ‘the garden’ was where you go to pick the drugs you want. To give Guns N’ Roses credit, as dysfunctional as they were at points, they really had clever ideas. Like any hard rock band, they were blues-based, and The Garden starts out like a more modernistic take on that, with the psychedelia coming through in the lyrics. But it was still a very ‘street’ sound.

“Slash has said Axl had been trying to sing like me and they decided to get the real thing. There’s a certain amount of cynicism and dark humour in what I do. I think that’s why they wanted me on the song – they wanted it a little sinister. They just said: ‘Do it the way you would do it.’

“Axl might have given me a couple of pointers but we nailed it pretty quickly – in two or three takes – and I was surprised when he went: ‘Yeah, that sounds great.’ I didn’t hang out afterwards. I just said: ‘Guys, I know you’re gonna stay up for three days, so I’m gonna go home’. We could laugh about that, because they understood I’d been there once, too.

“I’ve sung a lot of different bits with a lot of different people, but it’s always great to be on a classic album. Use Your Illusion is not just another album. It’s an album that will go down in history.”

24. This I Love (Chinese Democracy, 2008)

The penultimate track of Chinese Democracy finds Axl Rose in full-on power ballad mode. Movie music maestro Marco Beltrami handled the lush orchestrations, with strings, woodwinds, piano, and a Slash-channelling guitar solo from Bumblefoot among the sounds underpinning the singer’s pained, heartfelt vocal – one of his best – about a lost love that just won’t die. It was written in the early 90s, purportedly about Rose’s ex-fiancée, supermodel Stephanie Seymour. Their relationship was tempestuous, and the song is suitably freighted with pain, regret, torment. Rose described it as one of the heaviest things he’d ever done, and he wasn’t kidding. GM

23. Out Ta Get Me (Appetite For Destruction, 1987)

In 1986, A&R men were sniffing around the band’s door – a door broken down that year by the LAPD, as they sought Axl Rose to answer for – as Duff McKagan put it in his memoir – “a bogus rape charge” (which was subsequently dropped). McKagan was terrified that such scrapes with the law would deter the labels. Fat chance, with a riff and chorus as hooky as the one on here. The F-bombs fly in their defiant, paranoid, and rocking tale of hidin’ out and layin’ low, with GN’R playing the role of persecuted rock’n’roll outlaws to perfection. How could we resist? GM

22. Double Talkin’ Jive (Use Your Illusion I, 1991)

It’s no easy feat to play the tough guy while dressed in hot pants and a tuxedo jacket while smoking from a fancy cigarette holder, but Axl pulled it off when he sang Double Talkin’ Jive during a televised show in Paris in 1992. It was Izzy’s song, but Axl turned it into a vendetta against Warren Beatty, the actor who had briefly dated Axl’s ex-girlfriend Stephanie Seymour.

Axl also expanded the song’s title to Double Talkin’ Jive Motherfucker, adding extra emphasis to what was already the most badass thing on the Illusion records. With the band blasting away, Izzy’s voice sounded suitably twisted as he recounted his experiences of being ‘fucked up and outta place’. The surprise coda with rolling thunder fading into gentle acoustic guitars only added to the whacked-out vibe. PE

21. Think About You (Appetite For Destruction, 1987)

Even Appetite’s supposed second-tier songs were better than most band’s prime cuts. Think About You is a case in point. Written primarily by Izzy Stradlin in early 1985, a couple of months before Gun N’ Roses officially formed, and earmarked for an aborted debut EP, its rocket-fuelled chug disguises an uncharacteristic tenderness. The object of the guitarist’s affections was his then- girlfriend Monique Lewis (aka Angela Nicoletti), a booker at the Roxy club who other members of the band were reportedly besotted with – it’s her face that Axl Rose has tattooed on his arm. Bonus fact: Lewis would go on to marry Hanoi Rocks guitarist Andy McCoy. DE

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.