Guns N’ Roses brought hard rock back to the Stone Age with their earth-shattering 1987 debut album Appetite for Destruction, channeling the likes of the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith and the Sex Pistols across 12 streetwise tales of hard living that rebuffed the cartoonish decadence of the Sunset Strip glam-metal scene. But no-frills hard rock was never going to be enough for the mercurial, wildly ambitious Axl Rose, as this list of the 10 Weirdest Guns N’ Roses Songs proves.
Once Appetite turned them into the biggest band in the world, Guns N’ Roses immediately began taking wild sonic detours, from the acoustic odysseys of GN’R Lies to the 10-minute orchestral ballads and prog-metal epics of the twin Use Your Illusion records. When Rose emerged from his decade-plus seclusion with 2008’s Chinese Democracy, Guns N’ Roses didn’t even sound like the same band that issued Appetite — because they weren’t.
It would be tempting to slap 10 Chinese Democracy tracks on this list and call it a day, but Guns N’ Roses’ entire career is dotted with songs that were downright baffling upon release and remain head-scratchers today. From blustery ballads to alt-metal bangers, here are Guns N’ Roses’ 10 Weirdest Songs.
10. “You Ain’t the First” (from 1991’s Use Your Illusion I)
Guns N’ Roses had already explored their acoustic side on 1988’s GNR Lies, but they took it to a new level on this “drunken pirate song,” as then-drummer Matt Sorum once described it. With tasty slide guitar licks and Izzy Stradlin‘s languid lead vocals, “You Ain’t the First” evokes the ramshackle looseness of Exile on Main St.-era Stones, probably because the band members were so drunk during the recording session they could barely stand. The major sonic departure is made even more jarring by the fact that “You Ain’t the First” is slotted between the speed-metal “Perfect Crime” and the brawny blues-rocker “Bad Obsession.”
Read more: ‘You Ain’t the First’ Became Guns N’ Roses’ ‘Drunken Pirate Song’
9. “Used to Love Her” (from 1988’s GN’R Lies)
For exactly the first five syllables out of Rose’s mouth, “Used to Love Her” sounds like the kind of lovesick roots-rock lament that Mick and Keef had mastered nearly two decades prior. Then the punchline — “But I had to kill her” — lands. “I was sitting around listening to the radio and some guy was whining about a broad who was treating him bad,” Stradlin told Superstar Facts & Pix in 1988. “I wanted to take the radio and smash it against the wall. Such self pity! What a wimp! So we rewrote that same song we heard with a better ending.” A song as blatantly macabre and misogynistic as “Used to Love Her” should immediately register as a joke — but Rose sure doesn’t sound like he’s kidding.
8. “Breakdown” (from 1991’s Use Your Illusion II)
“Breakdown” isn’t the longest or most grandiose track on the Use Your Illusion discs — “November Rain,” “Estranged” and “Coma” would all like a word — but it’s certainly one of the weirdest. The song opens with a down-home banjo-and-whistle intro, swells into an Elton John-style piano epic, detours into fiery rock guitar histrionics and ends with – *checks notes* – Rose reciting a Cleavon Little monologue from the 1971 film Vanishing Point. He does the absolute most at all times, barking “Lemme hear it now!” in an exaggerated baritone and evoking the sound of a roaring tornado with his elongated, raspy screams. It’s no wonder Sorum “lost it a few times” while laying down the drums for this song, according to Slash.
Read more: The Guns N’ Roses Dustups That Led to ‘Breakdown’
7. “Get in the Ring” (from 1991’s Use Your Illusion II)
Most rock stars have a beef with the press at some point; some of them even air their grievances in song. But very few of them call out their critics by name in an X-rated mid-song rant that includes zingers like “Fuck you, suck my fuckin’ dick!” and “Get in the ring, motherfucker, and I’ll kick your bitchy little ass! Punk!” But hey, Axl Rose is just built different. Even without the rant, “Get in the Ring” is a ridiculously overstuffed rocker, featuring a live audience chant, childish schoolyard taunts (“I don’t like you, I just hate you, I’m gonna kick your ass!“) and a campy ringside introduction for the band. Each of these elements would fail spectacularly on their own, but together, they create a glorious rock ‘n’ roll mess — although Bob Guccione, Jr. might beg to differ.
Read more: When Axl Rose Went Ballistic on the Press in ‘Get in the Ring’
6. “Coma” (from 1991’s Use Your Illusion I)
With its 10-plus-minute runtime and linear structure, “Coma” is the most Herculean effort on the Use Your Illusion albums. Slash wrote the song while he was in a so-called “heroin delirium,” basing the sinister, prog-metal stomper on a “repeating pattern that got increasingly mathematical and involved in its precision as it progressed.” Rose’s lyrics were inspired by a stress-induced drug overdose he suffered several years earlier, and several pointed sound effects — a panicked ER conversation, a flatlining heart monitor, a chorus of scolding ex-girlfriends — usher his descent into unconsciousness. After a violent jolt back to reality, he closes the song with a furious, stream-of-consciousness screed. “Coma” is one of Guns N’ Roses’ darkest and most cinematic songs, and Rose admitted it was “one of the best things that I’ve ever written.”
Read more: Slash’s ‘Coma’ Pushed Guns N’ Roses Into Complicated Territory
5. “Scraped” (from 2008’s Chinese Democracy)
Even on an album that serves up industrial metal, trip-hop and glam rock in equal measure, “Scraped” is a doozy. Nothing can fully prepare your body for the blunt-force impact of a half-dozen Auto-Tuned Axls roaring out of your speakers in the song’s acapella intro. From there, “Scraped” settles into a pummeling funk-metal groove, with Rose delivering self-empowerment mantras (a rarity for the frequently dour or introspective frontman) in a pinched, heavily processed mid-range voice. There’s also some bizarre vocal clipping at the 1:19 mark — God only knows if it was an egregious editing mistake or a bold artistic statement on Rose’s part.
4. “If the World” (from 2008’s Chinese Democracy)
Guns N’ Roses previously covered Wings‘ “Live and Let Die,” the title song to the 1973 James Bond film. So, it makes perfect sense that Axl Rose would release his own fictional Bond theme 17 years later. What makes less sense is its wild amalgamation of trip-hop beats, flamenco guitar, synthetic strings, electro-funk pulses and bluesy piano tickles. “If the World” is one of the most out-of-character songs Guns N’ Roses ever released, but Rose’s 150-percent vocal conviction and lush, atmospheric production make it endlessly fascinating nonetheless.
3. “Oh My God” (from 1999’s End of Days soundtrack)
Any lingering doubts about Axl Rose’s evolving musical interests were promptly squashed when he emerged from his half-decade seclusion with “Oh My God,” which evokes Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson, and appeared on the End of Days soundtrack alongside the likes of Korn, Limp Bizkit and Rob Zombie. Squalls of guitar feedback, cavernous drums and Rose’s hyper-distorted wail dominate the blistering industrial-metal track, punctuated by a catchy dance-beat bridge and a few snatches of playful clean singing. Taken at face value, “Oh My God” is a fun, pulverizing oddity, but it was a disappointing and underperforming comeback. Slash even said in 2000 that the track “convinced me that my departure had been a wise decision, and that Axl and I were definitely no longer on the same wavelength musically.”
2. “My World” (from 1992’s Use Your Illusion II)
Axl Rose kept his finger on the pulse of musical trends and sought to update Guns N’ Roses’ sound accordingly — sometimes to the chagrin of his bandmates, as on the jaw-dropping Use Your Illusion II closer “My World.” (“There was one song on that record that I didn’t even know was on it until it came out, ‘My World,'” Izzy Stradlin told Rolling Stone in 1992. “I gave it a listen and thought, ‘What the fuck is this?'”) In less than 90 seconds, Rose plunged the band headfirst into the burgeoning industrial-metal scene that was being pioneered by the likes of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry. Over a rudimentary hip-hop beat augmented by the sounds of scraping metal and moaning women, Rose delivers a scathing diatribe, welcoming listeners to his “socio-psychotic state of bliss” and beckoning “Let’s do it” in his most disturbed, psychosexual croon. In one fell swoop, Rose drew a line between Guns N’ Roses’ past and future, polarizing his colleagues and a good deal of fans as only he could.
Read more: Axl Rose’s Divisive ‘My World’ Points to Guns N’ Roses’ Future
1. “Absurd” (2021 single)
Say what you want about the first original Guns N’ Roses song in 30 years to feature Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan, but it’s certainly not a misnomer. Originally written during the Chinese Democracy sessions and performed in 2001 under the name “Silkworms,” “Absurd” is a clobbering punk-metal maelstrom full of pulverizing drums, choppy riffs and some of the filthiest, most repellent lyrics of Rose’s career. Oh, and then there’s the mind-boggling ambient interlude breaking up the tumult, because why not? “Absurd” is brash, distasteful and a laughably illogical choice as a comeback single from the semi-reunited GNR lineup. In other words, it’s classic Guns N’ Roses.
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