The saying goes that you have your whole life to make your first album. If you've poured your life into your music and have a chance to make all your work count for something, how do you do it? You have one chance to write the first song for your first album, to create the impression that will make or break your band in nearly every listener's mind. Most listeners will use this track to decide if they want to hear anything else from you again. What do you do?
If you're Bob Dylan or the Rolling Stones, you start with covers. If you're AC/DC or Metallica, you start with a great song that shows room for improvement. If you're Guns N' Roses, you bank on "Welcome to the Jungle."
At first, it sounds like a mistake (maybe it was.) A couple of false starts from Slash trickle out before his Gibson erupts into a riff that will change the world. The band joins in, most notably a screamer who almost sounds buried in the mix. Either he's shy, or he's threatening to overwhelm the rest of the band. Maybe someday he will.
All together, "Welcome to the Jungle" is a straightforward hard rock classic sculpted out of weirdness. It's not an easy song to sing along to. The isolated guitar tracks sound like a bluesy jam session. The almost hazy "When you're high" sequence drifts in from another planet. The instrumental breakdown sounds improvised, until Duff McKagan ropes the band back in with with an evocative bass line. Axl reminds the listeners that they are all going to die. Pretty weird for a tune that gets played in a kids movie and tops a VH1 countdown.
But that's part of what's great about "Welcome to the Jungle." There are plenty of songs that are just as catchy, or as combative. But how many songs can capture the hostility of "Welcome to the Jungle" in something with such mass appeal? The Rolling Stones don't know what it's like to be the Stooges, and vice versa. With "Welcome to the Jungle," GNR sound like they got to be both, and more.
Guns N' Roses has just stomped into your consciousness with "Welcome to the Jungle." They can't go anywhere from here, can they?