“I write the vocals last, because I wanted to invent the music first and push the music to the level that I had to compete against it.” – Axl Rose
The co-founder and the only constant member of the American hard rock band Guns ‘N’ Roses, Axl Rose, was one of the most iconic vocalists of all time of the hard rock music scene. Very few musicians could be so influential as to have produced only one record in over two decades and still have the ability to sell out shows. Axl Rose had just that kind of an influence on the Guns ‘N’ Roses fans.
Growing up, Rose had a tormented childhood. Being raised in an unstable household where abuse and altercations were part of the daily life, Rose was affected deeply by all the negativity. His only respite was in music. Even then, he could hardly be around it because his step-father wouldn’t allow him to listen or to play it in the house. It was only when he moved to Los Angeles and started living on his own that he found the scope to let his musical abilities to shine.
The initial lineup of Guns N’ Roses included Rose on the vocals, Slash on the lead guitar, Izzy Stradlin on the rhythm guitar, Duff McKagan on bass and Steven Adler on the drums. Since then, the lineup has seen constant change in its members, save for Rose. He has been the sole member who has stuck with the band throughout its journey. Guns N’ Roses have come up with some astounding songs over the years, having Axl Rose as the lyricist and lead vocalist for most of the songs.
Axl Rose’s six definitive songs:
‘Welcome to the Jungle’ (1987)
‘Welcome to the Jungle’ is the second single from the band’s debut album Appetite for Destruction that was released in 1987. The song charted at number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S. Axl Rose composed the lyrics while he was visiting a friend in Seattle.
Approached by a deranged man in New York City, Rose claimed that it was the man’s words spoken at him that inspired the lyrics for the song – “You know where you are? You’re in the jungle baby; you’re gonna die!” Rose had some pretty incredible vocals on the song too.
‘November Rain’ (1992)
From the band’s third studio album Use Your Illusion I released in 1991, ‘November Rain’ was shared as a single in 1992. Axl Rose’s captivating vocals and lyrics that would resonate with anyone trying to “hold a candle in the cold November rain”, made the song one of their best received singles.
Described as one of the ultimate hard rock power ballads, Rose’s orchestration of the symphonic overtones in the song and the incorporation of the mesmerizing guitar and bass solos, as well as Axl’s piano track at the beginning of the song and the programming on the synth, really lifted the song to a whole new level.
‘Civil War’ (1991)
Originally appearing on the band’s 1990 compilation Nobody’s Child: Romanian Angel, ‘Civil War’ was later added to the band’s album Use Your Illusion II. Written by Rose, it was a protest song on the nature of war and how it “feeds the rich while it buries the poor”. The lyrics begs the question: “So what’s so civil about war anyway?”
Apart from the lyrics, Rose also did the vocals and the whistling piece on the song. Even though it was written almost four decades ago it is one of those songs that seems relevant even to this day.
Another one of the power ballads by the Guns N’ Roses, ‘Estranged’ appeared on the band’s album Use Your Illusion II. It was one of those songs that came out of a bad time but remained because of its captivating musicality. Axl Rose was the lead vocalist for the song.
Rose revealed that he wrote the song at the point of his life when his marriage with Erin Everly was annulled. The song had multiple verses. There was no set chorus for the song. A ballad, the song contained many guitar and piano solos making it over nine minutes long.
‘You Could Be Mine’ (1991)
If you’re an ardent Arnold Schwarzenegger fan or a James Cameron supporter, chances are you may have heard this song before the band released it as a part of their album. ‘You Could Be Mine’ was originally released as the theme song for director James Cameron’s 1991 film Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Released on the band’s fourth album Use Your Illusion II, the song apparently talked about Izzy Stradlin’s failed relationship with his girlfriend. It had a fair share of profanity in the lyrics, too. Rose, on the vocals, was stunning as usual.
‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ (1988)
‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, from the album Appetite for Destruction by Guns N’ Roses was released as the album’s third single in August 1988. As is the case of most songs, the lyrics were penned by Axl Rose. The story behind the song was based on his girlfriend Erin Everly.
Rose declared that Lynyrd Skynyrd served as an inspiration behind the sound for the song. Besides writing the song, Rose’s voice had an almost alluring effect on anybody who listened to the song. The song was also one of the simpler tunes, therefore making it an accessible track to cover. Carrie Underwood, the Black-Eyed Peas and Sheryl Crow were some of the artists to have covered the song.