Welcome to the Jungle Songwriting
Zero in on the lyrics for deeper meaning.
Like "Livin' on a Prayer" and other hair band hits, "Welcome to the Jungle" is an anthem. Sure, that has a lot to do with the sound of the song—you can't really have an anthem if you can't sing along to its melodic hooks. But the idea of the anthem is there in the lyrics as well. We think of an anthem as a song that celebrates or describes bonds within a section of society (be that a nation, a race, a sexuality, or fans of a sports team, for example). "Welcome to the Jungle" is a sort of anthem of L.A.'s seedy underbelly, describing its unique rules and attitudes. Additionally, "Welcome to the Jungle" has its own little narrative going on in it, as Axl lures the audience into accepting the band's lifestyle, too. Because of this, the song is also full of poetic sweetener that makes the medicine go down a little smoother.
As an anthem, "Welcome to the Jungle" should be able to describe some of the values of its culture. The metaphor of the jungle does this very well. In Western literature, the idea of the jungle is of a labyrinthian, lawless, dangerous, and totally wild place. The song connects with those ideas very straightforwardly; L.A. "gets worse [...] every day," and "If you got a hunger for what you see, / You'll take it eventually." The song really evokes a sense of survival of the fittest. But that sounds a little scary, right? Not exactly the kind of thing one would want to tout. Well, in the vein of The Sex Pistols, Guns N' Roses were totally counterculture. Sure, L.A. is a jungle, but if you've got the know-how, "You can have anything you want." That sense of freedom from moral judgments—only competitive virtues really mean anything—can be very empowering.
An additional anthemic quality, which makes the song an excellent sports rally, is that it identifies outsiders. Where Axl Rose celebrates the "jungle," he's also creating a dichotomy between "the jungle" and the audience.
Though it's only Axl singing, he acts as a sort of representative of the jungle. Axl alternates between singular and plural first-person pronouns ("I," "me," or "my" and "we") in a move to identify himself as the voice of an entire scene. This is easily one of the oldest tricks in the book. In the days of kings and queens, this rhetorical maneuver was called the "royal we," as used by royalty when they intend to speak on the behalf of an entire nation (as King Richard does in Shakespeare's Richard II). The tone of the lyrics makes this dichotomy very much a predator vs. prey, insider vs. outsider one.
That insider vs. outsider element allows space for something that anthems usually don't include: narrative. The narrative of the song is essentially the narrative of the music video: the initiation of someone into the jungle pride. As he sings, you can almost see Axl showing some poor country girl the drugs, sex, and violence that come with the lifestyle. In the context of the music, that lyrical move creates a sense of transformation, allowing the listener to join in on the anthemic qualities of the song. Because of this additional narrative element, the song becomes not just about celebrating the lifestyle, but about selling it as well.
Axl seems to sell us with his masterful lyrics. The song is hook-laden and catchy. Without even considering the melody, the lyrics themselves demonstrate some poetic conventions that have proven to be staples of Western turns of phrase. The verses follow the conventional rhyme pattern ABCB, in which the second and fourth lines rhyme, and the first and third do not. When the second and fourth lines of each four-verse group of lyrics don't rhyme, the speaker employs slant rhyme.
Slant rhyme, or imperfect rhyme, happens when two words have either consonance or assonance, but not both. Consonance is the matching of consonants in two words. Assonance is the matching of vowels between two words, regardless of what the consonant sound is. For example, "need" and "disease" don't rhyme, but the vowel sounds in "need" and the second syllable of "disease" do rhyme. Axl uses consonance again in the chorus lines "Watch it bring you to your shun-na-na-na-na-na-na-na knees, knees—/ I, I wanna watch you bleed" and "Feel my, my, my serpentine, / I, I wanna hear you scream" where the assonance of "-tine" and "scream" is complimented by the near-consonance of "m" and "n," which are both nasals, which sound and feel similar when vocalized.
This end rhyme is complimented by internal (or middle) rhyme, which is the rhyming of two words in a single line. Internal rhyme appears in the line "If you've got the money honey" and "You can taste the bright lights." That kind of poetic sweetener is complimented by the heavy use of metaphor in the song.
Metaphor is all over the place. "Bright lights" for fame; "serpentine" for, well, you know. Then there's the super obvious one: L.A. is a jungle. Metaphor serves two functions in the song. With regard to the narrative aspect of the song, metaphor softens the hard facts about the L.A. life. "Disease" sounds a little better than "We've got your drugs and other vices or perversions." With respect to the anthemic aspect of the song, metaphor serves to broaden the scope of the ideas that Axl celebrates. The lack of specificity in "We got fun and games" allows the song to be about more than his specific situation. The concept of the jungle, especially, allows for open interpretation
The song is so popular in sports arenas because of this: any predator-prey situation might apply here. This is perhaps the key to the song's success in general. The use of metaphor allows the song to superficially be about being bad and "cool." So really, anything could be the jungle—it might be the combat zone in the movie Black Hawk Down, it might be the football gridiron, or it might even be the middle class suburban jungle.
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