Rage Against The Machine 1992 Debut

10 Best Rage Against the Machine Songs

Rage Against the Machine’s debut album was a slow-burn success. Their debut single ‘Killing in the Name’ was initially released in 1992, and became the Christmas #1 single in the UK in 2009. Parent album Rage Against the Machine didn’t crack the US top 40 but eventually went triple platinum.

The group’s music, however, was anything but slow burning. They combined the politically conscious hip hop of Public Enemy with the aggression of punk like Bad Brains. It’s easy to see some John Bonham in the hard-hitting grooves of drummer Brad Wilk, but guitarist Tom Morello has a unique style, with his solos often focusing on sonic effects rather than melodies.

The group were remarkably successful in the 1990s, given their far-left politics and their abrasive sound. 1996’s Evil Empire and 1999’s The Battle of Los Angeles both topped the charts. They broke up in 2000, following an incident when bassist Tim Commerford climbed stage scaffolding to protest Limp Bizkit winning Best Rock Video at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards.

The band’s adrenaline-fuelled sound means they work best in small doses – here are ten of their strongest songs.

10 Best Rage Against the Machine Songs

#10 Born of a Broken Man

from The Battle of Los Angeles, 1999
Zack de la Rocha wrote ‘Born of a Broken Man’ about his father Beto, a prominent artist. His parents divorced when he was four, and his father’s mental health deteriorated. Musically, the band had evolved by 1999 – ‘Born of a Broken Man’ is slower and more atmospheric than usual, and it sounds akin to the nu-metal that Rage Against the Machine helped to inspire.

#9 Calm Like a Bomb

from The Battle of Los Angeles, 1999
‘Calm Like a Bomb’ is one of Rage Against the Machine’s most popular non-singles – it received radio airplay and featured on the closing credits of The Matrix: Reloaded. The distinctive guitar tones on this song were created with a whammy bar – Morello calls them “pterodactyl sounds.”

#8 Testify

from The Battle of Los Angeles, 1999
The working title for ‘Testify’ was “Hendrix” – it makes sense, as it comes close to Hendrix’s psychedelic blues. De la Rocha’s vocal style is closer to conventional singing in places – the group’s subtle shift to a more mainstream sound over the course of the 1990s worked for them. The most memorable lines come in the bridge, where George Orwell’s 1984 is quoted – “Who controls the past (now), controls the future. Who controls the present (now), controls the past.”

#7 Renegades of Funk

from Renegades, 2000
Rage Against the Machine’s final album was released after the band had already broken up. It’s all covers, mainly from dissident hip-hop and rock artists that influenced Rage. It’s a mixed bag – the hip hop covers generally work better than the rock covers, with more room for the band to use ingenious arrangements. Their cover of Afrika Bambaataa’s ‘Renegades of Funk’ uses the guitar riff from Cheap Trick’s ‘Gonna Raise Hell’.

#6 Down Rodeo

from Evil Empire, 1996
‘Down Rodeo’ was scheduled as the third single from Evil Empire but was never released in the States. It’s great anyway – there’s more space than normal in the arrangement, with the rhythm section, Morello, and de la Rocha all leaving space for each other. It’s funky, but also typically cutting – the below quote is one of my favourite De La Rocha lines:

Yes I’m rollin’ down Rodeo wit a shotgun
These people ain’t seen a brown skin man
Since their grandparents bought one

#5 Bulls on Parade

from Evil Empire, 1996
On ‘Bulls on Parade’, de la Rocha addresses US militarism, with lines like “Weapons not food, not homes, not shoes/Not need, just feed the war cannibal animal.” ‘Bulls on Parade’ was a number one hit in Finland, and the band have dedicated it to Tony Blair and George W Bush when playing it live, for their roles in the war on terror. The song features one of Morello’s most iconic solos; he toggles between two pickups with one hand while rubbing the strings above the pickups with his other hand.

#4 People of the Sun

from Evil Empire, 1996
‘People of the Sun’ was written about the Zapatista revolution in – a far-left group controls a substantial amount of land in the southern-most state. It’s a great album opener with it’s terrific intro. De la Rocha at his most charismatic, pronouncing “we better turn the bass up on this one”. Morello’s shards of noise in the chorus are effective.

#3 Year of tha Boomerang

from Evil Empire, 1996
‘Year of tha Boomerang’ was initially released in 1994, appearing on the soundtrack to the film Higher Learning, although the version on this playlist was re-recorded for Evil Empire. The titular phrase was coined by French psychiatrist Frantz Fanon, foretelling a time when imperialists will be destroyed in violent uprisings.

The QAnon movement later attempted to co-opt ‘Year of tha Boomerang’ as supporting their conspiracy theories about Barack Obama’s citizenship – difficult to justify when Rage’s politics are extremely left-wing, and when the song was released 14 years before Obama became president.

So let the guilty hang
In the year of the boomerang

#2 Sleep Now in the Fire

from The Battle of Los Angeles, 1999
Typically, ‘Sleep Now in the Fire’ is an anti-capitalist diatribe. De La Rocha namechecks the three ships that Columbus crossed the Atlantic with in 1492, while he sings that “the world is my expense/The cost of my desire.” Because the band straddled the worlds of rock and hip hop, Morello’s guitar sometimes fills the role of a DJ scratching, such as in the solo here. The shooting of the music video, with director Michael Moore, famously closed down Wall Street temporarily.

#1 Killing in the Name

from Rage Against the Machine, 1992
‘Killing in the Name’ was Rage Against the Machine’s debut single, hitting hard with a funky beat and menacing riff. ‘Killing in the Name’ wasn’t a hit initially, but it belatedly topped the UK chart in 2009 after DJ Jon Morter campaigned for it to take the coveted #1 position on the Christmas chart. It remains the band’s most popular song, even if many listeners have missed the band’s left-wing politics, co-opting the song’s tagline (“f*** you/I won’t do what you tell me”) to any anti-authoritarian cause.

Did I miss your favourite Rage Against the Machine song?

Read more


Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.


  1. The one I know best from them is Guerrilla Radio. I like the raw music they have…it’s the vocals that are a put off to me. The one off of this list that I like the best…and have been listening to it is Renegades Of Funk…that one is really cool.

    • I think Tom Morello is the best thing about the band – super cool guitarist. But I did grow in appreciation for de la Rocha – it’s not an easy job trying to be abrasive, catchy, and political all at the same time.

    • I’m not a huge fan. But I think they’re a big step ahead of the bands that followed in their wake, like Limp Bizkit and Papa Roach.

      Rage Against the Machine’s bassist Tim Commerford is open about his hatred of Limp Bizkit, describing them as “one of the dumbest bands in the history of music”

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: