The Meaning Behind Guns N’ Roses’ Hair-Raising 1987 Hit “Welcome to the Jungle”

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

“If somebody had told me it was gonna be this huge record, I’d have laughed in their face,” said Guns N’ Roses’ guitarist Slash of the band’s 1987 debut Appetite for Destruction

Dripping off the stickiness of the Sunset Strip metal scene of the ’80s, Appetite for Destruction was filled with sex and drugs and all the exhumed excesses of the times and centered around a more motley crew of bandmates.

“We never conformed to anybody else’s expectations or standards or commercial demands or whatever,” said Slash. “No fucking gimmicks. This was just rock and roll from the street—boom.”

Indiana to Los Angeles

Singer Axl Rose steps off a Greyhound bus onto the dark and dirty Strip and is offered drugs by a drug dealer, played by Stradlin, in the opening scene of the video for first Appetite single “Welcome to the Jungle.” Setting the scene around the deeper meaning of the song, the video, directed by Nigel Dick, mirrored the real-life scenario for Rose and Stradlin, both high school friends back in their hometown of Lafayette, Indiana, who moved to Los Angeles and formed the band Hollywood Rose in 1983.

The Meaning Behind the Song

“Welcome to the Jungle,” centered around leaving a small town and adapting to the bright lights, big nights, and debauchery of a new life in Hollywood. It was “about Hollywood streets, true to life,” said former Guns rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin.

An earlier track by the original lineup of Guns N’ Roses, which formed in LA in June of 1985 with Rose, Slash, and Stradlin, along with bassist Duff McKagan and drummer Steven Adler, “Welcome to the Jungle” was initially written from a riff Slash had played on acoustic guitar for Rose. At the time, Rose was living in the basement of Slash and his mother’s home.

“I had this riff,” said Slash, “and I remember playing it for Axl on an acoustic guitar. I said ‘check this out.’”

Breaking Down “Jungle”

The pair played around with the riff and took it to rehearsal where it was fleshed out within three hours by the rest of the band. Slash composed most of “Welcome to the Jungle,” while McKagan incorporated a breakdown from a song called “The Fake,” which he had written back in 1978 while in the Seattle punk band Vains.

“It was really the first thing we all collaborated on,” said Slash, “and it’s really a combination of everybody’s input.”

Slash added, “I don’t want to say the word bluesy, but it had a really cool kind of soulful feel. There was no analyzing this stuff—writing a song was something that happened spontaneously—but in that whole discovering ourselves period from ’85 through ’86, when we were living very haphazardly and getting together and jamming, there was something going on that not a lot of people had, and this song just had this natural feel that was very cool.”

Rose’s Lyrics

Rose is credited with coming up with the song title and lyrics, which were inspired by his own journey as a 20-year-old moving to Hollywood in 1982 and inspired by an encounter he had once had with a homeless man when he and a friend were stepping off a bus into New York, who yelled “You know where you are? You’re in the jungle baby. You’re gonna die.”  

Welcome to the jungle, it gets worse here every day
You learn to live like an animal in the jungle where we play
If you got a hunger for what you see, you’ll take it eventually
You can have anything you want, but you better not take it from me

“It was a very telling lyric—just the stark honesty of it,” said Slash. “If you lived in Los Angeles, and lived in the trenches, so to speak, you could relate to it. And knowing Axl, I could relate to exactly where it was coming from.”

Welcome to the jungle, we got fun and games
We got everything you want, honey, we know the names
We are the people that can find whatever you may need
If you got the money, honey, we got your disease

Legacy of ‘Appetite for Destruction

Leaving behind hit after hit, including “Paradise City” “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Sweet Child o’ Mine,” Appetite for Destruction reached No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 chart upon release and became the seventh best-selling album of all time in the United States, as well as the best-selling debut album with more than 30 million copies sold worldwide.

Legacy of “Welcome to the Jungle”

The essence of “Welcome to the Jungle” is pure Guns N’ Roses. “‘Welcome To The Jungle’ has this high-velocity, high-impact, aggressive delivery, but there were a lot of emotional subtleties in the song that the band really grasped,” said Slash. “If Axl went here, the band went with him. I really love that about the band and the music and how it all came together. There was something magical in all of that.”

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