The best Rage Against the Machine songs showcase the band's unique ability to deftly mix rap and rock to deliver music of the most powerful kind: politically charged, pointed and with a purpose. Frontman Zack de la Rocha's venom and vitriol was wrapped around a message, and he was often seen performing maniacally, with his signature dreads flailing around his head, while Tom Morello's guitar functioned like a turntable, thanks to whammy bars and wah-wahs. The rhythm section of bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk added some bluesy and jazzy heft. All those factors combined were what made the music so explosive and incendiary. While RATM's catalog of studio albums isn't vast by any means, the superb quality of the music the band has produced is undeniable. Here, we present our picks of the 10 Best Rage Against the Machine Songs:
'Freedom'From: 'Rage Against the Machine' (1992)
'Freedom' closes out the band's debut album, and it's full of bluesed out, groovy riffing, chippy percussion, pulsing tension, a blunt theme, pregnant pauses and false outros, a jazzy breakdown (starts at 2:09) and mostly rapped lyrical delivery. The slowly builds to a monster breakdown and the moment when Zack de la Rocha screams, "Freedom? Yeah right!," RATM have you in their musical vice grip. It's one of the 10 Best Rage Against the Machine songs because the music is as combustible as the message. It must've sucked to have been a politician when RATM were in their prime, pointing out all that ails the government machine.
'Testify'From: 'The Battle of Los Angeles' (1999)
'Testify' features an effects-laden performance from Tom Morello, while Zack de la Rocha is as fired up as ever. There is a lot of distortion and chaos all over the song, so much so that it might mess with your equilibrium. The song encapsulates all the elements that Rage fan have come to love: anger, groove, aggressive, turntabling guitars. It's also clearly a band favorite, since they opened several of their reunion shows with the song.
'Bombtrack'From: 'Rage Against the Machine' (1992)
It could be argued that all Rage Against the Machine tracks are bombtracks, but the actual (and literal) 'Bombtrack' is another exercise in RATM's deftness with rising and falling tension, which is executed with masterful precision. On a purely sonic level, it fuses just the right amount of rap and rock. It's probably the least overly political song of the band's self-titled debut, but it's still fun to scream "Burn, burn, yes you're gonna burn" in the chorus. Fire it up.
'People of the Sun'From: 'Evil Empire' (1996)
'People of the Sun' is one of the 10 Best Rage Against the Machine tracks, partly due to the story that Morello dragged a pencil and a wrench against his guitar strings in the beginning to make those definitive sounds. We can't even begin to come up with a name for that sound, but it's inimitable. The song features de la Rocha largely rapping in his clear and concise way. There were other versions of this song floating around prior to 'Evil Empire' being released, but this is the most well known and it made quite the impact.
'Sleep Now in the Fire'From: 'The Battle of Los Angeles' (1999)
'Sleep Now in the Fire' addresses the plight of Native Americans in the context of American colonialism. The point is hammered home by de la Rocha's rapid-fire raps, and since his syntax and diction are always clear as a bell, it's hard (but not impossible) to ignore what he's ranting about. Morello drops a feedback-fueled solo and it again leaves us wondering if he moonlighted as DJ Tommy M during the band's heyday.
'Know Your Enemy'From: 'Rage Against the Machine' (1992)
'Know Your Enemy' opens with funkdafied riffing, before quickly escalating into a punky rock track. Some of Morello's riffage sounds influenced by Metallica in a few parts of the song. It's one of the most noteworthy RATM songs because it features a guest vocal from Tool's Maynard James Keenan, who delivers his distinct, nasally vocal over a chunky breakdown, singing "I've got no patience no / So sick of complacence now." Two '90s alt metal titans collided in the space of one song. "Legendary" pretty much sums it up.
'Bulls on Parade'From: 'Evil Empire' (1996)
Lyrically, 'Bulls on Parade' addresses the governments usage of military contracts for revenue purposes. Musically, well, Morello whammies like his life depends on it. Then there's the solo (which comes in at the 2:30 mark), where he sounds like he is scratching vinyl, 1985 rap music style. See what we mean about Morello making his axe sound like a turntable? That sound is most prominent on 'Bulls on Parade,' and that's why it is a standout track.
'Bullet in the Head'From: 'Rage Against the Machine' (1992)
Rage Against the Machine raged against the fact that the media is controlled by the government in this fan favorite anthem, easily one of the band's best songs. 'Bullet in the Head' is erected on thudding rhythms, rising and falling tension throughout the song and more of Morello's whammy barring away. It sounds like he is playing a sampler onstage. In 1992, that was unheard of. Take that, Electonic Dance Music fans! The groove-laden breakdown at three minutes in a moshpit igniter. De la Rocha also gets credit for screaming "a bullet in your f---ing head" with such fervor that our blood pressure went up a few notches.
'Guerilla Radio'From: 'The Battle of Los Angeles' (1999)
'Guerilla Radio,' which earned the band a Grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance, is more polished than anything on their debut, but it's still frontloaded with chaos, wah-wahs, some '70s bass thwap courtesy of Commerford and Morello's "spinning." When Zack de la Rocha barks, "Turn that s--- up," the listener is compelled to follow his orders…stat. And damn if Morello's riffing doesn't sound like a MacBook at 2:30 in. He was so ahead of his time and ahead of the curve.
'Killing in the Name'From: 'Rage Against the Machine' (1992)
'Killing in the Name' is the most explosive RATM song. It's funky, bass-driven opening, it's subsequent build up of tension throughout the verses and choruses, de la Rocha's repeated whispering, "Now you do what they told ya" to Morello's wailing during the 'F--- you I won't do what you tell me' crescendo embodies everything that RATM were about. It's not pretty, the music blows up in your face like a nailbomb and makes you stare down things that are difficult. You don't need to see it live to know de la Rocha's veins in his temples are bulging when he spews those lyrics best accompanied by a middle finger salute. That's why 'Killing in the Name' tops our list of the best Rage Against the Machine songs.