Rage Against the Machine is an American rap metal band from Los Angeles, California. Formed in 1991, the group consists of rapper/vocalist Zack de la Rocha, bassist and backing vocalist Tim Commerford, guitarist Tom Morello and drummer Brad Wilk.
“Killing in the Name” is a song by American rap metal band Rage Against the Machine, featured on their self-titled debut album, and was released as the lead single from the album in November 1992. In 1993, the song peaked at number 25 in the United Kingdom. Written about revolution against institutional racism and police brutality, “Killing in the Name” is widely recognized as the band’s signature song, and has been noted for its distinctive guitar riffs and heavy use of strong language.
Tom Morello created the heavier guitar riffs while teaching a student drop D tuning. He stopped the lesson and recorded the riff. The next day the band met in a studio and according to Morello the song “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”.
The song earned its notoriety in the United Kingdom on February 21, 1993, when BBC Radio 1 DJ Bruno Brookes accidentally played the full uncensored version of the song on his Top 40 countdown, leading to 138 complaints. It should be noted that Brookes was recording an advertisement for next week’s Top 40 Countdown while the song played. This moment of infamy has since been consistently referenced by numerous British rock media.
The song drew controversy again in Britain on November 2008, when it was played over the speakers in an Asda supermarket in Preston, Lancashire, prompting numerous complaints from customers.
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 running up to Christmas in order to prevent the winner of the X Factor television show from achieving the Christmas number one slot in the United Kingdom for the fifth year running. On December 15, the BBC reported the group had over 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, was reported to have raised over £70,000 (approximately $110,000).
After the creator of The X Factor, Simon Cowell, publicly denounced the campaign as “stupid” and “cynical”, the group gained more attention and went on to be mentioned on various UK news channels, radio stations and websites. Rage Against the Machine added their support to the campaign. Guitarist 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.
Dave Grohl, touring in the UK at the time with Them Crooked Vultures, Liam Howlett and The Prodigy were among many musicians and celebrities supporting the campaign.
The campaign even received support from Paul McCartney, who had appeared on the X Factor with the finalists and X Factor contestants John & Edward also added their support. Critics noted that both The X Factor and Rage Against the Machine are signed to labels that are part of Sony BMG. Tom Morello dismissed conspiracy claims as ridiculous.
On the morning of December 17, Rage Against the Machine played a slightly censored version of “Killing in the Name” live on Radio 5 Live, but four repeats of ‘Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me’ were aired before the song was pulled. During the interview before the song they reiterated their support for the campaign and their intentions to support charity with the proceeds.
The campaign was ultimately successful, and “Killing in the Name” became the number-one single in the UK for Christmas 2009. A similar campaign was run on Facebook in Ireland the same year but Killing in the Name placed 2nd that Christmas to X Factors 2010 single. Rage’s Zack de la Rocha spoke to BBC1 upon hearing the news, stating that:
We’re very very ecstatic and excited about the song reaching the number one spot. We want to thank everyone that participated in this incredible, organic, grass-roots campaign. It says more about the spontaneous action taken by young people throughout the UK to topple this very sterile pop monopoly. When young people decide to take action they can make what’s seemingly impossible, possible.
On December 20, 2009, BBC Radio 1 revealed the song had successfully reached the number one spot, selling over 500,000 copies and being the first exclusively download-only single to be Christmas number one in the process.
The campaign to get the song to Christmas number one had also spread to Ireland, where like in the UK, the Christmas number one had been dominated by X Factor finalists for the previous five years. The campaign was less successful in Ireland and John McElderry beat Rage Against the Machine to Christmas number 1, thus giving the number 2 spot to Rage Against The Machine.
The band also set a new record, achieving the biggest download sales total in a first week ever in the UK charts. Zack de la Rocha also promised the band would perform a free concert in the UK sometime in 2010 to celebrate the achievement. True to their word, the band announced that they would be performing a free concert at Finsbury Park, London on June 6, 2010.
The concert, dubbed “The Rage Factor”, gave away all the tickets by free photo registration to prevent touting over the weekend of the February 13–14, followed by an online lottery on February 17. This proved to be overwhelmingly popular, with many users facing connection issues. The tickets were all allocated by 13:30 that same day. After allowing ticket holders to vote for who they wanted to be the support acts for “The Rage Factor”, it was announced that Gogol Bordello, Gallows and Roots Manuva would support Rage Against the Machine at this concert.
On June 6, 2010, Rage Against The Machine performed at a free ‘thank you’ gig 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 Just Giving 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.
In 2012 Tom Morello criticized the UK Independence Party (UKIP) for using the song “Killing in the Name”; Morello stated: “Hey UKIP & Nigel Farage: Stop using ‘KILLING IN THE NAME’ for your racist/rightwing rallies. We are against everything you stand for. STOP. IT.”