One in a Million (Guns N' Roses song)
|"One in a Million"|
|Song by Guns N' Roses|
|from the album G N' R Lies|
|Released||November 30, 1988 (US)|
December 17, 1988 (UK)
|Studio||Rumbo Studios, Take One Studio and Image Studio|
|Genre||Folk rock, acoustic rock|
|Songwriter(s)||Guns N' Roses|
|Producer(s)||Guns N' Roses|
"One in a Million" is a song by American rock band Guns N' Roses. It is the eighth track on the album G N' R Lies and was released in 1988. The lyrics describe Guns N' Roses singer Axl Rose's experience of getting hustled in the Greyhound bus station upon first arriving in Los Angeles. The song is notable not only for its controversy, but also for being one of the first Guns N' Roses songs that Axl Rose wrote solo.
The song's lyrics caused great controversy among many different groups, and accusations of homophobia, nativism, and racism were leveled against Guns N' Roses' lead singer and song lyricist, Axl Rose. Music critic Jon Pareles noted that:
With "One in a Million" on "G 'n' R Lies," the band tailored its image to appeal to white, heterosexual, nativist prejudices, denouncing blacks, immigrants and gays while coyly apologizing "to those who may take offense" in the album notes.
In a 1989 Rolling Stone interview, Rose explained the lyrics "I used words like police and niggers because you're not allowed to use the word "nigger". Why can black people go up to each other and say, "Nigger," but when a white guy does it all of a sudden it's a big put-down. I don't like boundaries of any kind. I don't like being told what I can and what I can't say. I used the word "nigger" because it's a word to describe somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem. The word "nigger" doesn't necessarily mean black. Doesn't John Lennon have a song "Woman Is the Nigger of the World"? There's a rap group, N.W.A. - Niggers With Attitude. I mean, they're proud of that word. More power to them. Guns N' Roses ain't bad. . . . N.W.A. is bad! Mr. Bob Goldthwait said the only reason we put these lyrics on the record was because it would cause controversy and we'd sell a million albums. Fuck him! Why'd he put us in his skit? We don't just do something to get the controversy, the press."
The cover of the GN'R Lies EP, which was designed as a mock-tabloid newspaper front page, actually contained an advance apology for the song, suggesting controversy was anticipated. A small "article" entitled "One in a Million", credited to Rose, ended: "This song is very simple and extremely generic or generalized, my apologies to those who may take offense."
In response to the following accusations of homophobia, Rose initially stated that he was "pro-heterosexual" and "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", and spoke of negative experiences in his past, such as a seemingly friendly man who let him crash on his hotel room floor and then tried to rape him. He later softened this stance, and insisted that he was not homophobic, pointing out that some of his icons, such as Freddie Mercury and Elton John, as well as David Geffen, the head of his record label, were bisexual or gay.
Axl Rose was also accused of being biased against police due to the negative lyrics in the song which mention them. Rose responded by claiming when he was a teenager he was once mistaken for a girl by two police officers, who then proceeded to make sexual comments towards him, infuriating him so much he attacked the officers, resulting in his arrest.
Nevertheless, others - including some of his peers in the music industry - accused him of racism for the use of the word 'niggers' in the song. When Guns N' Roses and Living Colour supported The Rolling Stones for a concert in Los Angeles in 1989, Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid publicly commented on "One in a Million" during his band's set. After hearing this, Rose in turn suggested they play the song for their opening act "just to piss them off."
Several times Rose defended his use of the word 'nigger'. In one 1989 interview, he stated that he had used the word in reference to the John Lennon song "Woman Is the Nigger of the World". Rose also claimed that he had used the word because it was considered taboo.
By 1992, however, Rose seemed to have gained new perspective on the song and its lyrics. In one interview, he added, "I was pissed off about some black people that were trying to rob me. I wanted to insult those particular black people."
In his final public comments about "One in a Million" in 1992, Rose stated, "It was a way for me to express my anger at how vulnerable I felt in certain situations that had gone down in my life."
Response from bandmates
Before the release of Lies, the other members of the band tried in vain to make Rose drop the track from the record. Fellow GN'R member Slash, whose mother is black, noted that he did not condone the song but did not condemn his bandmate, commenting in a 1991 interview with Rolling Stone: "When Axl first came up with the song and really wanted to do it, I said I didn't think it was very cool... I don't regret doing 'One in a Million', I just regret what we've been through because of it and the way people have perceived our personal feelings."
In 1988, rhythm guitarist Izzy Stradlin told rock critic Nick Kent that the lyrics simply reflected the poor race relations of inner city Los Angeles. In a 2019 interview, McKagan said the song was misinterpreted, stating "One thing about Axl is if you’re going to try to compete with him intellectually, you’ve lost, because he’s a super smart guy... He’s a super sensitive dude who does his studies. When we did that song, I was still drinking but he was way ahead of us with his vision of, ‘Something’s gotta be said.’ That was the most hardcore way to say it. So flash-forward to now. So many people have misinterpreted that song that song that we removed it ... Nobody got it.”
- W. Axl Rose – lead vocals, piano
- Slash – lead acoustic guitar
- Izzy Stradlin – rhythm guitar
- Duff "Rose" McKagan – rhythm acoustic guitar
- Steven Adler – percussion
- Pareles, Jon (September 15, 1991). "Guns 'n' Roses Against the (Expletive) World". New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2011.
- The Rolling Stone Interview With Axl Rose" Del James, Rolling Stone August 1989
- Cover art for GN'R Lies EP, 1988, Geffen
- "I, Axl" Del James, RIP Magazine – 1992
- Just a little Patience SPIN magazine, 1999
- "Axl Rose: American Hellhound" Archived October 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine Damien Cave, Salon, July 7, 2001
- Axl Rose: The RS Interview Kim Neely – April 02, 1992 – Issue 627
- "Guns N' Roses' Massive New Box Set Omits "One In A Million"". Stereogum. May 4, 2018. Retrieved May 8, 2018.
- "Slash: The Rolling Stone interview" Jeffrey Ressner with Lonn M. Friend, Rolling Stone, February 1991
- Kent, Nick. Pop, Iggy. The Dark Stuff: selected writings on rock music Page 232. Da Capo Press, 2002. ISBN 0-306-81182-0, ISBN 978-0-306-81182-1
- Grow, Kory; Grow, Kory (June 6, 2019). "How Duff McKagan Got Woke".
- "Marilyn Manson talks about "One in a Million" heretodaygonetohell.com (from marilyn-manson.net), October 14, 1998
-  MansonUSA Interview, July 6, 2002