It’s not so easy to rank Guns N’ Roses songs.
The majority of “the most dangerous band in the world”‘s catalog can be split into two camps: the lean, mean hard rockers that populated their meteoric debut album, Appetite for Destruction, and the progressive, genre-bending opuses that defined their twin Use Your Illusion I and II releases. (You can make a third category for baffling industrial metal misfires like “My World,” but it’s better for everyone if you don’t.)
Guns N’ Roses racked up several massive hits during their late-’80s and early-’90s tenure, but they don’t operate like most “hits and filler” bands of the era. The 18-times platinum Appetite is basically a greatest-hits collection unto itself, and their more ambitious later releases are filled with staggering deep cuts that often outshine their hits and put their spandex-clad contemporaries to shame. And yes, that includes the 1993 covers album “The Spaghetti Incident?” and 2008’s unfairly maligned Chinese Democracy.
Die-hard GN’R fans adore these deep cuts just as much as, if not more than, their treasure trove of hits, which makes any list of their most underrated songs an extremely subjective exercise. But for our money these are the most overlooked songs from each Guns N’ Roses album.
“Think About You”
From: Appetite for Destruction (1987)
This Izzy Stradlin composition never got the love it deserved, not even from the guitarist’s bandmates. “I was never a big fan of [the song] because it was just too lightweight,” Slash told Guitar Edge in 2007. On the contrary, “Think About You” is a raggedy punk-rock love song, disarmingly sweet without lapsing into saccharine, unlike Appetite‘s other, far more popular ballad, “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Stradlin’s love for the Stones and Hanoi Rocks were apparent in the song’s razor-sharp hooks and economical guitar solo, while the haunting outro arpeggios added a splash of unease to the otherwise upbeat tune. Stradlin played a huge role in writing Appetite for Destruction, and “Think About You” shows how crucial he was to the original Guns N’ Roses sound.
From: G N’ R Lies (1988)
After Appetite for Destruction raced up the charts, Geffen Records predictably ushered Guns N’ Roses back into the studio to record a stopgap album between proper LPs. The resulting G N’ R Lies combined four new acoustic tracks with 1986’s hard-rocking Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide EP, which — spoiler — was recorded in Hollywood’s Pasha Studios and fleshed out with overdubbed audience applause. The four Suicide tracks are primitive compared to their Appetite brethren, but the band comes out swinging on album opener “Reckless Life,” a furious punk-metal blitzkrieg that splits the difference between AC/DC and Motorhead. Axl Rose‘s feral alley-cat screech is already fully developed, and Slash rips a breakneck solo that sounds far “shreddier” than his bluesy Appetite fretwork. And, arguably, there exists no more fitting band introduction than “Hey, fuckers! Suck on Guns N’ fuckin’ Roses!”
“Don’t Damn Me”
From: Use Your Illusion I (1991)
Guns N’ Roses’ sprawling Use Your Illusion double LP is full of Rose’s venomous, paranoid screeds, but nowhere are the inner workings of his tattered psyche on better display than “Don’t Damn Me.” The song reads as a response to critics who denounced his racist, homophobic tirades on Lies‘ “One in a Million,” as Rose proclaims, “So I send this song to the offended / I said what I meant and I’ve never pretended.” Musically it runs the gamut, as Slash’s metallic riffs segue into a half-speed, pseudo-psychedelic bridge full of trippy, multitracked vocals. Rose also grapples with his rock-god status as he implores, “Don’t hail me and don’t idolize the ink” — a sentiment that would be amplified as the frontman retreated from the spotlight in the coming years.
From: Use Your Illusion II (1991)
This aptly named funk-rock epic is one of the most ambitious — and rarely played — songs in Guns N’ Roses’ oeuvre. Matt Sorum and Duff McKagan‘s indelible drum-and-bass groove goes pound-for-pound against “Rocket Queen” as the band’s best, while Slash could slice through glass with his knotty riffing and whirlwind solos. “Locomotive” nearly derails in its gnarled choruses before righting itself and barreling ahead like a freight train in the verses. Meanwhile, Rose’s tale of a shattered relationship is fraught with grief, anger, regret, loneliness and — as the song reaches its breathtaking, “Layla”-esque coda — tired resignation.
From: “The Spaghetti Incident?” (1993)
GN’R fans should have expected that even the group’s punk-rock covers album would be a sprawling, multi-genre affair incorporating doo-wop (the Skyliners’ “Since I Don’t Have You”), glam-rock (T. Rex‘s “Buick Makane”) and … Charles Manson (hidden track “Look at Your Game, Girl”). But on their rendition of the New York Dolls‘ “Human Being,” Guns N’ Roses properly returned to their gutter-punk roots and delivered one of the most exhilarating performances of their career. Rose belts, coos and screams with gleeful abandon, while Slash’s bluesy leads fill the space between supersized power chords and rollicking piano riffs. The nearly seven-minute track never loses steam, and it earns every second of its bombastic trash can ending. On “Human Being,” Guns N’ Roses reminded listeners that punk could be reckless and virtuosic.
“There Was a Time”
From: Chinese Democracy (2008)
Perhaps Chinese Democracy was always doomed to fail. Fourteen years, $13 million and a seemingly endless supply of vitriol toward his ex-bandmates was simply too much baggage for fans to divorce from the music on Axl Rose’s embattled opus. Shame, too, because at its best, Chinese Democracy recaptures the metallic thunder and epic grandeur of GN’R’s heyday. Just check out album centerpiece “There Was a Time,” a mesmerizing cocktail of minimalist hip-hop beats, lush string arrangements, transcendent guitar solos and some of Rose’s most ear-piercing, tortured screams — sometimes happening all at once. It’s a spectacular artistic achievement on par with classic GN’R epics like “Estranged” and “November Rain,” and it proved that, for at least seven minutes, Chinese Democracy was worth its agonizing wait.