Rolling Stone Greatest Songs

Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Songs: Guns ‘n Roses, ‘Welcome to the Jungle’ (#491)

Oh my God.

Buried in the mix roughly seven seconds into ‘Welcome to the Jungle’, those are the first words we hear on Guns n’ Roses’ bleak and brilliant Appetite for Destruction.  A reflexive gasp of shock, horror, and moral revulsion, it serves as a kind of mission statement for the snarling catalog of human failure and near-unremitting darkness that follows.  Appetite is a Chandleresque vision of the City of Angels set to Hell’s own soundtrack: a victim-on-victim freakshow chock full to the brim with junkies, hustlers, porno hounds, and lost, lonely souls.

All five of the band’s members — singer W. Axl Rose, guitarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, bassist Duff McKagan, and drummer Steven Adler — are credited as writers on ‘Jungle’, but the moral viewpoint is that of Rose and Stradlin, Indiana natives and boyhood friends.  You can take the boys out of the Midwest, apparently, but taking the Midwest out of the boys might be another task altogether.  You get the sense that Hollywood, CA might’ve come as something of a shock after Lafayette, IN (though both Rose and Stradlin had lived in LA for years by the time ‘Jungle’ was written).

That the album even has a viewpoint, moral or otherwise, is the first of many qualities that sets Appetite apart.  The popular hard rock of the era, largely dictated by music videos, was characterized by a sort of slummer’s glam:  big hair, gaudy outfits, and bloated, radio-friendly production.  Art, even by the lax standards of pop music, took a back-seat to image.

The same year Appetite came out, 1987, saw releases by popular hard rock acts like Def Leppard, Motley Crue, Faster Pussycat, and Whitesnake…and compared to those offerings, Appetite might as well have been conceived and recorded in some alternate dimension.  Whatever excesses GnR’s contemporaries might have been getting up to off-stage, their actual output — both visual and sonic — was safe and inoffensive as mother’s milk, and shallow as a kiddie pool.  Music that had the pretense of social insurrection with little of its bite and none of its cost.

And then, suddenly, there was ‘Welcome to the Jungle.’

Saying it was startling doesn’t do it justice.  It was lean and mean, nasty and exhilarating and even a little scary.  There was nothing remotely polite or appropriate about it.  (Seriously, it doesn’t matter what volume you listen to ‘Jungle’ on; it always sounds loud.  It’s a song that means business.)  Even the way the band looked — toxic and unhealthy, cloaked in a grimy venereal sheen — was different.  Balanced against the pabulum you were used to, it was a little like getting splashed with a bracing faceful of cold gasoline…

….and then being lit the fuck on fire.

Michael Strum: “‘Welcome to the Jungle’ sounds like five young, musically-inclined, adrenaline-ridden white guys trying to write a theme song for Roach, the echo-locating grenadier at the Do Long bridge in ‘Apocalypse Now’. Unformed, undifferentiated wildness permeates, providing uneasy energy. Another sticky title here, perhaps a victim of its own success as a cultural touchstone now crossed over into hackneyed trope. Creeping determinism, or hindsight bias, remind us to appreciate the creativity present in ‘Jungle’, to recall the world before it existed and became iconic and played out. The perceived inevitability lies not in a lack of creativity by GnR, but in ourselves, dear Brutus, in another of our all-too-human cognitive errors. The internet was right about how to enjoy ‘Welcome to the Jungle’; ignore the singing and focus on the eclectically-influenced musical construction, and good things await.”

Rolling Stone: Released as the first single from Appetite for Destruction, “Welcome to the Jungle” stiffed at first — it took the massive crossover success of “Sweet Child o’ Mine” to ready radio for GN’R at their most unvarnished. The song’s inspiration, according to Axl Rose, was a hitchhiking trip that landed him in the Bronx, where a stranger approached him and said, “You know were you are? You’re gonna die, you’re in the jungle, baby!” Rose took this mockery and turned it into an anthem.