Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Raph PH)


How Tom Morello created the riff for Rage Against The Machine song 'Killing In The Name'

Everything about ‘Killing In The Name’ is perfection. The amount of angst that Rage Against The Machine managed to roll up into five-and-a-half minutes is astonishing. If the song fails to get your pulses going and doesn’t make you believe that you can take on the world, there is something wrong.

The track has enjoyed one hell of a life since Rage Against The Machine first unleashed it onto the world in 1993. It quickly became the band’s signature song and tackled societal issues revolving around those in power abusing their position and confronting racism in a fierce and direct fashion. The visceral ‘Killing In The Name’ worked as a perfect introduction for the band, and it epitomised everything that Rage Against The Machine stood for within one track.

As first impressions go, they don’t get much more potent than that. Rage showed that they weren’t just another band, but they had principles and stood for something. The commanding anthem was written in response to the beating of black motorist Rodney King by four LAPD officers in March 1991, which was captured on CCTV and shook America to its core.

It’s Zach De La Rocha’s impassioned vocals that make the track come alive, and remarkably it originally started as just an instrumental that came out of nowhere to Tom Morello while he was a guitar tutor.

“I was actually in the middle of playing bass in a guitar lesson,” Morello recalled to Classic Rock magazine, “And was teaching a student about the drop-D tuning when it came to me.

“I said to him: ‘Hold on one second,’ and scribbled it down. Then we went into rehearsals that night and worked it out. It was part of the second wave of songs we ever wrote.”

The guitarist then came armed with the riff to his bandmates, and they expertly channelled their collective anger about the death of Rodney King into the beast that inhabits a special place in all of our hearts.

“We wrote that song before we even had a gig,” the guitarist revealed. “So when we started clobbering people with those riffs and the ‘fuck you’– it was exciting from the very beginning.”

It remains a special moment for Morello whenever Rage Against The Machine play it live. The guitarist added: “When we turn the lights on the crowd and that last chorus comes in – I think if you look under the dictionary for the definition of the word ‘apeshit’ there’d have to be a picture of people losing their mind to this song.”

It’s a testament to the level of talent which Morello possessed even back then when Rage Against The Machine were still yet even to play a gig, a gift arrived at him from the sky, and ‘Killing In The Name’ was born. That track would kickstart the band’s extraordinary career. Almost 30 years on, they are still fighting the good fight and banging the drum to make the world a fairer, more equal place.