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Ranking the Albums of Guns ‘n’ Roses

After showing up in the ‘80s on an L.A. music scene that wasn’t ready for them, Guns ‘n’ Roses went on to become one of the most popular and beloved rock bands in history. With such legends as front man Axl Rose and lead guitarist Slash in the line-up, GnR have been named “the most dangerous band in the world” and sold more than 100 million records across the globe. They were among the trailblazers of the glam metal movement that came between hard rock in the ‘70s and grunge rock in the ‘90s. Here are all of the albums of Guns ‘n’ Roses (so far – they’re still going, so who knows? They could still record new stuff yet) ranked from worst to best.

6. “The Spaghetti Incident?”

This album is a little disappointing in that it’s all covers. None of the songs featured on it are Guns ‘n’ Roses originals as they simply played a bunch of other people’s songs, recorded it, and then put that out there. And with that attitude, it can be pretty easy to dismiss this album as a cheap, easy, lazy cash-in. Still, it is pretty great to hear GnR covering the greats. When you like more than one band or artist, part of you wants to hear them play each other’s songs. And GnR don’t play these cover versions as they were originally played by their original artists – they give you the GnR version of these songs, with their very distinctive sound and musical style attached to it. No one plays lead guitar like Slash, for example, so when he plays the riffs and solos and notes from another band’s song, it is still revelatory and it is still undeniably Slash. They cover some of the greatest bands of all time on the album, too, so it’s a fascinating listening experience: the Damned, the Stooges, the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols, T. Rex, Soundgarden (and, oddly enough, Charles Manson, which Axl has said was meant – paired with his wearing of a Manson t-shirt during concerts and music videos – as a statement that he is nothing like Charles Manson, although this message got a little muddled by what appeared to be his glamorizing of a murderer and cult leader). Frankly, GnR’s best covers aren’t even on this album. “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Mama Kin” aren’t on their album of covers. But there are some gems here – it’s just a shame that there aren’t any originals peppered in or the covers aren’t all fantastic.

5. Chinese Democracy

Years were spent producing this album. Geffen Records planned to get it out in 1999, but the band suffered from some personal problems – rifts and disagreements and the like – and they decided to totally start from scratch in 2000. They ended up going through fifteen different studios, missing a pretty generous 2007 deadline, running into legal difficulties, and fighting off online leaks, so the budget for the album ran up to $13 million, which makes it the most expensive rock album ever produced. The people at Geffen were furious. It was also the first GnR album in fifteen years, and the last one was an album entirely made up of covers, so there was a lot riding on this one. Fans had waited a very long time for it. When it was first released and the unit sales weren’t overwhelming and the critical reception was a little lukewarm, the album seemed like a giant disappointment – but that’s because expectations were so high! As Spin magazine put it, “The only way the record could have lived up to its legend would have been to never come out at all.” Honestly, retrospectively, it’s not as bad as it was made out to be. One of the main problems is that it doesn’t feel like a Guns ‘n’ Roses album. It doesn’t have their usual aggressive hard rock flavor to it. But if you’re willing to give them a chance to explore new styles and find their feet in other musical genres, then that’s okay. You just might enjoy it. “There Was a Time” is a powerful and emotionally driven power ballad, while the superficially glossy final track “Prostitute” actually has a deep and personal meaning about the band’s feelings about their own reputation. Still, there are a lot of stinkers on there.

4. Use Your Illusion II

Back in 1991, this album was released on the same day as its counterpart. It’s a sequel of sorts that narrowly outsold the other one. They both sold spectacularly, amassing unit sales of over 18 million copies, but this one managed to sell a couple of hundred thousand more and it’s difficult to see why, because the first one is clearly a stronger album, but this one also has its moments. “You Could Be Mine” is a standout track, with its unconventional rap in the middle by Axl Rose and a phenomenal guitar riff by Slash that moves a mile a minute and seems nearly impossible to play successful, but sure enough, he pulls it off! It was used by director James Cameron as the theme song for his movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day. You can hear it playing on John Connor’s boombox as he drives his little moped through the storm drains with his friend sitting on the back. Maybe that’s why it sold so well, because that was such a popular blockbuster action movie and the single sold really well after its theatrical release. But even with that great track on there, this is the weaker of the two. Frankly, with this one, it felt like a case of having too many songs for one album and not enough for two. They had plenty for the first one and it spilled over into a second, but they didn’t quite have enough to fill the second, so they padded this one out with tracks like the alternative version of “Don’t Cry” and a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” (although it is a terrific cover, to be fair). “Civil War” is a highlight – it’s GnR’s take on a war protest song, which is interesting in itself, and it asks, “What’s so civil about war, anyway?” So, this sequel album is, like a lot of albums, a mixed bag that is very hit and miss, but luckily with more hit than miss.

3. G ‘N’ R Lies

With just eight tracks to its name, this sophomore effort is technically an EP. It doesn’t have the track listing to make it a full album – there’s just not enough there. But with it being released right on the heels of the band’s debut album finally getting the recognition that it deserved and entering into the charts to make them one of the biggest rock bands in the world, the record execs were eager to get more GnR out there, and so they released their follow up as a studio album and promoted it as such, so that’s how we have to treat it. The ploy worked, since the album made it to the number four spot on the Billboard Hot 100, despite half its tracks having already been released on an EP that was recorded live. This album has some highlights. One in particular is “Used to Love Her,” which is a stroke of satirical genius poking fun at romantic ballads about “some guy whining about a broad who was treating him bad.” Slash has since revealed that part of the joke was writing the song about Axl’s dog and making people think it was about an old girlfriend – even funnier is that a song about a dog that people thought was about a woman was deemed misogynistic by some critics. One song that is uncomfortable to listen to today is “One in a Million,” featured on this album, which includes the N word and a homophobic rant. The band’s cover of Aerosmith’s “Mama Kin” brings a new angle to an already great track and the hard rockers’ use of more subtle acoustic sounds for some of the songs is interesting. Overall, the album is a mixed bag.

2. Use Your Illusion I

This album and its counterpart represented the Beatles moment for Guns ‘n’ Roses – the one where they began experimenting with different musical styles and exploring new worlds of sound. They incorporated elements of blues (a genre that was a huge early influence on Slash’s work and therefore something that he’s very passionate about – and that passion comes through in the album), classical music, punk rock, and heavy metal. Matt Sorum worked so hard to perfect the drumming on the album that he almost lost his mind – that’s what “Breakdown” was about. So, it’s a great album for drum fans. The album opens with a classic Guns ‘n’ Roses track. “Right Next Door to Hell” is so heavy and heart racing that it could be a Motley Crue song. Their influence on their contemporaries is certainly prevalent and it’s glorious. It’s appropriate that this was a Beatles moment for GnR, since their cover version of Paul McCartney and Wings’ James Bond theme song “Live and Let Die” is on this album, bringing their hard rock sound to a song that was written by McCartney in an afternoon as a prog rock piece. When GnR give power ballads a try, it doesn’t always work out, but “November Rain” is a great example of when it works – and it features a spectacular guitar solo by Slash that was ranked the sixth greatest of all time by Guitar World magazine. It slows down the intense speed of the album a little, but that’s okay. You need to calm down after the intensity of “Perfect Crime” and “Back Off Bitch,” which are a terrific couple of songs to jam to for rock fans. While a lot of the songs on this album play around with different musical genres and styles, those two tracks have the classic hard rock sensibility that made GnR one of the most successful and iconic bands in the world. This is the only album since Guns ‘n’ Roses burst onto the L.A. music scene in 1987 that has come close to toppling the monument of their debut work.

1. Appetite for Destruction

When Guns ‘n’ Roses’ debut album was first released in 1987, no one was ready for it. It was so much heavier and louder and cooler and more rebellious than anything that was going on in the L.A. music scene in the ‘80s. Reagan and MTV had scared everyone off of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, so this album took a couple of years to take off, but once it did, it really took off. It has become one of the best selling albums in music history, with over 30 million copies sold worldwide. A remastered edition was released earlier this year, actually, with a new single called “Shadow of My Love.” Right out of the gate, the album opens with a timeless classic. “Welcome to the Jungle” will forever be considered to be one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll songs of all time. It appeals to everyone – not just rock fans. They’ll never stop playing it on the radio, because you’ll never stop having the urge to bang your head to it and sing along with the lyrics. The album has everything, from crowd pleasers like “Sweet Child o’ Mine” and “Paradise City” that everyone knows, whether they’re a GnR fan or not, to the more obscure ones like “Nightrain” and “Out Ta Get Me.” The band’s debut album also includes the underrated gem “Rocket Queen,” which didn’t get the recognition that it deserved because it didn’t fit on the tapes that people recorded the vinyl album onto. It’s a shame, because it’s one of the strongest songs on the album and was a great way to round off what would become a classic album – of course, the fact that it was the one used to round it off meant that it went largely unappreciated for decades. The tracks were separated unconventionally between the “G” side and the “R” side (rather than “A” and “B”), with the “Guns” side telling of the hard partying, drug abusing city life of the band (think “Mr. Brownstone”) and the “Roses” side represented the more sensitive stuff (think “My Michelle”). It’s just a phenomenal album, written in the nitty gritty of the L.A. club scene and truly considered in its approach.

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