Killing in the Name
|"Killing in the Name"|
|Single by Rage Against the Machine|
|from the album Rage Against the Machine|
|Released||November 2, 1992|
|Rage Against the Machine singles chronology|
|Rage Against the Machine reissued singles chronology|
Written about revolution against authority abuse of power, "Killing in the Name" is widely recognized as the band's signature song, and has been noted for its distinctive guitar riffs and for the line "Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses."
In 1993, the song peaked at number 25 in the United Kingdom. In 2009, it became the Christmas number one; this was due to a campaign to prevent The X Factor winner's song from gaining the Christmas number one in the United Kingdom for a fifth successive year.
Background and composition
Tom Morello wrote the guitar riffs while teaching a student drop D tuning; he briefly paused the lesson to record the riff. The band worked on the song the next day. According to Morello, "Killing in the Name" was created in a collaborative effort, combining his riff with "Timmy C.'s magmalike bass, Brad Wilk's funky, brutal drumming and Zack's conviction". Like all Rage Against the Machine songs tuned to drop D, it was recorded on a Fender Telecaster.
"Killing in the Name" has been described as "a howling, expletive-driven tirade against the ills of American society". The uncensored version contains the word "fuck" 17 times. The song builds in intensity, as Zack de la Rocha chants the line "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me", murmuring the line the first four times, building in a crescendo the next four times and angrily screaming the line the final eight times culminating with De La Rocha's screaming "Motherfucker!"
The song's lyrics were inspired by the Rodney King case, where after a high-speed police chase the suspect King was beaten by several law enforcement officers, and the subsequent 1992 Los Angeles riots sparked by the acquittal of the officers involved. The refrain "some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses" draws a link between the Los Angeles Police Department and the Ku Klux Klan. BBC News refers to "Killing in the Name" as railing against "the military–industrial complex, justifying killing for the benefit of, as the song puts it, the chosen whites".
The cover of the CD-single is Malcolm Browne's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Thích Quảng Đức's self-immolation in Saigon in 1963 in protest of the murder of Buddhists by the U.S.-backed regime of Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem. This photograph is also used as the cover of the eponymous Rage Against the Machine album.
The cover of the Australian version of the CD-single has the words "killing in the name", in large, red block capitals, and a much smaller and tightly cropped version of the photograph in the bottom right-hand corner.
"Killing in the Name" was originally released as part of a 12-song self-released cassette. The band's first video for "Killing in the Name" did not receive heavy airplay in the United States due to the explicit lyrics. The song received substantial airplay in Europe and drove the band's popularity outside its home country.
After signing with Epic Records, the band released their self-titled debut album on November 12, 1992. It reached triple platinum status, driven by heavy radio play of "Killing in the Name". The album also included the singles "Freedom" and "Take the Power Back".
On February 21, 1993, BBC Radio 1 DJ Bruno Brookes accidentally played the full uncensored version of the song on his Top 40 Countdown, leading to 138 complaints. Brookes was recording an advertisement for next week's Top 40 Countdown while the song played. The incident has subsequently been referred to by numerous British rock media. The song drew controversy again in Britain in November 2008, when it was played over the speakers in an Asda supermarket in Preston, Lancashire, prompting numerous complaints from customers. Asda subsequently issued an apology.
Following the 2020 United States elections, a video of pro-Trump protesters dancing to "Killing in the Name" was widely shared on social media. Commentators saw it as a misappropriation of the song; Rage Against the Machine responded in a tweet: "They just don't GET IT do they?"
2009 UK Christmas number one campaign
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In early December 2009, English DJ Jon Morter and his wife Tracy launched a group on the social networking site Facebook encouraging people to buy the song in the week before Christmas. They hoped to prevent the winner of The X Factor, a televised singing competition, from achieving the UK Christmas number one for the fifth year running. On December 15, the BBC reported the group had more than 750,000 members.
As the X Factor song was donating some of the profits to charity the Rage against X Factor campaign encouraged supporters also to give to charity. Alongside the group, a Justgiving page was created to raise money for homeless charity Shelter which, as of 20 December, had raised over £70,000 (approximately $110,000).
After X Factor creator Simon Cowell denounced the campaign as "stupid" and "cynical," the group gained more attention and was mentioned on various UK news channels, radio stations and websites. Rage Against the Machine added their support. 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. Dave Grohl, Muse, Them Crooked Vultures, Liam Howlett and The Prodigy were among many musicians and celebrities supporting the campaign. The campaign received support from Paul McCartney, who had appeared on The X Factor with the finalists, and X Factor contestants Jedward. Critics noted that both The X Factor and Rage Against the Machine are signed to labels that are part of Sony BMG; Morello dismissed conspiracy claims as ridiculous. Kasabian's Tom Meighan and Sergio Pizzorno expressed their happiness at the campaign's success in an NME interview and criticised The X Factor.
Rage Against the Machine attracted controversy when they performed an uncensored rendition of the song on BBC Radio 5 Live in mid-December 2009, despite the hosts asking them to censor the expletives. During the crescendo of their performance, frontman Zack De La Rocha started out only singing "I won't do what you tell me", with a pause where he normally sings "fuck you", but after a few lines, he screamed the lyrics, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me" repeatedly. Hosts Nicky Campbell and Shelagh Fogarty apologized afterward.
On December 20, 2009, BBC Radio 1 revealed that the song had reached the number one spot, selling more than 500,000 copies and being the first download-only single to become the UK Christmas number one. The following week, Joe McElderry's cover of "The Climb" became the last British UK number one single of the year and the 2000s. Killing in the Name dropped to number two, falling 38 places to number 40 the week after, and dropping out of the top 75 the following week, falling to number 100.
The campaign spread to Ireland, where, like the UK, the Christmas number one had been dominated by X Factor finalists for five years. The campaign was less successful in Ireland and McElderry beat Rage Against the Machine to Christmas number one, with Rage Against the Machine reaching number two.
On June 6, 2010, Rage Against the Machine performed at a free concert for 40,000 fans in Finsbury Park. On stage, Tracy and Jon Morter were handed a representative cheque in the amount of £162,713.03, representing the proceeds from donations to JustGiving and royalties from sales of the single.
As a result of the campaign, the song is featured in the 2011 UK edition of the Guinness World Records under the category of 'Fastest-selling digital track (UK)', after recording 502,672 downloads in its first week.
The video, produced and directed by Peter Gideon, a guitar student of Tom Morello who had a video camera, was filmed during two shows in small Los Angeles venues, the Whisky a Go Go and the Club With No Name. Released in December 1992, the uncensored version of the video clip was shown on European MTV but was banned on American MTV because of the explicit lyrics. As a result, the video's existence was in doubt until its release on Rage Against the Machine: The Video.
In July 2009, "Killing in the Name" was voted at number two in the Hottest 100 of all time countdown poll, conducted by Australian radio station, Triple J. More than half a million votes were cast in. The song was also voted at number 17 in the 1998 edition of Hottest 100 of All Time and was voted number 6 on the Hottest 100 list in 1993.
In 2010, 2011 and 2012, The Rock radio station in New Zealand have held the Rock 1000 countdown which counts down the top 1000 rock songs of all time, as voted by the public; in 2010 and 2011, the song was in the top five, while in 2012, the song featured at number seven. In 2011 and 2012, "Killing in the Name" was played uncensored, with a preceding message from the Prime minister, John Key, approving the playing of the uncensored version of the song due to the large number of complaints received by MediaWorks New Zealand regarding the 2010 countdown not giving any warning that the song was uncensored. In 2017, Killing In The Name made it to number 1 in the Rock 1500 and was presented by long serving broadcaster, Roger Farrelly.
The song was performed as an extended instrumental at their first public performance at Cal State in the Quad, on October 23, 1991. Bassist Tim Commerford is known to chant the backing vocals of "now you do what they told ya" of the chorus during most live performances.
Zack de la Rocha sometimes changes the lyrics in the second verse from "Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses" to "Some of those that burn crosses are the same that hold office" when playing live.
Rage Against the Machine performed the song live in 1999 at the Woodstock '99 festival, burning the American flag during the song. In this performance, de la Rocha changed the lyrics to "Some of those that work forces are the same that burn churches".
|1.||"Killing in the Name"||5:13|
|2.||"Darkness of Greed"||3:40|
|3.||"Clear the Lane"||3:47|
"Darkness of Greed" and "Clear the Lane" were re-mastered versions of the respective demo tracks. Another version of "Darkness of Greed", titled merely "Darkness", was included on the 1994 soundtrack album for The Crow. The previously unreleased demo appeared on the XX 20th Anniversary Edition of their debut album, which was released on November 27, 2012.
- Zack de la Rocha – vocals, leads
- Tom Morello – guitar
- Tim Commerford – bass guitar, backing vocals
- Brad Wilk – drums
|United Kingdom (BPI)||2× Platinum||1,200,000|
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
During one of his last performances before he died, American comedian Bill Hicks ended a set by smashing his microphone against a stool while singing along to "Killing in the Name" playing over the loudspeakers.
As part of the US War on Terror, the song was used by military interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Music was played at painfully high volume levels for hours on end, as a form of psychological torture. "The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me," noted Morello.
In the Daria episode "The Big House", the opening guitar riffs from "Killing in the Name" can be heard in the background in the scene where Daria Morgendorffer is reading a book while her sister Quinn is pacing back and forth.
The song featured in the British television series Skins. Metal music fan Rich Hardbeck tells ballerina Grace Blood to stick up for herself, he encourages her using the song as an example, and has her chant the chorus.
In video games
A cover version of "Killing in the Name" is a playable song in the Guitar Hero II video game for PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360. The song reappears in Guitar Hero: Smash Hits, also for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox 360 as well as the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 3, where it is a master recording. The song's lyrics are altered in both games to remove the expletives.
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- In July 2007, a remix of the song by SebastiAn (miscredited as a Mr. Oizo remix) was Zane Lowe's "Hottest Record in the World" on his show on BBC Radio 1.
- In June 2007, funk band The Apples from Tel Aviv, Israel, released a cover on a 7" vinyl on Freestyle Records.
- On 22 August 2008, Scottish alt-rock band Biffy Clyro performed a re-worked acoustic cover version of "Killing in the Name" on Jo Whiley's show at The Reading Festival on BBC Radio 1. The band agreed that, for this live broadcast, they would not use expletives and sung just the melody in place of "Fuck you" in the song. The crowd were bound by no such agreement and began an impromptu mass sing along with "Fuck you" in place, audible by the recording equipment. As this broadcast was going out live at lunchtime, Jo Whiley was required to apologize on air after the performance.
- French band La Maison Tellier released a country-folk version of "Killing in the Name" in their first album (2006).
- In 2008 Icelandic electronica group FM Belfast released a single called "Lotus", a minimal electro cover version of "Killing in the Name".
- Slovak DJ and producer L-Plus released a drum and bass remix of "Killing in the Name" in 2008.
- Australian rock group FourPlay String Quartet recorded a version of the song for their 2009 album Fourthcoming.
- On July 4, 2010, American jam band Phish covered the song after introducing Rage Against the Machine as "one of the only other bands, other than Phish, that won't bullshit you."
- New York-based band Emmure covered the song at the Hoodwink Festival along with "Bulls on Parade".
- Zac Brown Band has covered the song on several occasions during their live performances.
- Richard Cheese recorded a version the song in the style of lounge music for his 2011 album A Lounge Supreme.
- Bonded by Blood covered the song in their 2012 album The Aftermath.
- Lauren Mayberry recorded a cover version of the song along with her band, Blue Sky Archives.
- Limp Bizkit covered the song live at Download Festival 2013 and Reading and Leeds Festival 2015.
- Prophets of Rage, an American rap rock supergroup, formed in 2016 and including several former members of RATM, recorded a live rendition of "Killing in the Name" in 2016.
- Machine Gun Kelly and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker covered this song in 2020 as part of a protest movement preceded by the murder of George Floyd by a local US police.
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That’s the "Killing in the Name" guitar, the "Freedom" guitar, "Testify" … all those jams are written on that cheap Telecaster.
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Bruno played the wrong version while doing the Top 40 rundown. There were 138 phone calls of complaint to the BBC.
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Kelly Jones from the Stereophonics and comedians Stephen Fry, Ross Noble and Bill Bailey are amongst the other celebrity supporters of the Tracy and Jon Morter's campaign.
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The Los Angeles rock band's hit also set two records: it is the first single to reach the top of the Christmas charts on download sales alone and has achieved the biggest download sales total in a first week ever in the UK charts.
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Well, we were expecting it and asked them not to do it and they did it anyway – so buy Joe's record.
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Rage Against The Machine's Tom Morello has said that beating the X Factor single to Christmas number one will be a "wonderful dose of anarchy".
- Scott Colothan (2009-12-17). "Dave Grohl: 'I'm Buying Rage Against The Machine'". Gigwise.com. Retrieved 2009-12-17.
Grohl joins The Prodigy, Hadouken!, Enter Shikari and the Stereophonics in endorsing the Facebook campaign.
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this is the biggest rise up against the ' industry manufactured shite ' in years and thats why its important --- and fukin funny at the same time act now.
- Steve Hargrave (2009-12-18). "Macca Backs Rage Against X Factor No 1". Sky News. British Sky Broadcasting. Archived from the original on 2009-12-21. Retrieved 2009-12-18.
He's just some kid with a career ahead. I've got nothing against that, but it would be kind of funny if Rage Against The Machine got it because it would prove a point.
- Swash, Rosie (2009-12-18). "Rage Against the Machine for Christmas No 1: The celebrities wade in". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 2010-01-15. Retrieved 2009-12-18.
Paul McCartney, Cheryl Cole and Simon Cowell get dragged into the most heated race for Christmas No 1 in years
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The great irony [...] is that both the gormless Joe McElderry and everyone’s favourite alt.metal anarcho-rockers are signed to the same label
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Whoever wins, though, the bosses of Sony Music will doubtless be full of festive cheer as both McElderry and Rage Against the Machine are signed to labels owned by the recording behemoth.
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Tom Morello, guitarist with the band Rage Against the Machine — whose song Killing in the Name of was also used – said: "The fact that music I helped create was used as a tactic against humanity sickens me."
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while the song choices may sometimes verge on the unintentionally funny, this appropriation of music by the military is anything but a joke
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