I discovered Guns N' Roses in the '90s, when MTV was deciding what we liked. At 8 years old, running around my bedroom in Superman briefs, my first exposure to a genuine rock star was Axl Rose, who seemed like a pirate hijacking my TV screen when he told me that we were in the jungle, baby, and that we were gonna die.
Since then, they've become my all-time favorite rock band.
Being a GNR fanboy in 2016 is ridiculously liberating. It's kinda like eating at a cheesy chain restaurant as a protest against foodies, or listening to KROQ instead of KCRW as a protest against pretend-to-be-broke hipster bands.
To paraphrase critic Chuck Klosterman: GNR was the last rock band that didn’t appeal to college kids. Critics born in the "indie-rock" era, myself included, are preprogrammed to see GNR as a symbol of chest-beating maleness that can, at times, be so overtly rockist that it seems counterproductive. It's a threat to decency — or at least to the Silver Lake yuppie who owns a Prius and listens to The National.
GNR never benefited from a shocking death like Kurt Cobain, the indie messiah, so the critics never had their martyr to deify with Photoshopped angel wings and sappy documentaries. GNR also didn't noticeably influence today's culture or aesthetic, or spawn a legion of imitators. Their impact was finite and ugly — like Mike Tyson as heavyweight champ.
So, friends, a closer look at the GNR canon isn't about originality or cultural impact; it isn't about redefining GNR's work from 1985 to 2008, or trying to make sense of it all. No, the following ranking is simply a manifesto for anyone who wants to rediscover the primeval spirit of rock, and wear it like a monstrous erection at a farmer's market.
Stipulation: I’ve only included material from GNR's studio albums. The Spaghetti Incident? isn’t part of this list. Google it if you want the obvious reason why.
See also: Slash's 10 Strangest Guitar Tracks
64. “My World” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
By the '90s, Axl Rose wanted to “bury Appetite," so he decided to experiment with industrial beats. Bjork’s “Army of Me” has a similar groove, except she didn’t try to flow over it like Ice-T — which was, let’s be real, still a bit much for a white guy in 1991.
63. “If the World” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
If only Axl had a voice of reason in the early 2000s — like Slash or Duff, instead of Buckethead and Chris Pitman — to keep him from mixing an industrial beat with Spanish guitar and Andrew Lloyd Webber-tinged interlude — which is overreach, like a bad Bond theme.
62. “Riad N' the Bedouins” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
Further proof that Axl has larger range than Beyoncé and Mariah Carey (just reporting facts). It’s also an exhibition of petulance: “Ohhhh my salvation/AlllI my frustrations/Caught in the lies,” which is Axl’s most recycled songwriting theme, where he constantly reminds us that he’s been fucked over.
Useless fact: Buckethead installed a chicken coop in the studio during the recording of Chinese Democracy. What a guy. Not Buckethead — Axl. He put up with some shit while making that record.
61. “Scraped” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
Axl opens by harmonizing over himself in four difference octaves. Then he reminds us, again, that he’s fighting to overcome the haters, i.e., his clingy exes and former bandmates. Includes one of Axl’s career-defining positions: Don’t believe the lies you read about me.
Personal note: Chinese Democracy is criminally underrated. It’s now the ultimate “I used to hate it but now I love it” record, especially for fanboys who want to suck up to Axl.
60. “Mama Kin” - Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide / GN’R Lies (1986 / 1988)
An Aerosmith original from ’73 where Axl uses cheeky humor to give it some edge: “This is a song about your fucking mother.”
59. “Nice Boys” - Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide / GN’R Lies (1986 / 1988)
A Rose Tattoo cover in which GNR siphons the spirit of Aerosmith from Toys in the Attic, which has less to do with unoriginality than homage, like The Beatles in ’64, who sounded like a mashup of their influences.
58. “Move to the City” - Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide / GN’R Lies (1986 / 1988)
GNR with a horn section, which gives it an E Street Band quality that makes this the closest GNR ever got to sounding like Springsteen.
57. “Shackler's Revenge” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
The NIN-sounding intro shows Axl pushing the limits of his audience, again, especially as the first single to be released off Chinese, on all things, Rock Band 2. Kinda sounds like The Prodigy to my '90s-MTV ears.
Some history: The Jimmy Iovine mixes of Chinese Democracy were leaked by a hacker on June 18, 2008. Which was four months before the label officially released “Shackler” via Rock Band 2.
56. “There Was a Time” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
An electronic symphony written about an ex, which is obvious, but the most important takeaways are two guitar solos — which include all the melancholic notes Slash would bend on Axl’s ballads on UYI, except they feel stiff without Slash’s sticky fingers stretching them.
55. "Reckless Life” - Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide / GN’R Lies (1986 / 1988)
Originally written by Hollywood Rose (which included members of GNR), this is now the apologist's best defense against punk snobs who schvitz every time Duff asserts GNR’s undeniable punkness. This. Is. Punk.
54. “Catcher in the Rye” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
Opens like a piano ballad by Queen, which would have sounded a lot more like Queen had Brian May’s solo remained. But it was cut during edits, scarring Chinese’s Holden Caulfield ballad with undeserved disappointment and concern — like, was Axl going to disappear on us like J.D. Salinger?
Personal history: Axl singing the finale of "Bohemian Rhapsody" at the '92 Freddie Mercury tribute at Wembley stadium is, for me, the only time I've ever seen a Queen cover that didn't suck.
53. “I.R.S.” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
A semi-bitter take on Axl’s ex-wives lawyering-up on him, which includes a Buckethead solo that's a sad reminder of how his greatness was buried under a KFC chicken bucket.
52. “Garden of Eden” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Other than “Civil War,” this is GNR’s only other semi-protest song, which gets lost in all the gimmicky sound effects and jive.
51. “This I Love” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
Axl’s saddest song, which is saying a lot. But there's no bitterness here, just sorrow. Not the schlocky, Bon Jovi shit — real anguish from a man struggling to move on, not dance the night away.
50. “Pretty Tied Up” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
GNR fanboys like their “Izzy songs." This one opens with a sitar probably inspired by Keef (Izzy’s favorite Stone). The lyric “Crack the whip cuz that bitch is just insane” sounds offensive today, but in 1991, everyone was GNR’s bitch.
49. “Don't Cry” (Alt-Lyrics) - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
They released the same ballad, twice, on basically the same album, with different lyrics. I should note that sequels were a thing for Axl in the ‘90s. Anyhow, here’s the logic:
-“Don’t Cry” (Original): Axl realizing his girlfriend is about to break up with him, which he accepts, while she cries because he isn’t bitter about it.
-“Don’t Cry” (Alt-Lyrics): A song about forgiveness, on Axl’s terms. Ultimately a bittersweet “I told'ya so.”
48. “Chinese Democracy” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
Sorta wondered a few things here, like what's a “Falun Gong," which I had to Google, or why Axl suddenly wanted to explore Chinese politics. To his credit, Axl isn’t espousing some cheap gimmick (he visited China), so when sings about totalitarianism and “Chinese stew,” it doesn’t feel as fake as Bon Jovi writing about the Old West.
47. “Dead Horse” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
If past lives are a thing, then Axl is the reincarnated Billy the Kid, or Janis Joplin with a penis. Which is utterly useless thinking as it relates to a song that isn't about an actual horse, or an “old cowboy,” but Axl’s frustration with a woman. Includes one of Slash's most throwaway solos.
46. “Street of Dreams” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
Every fanboy wanted this to be the next "November Rain," but ultra-personal lyrics like, “What I thought was beautiful don’t live inside of you anymore” and, “What I thought was true before were lies I couldn’t see” weren't grandiose enough to warrant the comparison.
45. “You're Crazy” (Acoustic) - GN'R Lies (1988)
A softer version of a song that's Appetite’s punkest rampage of leather, lipstick and crazy chick-syndrome. Ultimately a less electric version of the original, that's about it.
44. “Bad Obsession” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
This is GNR reviving the Stones on a harmonica-driven drug song that strikes a balance between the silliness of “You Ain’t the First,” and the angry maleness of “Back Off Bitch.”
43. “Double Talkin' Jive” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
A bluesy song by Izzy about GNR’s reckless past, with a reference to a head they actually discovered in a dumpster. The real kicker here is Slash’s Spanish guitar on the coda, which twinkles into the distance as the melancholic piano of “November Rain” takes over on the next track.
42. “You Ain't the First” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
A drunken, stripped-down blues sing-along that feels like a less cheeky, more hillbilly version of “Used to Love Her.” Another song by Izzy that kinda sounds like Keef.
41. “Bad Apples” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
GNR getting their funkiest on the intro is less interesting to me than hearing Axl ape Mick Jagger aping a black blues singer when he says, “I got some genuine, imitation baaaad apples.”
40. “You're Crazy” - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
“Sweet Child O’ Mine” needed to be followed by something fast, pissed-off and unambitious. This was it, a hard-hitting GNR track that captured the spirit of finding love on the sex-fueled Sunset Strip.
39. “Sorry” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
There’s a live performance of this from Rock in Rio 2011, where Axl’s wearing a yellow raincoat, drenched like Gene Kelly in “Singin' in the Rain,” giving the audience the crazy-eye and looking fuckin’ sinister (like he's got a dirty secret to tell). What a showman.
38. “So Fine” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
Written by Duff as a love-letter to Johnny Thunders (who died in ’91), it includes Slash’s most gushingly romantic solo, along with Axl breathing heavily, like he's trying to have sex with Johnny Thunders, or just confuse us.
37. “Prostitute” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
An “incredible song,” according to GNR fanboy Nicolas Cage. “Prostitute” is a credit to Rose’s heart-on-sleeve lyricism as he sends a message to both his critics and fans. So it's not about a hooker, but a metaphor for being misunderstood and treated like one.
36. “Shotgun Blues” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
Stripped-down rock & roll on an album filled with complex ballads. It's also intense because it's Axl quasi-threatening a girl with shotgun, in order to put her in her “motherfuckin’ place." Axl is every guy without their mother getting in the way of their id.
35. “Yesterdays” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
In hindsight, I think of this as a cheerier take on the material covered in “Prostitute” and “Sorry,’’ which is the burden of fame and expectations. Incidentally, this one of six ballads on UYI II.
34. “Perfect Crime” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
There’s a video out there of Axl performing this wearing an aircast and Marlboro T-shirt, dripping sweat and pounding out a caffeinated rain dance that captures everything this song is about: burying Appetite with firepower, paranoid rage, a Slash solo that might qualify as his most ballsy, and Izzy at his Keefest.
33. “Dust N' Bones” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
A quintessential Izzy song that adds to his growing catalog of trashy but cool, sweaty, B-movie-inspired blues. It doesn’t appeal to the Axl shill in me — who wants, no needs something more ambitious.
32. “Anything Goes” - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
A raunchy song about rough-and-tumble sex that demonstrates what Steven Adler gave GNR: giddy recklessness, an "anything goes" unpredictability that defined their status as the Strip's uncivilized rebels.
31. “Think About You” - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
On the chorus, with Izzy playing lead, Slash trickles in a jangly acoustic guitar that sounds like something Johnny Marr would have played. Unfortunately, it's a track that got buried between the betrayal of “My Michelle” and earnestness “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”
30. “Better” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
There’s an insane-asylum vibe to this song, a credit to Buckethead’s creepy funhouse guitar riff and solo. This should have been Chinese's first single because of how instantly gratifying it is. There's a music video out there, somewhere.
Fact: GNR’s last pre-Chinese Democracy music video was for their cover of The Skyliners' “Since I Don’t Have You."
29. “14 Years” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
A former manger once described Izzy as the beating heart behind the two boobs, Axl and Slash. This is one of his best songs, with an Elton John-inspired piano on a track that’s about both Izzy and Drake’s favorite life experience: Started from the bottom.
28. “Locomotive” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
It opens with a “Rocket Queen” drum intro, which doesn’t have any of Adler’s feeling. Matt Sorum always felt like a guy that should have been playing with Van Halen, not GNR. The coda is the highlight, the only reason this is ranked so high, where Slash gets unusually funky.
27. “Back Off Bitch” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Cheeky misogyny by Axl, like Lou Reed and Robert Plant before him, but poorly titled in such a way that it's been hijacked by hillbillies in Toyota Tacomas who think women should stick to knitting.
26. “Don't Damn Me” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
My favorite foot-stomping guitar intro ever, which fires off like a high-speed chase. “Sometimes I wanna kill … sometimes I never give a fuck,” are lyrics that probably kept UYI off the shelves of several retailers during Bush’s anti-fun years.
25. “Madagascar” - Chinese Democracy (2008)
I first heard this at the MTV VMAs in 2002, where Jimmy Fallon had an orgasm introducing GNR (seriously, what other band gets that kinda PDA?). The French horn melody on the intro sounds like royal fanfare, which sets the stage for one of the most epic bridges in rock history: Axl’s synth-orchestra followed by a sample from MLK’s “I Have a Dream,” where “Free at last, free at last, thank God almighty, we are free at last” gives you chills.
24. “Get in the Ring” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
This is GNR’s “Hit ’Em Up,” a classic diss track designed to discredit their critics in the press, which backfired and immortalized their enemies with subsequent book deals and name recognition.
23. “Live and Let Die” - Use You Illusion I (1991)
GNR’s take on a Paul McCartney Bond theme that feels like satire on the broken-guitar verse. The bridge is so good that most people still, to this day, forget this is a cover.
Useless fact: On the Use Your Illusion Tour (1991-1993), Slash famously played The Godfather theme in such a way that it sounded like he was making his guitar beg for forgiveness, like Fredo.
22. “Out Ta Get Me” - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Inspired by Axl ducking false rape charges in Hollywood, and his days a juvenile delinquent in Indiana. The ultimate middle-finger from Axl to authority figures throughout his life — basically his "Fuck tha Police."
Observation: Bon Jovi's "Bad Medicine," released in 1988, uses a melody for the verse that's suspiciously similar to the intro of "Out Ta Get Me."
21. “Right Next Door to Hell” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Duff’s bass opens this jab at Axl’s former neighbor, whom he reportedly attacked with a bottle of chardonnay and piece of chicken. Like I said, what a guy. “Fuck you, bitch,” is the punchline to a song that could now be about Justin Bieber.
20. “Knockin' On Heaven's Door” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
A cover that overshadows the original. Until I discovered Dylan in high school, I thought this was a GNR song; I kinda wish it was, because their version offers so much more in terms of providing an epic backdrop to a song about a dying sheriff. There's even a nonsensical phone call during the bridge, which somehow turns into a rap song as GNR plays on.
19. “It's So Easy” - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
A Duff collaboration with West Arkeen (who co-wrote several GNR songs), on which Axl sings in a low octave on the verse, which was rare for early GNR, and then soars high on the chorus. It’s also the first single off Appetite. It initially flopped, but is still a favorite with first-generation GNR fans.
History: GNR's '88 Live at the Ritz, recorded by MTV, is widely considered GNR at their peak, in terms of raw talent, right before they became the biggest band on the planet. They opened with "It's So Easy."
18. “Used to Love Her” - GN'R Lies (1988)
Fantastic satire by Izzy about a man killing his girlfriend, because, well, she bitches and fusses too much. It’s funny because it’s a sing-along about murdering someone for being insufferable. The most Bret Easton Ellis song in the GNR canon.
Useless fact: American Psycho was based in 1988, the same year Axl's favorite boxer, Mike Tyson, was champ and GNR was the biggest band on the planet.
17. “One in a Million” - GN'R Lies (1988)
An uncensored, dark-comedy sequel to "Welcome to the Jungle." If you’re a defender of GNR, this is also the song you wish never existed. This was Axl being Kanye when Kanye was 11 — before "trolling" was even a thing. I personally take it as a song written not from Axl's viewpoint, but from that of an angry hillbilly, who’s just arrived in the big city, surrounded by minorities, gays and hustlers that make him feel uneasy — which explains the “Immigrants and faggots/They make no sense to me” line, or “Police and niggers, that's right." Then it gets weird, because it’s a song about a girl, I think, his “one in a million.” Musically, it could've won a Grammy had it not been a white-youth rallying cry.
Shocking fact: Kurt Loder actually said the N-word twice on MTV News covering the "One in a Million" controversy. Imagine if Twitter existed in '88.
16. “My Michelle” - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Slash’s most sinister guitar intro in the GNR canon, which is beyond creepy and could only come from the fingers of a horror cinephile. It’s also a song you’ll regularly hear at strip clubs because it's so danceable, like everything on Appetite, where Duff and Adler were handcuffed together in the prison of their influences: Prince, Sly Stone, disco, and KISS.
Fact: Slash’s guitar tone on Appetite is unforgettable, and apparently unrepeatable; he couldn't reproduce it on UYI. For recording GNR’s debut, Slash used a 1959 Les Paul replica through a modified Marshall amp, what Slash himself referred to as the "perfect Les Paul/Marshall combination."
15. “The Garden” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
People are going to wonder why this much-maligned Alice Cooper collaboration is ranked so high. Yeah, I get it, Alice sounds really cheesy on the chorus. Okay, the chorus is terrible, but there’s a lot going on here that’s psychedelic and different for GNR, including several Slash solos that bend his guitar to tears, and Axl’s slithering verse — which charms you into a trance-like dance.
14. “Breakdown” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
“Breakdown” is GNR's Wild West epic, which includes some of Axl's most cryptic lyrics, like “Fun how everything was roses/When we held on to the guns/Just because you're winnin’/Don’t mean you're the lucky ones.” Perhaps a metaphor for GNR's days on the Sunset Strip? It rocks, either way.
13. “Coma” - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
This is GNR venturing into Black Sabbath terrain, or Metallica’s “One,” taking their audience on a horrific journey through the eyes of a man who’s in coma, struggling to awaken, only to realize he’s been living his life in a comatose state. Slash’s guitar is the guiding light on GNR's longest and most disturbing song. Metalheads prefer this to just about anything else on UYI.
12. “Estranged” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
“Estranged,” for whatever reason, didn't really work live. Which doesn't really matter, because it came with the most ridiculous and inexplicably over-the-top music video ever made. Here are some highlights: dolphins swimming on the Sunset Strip, Axl jumping off an aircraft carrier, a dolphin wearing a flannel shirt, and Slash emerging from the ocean — soloing like a voodoo Jesus. Watching the video for “Estranged” in 2016 is the mouth-agape equivalent of seeing an accidental death during the Miami Vice stunt show in the mid-'90s.
11. “Civil War” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
GNR’s most righteous protest song, which references JFK amid politically charged lyrics like, “I never fell for Vietnam,” or “Look at the world we're killing/The way we've always done before.” Which read like Dylan lyrics — which makes me wonder why VH1 continues to push GNR as "hair metal." To me, they're LA's outspoken boogie band — you know, our Skynyrd.
Unverified information: Axl's great-great-great-grandfather may have been killed in the Civil War. This, however, is unconfirmed information from reporter John Jeremiah Sullivan.
10. “You Could Be Mine” - Use You Illusion II (1991)
Their most thunderous display of blockbuster hard rock — rated M, for male — which was included on the Terminator 2 soundtrack because it’s basically fast biker music. This is also the best GNR song for sliding across your kitchen floor in white boxer-briefs and screaming, "Youuuu could be mi-e-ine, ow!” Which I've done before.
9. “Don't Cry” (Original) - Use Your Illusion I (1991)
The first ballad Izzy ever strummed for Axl, which includes softly sung backup vocals by Blind Melon’s Shannon Hoon. Like every GNR ballad, there’s an earnestness here that’s lacking from other cheesy power ballads by bands like Poison and Bon Jovi.
History: A lot of GNR’s best material, including all of Appetite, “November Rain,” “Don’t Cry,” and “You Could Be Mine,” was already written by 1987 (two years after forming their core lineup). Which is remarkable.
8. “Nightrain” - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
It’s a song about getting drunk off cheap wine. If you look closer, which is pointless, you might see it as a metaphor for speed, or just an ode to train-hopping. What’s important here is the sense of freedom it creates with the rhythm and Slash’s electrifying riff on the chorus.
7. “Patience” - GN'R Lies (1989)
The only reason why there should have been a Moonman for “Best Hard Rock Whistle” in 1989. Recorded on a whim for the Lies EP — their sorbet between Appetite and UYI — “Patience” is the second positive love song the band ever released. It also has the dubious distinction of being the one GNR song that haters know how to play on their acoustic guitars.
Opinion: If “Patience” was the only song GNR ever released, they would have been known as “The Eagles of Hard Rock.” Which is why Don Henley filling in as stick-handler at the '89 American Music Awards seemed like a good idea in Adler's absence.
6. “Paradise City” - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Could be GNR's most popular song at college bars, or anywhere where booze is served. “Take me down to the paradise city/Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty” are, probably, their most karaoke'd lyrics. With its sparkling intro and Slash's jangling guitar, this is GNR at their sunniest on a record that's often dark and hidden behind their own drug-ified wilderness.
5. “Mr. Brownstone” - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
Every rock band that lives the cliche has a song about drug addiction. GNR, a band influenced as much by Queen and disco as Sabbath, takes the doldrums of heroin addiction and gives it bounce, with a swinging rhythm that sounds like a funky African drum circle following a biker gang. This is probably Duff's favorite song to play live.
4. “November Rain” - Use Your Illusion II (1991)
My GNR entry point was waiting eagerly to see "November Rain” play on MTV, when music videos were as buzzworthy as a Game of Thrones death scene. For a 9-year-old, watching Slash walk out of a church in the middle of a prairie — with his mane being untangled in the wind as he basically fucked his guitar — was like seeing a cowboy Jesus licking the Virgin Mary's nipple.
Useless Fact: “November Rain” is GNR’s most popular music video in terms of stream count.
3. “Welcome to the Jungle” - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
This is GNR’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” because their gimmick is on full display, so fuckin’ obvious that it’s the starting point for newbies to discover GNR — 30 years after it blew up MTV’s switchboards. But allow me to be a snob, if only for a moment, and say my ears have had enough of this song on the radio. It's third on the list strictly because of Slash’s opening riff, on a delay pedal, which coupled with Axl’s animalistic screech has become GNR's primal battle cry during a live set (which is the only place it still belongs).
Opinion: Comedian Sam Kinison had the pleasure of introducing GNR for their performance of "Welcome to the Jungle" at the '88 MTV VMAs. It was GNR invading MTV's cheesy pop empire in what is now considered the best hard-rock performance on the MTV stage, ever.
2. “Rocket Queen” - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
The closer on Appetite is Steven Adler’s finest display of feeling (the man loved his job), as he giddily holds together a song that includes an actual live recording of Axl having sex with a stripper. What brings it all together is the glorious coda, a contrast to the verse and chorus, and includes some of Axl’s most romantic lines as he tells the "Rocket Queen" that he’ll be there for her until the bitter end, and that “All I ever wanted was for you to know that I care.” It becomes his musical serenade to every Sunset Strip groupie, or fan, or whatever you want to call them — the women that kept GNR alive in the early days.
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History: During the "Rocket Queen" chorus at a show in St. Louis in 1991, Axl decided security wasn't doing their job, so he jumped into the crowd and attacked a fan who had a camera. When MTV News reported the story, and the subsequent riot, I became even a bigger fan. Axl was, actually, crazy, and the realness was intoxicating. (I never felt the same about Kurt Cobain.)
1. “Sweet Child O' Mine” - Appetite for Destruction (1987)
It’s a love song written by a petulant scoundrel, which made it a shockingly earnest admission of love — the hard-rock equivalent of Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch, which was also a big deal at the time. It altered the perception of GNR with both women and the band's critics. We could talk about Slash’s memorable intro, perhaps the greatest in rock history, but that's been done to death. In terms of history, this was GNR's only No. 1 hit, ever, and the moment they became the biggest band on the planet. It's also a rare '80s power ballad that's got genuine Southern comfort, a credit to Axl, who orchestrated a "joke" riff by Slash into GNR's masterpiece and most memorable song.
Fact: In the summer of '88, MTV aired the video for "Sweet Child" twice an hour, every hour, every single day while it climbed the charts.