Article by contributor RODTheMaster.
Got an appetite for destruction?
Guns N’ Roses, “The World’s [so-called] Most Dangerous Band,” have led a long and complicated career–a career characterized by drug abuse, internal strife, and paparazzi punching. But despite several lineup changes, lengthy hiatuses, and riot instigation, the band has nevertheless maintained some degree of notoriety in the pop culture climate.
While the band itself continues to release music at the pace of an elderly motorist, their licensed music frequently pops up in films, ads, and video games; thus, the band continues–however soullessly–to remain familiar to the world’s media consumers. So, to officially begin, I’m going to be taking you on an adventure through GNR’s most significant and interesting appearances throughout pop culture, appearances that serpentine through every channel imaginable. Are you ready?
Welcome to the jungle, baby. You’re gonna die.
After its formation in 1985, Guns N’ Roses quickly gained a small following in Los Angeles, California. But after the release of their first album Appetite for Destruction in 1988 (which I shamelessly referenced in the opening line), the band found it difficult to garner the attention they wanted.
People only began to take notice after Clint Eastwood decided to include the song “Welcome to Jungle” (which I shamelessly referenced in the transition) in his final Dirty Harry film, 1988’s The Dead Pool. The film, starring Eastwood, Liam Neeson, and a relatively unknown Jim Carrey, makes significant narrative use of the song. Carrey’s 80’s rock singer character lip syncs the song–presumably written by his character–for a scene in a slasher film directed by Neeson’s character.
The Dead Pool did a good job of introducing both Guns N’ Roses and Jim Carrey to the world. The quirky lip-synced scene showed the world the funny performances Carrey was capable of, and the song itself showed off the rockin’ badassery of GNR. But even more significantly, Mr. Eastwood allowed the band members to make cameo appearances during the film’s funeral scene, after the murder of Carrey’s character.
And in a very odd scene, GNR guitarist Slash is shown shooting a harpoon out a window. This very same harpoon would be used by Eastwood in the film’s climax. So, Slash’s harpoon essentially works as an oddball version of Chekhov’s gun. Weird.
While many accept The Dead Pool as Guns N’ Roses’ first appearance in visual media, that honor is actually held by 1987’s American Ninja 2: The Confrontation, a campy action sequel. The song “Move to the City,” which released on GNR’s demo Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide, is briefly heard on the radio under very important expository dialogue. It might be a throwaway appearance, but hey, it was GNR’s first.
The appearance of “Welcome to the Jungle” in The Dead Pool cemented the song as a staple in film soundtracks for the next 10 years. If there was a film set in 1987 that contained a degree of decadence, “Welcome to the Jungle” was definitely in there. It is featured during the opening credits of Morgan Freeman’s 1989 inner-city drama Lean on Me, during a hotel trashing scene in Jennifer Lopez’ biopic Salena, and during a training montage in James Caan’s football drama The Program. The latter connects Guns N’ Roses to the sport of football, a connection that has remained unyielding, as you can’t go to a football game anywhere without hearing “Welcome to the Jungle.”
Another medim that jumped on the “Welcome to the Jungle” bandwagon early was The Simpsons. Over the last 20+ seasons, The Simpsons have used the song a total of 5 times. The earliest use was in the Season 5 episode “Marge on the Lam,” as an accompaniment of Marge’s badass night on the town. All I have is the Spanish version. Thanks, YouTube.
The Simpsons most recently used the song in 2005, during the season 16 episode “Mobile Homer.” Once again, we can only enjoy the Spanish version on the internet.
“Welcome to the Jungle” is not the only song from Guns N’ Roses’ first album that is popularly used in soundtracks. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” has enjoyed its fair share of pop culture play, such as in the 1990 crime film State of Grace, starring Sean Penn, Gary Oldman, and Ed Harris, and the incongruous 1988 horror film Bad Dreams.
The other popularly used song from Appetite for Destruction is “Paradise City.” This song (as well as “Sweet Child…”) seems to be going through a renaissance at the moment, but the first major use of the song in film was in 1998’s teen comedy Can’t Hardly Wait. Like Jim Carrey lip syncing “Welcome to the Jungle,” Can’t Hardly Wait features Charlie Korsmo, in his last film, drunkenly lip syncing “Paradise City” at a party. This is perhaps the only memorable scene from the movie, so check it out.
The only other song from Appetite for Destruction that has any pop culture ties would “My Michelle.” While not necessarily used on a soundtrack, the song is frequently compared to the Neon Tiger stage music from Mega Man X3. Go look up the songs and compare them for yourself.
But the Mega Man X connections don’t stop there. In a more explicit reference to the band, the 8 Maverick bosses of Mega Man X5 are named after various Guns N’ Roses band members. Apparently a member of the X5 localization team included the references to please her husband, a large fan of the group. The most hilariously forced references are “Squid Adler” (named after drummer Steven Adler) and “Duff McWhalen” (named after bassist Duff McKagen). Mega Man developer Capcom also had some GNR fun with their Final Fight characters Axl and Slash, lazily named after singer and guitarist, respectively.
After the monumental success of Appetite, Guns N’ Roses followed up with the double album Use Your Illusion I and II. While not the soundtrack licensing machine that the prior album was, these two no doubt offered a few points of interest–the first being the band’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” which was featured in the 1990 car film Days of Thunder starring Tom Cruise.
But that’s fairly straightedge compared to the other licensed song, the hard rocking “You Could Be Mine.” Most people recognize this song as a favorite of young John Conner in Terminator 2. It is used 3 times in the film, and in addition, GNR’s music video for the song features the Schwarzenegger T-800 hunting the band down for termination.
This song is again used in 2009’s Terminator Salvation, in perhaps the only scene in the movie in which Christian Bale’s John Conner felt like the one from prior films. Conner lays down an old, beat-up boom box, presses play, and “You Could Be Mine” blasts out. A pretty awesome scene in an otherwise forgettable movie.
After the release of an altogether forgettable album in 1993, the members of Guns N’ Roses began to fight amongst themselves. The final recorded work by what is considered the “classic” line-up was a cover of the Rolling Stones song “Sympathy for the Devil”, which was included in the 1994 film Interview with the Vampire starring Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise. All but singer Axl Rose left the band after this recording.
Having a song produced for a film soundtrack be the last recorded song from the classic line-up turned out to be quite prophetic for GNR’s next decade. The only material released by Axl’s new version of the band for several years was included in soundtracks. The first of which was the 1999 song Oh My God, a weird industrial track produced for the Schwarzenegger vampire action movie End of Days.
Any other news from GNR for the next several years would involve the often-delayed follow-up album Chinese Democracy, an album that would become the most expensive album ever produced.
During Chinese Democracy‘s production, interest in past Guns N’ Roses music began to resurface for film soundtracks. One such interest was expressed by Ridley Scott for the movie Black Hawk Down, as soldiers from the historical event used “Welcome to the Jungle” to pump themselves up before the battle started. Axl Rose declined the song’s inclusion in the film, as he reportedly did not want to share royalty money with past members of the band.
But this unwillingness did not stop Rose from allowing his music to appear in video games. “Welcome to the Jungle” was widely used in the marketing for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in 2004, as well the game’s soundtrack. Nothing could establish San Andreas‘ early 90’s setting in quite the same way, which is probably why the game was many fans’ first interaction with GNR. In addition to the song being featured in the game, Axl Rose also offered his voice talent to GTA, playing radio DJ Tommy “The Nightmare” Smith for the game’s classic rock station.
Ex-Guitarist Slash also tried his hand at video game cameos in 2007, as he appeared in Neversoft’s Guitar Hero III as a playable musician. When players unlocked Slash in the game’s career mode after a heated guitar battle, they were allowed to play “Welcome to the Jungle” with the legendary guitar player. I guess by 2007 Axl Rose had backed off on his selfish stance on licensing his selfish stance on licensing his music.
Ether way, what followed was a flood of Guns N’ Roses songs appearing in popular media. 2008 specifically saw the inclusion of several songs in various films. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” was featured in Darren Aronofsky’s amazing film The Wrestler (which is especially interesting given that star Micky Rourke used the song as his entrance theme when he was a boxer).
The same song was included in Will Ferrell’s Step Brothers, a cappella.
And in an especially cool instance, “Paradise City” served as the theme song and setting inspiration for the game Burnout Paradise
Guns N’ Roses music seemed to hitting its stride as amazing soundtrack material. But 2008 also saw the long-overdue release of Guns N’ Roses’ Chinese Democracy, an album that took 15 years to make. So, in addition to the use of past GNR songs in other media, songs from Chinese Democracy expectedly began to pop up as well.
The song “If the World” was featured in the underwhelming Leonardo DiCaprio film Body of Lies. But who cares about that? “Shackler’s Revenge” was officially released with Rock Band 2; it was a song mostly known for its dumb name that has no actual connection to the song’s lyrics. (Actually, the title is a reference then-guitarist Buckethead’s song “Shackler,” a song that was exclusively released with the Dragon Ball Z movie The History of Trunks.) But once again, not that interesting.
No, what is interesting–and no doubt the most important use of any Guns N’ Roses song in any media–is that Chinese Democracy‘s title track was used as the official theme song for WWE’s Armageddon 2008 pay-per-view.
If that isn’t validation for Guns N’ Roses’ position as pop culture royalty, I don’t know what is.
So, that’s the rundown on GNR’s lengthy career in whoring both their songs and themselves to the likes of film, video games, and commercial advertisements. I hope you found the adventure both informative and entertaining. I’ll go ahead and leave you with one of my favorite uses of GNR music in recent memory. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go grab some Night Train and drink myself to death.
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