This incendiary song makes the point that some members of the US police force were, and possibly still are, members of the Ku Klux Klan ("Some of those who wear forces are the same that burn crosses"). How legitimate can a power structure or a religion be when the people that compose the operation are in a dark, warped mindset?
Tim - Pittsburgh, PA
British DJ Bruno Brookes once accidentally played the full, uncensored version (which contains the F-word 16 times) on the BBC Radio 1 Top 40 Chart show.
Emery - London, England
This was Rage Against The Machine's first single. It got a lot of attention in the UK when they played it on a TV show called Yoof. The song never charted in America, but it went to #25 in the UK in 1993.
When police ordered the crowd to disperse after a free Rage concert in Los Angeles in protest of the 2000 Democratic National Convention, many didn't do what they told them, and the riot cops moved in, violently scattering the concertgoers with rubber bullets and pepper spray. Rage closed their set with this song, so it's not too surprising there was a confrontation.
Rage Against The Machine closed their set at Woodstock '99 with a performance of this song where they burned an American flag onstage. It wasn't the only thing to burn at the festival, which devolved into mayhem by the last day (Rage played the second-to-last day).
named this #24 on their list of the Greatest Guitar Songs. They wrote of this song: "In 1991, a year before rage against the Machine released their debut album, Tom Morello was giving a guitar lesson in his tiny apartment in West Hollywood, teaching his student the hard-rocking riffs that are characteristic of drop-D tuning (in which the lowest string is tuned down to create heavier chords). Because Morello's Telecaster had a locking nut, preventing it from drastic tuning changes, he taught the technique using an Ibanez bass. Said Morello: 'I just came up with the 'Killing in the Name' riff. I stopped the lesson, got my little Radio Shack cassette recorder, laid down that little snippet and then continued with the lesson.' The next day, Morello brought his riff with him to a studio in North Hollywood. 'We were off to the races,' he says. Though Morello points out that the bone-crushing song was a collaborative effort - 'Timmy C.'s magmalike bass, Brad Wilk's funky, brutal drumming and Zack [de la Rocha]'s conviction meld with the guitar' - Killing in the Name introduced the world to Morello's off-kilter attack, which would include substituting an Allen wrench for a pick and slamming the toggle switch like a DJ scratching records. 'We were melding hard rock, punk and hip-hop, and I was the DJ,' he says. 'It allowed me to emulate a lot of noises that I heard on Dr. Dre and Public Enemy records.'"
Bertrand - Paris, France
The song was originally an instrumental. Rage Against the Machine opened their first-ever live performance on October 23, 1991, at the Quad of California State University, Northridge with an instrumental version of "Killing In The Name."
Tom Morello commented on the Rolling Stone Music Now
podcast that Brad Wilk's "crowd-bouncing beat is there from the very, very beginning."
In December 2009 a London couple, Jon and Tracy Morter, launched on Facebook, the "Rage Against The Machine For Christmas No. 1" campaign, to spur sales of this song. Traditionally the annual race to land the #1 Christmas single in the UK is a seriously major deal and their aim was to propel the track to the top spot and prevent Simon Cowell's choice of winners song for the X-Factor
winner getting the festive chart-topper. (Between 2005-08 every Christmas #1 had been by a X-Factor
champ.) Simon Cowell spoke out against the Facebook campaign even though the song was released and published by his business partners Sony Music. At a press conference Cowell said: "If there's a campaign, and I think the campaign's aimed directly at me, it's stupid. Me having a number one record at Christmas is not going to change my life particularly. I think it's quite a cynical campaign geared at me that is actually going to spoil the party for these three [X-Factor
finalists]". The campaign to have an alternative festive #1 took off after Joe McElderry was announced as the 2009 X-Factor
champion and his version
of Miley Cyrus' song, "The Climb
" as the winner's song. By the end of the week The Rage campaign had mobilised almost a million members and outsold Joe McElderry's ballad by 52,000 copies resulting in this sweary number being the UK's 2009 Christmas #1. It was reported that Cowell offered Jon and Tracy Morter a job at his record label as a result of their victorious campaign.
Speaking to BBC 6music about the Morter's Facebook campaign, RATM guitarist Tom Morello said: "This shouldn't be misinterpreted. This is a grass roots effort. It's nothing against the candidates or the guy that runs the show [X-Factor]. A little dose of anarchy for the Christmas holidays is good for the soul. I love the independent spirit of the British rock fans. Your country has a great rich history of cutting-edge, exciting rebel music. Whether it's the early Stones and The Who, or The Clash and The Sex Pistols, or Prodigy and Muse, I think that people are just fed up with being represented every Christmas holiday, being spoon fed some overblown, sugary ballad that sits at the top of the charts."
Morello donated some of his earnings from the re-release of this song to Youth Music, a scheme helping young musicians in the UK. He told BBC 6music: "My hope is that one of the results of this whole Christmas season is there'll be a new generation of rockers who will take on the establishment with the music they write." Rage Against The Machine also donated a portion of profits from the track to the homeless charity Shelter.
When Rage Against The Machine performed this song live on BBC's 5Live's breakfast show they promised the program's producers that they would not sing the curse words. However after keeping their promise during the first half of their performance during the controversial closing bars vocalist Zack de la Rocha dropped four F-bombs before being abruptly faded out. Presenter Shelagh Fogarty told listeners: "Sorry. We needed to get rid of that because that suddenly turned in to something we were not expecting. Well, we were expecting it and asked them not to do it and they did it anyway - so buy Joe's record."
The song was the first single to reach the UK Christmas #1 spot on downloads alone.
The re-released single sold 502,000 copies, notching up the biggest one-week download sales total in British chart history.
The song's Christmas #1 victory over Joe McElderry cost the UK betting industry over £1 million in payouts. Gary Burton of Coral told the Daily Telegraph that it originally opened with odds of with odds of 150/1 to reach the top position in the Christmas week. "It's the biggest Christmas shock of all time," the Coral spokesman explained, "and although it has cost the industry over £1 million, it at least now keeps the interest going, after The X Factor dominance almost killed off the festive chart betting forever."
The burning figure on the Rage Against The Machine album cover was a Mahayana Buddhist monk who torched himself in June 1963 in protest at the South Vietnamese government's religious policies.
Following their Christmas #1 with this song, Rage Against The Machine played a free thank-you gig for 40,000 fans at Finsbury Park in London the following summer.
Among the fans of this song was the late outlaw comedian Bill Hicks. He was known to close his shows with the tune, a fact which Morello considers to be "a badge of honor."
This was featured on Guitar Hero II
for Playstation 2 and Xbox 360 with modified lyrics to censor the end of the song.
Cliff - Burkesville, KY
This song is featured on one of the rock radio stations in the video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
It was Rage Against the Machine's A&R Michael Goldstone's idea for this to be their first single. In 2021, Tom Morello recalled to Uncut magazine: "He said, 'We're not going to edit it for radio, and I was like, 'It has 16 f--- yous and one mothetf-----' in it - that's awesome! So there was no expectation that we'd be talking about it this many years later."