Political anthems don’t get much more powerful than Rage Against The Machine’s thunderous song ‘Killing In The Name’. It’s a track that is sadly still too relevant today and, even without Zach De La Rocha’s furious delivery of the socio-political sermon, Tim Commerford’s killer isolated bass version evokes that same fire in the collective belly and makes us stomp our feet with anticipation.
‘Killing In The Name’ has had one hell of a life since Rage Against The Machine first unleashed it onto the world in 1993. The track quickly became the band’s signature song and tackles societal issues revolving around those in power abusing their position as well as confronting racism in a fierce and direct fashion. The song even alludes to the history of US police’s links to the Ku Klux Klan and white supremacists, it could easily have been written in response to the deaths of George Floyd, Breanna Taylor and countless others by the police in 2020.
The mighty anthem was written as a response to the beating of black motorist Rodney King by four LAPD officers in March 1991. The moment was captured on CCTV and shook America to its very core. The reality, of course, is that the public simply couldn’t believe that this was happening in their country.
The track, decades later, took on its weirdest incarnation in 2009 when it somehow defeated X Factor winner Joe McElderry and, against all odds, it became the UK Christmas number one. This was the result of a grassroots campaign and, as a way of saying thanks, Rage Against The Machine played a one-off free show at London’s Finsbury Park in 2010. Simon Cowell found himself in an unlikely war against RATM after he denounced the campaign as “stupid” and “cynical”, which gifted it even more attention. Tom Morello said that achieving the Christmas number one would be “a wonderful dose of anarchy” and that he planned to donate the unexpected windfall to charity.
“‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’ is a universal sentiment,” Tom Morello told Rolling Stone about the track’s famous chant. “While it’s a simple lyric, I think it’s one of [Zack de la Rocha’s] most brilliant. And to me, it relates to Frederick Douglass. Frederick Douglass said the moment he became free was not the moment that he was physically loosed from his bonds.
“It was the moment when master said, ‘Yes.’ And he said, ‘No.’ And that’s the essence of ‘Fuck you, I will not do what you tell me.’ And that’s why it’s encouraging to hear it shouted at the Fed goons who are shooting tear gas at American citizens,” he added.
The fact that Rage Against The Machine shared this as their debut single encapsulates the attitude of everything they stood for when it was released way back in 1992. Thankfully, the band’s attitude has not waned in the slightest over the years and they remain one of the great voices of reason who don’t plan to stop standing up to injustice anytime soon.
Commerford’s isolated bass puts the track through a completely brand new lens and it is still guaranteed to send shivers down your spine. It’s arguably the very musical moment in the song that sells the entire thing. Though De La Rocha’s enigmatic refrain is poetic and poignant, with a few strums, Commerford has us on the edge of our seats.