I have a very soft spot for Rage Against The Machine. I especially enjoy heavier-sounding music, and RATM fills that bill very nicely indeed. Their songs sound particularly good at high volume, when you can really get into the melodic, stirring guitar licks, the terrific drumming, and the intense, urgent, quasi-rapping vocals. I first heard some of their songs on CD-101, and picked up The Battle of Los Angeles from the old Virgin Records store at Easton. It knocked me out then, and 10 years later it still does. I think it is an almost perfect album (if they still use that word anymore), filled with songs of stunning quality — like Testify, Sleep Now In The Fire, Born Of A Broken Man, Voice Of The Voiceless, and War Within A Breath, among many others. (Four years later, I still played the crap out of that CD when Russell and I went out west for the OSU National Championship game against the Miami Hurricanes. The Buckeyes were colossal underdogs, and War Within A Breath — with its great refrain that begins “Everything can change . . . on a New Year’s Day ” — became a kind of anthem of our trip.) After I concluded that Battle of Los Angeles was a timeless classic I went out and picked up their eponymous debut album, and was amazed to find that it was almost as good. I particularly like Killing In The Name because of the low-register guitar chords, but Bombtrack, Bullet In The Head, and Wake Up also are wonderful songs — and Township Rebellion is in a class of its own with the instruction: “Why stand on a silent platform? Fight the war . . . ” (edited because this is a family blog). If you have a hard day at work coming up, listening to that song will help to get you ready.
I also really like the pointedly political subjects of the songs on these CDs, even though I don’t agree with the underlying themes that the United States is a racist, class-obsessed, oppressive society, Why? Because I think it is terrific that RATM feels such passion about their views and has expressed those views so powerfully. In so doing, they helped to pull music out of the mindlessness of the 1980s into a more meaningful role in American society. Rock ‘n’ roll music in the ’60s and early ’70s was often highly political, at all points on the music spectrum, from folk (think Blowin’ in the Wind), to rock ‘n’roll (think Ohio), to R&B (think What’s Going On). At some point in the 1980s, it seemed, the political messages petered out. RATM deserves credit for helping to turn that around. and they’ve put their money where their mouths are by playing at political conventions and supporting many different causes.
I’ve got both Rage Against The Machine and The Battle Of Los Angeles, in their complete, unedited form, on the Ipod and listen to them often. RATM is a staple on the “political songs” playlist, and really provides a good kick in the butt after you’ve listened to a quieter political song, like Tom Dooley. There’s no question in my mind that they are part of the best American band mix.
Edited to add: Time to Vote for your choice for Best American Band!