As Rage Against the Machine began to make their mark on the rock scene in the mid-90’s, fans gravitated to the band for their strong, unpredictable guitar-driven sound and intense, anger-fueled political lyrics.
But even as Rage’s popularity soared, it always seemed as if they didn’t get the attention and acclaim they deserved because of the fact that they were a rap-rock band and were lumped in with some of the lesser acts of their time.
So that’s why I was surprised to see their name brought up during a VH1 special discussing the top overall musical acts of the 90’s.
Now that the band has essentially disbanded (and become Audioslave with new singer Chris Cornell), it seems as if people are starting to realize just how revolutionary they were, especially in regards to Tom Morello’s guitar wizardry.
These are the ten best Rage Against the Machine songs in my opinion:
10. Guerrilla Radio-
This was the first single off of “Battle of Los Angeles” and a good one at that. It’s a little catchier and by the book than your typical Rage song, but it’s got strong lyrics and builds up to an intense Morello guitar finale.
9. Wake Up-
Taken off their first album, this song doesn’t have the same sharp pacing and concise lyrics that later Rage songs do, but it hums along with pure emotion and raw guitar-fueled energy, in accordance with most of the songs off of Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut album.
8. War Within a Breath-
The last track on the well-received third album “Battle of Los Angeles,” this song (and the one preceeding it, Ashes in the Fall) was a bit overlooked coming at the end of a string of radio hits.
The best part of this track is the way it shifts between a mix of classic heavy guitar riffs and rap and another combination of distortion and confident half-spoken, half-sung rantings. Lead singer Zack De La Rocha gives one of his more inspired performances, which is saying a mouthful considering how revved up he usually is.
7. Calm Like a Bomb-
The opening baseline sounds tame enough, but 13 seconds in, this track explodes into a searing fireball of, well, rage.
This is another song that showcases the band’s uncanny ability to seamlessly blend different genres together, as rap gives way to an explosive rock-driven chorus.
The realistic ambulance alarm sound effect blended with guitar near the end is also an aural work of art that adds to the imagery of this song, which describes a desolate, despair-ridden (presumably Mexican or Southern Californian) area.
6. Renegades of Funk-
This is a cover of a song by hip hop pioneer Afrikaa Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force, taken off of “Renegades,” Rage Against the Machine’s unofficial fourth album that was entirely composed of covers of the band’s favorite songs.
It gets the full Rage treatment here with towering, echoing guitar blasts and some crisp, passionate De La Rocha lyrics paying homage to both old school hip hop and pioneers of society such as Martin Luther King, Thomas Paine, and even Chief Sitting Bull.
Not a big-name song off of “Battle of Los Angeles,” but a great one nonetheless. “Maria” is a sad chronicle of a Mexican woman who is kidnapped, abused, and finally killed.
The main guitar riff is a little average but the lyrics carry the song’s weight up until the final part, when some inspired drum work gives way to perhaps Morello’s best solo yet, as he absolutely flies off the handle and produces a sound that can best be described as akin to a person falling off a cliff while screaming. Of course, words can’t really do it justice, so you’ll have to hear it for yourself.
4. Ashes in the Fall-
This song starts out with a scratchy, squealing guitar sound that’s annoying at first, but it grows on you. Once the track gets its legs under it, Morello conjures up a few of his trademark otherworldly guitar noises while De La Rocha goes to work with another tremendous vocal performance.
It all builds up to a chaotic climax of 100% distilled anger that pours through each instrument and lyric, before finally slowing things down at the end to give the listener a little time to digest what they just heard.
3. Down Rodeo-
This song is the expression of the anger that De La Rocha felt growing up as a Chicano in an affluent white neighborhood in California.
The lyrics are forceful and blunt about the struggle of poor Latinos in Southern California and the cruel realization that some people are just destined to succeed within the framework of the system while others are left to fend for themselves.
2. Killing in the Name-
Much like the gangsta rap songs of the late 80’s, this song is a stab what were viewed as racist and elitist tactics of the police forces in Southern California.
It rises above most of the band’s other great songs because it manages to find a happy medium between the long, drawn-out, raw emotion-filled tracks on their debut album and the shorter, better paced songs on their 2nd and third albums. And as is a must for any top Rage song, there’s a Morello solo for the ages packed in.
1. Bulls on Parade-
Choosing the top song for any band is always tough, but when in doubt, I always go for the one that has that special it, and this blistering track off of “Evil Empire” is that song.
This song hits hard right from the beginning and mixes funky bass with evil, echoing guitar riffs while De La Rocha shows off his rap skills in between sharp hooks that drive home the emotion of the song.
This is the one that got me into the band when I was younger, and it was the first CD I ever bought with a Parental Advisory sticker on it. Thankfully, it was well worth all the pleading and begging with my parents I had to do in order to obtain it in the end.