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With our ongoing debate about the greatest American rock bands continuing, I want to talk about one of my personal favorites today, Rage Against the Machine.
I'm a millennial, as most of you know by now, so 80's music wasn't really on my radar until I discovered it at an older age. Nineties music however, that's when I was coming into my own, both as a person and my musical taste. I still remember, albeit vaguely, when MTV still showed music videos and not crappy, mindless reality shows. This was where I would find out about new artists and hear new songs and see new videos of the bands I was beginning to listen to and enjoy. When I first saw a Rage Against the Machine video, or heard one of their songs on the radio, it was hard for me to like because, it was completely different from the version on the record. They used profane lyrics and took very strong political stands, and you can bet, MTV or the radio wasn't in the business of losing out on sponsors, so they edited their music. That was quite a bummer.
One summer, a great friend of mine, who happens to be one of the biggest Rage Against the Machine fans that I've ever met, let me borrow me his copy of their album, "Evil Empire". I took it from him, begrudgingly, and told him I'd give it another shot, but from what I heard on the radio, I assumed I wasn't going to enjoy the album. He told me to trust him, make sure I didn't listen with my folks because of the profanity and he promised I'd like it. He was 100 percent correct. "Evil Empire" opened me up to a whole new world of some of the best music I'd ever heard. I've always been a fan of rap and hip hop music, so I naturally enjoyed Zack De La Rocha's delivery on the microphone. Throw in Tom Morello's perfect guitar playing and two other decent musicians and I was hooked. The fact that I could hear everything he said and sang was revelatory. No edits, I got all the curse words, which for a 14 year old, was pretty nifty. I didn't understand their political message until I was older, but I'd like to think a part of me at that time agreed with what they were talking about. I know for a fact now that I agree with about 95 percent of their political beliefs.
Back to "Evil Empire". When I first heard "People of the Sun", the opening track, I was sucked right in. Morello's guitar playing on that song, and for that case the whole album, is impeccable. The next track on the record is probably their most famous song, "Bulls on Parade". This song introduced me to a wah wah pedal and I will forever be grateful and indebted to RATM for that. Lyrics like, "rally around the family, with a pocket full of shells" being said over and over again at the end of the song made me feel scared, but in a good way.. The best lyric, and probably my favorite song in RATM's catalog, is "Yeah, I'm walking down Rodeo with a shotgun, these people ain't seen a brown skinned man since they grandparents bought one" from their song "Down Rodeo" is epic on so many levels. De La Rocha calls out a bunch of rich, coddled white kids in a fancy Californian town and claims that their families were garbage people in the past. He is such an awesome and fearless writer. He has no problem calling out anyone anywhere. He's great.
After listening to this record on repeat for about a month straight, I had to get all their other records. Fortunately that was easy for me since they, unfortunately for me, only put out four records. Their first album, which is self titled, is a pretty great first record. Some songs on it include, "Bombtrack", "Bullet to the Head, "Fistful of Steel" and "Killing in the Name" These are four, epic rock songs. "Killing in the Name" has a lyric, "some of those who work forces, are the same that burn crosses". Not only are they saying that police a corrupt, but they also do horrible, awful things when off duty. I couldn't agree more with them. That's not to say all cops are evil, but the majority of them are extremely evil. "Fistful of Steel" has some of the most innovative, cool guitar I've ever heard in my entire life. Tom Morello is a GENIUS and all the things he does on guitar, be it, playing expertly, making it sound like a slide guitar by just muting strings and sliding his hand up and down the guitar, using his whammy bar at the exact right time every time or any other number of things he does is so impressive. This guy is a LEGEND. I got the chance to see him perform a live, acoustic set when he was touring and calling himself, "The Nightwatchman" and it was awesome. He's the best. Their third album, "The Battle of Los Angeles" came out in 1999. A lot of people say this is their weakest album, but I still think it's pretty damn awesome. Songs on this album include, "Testify", "Calm Like a Bomb", "War Within a Breath" and "Guerilla Radio". Those are four classics if you ask me. "War Within a Breath" hearkens back to their heavy political stuff. "Calm Like a Bomb" is a great song about being so angry at the government that you want to explode on it and take over the broken, rundown system that it truly is. "Guerilla Radio" is classic RATM, once again, accompanied by Morello doing some crazy, awesome, unheard of shit on his guitar. "Born of a Broken Man" is another great track on this album about, what I assume, is a strained relationship with De La Rocha's father. It's a great, but pretty depressing song. Lyrically that is.
They released their fourth and final album "Renegades" in 2000. Rumors were going around that they weren't getting along and that this would be their final record. I was, at first, bummed out when I heard it was going to be an album of covers. But, after listening to it, I changed my mind immediately. Yeah, they're covering songs, but they're doing it in their style. They do Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm", but turn it into this funky, distortion heavy, hugely epic rock song. It's pretty great. They also do Eric B and Rakim's "Microphone Fiend". This was a perfect cover for them, because it let De La Rocha do what he does best and rap. The music is pretty awesome as well. Other covers include, Bruce Springsteen's "Ghost of Tom Joad", Rolling Stones "Street Fighting Man" Cypress Hill's "How I Could Just Kill a Man", amongst many others. The best song on "Renegades", in my opinion, is "Renegades of Funk", one of Afika Bambaataa's best songs. This was a great song for them because the lyrics are progressive and have heavy political overtones. It may be blasphemous, but I prefer RATM's version over Afrika Bambaataa's. "Renegades" is a very good record of covers.
Rage Against the Machine was, and still is, very important to me. When I was still playing in a "band", one of our favorite songs to play was "Bulls on Parade". I even got to play the solo. I still listen to them on my way to play basketball to get myself pumped up. RATM was my pump up music before football games in high school. I will be forever grateful to my friend for me pushing and pushing me to give them a second try.
It was one of the best decisions I've ever made.
Ty is the Pop Culture editor for SeedSing and the co-host of The X-Millennial Man Podcast. To get pumped down he usually listens to slow covers of Air Supply. Follow him on twitter @tykulik