Top 10 Gun Songs
We had a lot of options when it came to choosing our Top 10 Gun Songs. After all, firearms had been a big part of music long before Jimi Hendrix asked Joe where he was going with that gun in his hand. Remember Johnny Cash’s 1958 hit ‘Don’t Take Your Guns To Town’? And that’s not even counting songs like ‘Love Gun’ by Kiss that only pretend to be about weapons — but you won’t find them here. It’s time to lock and load! Enjoy our Top 10 Gun Songs — just watch out for the recoil:
'Janie's Got a Gun'
'Janie’s Got a Gun,' the second single from Aerosmith’s 'Pump' LP and the start of our Top 10 Gun Songs, is the tale of a girl who shoots her sexually abusive father. Months after Steven Tyler came up with the title and melody, the singer finally flashed on the song’s theme. “I looked over at a Time magazine and saw this article on 48 hours, minute by minute, of handgun deaths in the United States,” Tyler told Rolling Stone. “Then I got off on the child-abuse angle. I'd heard this woman speaking about how many children are attacked by their mothers and fathers… I felt, man, I gotta sing about this.”
'Saturday Night Special'
Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 'Saturday Night Special' describes the carnage wrought by inexpensive, readily available handguns known as Saturday Night Specials. Guitarist Ed King told Gibson.com how quickly he and singer Ronnie Van Zant came up with the song. “Ronnie's sitting there in the corner of the couch with his head in his hands, and 15 minutes later he comes up and cups my ear with his hand, and sings me the whole first verse… And I went, ‘Well, I know right where to take this.’ You know, and it just, bam, bam, bam. You finish the song and it's done.’”
'Eat ‘Em and Smile' was David Lee Roth’s first solo album after leaving Van Halen. To ensure its success, Diamond Dave recruited hyper-speed guitarist Steve Vai for his band. In 'Elephant Gun,' Roth sings, “I sell protection for a price… I’ll protect you, baby, with my elephant gun.” The track was one of six on the LP co-written by Roth and Vai. “I would come in with riffs or a song,” Vai explained to the Van Halen News Desk. “We’d work on it a bit and maybe shape it, and then at some point once the track was done, or at least written, Dave would take it and write lyrics.”
Joe Strummer’s piercing guitar riffs and Topper Headon’s rapid-fire drumming mimic the sound of a terrorist’s Thompson submachine gun in 'Tommy Gun,' the single from the Clash’s 1978 'Give ‘Em Enough Rope' LP. Strummer that year told Melody Maker, “The bad thing is that [terrorists] go around murdering bodyguards and innocent people. But you've got to hand it to them for laying their lives on the line for the rest of the human race.” 'Tommy Gun' however takes a stand against terror with lyrics like “I see all the innocents, the human sacrifice / And if death comes so cheap then the same goes for life.”
'Lawyers, Guns and Money'
Warren Zevon’s wild imagination placed himself in hot water in 'Lawyers, Guns and Money.' The song was loosely based on Chuck Berry’s 'Dear Dad.' When the singer-songwriter ends up “hiding in Honduras,” he pleads with Pop to “send lawyers, guns and money / the s--- has hit the fan.” Zevon did own a .44 Magnum. “The last time I detoxed, I really thought I was going to die,” he once told Rolling Stone. “I was afraid that I was going to start hallucinating and shooting guns – I didn't know what was going to happen.”
'I Shot the Sheriff'
This reggae classic, which comes in at No. 5 on our list of the Top 10 Gun Songs, tells of a man who kills a cop in self-defense then gets blamed for ventilating a deputy too. Bob Marley claimed that some parts of 'I Shot the Sheriff' are true but never revealed which parts. Eric Clapton’s take in 1974 topped the charts and helped popularize reggae throughout the world, but did not include a guitar solo. In 'The Rolling Stone Interviews,' Clapton explained that he almost blocked the release of 'I Shot the Sheriff': “I didn't think it was fair to Bob Marley, and I thought we'd done it with too much of a white feel or something. Shows what I know.”
'Billy's Got a Gun'
'Billy’s Got a Gun' was Def Leppard’s tale of a man bent on revenge after serving time for a crime he didn’t commit. “We call it the epic of the album. This one we enjoy playing live,” Def Leppard guitarist Steve Clark said in SteveClarkGuitar.com. “The bridge section needed something so I did a riff that sounded like slide guitar,” added guitarist Phil Collen. “But it’s really a bend that I tried to make sound like a slide guitar… This song is easily the most demanding on the album.”
Brothers Malcolm and Angus Young of AC/DC may have to exercise some gun control. Their high caliber titles include 'Fire Your Guns,' 'Gimme a Bullet' and 'Guns for Hire.' 'Big Gun,' released as a single in 1993, was pumped up enough to be part of the soundtrack of the Arnold Schwarzenegger flick 'Last Action Hero.' The Governator even appeared in the song’s memorable video. After crashing an AC/DC concert, Schwarzenegger’s clothes are magically transformed into an Angus Young-style schoolboy uniform.
'Happiness Is a Warm Gun'
George Harrison and Paul McCartney’s favorite song on the Beatles’ 'White Album' is 'Happiness Is a Warm Gun.' Impenetrable lyrics like “a soap impression of his wife which he ate and donated to the National Trust” came to John Lennon during an acid trip with Beatles’ publicist Derek Taylor. American Rifleman magazine was Lennon’s inspiration for the song. “George Martin showed me the cover of a magazine that said, ‘Happiness is a warm gun.' I thought it was a fantastic, insane thing to say,” Lennon recalled in 'Anthology.' “A warm gun means you’ve just shot something.”
Jimi Hendrix proved he was the master of the electric guitar with 1970’s 'Machine Gun,' which he dedicated to “All the troops fighting in Harlem, Chicago and, oh yes, Vietnam.” Hendrix used his Stratocaster to re-create the sound of the weapons and screams heard on a battlefield. The definitive version of 'Machine Gun' was recorded live at New York’s Fillmore East with Band of Gypsys, which included drummer Buddy Miles and bassist Billy Cox. It's rightly been called the finest example of Hendrix’s guitar work, so naturally it tops our list of the Top 10 Gun Songs.