Thirty years later, the band seems to have finally realized that the song's derogatory lyrics are unacceptable in any context.
Marilyn Drew Necci | May 8, 2018
Guns N’ Roses recently announced a huge reissue of their classic 1987 album, Appetite For Destruction, which will include nearly 50 unreleased songs and an insane amount of extras — at least, if you get the Locked n’ Loaded edition (priced at a cool thousand dollars) or the slightly more economical Super Deluxe Edition (a mere $180). But there’s one thing it won’t include — “One In A Million,” the song from their 1988 follow-up EP, G n’ R Lies, which caused a huge amount of controversy upon its release in 1988 and has only grown more messed-up in hindsight.
The song contains racist and homophobic lyrics, dropping both the racist n-word slur and the anti-gay f-word slur. It refers to gay people (“faggots”) that “spread some fucking disease,” complains of immigrants who “come to our country, and think they’ll do as they please,” and contains a line where singer Axl Rose tells “n***ers” that he doesn’t “want to buy none of your gold chains today.” Ironically, the third verse of the song finds Rose condemning racists, seemingly seeing no contradiction.
If there’s one word that could be used to describe the song, it’s “ignorant,” and while Rose had the excuse of being a relatively young man from rural Indiana at the time, he’d been living in LA for a while when he wrote this one, and even had a person of color in the band with him — Slash, who reportedly refused to play on the song when it was recorded (though he did perform the song with the band a few times, so who knows). Rose’s comments in defense of the lyrics at the time were pretty worthless; in 1989, he told Rolling Stone, “I don’t like being told what I can and what I can’t say. I used the word ‘n***er’ because it’s a word to describe somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem. The word ‘n***er’ doesn’t necessarily mean black.” [I'm censoring the term here -- it ran unexpurgated in the original. --ed]
When asked about his use of anti-gay slurs, he told Rolling Stone, “I’ve had some very bad experiences with homosexuals,” going on to relate a story of attempted rape — certainly not a good thing, but also not a reason to hate an entire community. He then answered a question about whether he’d ever taken part in a gay-bashing by saying, “The most I do is, like, on the way to the Troubador in ‘Boystown,’ on Santa Monica Boulevard, I’ll yell out the car window, ‘Why don’t you guys like pussy?’ ‘Cause I’m confused. I don’t understand it. Antihomosexual? I’m not against them doing what they want to do as long as it’s not hurting anybody else and they’re not forcing it upon me. I don’t need them in my face or, pardon the pun, up my ass about it.” That’s not a pun, by the way — it’s just a homophobic wisecrack. Sigh.
I myself was a 12 year old Guns N’ Roses fan when “One In A Million” came out. I couldn’t have told you at the time that I was trans — that took decades to be honest about — nor even that I was queer. But hearing the singer of my favorite band say nasty things about gay people certainly didn’t help me feel good about myself as I went through puberty with increasing awareness that I wasn’t like the other kids.
Rose came off as an ignorant idiot back then. That said, though he’s often argued with the diagnosis and the potential medical treatments, Rose has been diagnosed mentally ill as well. Which doesn’t mean it was OK for him to write such hateful lyrics. The disclaimer about “One In A Million” that was printed on the original cover of G n’ R Lies (“This song is very simple and extremely generic or generalized, my apologies to those who may take offense”) was definitely not enough to excuse the song’s content. It’s a shame he didn’t realize this at the time.
However, he and Guns N’ Roses seem finally to have come around. Stereogum have posted the full track listing for the Super Deluxe Edition of the new Appetite For Destruction reissue, and while the other 7 songs from G n’ R Lies, including early live EP Live Like A Suicide, are all on Disc Two (B-Sides N’ EPs), “One In A Million” is nowhere to be found.
Thus far, the band have made no comment about the song’s omission. While its sudden removal as if it never existed is a step, the fact that it’s not accompanied by, at the very least, an apology is sure to draw some pointed questions — as well it should. If Axl breaks his silence about the song, we’ll let you know. Til then, we’ve all got to decide whether this reissue of what is undeniably one of the great rock n’ roll albums of all time is worth owning when you know who part of your money will go to.