Top Ten Songs by Rage Against the Machine
There has never been a band like Rage Against the Machine, period. At least no band I have ever heard of. Mixing Hip Hop vocals and rhythms with heavy rock sensibilities, Rage created a potent, in-your-face style of music that sounded amazing, and also had a message. It is the type of music that makes you angry and pumps you up at the same time. Zach de la Rocha’s politically and socially conscious lyrics are laid down so smoothly over the innovative and ingenious guitar riffs of Tom Morello. Rage Against the Machine is one of the few overwhelmingly successful bands of the last decade to make real, powerful, and lasting music.
Upon the release of Rage Against the Machine’s eponymous first album, a critic for Billboard magazine said the following: “On the strength of the album, they must be viewed as one of the most original and virtuosic new rock bands in the nation…”
10) Bombtrack: This song, from Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled first album, Zach comes out swinging against big business and other bands that he finds too commercial. With the line “Land lords and power whores on my people they took turns,” Zach sets himself up as a speaker against exploitation, and the name of the band is given credence. This militant song is one of the most energetic and angry as Zach sings to those in his crosshairs: “Burn, burn, yes you’re gonna burn.”
9) Bulls on Parade: This song from RATM’s second album, Evil Empire, is also a tirade against commerce in general and the business of war. The catchy chorus, the guitar, and the energy make this a great song. Zach de la Rocha does not get enough credit for the poetry and intelligence of his lyrics, perhaps because he raps instead of sings. His words hit hard and are always conscious of the world around him. When he sings, “terror rains drenchin’ / quenchin’ the thirst of the power dons / that five sided fist-a-gon,” it is clear that he is angry about the cycle of politics, war, power, and greed. “I walk the corner to the rubble / that used to be a library / Line up to the mind cemetery.” Zach sings about destruction and manipulation. One of their best songs.
8) Bullet in the Head: A slower song with somewhat oblique lyrics, but you get the point. The guitar is fierce thoughout, and the lyrics follow suit. This one is from the self-titled Rage Against the Machine album. A quick note about Rage: you can’t go wrong with any of their songs because they’re all good. This is a song that may go unnoticed simply because of the depth of great songs Rage made.
7) Freedom: This song, like the first two on this list, starts with Zach (in the tradition of hip hop emcees) rapping about his abilities on the microphone. Once it is established that he is “all live, never on a floppy disk,” and his credibility is ensured, he gets to the heart of the matter-racial prejudice and injustice. The first line, however bleak and angering, is clever (which took me a while to figure out), “It’s set up like a deck of cards / they’re sending us to early graves / for all the diamonds / they’ll use a pair of clubs to beat the spades.” This song has an interesting chorus that leads into a throat-stripping Zach de la Rocha scream: “Freedom, yea right.” The video for this song is also great.
6) How I Could Just Kill a Man: This cover of a Cypress Hill song is found on Rage Against the Machine’s (mostly) cover album. It is an homage to a band that inspired Rage’s musical style.
5) The Ghost of Tom Joad: This is a great cover of a Bruce Springsteen song. It is about the character Tom Joad from John Steinbeck’s classic The Grapes of Wrath. Joad is the patron saint of the poor working man, promising to look out for the exploited. A very good cover.
4) People of the Sun: One of Rage’s best songs, this track which opens up Evil Empire deals with social injustice and imperialism. Socially conscious, angry lyrics are carried by Morello’s driving, machine gun guitar.
3) Down Rodeo: This sonically dense track runs headfirst into the topic of racism and ignorance. Zach sings about “rolling down Rodeo with a shotgun” and preaches that “these people ain’t seen a brown skinned man since they’re grandparents bought one” over an interesting texture of sound. The band comes together to make a really solid song.
2) Fistful of Steel: On this song from the first album, the band slows down and Zach’s militant lyrics can be heard clearly over Tom Morello’s lazer-beam guitar. A quick note for those who have never listened to Rage Against the Machine: they’re political and conscious, but the fact is they make great, original music that any music fan can listen to or at least appreciate. That’s what makes Rage Against the Machine one of the best bands of the 1990’s.
1) Killing in the Name: This song was the first hit for the band and catapulted Rage to stardom and commercial success. You have probably heard this song if you’ve been anywhere in the vicinity of a radio turned to a rock station in the past ten years.
It is a shame that Rage Against the Machine broke up, but they left a lasting and visible footprint on rock music. We can still listen to most of the band, with the addition of Chris Cornell as lead singer, in Audioslave. I wonder what Zach’s up to.