Rage Against the Machine don't have a bad song to speak of. Throughout their four-album catalog — including 2000 covers record, Renegades — the band's winning formula of righteous, riff-slingin' rap-metal and bird-flippin' attitude aimed toward the powers that be hasn't yielded a single cut that truly feels underwhelming. Still, there're definitely several that don't get their deserved amount of time in the spotlight.
Beyond "Bulls on Parade" and "Killing in the Name," these are 10 incredible, catchy, hard-hitting, lyrically nourishing Rage anthems that feel criminally underrated within the general discourse about this iconic band.
Rage Against the Machine's 1992 debut is their most universally beloved release, so there aren't too many songs on this front-to-back masterpiece that truly don't get their shine. "Fistful of Steel," however, is one that gets sometimes lost in the outstanding shuffle. It doesn't have a signature one-liner or an animalistic breakdown — just a great riff with plenty of meat on its bones and a groove that swings like a pickaxe hitting cold, hard dirt.
"Township Rebellion" is another overlooked deep cut from their self-titled album that's every bit as heavy and incisive as the celebrated bangers that precede it. Its instructive refrain — "Why stand on a silent platform?/Fight the war, fuck the norm" — is a salient retort to anyone who questions the band's productive feistiness. And that screamed climax is chilling.
Rage's second album, 1996's Evil Empire, boasts one of their most iconic anthems, "Bulls on Parade," but overall, the record is less immediate and more cerebral than their debut, with instrumentation that's built to serve de la Rocha's increasingly dense rapping, and therefore features less of Morello's hard-rock riffing. It can get glossed over for that reason, which is unfair to a funky all-timer like "Down Rodeo," featuring what's perhaps de la Rocha's deepest-cutting lyric — "These people ain't seen a brown-skin man since their grandparents bought one."
"Wind Below" is an even more criminally overlooked piece of gold from Evil Empire. Morello's ringing lick sounds like John Carpenter murder scene music, while Tim Commerford's bassline sounds aqueous, bubbly and melt-in-your-speakers sexy. Of course, de la Rocha is up there rapping presciently about trade deals that fucked over workers and calling out corporations like "ABC's new thrill rides of trials and lies."
Beyond being a kickass song that sits nicely between the elastic funk of Evil Empire and the hair-whipping rock of the Ballad of Los Angeles, "No Shelter" might be the greatest protest maneuver the band have ever pulled off. It was written for the soundtrack of the 1998 Godzilla film, but rather than submitting a vapid banger to soundtrack reptilian carnage, the track is a vicious takedown of corporate cinema, decrying "the thin line between entertainment and war" and even going so far as to call out the film cutting the check — "Godzilla, pure mothafuckin' filler/To keep ya eyes off the real killer." Righteous.
On 1999's the Battle of Los Angeles, Rage's third and final album of original material, they leaned into many of the more accessible hard-rock elements of their debut, penning stadium-ready rippers like "Guerilla Radio" and "Sleep Now in the Fire" that understandably became fan favorites. "Born of a Broken Man" should be, too. The way de la Rocha's whispery verses explode into full-throated yells when the main riff detonates is utterly thrilling, and the dynamics of this song overall are some of their most subtle and musically rewarding.
With a front half as energetic and anthemic as the Battle of Los Angeles', it's no wonder that the album's more subdued side B gets overlooked in the grand scheme of their catalog. That's too bad, because a track like "New Millennium Homes" has the funky-ass riff, catchy-ass delivery, and incendiary lyrics — "Violence in all hands/Embrace it if need be" — to compete with the likes of "Testify" and "Know Your Enemy."
The next song on Battle might be even better. The freaky delay on Morello's squeaky lick gives it a psychedelic, alien-like effect, and the drumming has a jazzy freeness to it that isn't common in Rage songs of this era. Morello goes full Hendrix as the song builds with a jittery unpredictability, and de la Rocha offers up hip-hop meta-ness with his repetition of, "This is the new sound/Just like the old sound." It's a bit experimental, and it pays off.
While Rage Against the Machine and the Rolling Stones certainly emanate similar levels of swagger and have a shared love of the blues, the former were always more interested in providing a soundtrack for property destruction than the sex-and-drug-filled parties of the latter. Therefore, it was the Stones' protest jam, "Street Fighting Man," that Rage gravitated to for Renegades. Of all the heavy transformations on the covers LP, the band are content to just boogie here, resulting in one of their most purely fun rippers.
Before Rage Against the Machine reworked and re-recorded it for the soundtrack to Nineties goth touchstone The Crow, "Darkness" was known as "Darkness of Greed" and appeared on the L.A. political firebrands' 1991 demo tape. But even before that, it was played live in a rawer, more uptempo form by de la Rocha's O.C. hardcore-punk band Inside Out. While still characteristically scathing and seething, Rage's version features a uniquely mellow and jazzy verse instrumentation, making for a true standout.