Study Guide

Welcome to the Jungle Technique

  • Music

    Of all the songs on Appetite for Destruction, "Welcome to the Jungle" is (along with "Sweet Child O' Mine") about as close as Guns N' Roses get to a true pop sound. There are plenty of harder elements to the song, to be sure—like the famous opening riff, which Mick Wall, famous rock journalist and author of an unofficial Axl Rose biography, describes nicely as "echoing like hurried footsteps down an unlit alley." Together with the spiraling and chaotic bridge section, Rose's demonic response to those hurried footsteps—that monstrous growl—gives the song a heavy metal tinge.

    But on the other side of things, his razor-tongued banshee screams are melodic and high enough to compliment the anthemic chorus and the straightforward rock beat of the verses, in a manner that faintly echoes the falsettos of contemporaries like David Coverdale of Whitesnake. In that way, "Welcome to the Jungle" seems to embrace the mainstream "hair metal" sound, if only because the band knows that whatever Bon Jovi can do, they can do much better.

    Some of the best musical moments of "Welcome to the Jungle" come from the band's fruitful attempts to suggest the sounds of the (urban) jungle through musical mimicry. The opening riff may well have come straight from a horror movie. As Mick Wall observed, the opening notes suggest movement—perhaps of something in the darkness. That "tense echo," as Slash described it, gets utterly urbanized by the delay effect, which gives it an artificial sound. As the riff continues into a bouncing but scary descending line, the sense of movement becomes inescapable. As if Slash's riff is merely a hint of what is to come, Rose's monster howl creeps into the mix, setting the tone for both the song and the entire album. As the verse riff kicks in, the initial metal aspect of the song gives way to a party feel that's much more conventional for the rock music of the day.

    The verses and the chorus are extremely upbeat—markedly different from the heavier material that makes up the bulk of Appetite for Destruction. The verse is straightforward rhythmically, but, where heavier Appetite songs like "It's So Easy" and "My Michelle" stick largely to a descending chord progression, the modulation of the verse riff to higher notes makes "Welcome to the Jungle" stick out. The use of a female chorus in the verses (singing a descending melody behind "In the jungle, / Welcome to the jungle") adds a little more pop convention to the song. (The use of choirs in the chorus of songs was widely used in pop-rock hits of the time—in Bon Jovi's "Livin' On a Prayer," for example.)

    The bridge of the song, beginning at 3:19, moves "Welcome to the Jungle" out of party mode and back into the horror and insanity of the opening. Duff McKagen brings us back to the descending intro riff by playing exactly what Slash does at the beginning of the song, only several octaves lower. Coupled with Steven Adler's shakers, the lower register of the bass as it plays the riff creates a tribal effect, the bass notes sounding like tom hits. Slash, back on the delay effect, slides his pick across the strings and uses harmonics to create these jungle sounds—evoking, once again, the rustle of something dangerous just out of sight. Rose, stepping out of the song and into this omniscient speaker role says, "You know where you are? / You're in the jungle baby, / You gonna die!" Just as the song seems to be tearing itself apart, it returns to the anthemic chorus section, seemingly revitalized by this descent into chaos and insanity. The fleet-footed dance between metal and pop rock in "Welcome to the Jungle" makes the highs of the chorus seem so much more powerful and the lows so much more hellish. In that respect, the pop elements of the song seem to exist only as a means by which the band may flaunt its gritty, vice-laden image.
  • Setting

    The L.A. scene from the music video of "Welcome to the Jungle" might seem over-the-top and exaggerated (really, how can you afford that much hairspray when you're a self-proclaimed gutter rat?), but it really was a life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll for Guns N' Roses. That rock star life might sound glorious but, in reality, it usually wasn't. The L.A. "jungle" that Guns N' Roses knew was—like their music—dirty, dangerous, and drug-fueled. Simply thinking about where Guns N' Roses lived (or, more precisely, where they went to pass out) would make anyone feel like getting up to wash their hands.

    At one point, the band had rented out a rehearsal space, just a room 10 feet by 16 feet, with no bathroom or amenities, that served as what one might call a "home." Slash would take the makeshift loft above the band's equipment. Izzy Stradlin could be found sleeping in the space between the back of the couch and the wall, often for days on end. And that's only the beginning. After shows, the little square of building, which was adjacent to an elementary school, became a hive of activity, with partygoers and other bands coming to drink, do drugs, and have sex. The activity would only wind down as the kids began to file into classrooms, around eight in the morning. Finally, some rest. As the rest of the world woke up, Guns N' Roses faded entirely into the realm of unconsciousness.

    Economically, that situation invited its own problems. Because shows initially brought in only meager income—$50 or some coupons was standard fare—meals, residency, and money for drugs or equipment often came from some place else. Izzy Stradlin dealt heroin for a time, while various strippers and groupies provided extra money and the occasional shower in exchange for the band's attention. That kind of hustling experience served the band well when industry types noticed them. Slash remembers fattening up until his clothes stopped fitting as Guns N' Roses forced record companies to take them out to lunch for weeks at a time.

    While this kind of living situation certainly had its obvious drawbacks, there was a kind of fun to be had in it as well. Hustling the recording industry as they did, Guns N' Roses demonstrated a joy in scamming "the man" and forcing the big labels to bend to their will. That might best be seen in the band's final dealings with the recording industry before they got signed. When signing boiled down to two options—Chrysalis or Geffen—Axl Rose issued ultimatums to the representatives of both companies. Rose said that Guns N' Roses would sign with Geffen if and only if they paid the band an advance of $75,000. Living life with a total disregard for "normal people time," he only gave Geffen a week to get them the money. He then told the representative of Chrysalis that they would sign with that label if and only if she walked naked down Sunset Boulevard by a certain deadline. If one chooses not to quantify in dollars the loss of dignity that a naked walk down Sunset Boulevard entails, it was definitely a loss for Chrysalis.
  • Songwriting

    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.