With three discs of outtakes and other recordings from the era, Guns N’ Roses’ recently announced box sets for their groundbreaking 1987 debut Appetite for Destruction provide an expansive look at the band’s early years. But one track is conspicuous by its absence: the controversial “One in a Million,” which closed out their 1988 EP G N’ R Lies.
The second disc of the “Locked N’ Loaded” edition of the set, B-sides, EPs N’ More, consists of their 1986 Live ?!*@ Like a Suicide EP, the five non-album b-sides from Appetite’s singles and three of the four acoustic songs on Lies. It appears to have been a deliberate decision; the press release doesn’t reference the title of either EP, and the only mention of Lies’ existence is where it notes that the acoustic version of “Move to the City” stems from those sessions.
At a time when bad press followed Guns N’ Roses everywhere, “One in a Million” was yet another headline-raising moment, leading to accusations of racism and homophobia due to its use of the words “n——” and “f——” as well as anti-immigrant sentiments. Axl Rose has said that he based the lyrics on his first impressions of Los Angeles when he arrived from small-town Indiana. In a Rolling Stone interview in 1989, he described “a large number of black men selling stolen jewelry, crack, heroin and pot,” being chased out of a convenience store by a man from the Middle East with a butcher’s knife and having had “very bad experiences with homosexuals,” including an attempted rape by a gay man.
He defended his use of the racial slur with, “Why can black people go up to each other and say, “N—–,” 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 n—– because it’s a word to describe somebody that is basically a pain in your life, a problem. The word n—– doesn’t necessarily mean black.”
Adding to the controversy was the fact that Rose’s bandmate, Slash, is half-black. The guitarist later revealed his mixed emotions about recording it. “When Axl first came up with the song and really wanted to do it, I said I didn’t think it was very cool,” he told Rolling Stone in 1991. “But Axl gets very adamant about expressing himself, and his lyrics are very direct. He’s very honest, and he’s got his reasons…. 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.”
The song also created an awkward moment when Guns N’ Roses and Living Colour, whose four members are black, were tapped to open up for the Rolling Stones in Los Angeles. It led to a backstage confrontation between Rose and bassist Muzz Skillings, and Rose defended himself onstage with, “I don’t give a crap what color you are as long as you ain’t some crack-smoking piece of s—. All you people calling me a racist, shove your head up your f—ing ass.”
The next night, prior to launching into their hit “Cult of Personality,” guitarist Vernon Reid answered Rose by saying, “Look, if you don’t have a problem with gay people, then don’t call them ‘f——. If you don’t have a problem with black people, then don’t call them ‘n——.’ I never met a n—– in my life. Peace.