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Music

The first song Tom Morello fell in love with

Tom Morello is a guitarist like no other, and he made his name in a band like no other. The cap-wearing, Telecaster-toting maverick’s sound augmented Rage Against the Machine (RATM) and made the rap-rock outfit one of the most memorable and beloved of the past 30 years.

Morello formed RATM with frontman Zack de la Rocha in 1991. Standing out from the derivative guitar acts of the ’90s, they straddled music and politics, giving them an unmistakable edge that has resulted in their longevity.

This was confirmed in 2009 when the band’s iconic single ‘Killing in the Name‘ beat X-factor winner Joe McElderry’s cover of Miley Cyrus’s song ‘The Climb’ to the UK Christmas number one spot. Even 13 years later, their cultural relevance hasn’t waned, and every so often, the song returns to the fore in the name of righteous causes. 

As well as being the guitarist of RATM, Morello’s work has been extensive. He formed the supergroup Audioslave in 2001 alongside the late Chris Cornell, giving us mammoth riffs like ‘Cochise’. He also joined the supergroup Prophets of Rage in 2016 alongside RATM and Audioslave bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk, B-Real of Cypress Hill and DJ Lord and Chuck D from Public Enemy.

Morello hasn’t stopped there either. He has toured as part of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, played acoustically as the Nightwatchman, and formed Street Sweeper Social Club with MC Boots Riley. 

Watch Tom Morello play a guitar solo without a guitar

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Aside from being a vital part of one of the most iconic bands of all time, as well as being a highly prolific artist, Morello is also lauded for his unique guitar sound. His distinctive and creative style utilises feedback, unusual picking patterns, and a whole host of effects to colour his assertive sound. He’s best known for his use of the DigiTech WH-1 Whammy, which has brought to life many of his most memorable moments.

Given that Morello is such an iconoclast, his legions of disciples have long wanted to dig deeper into his complex mind in order to better understand how he shaped his artistry. Well, luckily for them, he once sat down with Pitchfork and explained the music of his life, tracing his journey from childhood to superstardom and the songs that influenced his ascendance.

The first record he truly fell in love with was Sweet’s 1974 album Desolation Boulevard, and he was particularly galvanised by their 1973 hit ‘The Ballroom Blitz’. Aged just ten years old, this was his first real introduction to the exciting world of all things hard-rock and metal.

Morello recalled: “This was really the first record that I bought on my own. The hit on that album was ‘The Ballroom Blitz’, which I must have heard on AM radio in the mid-70s. I liked the picture on the cover, and a lot of songs intimated a world that was much different and more exciting than the staid, conservative suburb in which I lived. My mom bought my first record player so that I could listen to it in my room and not have to bother her. Sweet kicked my ass with their glam hard rock with a pinch of prog in it.”

Sweet are famous for their meaty, blues-inspired riffs, and although their music and Rage Against the Machine’s is markedly different, listening to ‘The Ballroom Blitz’, you can understand how Morello’s guitar style started to develop after being first exposed to the track. It’s an astounding fact to heed, but Morello’s chugging, attitude-laden style started with Sweet’s 1973 hit. 

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