In 1987, Guns N’ Roses arrived on the musical radar. The era was dominated by hair bands such as Bon Jovi and Whitesnake, as well as teen pop princesses Debbie Gibson and Tiffany. U2 had released The Joshua Tree, Whitney Houston gave us Whitney, and for some reason people had the time of their life with the soundtrack to Dirty Dancing. The music was boring, sterile, safe. However, by 1988 Guns N’ Roses tore through America like a razor. Appetite for Destruction became a huge hit. The album spawned three verifiable rock classics, “Welcome to the Jungle,” “Paradise City,” and of course “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” The public was awestruck. Here were five filthy, tattooed degenerates, defiling the ears of teens everywhere with anthems dedicated to the time-honored cliche of sex, drugs, and rock n roll. When Appetite went on to become the greatest selling debut album of all time, the public wanted more. It came in the form of GNRs second album, GNR Lies, a collection of four live songs (three of which are covers), and four new acoustical numbers. It is the last of these original acoustic numbers that sparked a conversation between a friend and me. Could the Guns N’ Roses song “One in a Million” be released, or even recorded today?

Advertisement

In case you’re unfamiliar with the song, it’s basically Axl Rose describing his background and arrival in Los Angeles, set to music. When GNR Lies was released for public consumption, people noticed “One in a Million” and some questions began to be asked in the press and media. Was it racist? Xenophobic? Homophobic? Ignorant? Judge for yourself - the lyrics are as follows:

Guess I needed sometime to get away
I needed some piece of mind
Some piece of mind that’ll stay
So I thumbed it down to Sixth and L.A.
Maybe a Greyhound could be my way

Police and Niggers, that’s right
Get out of my way
Don’t need to buy none of your
Gold chains today
I don’t need no bracelets
Clamped in front of my back
Just need my ticket; ‘til then
Won’t you cut me some slack?

You’re one in a million
Yeah, that’s what you are
You’re one in a million, babe
You’re a shooting star
Maybe someday we’ll see you
Before you make us cry
You know we tried to reach you
But you were much too high
Much too high, much too high,
Much too high

Immigrants and faggots
They make no sense to me
They come to our country
And think they’ll do as they please
Like start some mini Iran,
Or spread some fuckin’ disease
They talk so many goddamn ways
It’s all Greek to me
Well some say I’m lazy
And others say that’s just me
Some say I’m crazy
I guess I’ll always be
But it’s been such a long time
Since I knew right from wrong
It’s all the means to an end, I
I keep it movin’ along

(chorus)

Radicals and Racists
Don’t point your finger at me
I’m a small town white boy
Just tryin’ to make ends meet
Don’t need your religion
Don’t watch that much T.V.
Just makin’ my livin’, baby
Well that’s enough for me

Advertisement

(chorus)

So those are Axl’s words. The backlash was swift, with the LA Times calling the band racist and other news outlets lashing out at them. Axl Rose used the “I’m not racist, I have black/gay friends” retort, and went on to point out that on the cover of GNR Lies he gave this disclaimer: “This song is very simple and extremely generic or generalized, my apologies to those who may take offense.” The thing is, Axl’s lead guitarist, Slash, is biracial. His mother is black. Slash defended Axl to a point, saying that while he disagreed with the song, he did not condemn Axl Rose for writing it. Was Axl Rose just espousing the beliefs of “a small town white boy” or was he simply ignorant? Was Rose filled with hate? Regardless of your opinion, the question remains - could this song, or a song like this, be released or even recorded in 2016?

My friend and I agree that there is no way that a song like “One in a Million” could be recorded or released today. Have we as a society become more enlightened? I use that word as opposed to “tolerant.” I tolerate the crying baby on an airplane, because I have no other choice. I prefer enlightened. Color me the optimist, but I like to think that the world’s population has become more enlightened than we were almost 30 years ago. One definition of enlightened is “having or showing a rational, modern, and well-informed outlook.” I think that’s where we are today. Hopefully people are more attuned to what they say, and have put more thought into their words. Not because they don’t want to offend anyone, but because people have grown, matured, and become more intelligent.

Sponsored

The counter-argument asks if society has become too sensitive. People say that if you look hard enough, you will find something, anything to offend you. Could you imagine the reaction on Twitter, Facebook, or any other social media outlet if Guns N’ Roses released this song today? Even the idea of a band like GNR existing today seems foreign. There are no dangerous bands anymore.

I grew up a Guns N’ Roses fan. I keep Appetite for Destruction on rotation in my car. However, I can’t tell you the last time I heard GNR Lies. Is there room in the world for a band like GNR? If a song like this was somehow recorded and released today, what would happen? I’d like to think a song like this wouldn’t see the light of day, but not because a band would be afraid of offending anyone, but instead because they knew it was just a stupid and ignorant thing to say.