Arts & Entertainment, Music

Case Study: "Killing in the Name"

Tom Morello

Lesson time 17:49 min

Tom deconstructs one of Rage Against the Machine’s biggest hits, from inception to recording and release.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Arranging the Song • Recording the Studio Version


So I'm going to take you, beginning to end, through the song "Killing in the Name," from its inception, through its journey as a song that was performed live, to how it was recorded in the studio. Killing in the name of! The original riff, the-- [PLAYING GUITAR] --is one that I came up with while giving a student a guitar lesson and teaching them Drop D tuning. Brought it into rehearsal the next day, combined it with a couple of other Drop D riffs, and it was maybe the sixth or fifth to seventh song that Rage against the Machine wrote. But it had no lyrics. It was just an instrumental song. Early on, when we were approached by record companies, Atlantic Records sent a crew out to our-- we're deep in the valley, in the "Fast and Furious" San Fernando Valley-- like, really, where they do the "Fast and Furious" stuff out there. And in the middle of the night, we were rehearsing. There were no chairs. Record executives were sitting against the wall. And when we rehearsed, we rehearsed exactly with the same punk theory as if it were a sweaty club show or Reading Festival. So it was super-loud and super-wild in the room. So we play these songs, and they're pinned to the wall and sort of scared, and they think, I don't know, maybe we can make money off this. I'm not sure. It's frightening. And then the last thing we play, we said, this is the song that we're working on now. And it was-- [PLAYING GUITAR] One executive sheepishly said, so is this the direction you're heading? You're like, I don't know, man. I don't care. Anyway, so the song began with those couple of riffs. But the intro to the song-- Timmy C came up with that. [PLAYING GUITAR] That was his. And I played off of that by playing a riff that was counterpuntal in a way, which is the-- [PLAYING GUITAR] --while Brad lay down the lilting beats in the song. Now, that was just unex-- to me, it sounded like this jagged kind of elf music. But incredibly, every time that song's ever been played in front of humans, people lose their minds. And so that is a pure example of a band's chemistry creating something greater than the sum of its parts. Then the big riff drops. [PLAYING GUITAR] Et cetera. For a while, that's all we had of the song. So at our very first public performance-- we did one show in a Huntington Beach living room prior to it, but our first public performance was at Cal State Northridge Lunchtime Concerts. And we began that show with an instrumental version of "Killing in the Name." Soon after that show, we completed the song with Zack's brilliant minimalist lyrics about police brutality and about standing up to authority. Incredibly, the song was suggested by our record company to be the first single, despite the fact that it contained 16 "fuck you"s and one "motherfucker." We thought, well, things have changed at record companies since my original time. And we were proud to have that be the flagship song to...

About the Instructor

Tom Morello is a two-time Grammy winner and one of Rolling Stone’s "greatest guitarists of all time." In his first online guitar class, the co-founder of Rage Against the Machine will teach you the riffs, rhythms, and solos that launched his career and sent his music to the top of the charts. Tom will share his approach to making music that challenges the status quo and teach you how to create your own musical style.

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Tom Morello

In 26 lessons, Grammy-winning musician Tom Morello will teach you the guitar techniques, rhythms, and riffs that define his signature style.

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