Ever since hearing "Welcome to the Jungle" at a hockey game as a kid, I fantasized about having my very own Guns N' Roses blog on a popular guitar-oriented website.
Well, actually I fantasized about rocking a Les Paul and being able to successfully pull off a top hat, but you can't win 'em all, right?
Guns N’ Roses were often compared to the Rolling Stones, and if Appetite For Destruction was Guns’ Sticky Fingers, the Use Your Illusion albums would have to be their Exile on Main St. Like Exile, Use Your Illusion I & II won’t be remembered for the hits, but as a strong, collective statement made by a band at the pinnacle of their creativity.
That said, as perhaps one of the biggest aficionados of these albums -- and given they recently celebrated their 20th anniversary -- I wanted to take the recent rash of UYI retrospectives a step further and look at each track individually in order, from worst to best.
Want to see how your ranking stacks up to mine? Take a look at the results of our readers' poll here.
30. “My World” – Use Your Illusion II (Rose)
A bold experiment, perhaps, but more of an Axl solo track than a true Guns N' Roses tune.
29. “Shotgun Blues” – Use Your Illusion II (Rose)
This sophomoric string of insults, supposedly aimed at Motley Crue lead singer Vince Neil, makes for an enjoyable listen the first time. Next time, Axl might want to take some lessons from Don Rickles, because his insults here are more on par with Triumph, the Insult Comic Dog.
28. “You Ain’t the First” – Use Your Illusion I (Stradlin)
This is by no means an un-enjoyable song to listen to, but it serves little purpose on the album, aside from being a pretty good intro to “Bad Obsession.”
27. “So Fine” – Use Your Illusion II (McKagan)
Again, not a terrible song, just not a good Guns N’ Roses song. This one might have made it as a single on Duff’s solo album, Believe In Me. Here, it’s forgettable.
26. “Don’t Cry” (Alt. Lyrics) – Use Your Illusion II (Stradlin, Rose)
When listening to the albums back-to-back, by the time you get this one you might just get the sneaking suspicion that you’ve heard this song before.
25. “Back Off Bitch” – Use Your Illusion I (Rose, Paul Huge)
Ladies and gentleman, a Paul Huge writing credit. Huge would eventually wind up playing guitar on Guns N’ Roses’ cover of “Sympathy for the Devil” for the Interview with the Vampire soundtrack after Gilby Clarke was booted for asking Axl to rock out a bit more. That aside, this one’s a valiant attempt at a rocker, but it simply doesn’t hold up against some of the other fast-paced numbers on the albums.
24. “Breakdown” – Use Your Illusion II (Rose)
According to Slash, this was one of the most difficult tracks of the UYI sessions to record. It's also the second use of whistling on the second disc, both to good effect. Superb lyrics on this track and a searing Slash solo mean you won’t be skipping it, but a stronger chorus might put it higher on the playlist.
23. “Don’t Damn Me” – Use Your Illusion I (Slash, Dave Lank, Rose)
The only song from the UYI albums to never be played live, this was another track featuring Axl carrying out a lyrical vendetta against his detractors. One of the cooler solo breaks on the whole album, the low ranking for this one is only a product of the list getting into “the rest of the songs are really good so I guess something has to go last” territory.
22. “Bad Apples” – Use Your Illusion I (Slash, McKagan, Stradlin, Rose)
Often overlooked, “Bad Apples” is a fun track and the closest thing to a funk feel GN’R ever accomplished. This one ranked last on our readers' poll of your favorite Use Your Illusion songs, but for my money, it's a keeper.
21. “You Could Be Mine” – Use Your Illusion II (Stradlin, Rose)
The first single from either album and a personal favorite of the Gover-nator, this song hailed from the writing sessions for Appetite, where it might have actually found a better home in lieu of “Think About You.”
20. “Dead Horse” – Use Your Illusion I (Rose)
In some ways, one of the most personal moments from Axl on either album. In fact, W.A.R. himself wrote the main guitar riff for the song.
19. “Perfect Crime” – Use Your Illusion I (Slash, Stradlin, Rose)
Maybe the only bad thing to say about this one is that it’s over too soon. Possibly Slash’s fiercest solo this side of the end of “Paradise City.”
18. “Get In The Ring” – Use Your Illusion II (Rose, Slash, McKagan)
Originally a Duff-penned tune called “Why Do You Look at Me When You Hate Me?,” Axl tacked on a savage rant against the music press before it made it into the UYI sessions. Admittedly, the insults here aren’t much better than those on “Shotgun Blues,” but hearing Axl proclaim, “Bob Guccione, Jr. at Spin/What you pissed off because your dad gets more pussy than you?” can’t help but make one smile every time.
17. “Live and Let Die” – Use Your Illusion I (Paul and Linda McCartney)
A strong if not all-too-faithful cover of a Wings classic. Rumor has it Slash was against the horns, and one can only wonder how much better the song would have been had he gotten his wish.
16. “Yesterdays” – Use Your Illusion II (Rose, West Arkeen, Del James, Billy McCloud)
Who are all these other writers and what are they doing on a Guns N’ Roses song? Of course anyone (obsessively) familiar with GN’R knows the names West Arkeen and Del James well. The studio cut is a classic, but the version found on the Live Era compilation is especially potent.
15. “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” – Use Your Illusion II (Bob Dylan)
Not a popular opinion, but Guns did their strongest covers on The Spaghetti Incident? Still, this one gets points for being a rock radio staple, and for possibly being more popular than the original (Sorry, Dylan fans.)
14. “Bad Obsession” – Use Your Illusion I (Stradlin, West Arkeen)
Featuring Michael Monroe of Hanoi Rocks on harmonica (the instrument’s only appearance on a GN’R song), “Bad Obsession” was a primarily Izzy-penned tune that tackled the all-too-familiar topic of addiction. After leaving the band, Stradlin was replaced by Gilby Clarke for the Use Your Illusion world tour. During the tour, Axl took a jab as Izzy, introducing “Bad Obsession” by saying, "This a song that we wrote about one year before ‘Mr. Brownstone’ with the help of our friend West Arkeen and some guy that just, I don't know, his name just escapes me.”
13. “Dust N’ Bones” – Use Your Illusion I (Stradlin, Slash, McKagan)
The second track on the first disc, hearing Izzy singing lead probably threw Guns fans for a loop. “Dust N’ Bones” marks the second GNR song featuring a talk box, and for my money, the best.
12. “Pretty Tied Up” – Use Your Illusion II (Stradlin)
Who doesn’t love a good, old-fashioned rock 'n' roll song about S&M? While already the hottest guitar duo in the world by the time Use Your Illusion hit, Izzy and Slash really showed their instrumental range on these albums, instanced here by Izzy’s use of sitar in the song’s intro. One question remains, though: Does he say “cool and stressing” or “cool ranch dressing”?
11. “14 Years” – Use Your Illusion II (Stradlin, Rose)
Stradlin and Rose go back the farthest of any of the band members, both growing up in the small town of Lafayette, Indiana. Izzy wrote “14 Years” about the nature of the friendship between the two, and fortunately got to play the song live a few times before said friendship would end and Izzy would leave the band for good.
10. “Double Talkin’ Jive” – Use Your Illusion I (Stradlin)
Izzy really stretched his writing legs on the Illusion albums, and “Double Talkin’ Jive” was his grittiest number yet (see: finding a head and an arm in the garbage can). This track was also a favorite of Slash’s, thanks to the classical guitar solo that ends the song.
09. “The Garden” (featuring Shannon Hoon and Alice Cooper) – Use Your Illusion I (Rose, West Arkeen, Del James)
The story behind Cooper’s appearance on this song is that when Axl sang it, he sounded so much like the shock-rocker that the band just decided to call him up and see if he’d do the track. As amazingly versatile as Rose’s voice can be, many might not have even noticed the switch had it not been for the liner notes.
08. “Locomotive (Complicity)” – Use Your Illusion II (Slash, Rose)
Given how perfectly Slash and Izzy’s guitars meld with Duff’s bass line to mimic a runaway train, this song would have been called “Locomotive” even if Axl hadn’t worked the word into the lyrics. Speaking of lyrics, “Locomotive” gets the high ranking primarily for its quality lyrical content. Of course, a few Slash solos don’t hurt its case either.
07. “Don’t Cry” – Use Your Illusion I (Stradlin, Rose)
Part of the Use Your Illusion-Trilogy, along with “November Rain” and “Estranged,” “Don’t Cry” was written by Stradlin and Rose after both had a heart-breaking experience with the exact same girl. While Izzy plays the song's intro and was the prime writer, he never made it to the video for this one, with Dizzy Reed famously wearing a shirt that read “Where’s Izzy?” during the shoot.
06. “Right Next Door to Hell” – Use Your Illusion I (Rose, Stradlin, Timo Caltia)
More than likely the first song most fans heard upon purchasing the albums, ”Right Next Door to Hell” picked up where Appetite for Destruction left off. The “fuck you” lyrics, driving bass and killer guitar riff signaled to the world that the “World’s Most Dangerous Rock Band” were still just as volatile.
05. “Garden of Eden” – Use Your Illusion I (Slash, Rose)
It’s easy to remember the Use Your Illusion albums for their ballads, but “Garden of Eden” was a rapid-fire, no-holds-barred journey through the cruel and shallow money trench of the music industry, and indeed, the world at large. The frantic lyrics even prompted a follow-the-bouncing-ball-theme to the music video for the song. The early blueprint for the ever popular lyric video? Perhaps…
04. “November Rain” – Use Your Illusion I (Rose)
Nothing this ambitious had been pulled off by a mainstream rock act since “Bohemian Rhapsody,” not to mention the fact that “November Rain” without a doubt features not one, not two, but three of Slash’s best guitar solos of all time. Oh, and that orchestra you hear in the beginning of the song? All synth patches painstakingly and obsessively programmed by Axl himself.
03. “Civil War” – Use Your Illusion II (Rose, Slash, McKagan)
As overtly political a song as Guns ever wrote, “Civil War” began as an instrumental tune Slash had written prior to the Appetite for Destruction world tour. The song was molded into form by the band during sound checks on the road. Allegedly, a demo version of this song exists with Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich doing the whistling in the song’s intro. Not unlikely considering Metallica were recording the "Black Album" in the very same studio.
02. “Coma” – Use Your Illusion I (Slash, Rose)
“Coma” is a twisting, turning ride through the confused, enraged and occasionally crystal-clear thoughts of a coma patient. Musically, this could be GN’R’s crowning achievement. Lyrically, Axl Rose claimed the song took him over a year to write, saying: “I tried to write that song for a year, and couldn't. I went to write it at the studio and passed out. I woke up two hours later and sat down and wrote the whole end of the song, like, just off the top of my head.”
01. “Estranged” – Use Your Illusion II (Rose)
Say what you will about Chinese Democracy, but that album at the very least proved once again that Axl Rose knows how to write a fucking song. That being said, he needs Slash, Duff and Izzy behind him to take a song from great to extraordinary, and look no further than “Estranged” for proof. An intensely personal song, “Estranged” was a snapshot of Axl at a period of time in his life in which he was becoming increasingly isolated from those around him. Where the songs on Chinese Democracy stayed vague in their lyrical content, “Estranged” proved more of a personal conversation than anything, whether it was Axl talking to an ex-lover, his friends or himself. You can hear Axl try to recapture the magic of this song on “Madagascar,” but falling short of a tune as strong as “Estranged” is nothing to be ashamed of. Unless it’s “My World.”