Written by Axl Rose, the band’s mercurial lead singer, that 1988 song denounced African-Americans, immigrants, and gay men in derogatory terms. At the time, Rose defended the song, saying his beliefs about these maligned groups justified his excoriation of them.
Now that song, practically a Trump supporter’s anthem, will remain an ugly relic from the era of Reaganomics and Jheri curls.
Does this mean Axl Rose is woke? Who knows. It’s also possible the band or its label decided that the song isn’t worth the trouble of another backlash, this time amplified by social media. Of course what motivated this choice isn’t as important as the message delivered by the song’s absence: Virulent bigotry should be buried, not resurrected. It’s a small, but hopeful example for our fractured nation.
For various reasons, artists sometimes shelve temporarily or eliminate entirely certain tunes from their discography or concerts. When he became a Jehovah’s Witness, Prince stopped performing his most risqué songs, like “Darling Nikki.” On their 1999 anthology “The Sounds of Science,” the Beastie Boys left off “Girls” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” Those early songs didn’t age as well as the bratty boys who became politically progressive men.
Times change, but some once-popular songs stay moored in the strangeness of their times. That’s certainly the case with songs like Gary Puckett & The Union Gap’s creepy “Young Girl,” and “Wives and Lovers,” a “Mad Men”-era hit that warns women that they’d better look good for their husbands because “day after day, there are girls at the office/and men will always be men.”
Guns N’ Roses seems an unlikely candidate to care about evolved cultural sensibilities. When they burst onto MTV with “Welcome to the Jungle” from their 1987 debut, “Appetite for Destruction,” they seemed as feral as alley cats and sounded as abrasive as broken glass. Easily provoked, Rose would leap into the audience to fight with fans; concerts would descend into rioting and violence. Former intimate partners accused him of domestic violence. He wore T-shirts bearing the face of Charles Manson, and the band would record “Look at Your Game, Girl,” written by the murderous cult leader.
Against my better judgment, I loved the band. But when Rose’s rebelliousness bled into intolerance, I was done.
Eventually Guns N’ Roses’ classic line-up broke apart. Rose tried to keep the band going without original lead guitarist Slash and bassist Duff McKagan, but later versions were never more than knockoffs. In recent years, the band’s core settled its differences, and with a ton of money as a powerful incentive, hit the road again.
Oh, and something else happened. Donald Trump became president.
With “One In A Million” as a signpost, few would have been surprised if Rose, who hails from Indiana, turned hard right off the political rails like Kid Rock, a fellow Midwesterner. In the audience he covets and the viewpoints he espouses, Kid Rock is now the Gen X Ted Nugent.
Rose, meanwhile, seems down with The Resistance.
On Twitter, he has called the Trump White House “the current US gold standard of what can be considered disgraceful.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions, he said, “defies law and common sense.” Rose has also aimed his social media ire at Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes.
Perhaps that’s why “One In A Million” will be left in the 20th century. Its offensive sentiments align too closely with the current administration, one for which Rose has nothing but contempt.
Still, Guns N’ Roses hasn’t moved beyond all of its most controversial music. That new $1,000 box set will include “Used to Love Her,” which first appeared on “GN’R Lies,” the same EP as “One In A Million.” On Genius, the annotated lyrics website, a contributor calls the song “a humorous murder ballad.” It’s anything but as Rose sings, “I used to love her, but I had to kill her.”
Like “One In A Million,” it should be dumped in the nearest bin. Hopefully it won’t be another 30 years before Rose and his bandmates recognize that a scurrilous song about violence against women is just as vile as one glorifying racism and homophobia.Renée Graham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham