Guns N’ Roses’ “One in a Million” Lyrics Meaning

“One in a Million” is a controversial song that rock band Guns N’ Roses dropped back in the late 80s. It is centered on the thoughts of a “small-town White boy”, i.e. the singer, who is accordingly naïve of the ways of city life and overwhelmed by changes in American society.

Thus when he finds himself in the middle of Los Angeles, he is emotionally affected by the presence of “police and N”. FYI, the “N” stands for the very offensive word used in describing a black person.

One in a Million

Police, as we all know, are law enforcement officers. And it seems the singer has a history of dealing with them (i.e. being arrested), and as such is trying to avoid interacting with the cops as much as possible. But apparently such is not easy in the part of L.A. he finds himself.

And “N” like we said earlier is a racist word which historically has been used against African-Americans. The reason he apparently does not want them in his path has something to do with their “gold chains”. And the mention of this item is seemingly meant to point to the idea of these individuals being Black street hustlers who sell fraudulent jewelry in an unethical manner (i.e. presented fake gold as real).

Second Verse

And in the second verse is where he attacks the society at large. Or not society per se but rather he laments the influx of “immigrants” and gays into his “country”, i.e. America. And FYI, he uses a very offensive term to describe the gays. The term (which begins with an F) is a term we can’t bring ourselves to use in this post.

Immigrants of course are those from other parts of the world who in this context come to live in the United States. And the ones he calls out specifically are ‘Iranians’, which we interpret as all Arabs. And regarding the gays, he accuses them of “spread(ing) some [expletive] disease”, which most likely is a reference to HIV/AIDS. His actual beef with these groups is something along the lines of believing they are afforded certain privileges which they do not deserve.

One in a Million

Third Verse

This brings us to the third verse, where the singer denies being a ‘radical or racist’ based on the fact that he is rather a “small-town White boy just trying to make ends meet”. In other words, he presents himself as a humble dude whose primarily goal is basic survival. And he is uninitiated in the ways of the outside world (i.e. urban America). And perhaps more to the point, he is indeed uninterested in anything besides ‘just making his living’. Owing to this, he wants absolutely, positively nothing to do with the aforementioned types of individuals.

Song’s Title (“One in a Million”) 

The title of this song is derived from the chorus, where he is referring to the addressee as “one in a million”. This is a common idiom which points to the idea of how unique and valuable a person is. But outside of that the meaning of the rest of the chorus, as well as how it (and the title) relates to the song in general, is not abundantly clear. But going out on a limb, perhaps he is speaking to another “small-town White boy” or someone like himself. And on top of trying to raise that individual’s self-esteem, he also seems to be addressing the subject of drug abuse, as in such a person being prone to engage in such a behavior.

Release Date of “One in a Million”

“One in a Million” originally came out as part of Guns N’ Roses second album “G N’ R Lies”, which was published by Geffen Records on 29 November 1988.

“G N’ R Lies” was featured on the deluxe reissue of Guns N’ Roses first album, “Appetite for Destruction” (1987), in 2018. However, this time around it was decided by Geffen Records and indeed Guns N’ Roses themselves to leave “One in a Million” off of its playlist.

The release of “One in a Million” also caused a tiff between Guns N’ Roses and Living Color, a rock band made up of African-Americans, when the two groups briefly worked together in October 1989.

Who wrote “One in a Million”?

The song was written by Guns N’ Roses frontman, Axl Rose. “One in a Million” was produced by the well-traveled heavy metalist, Mike Clink.

Cover of “G N’ R Lies”

The creative cover of “G N’ R Lies” (which resembles a newspaper’s front page) features Axl Rose’s “apologies to those who may take offense” to the lyrical content of “One in a Million”.

Slash was initially against this song

It should perhaps also be noted that one member of Guns N’ Roses, Slash, actually has an African-American mother. And whereas he eventually made peace with “One in a Million, at first he did try to convince Axl Rose not to do the song.

Axl Rose addresses the N word used in “One in a Million”

Axl Rose eventually admitted in 1992 that the racist lingo in this song was directed towards “some Black people that were trying to rob” him.

Outside of that, another reason he decided to use the N-word was due to it being taboo for White people in particular to say. According to him, he felt was a limitation on his freedom of speech.

Axl Rose’s beef with the Police and the Gay Community

As the song insinuates, Axl Rose actually does have an extensive history with law enforcement, particularly from his childhood days in Lafayette, Indiana.

Also his tiff with homosexuals apparently sprang from an incident in his youth where a gay man (whom Axl met while hitchhiking, with hitchhiking being referenced at the beginning of the song) actually tried to rape him. Moreover Rose has stated that he has ‘had his share of dealings with aggressive gays’, which is what pissed him off.

2 Responses

  1. Go F Yourself says:

    Best song ever written. It really hits home in 2023 more than ever!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for this breakdown. I hate to be critical but would have liked to see more for verse 2. Seems like is skipped a chunk.

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