- 30 May 18
To celebrate his 54th birthday, we look back on the career of Tom Morello
Born in New York City in 1964, Tom Morello first made a name for himself in the early ‘90s as a founding member and lead guitarist of Rage Against The Machine which also consisted of Zack de la Rocha (vocals), Tim Commerford (bass) and Brad Wilk (drums). The group have gained recognition for being one of the most popular protest bands of all time.
Rage Against The Machine are renowned for their hybrid of rap, hip-hop and heavy metal. A lot of their sound is owed to the guitar playing of Morello. His distinct guitar solos are an integral aspect of their songs which have gone on to become anthems for frustrated generations.
Their most famous song ‘Killing in the Name’ started off as a riff played by Morello while he was teaching a guitar lesson.
“I was actually in the middle of playing bass in a guitar lesson,” Morello recalls, “and was teaching a student about the drop-D tuning when it came to me. I said to him: ‘Hold on one second’, and scribbled it down. Then we went into rehearsals that night and worked it out. It was part of the second wave of songs we ever wrote.”
‘Killing in the Name’ has had a well documented history. It originally received little airplay in the US due to the song’s profanity. It fared better in the UK but it was a radio-friendly version that was being played. It’s one of the few songs that significantly loses its power and impact when stripped of some lyrics.
“Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” is one of the most memorable lyrics of the ‘90s and will constantly be a slogan for anti-establishment youths. In December 2009, the song became the subject of a rebellion against the UK’s reality show The X-Factor.
Most years, the title of Christmas number 1 goes to whoever won The X-Factor. While The X-Factor is incredibly popular, it has more than its fair share of cynics and critics. Radio DJ Jon Morter and his wife Tracy campaigned to try and get ‘Killing in the Name’ to number 1 in the charts to loosen Simon Cowell’s grip on the music industry.
Over half a million downloads later, and by becoming the fastest selling digital single of all time, the song that Morello started amidst a guitar lesson 17 years previously reached became a Christmas number 1.
“It took us completely by surprise,” said Morello. “It was a tremendous David and Goliath story. We only joined the campaign in the final week. It was completely ruled by the fans, and was one of the greatest things in my life.”
Rage Against The Machine would go on to release four studio albums, the last of which came out in 2000. When frontman Zack de la Rocha left the band, the remaining band members would form the supergroup Audioslave alongside Chris Cornell.
Again, Morello’s unique guitar solo’s were a distinct facet of the music. Audioslave formed their own identity, their own sound. Over the course of four years, they released 3 albums. Their second album, Out of Exile, debuted at number one in the US Billboard Chart.
Chris Cornell left the band in 2007. They reunited for one more show in 2017 and speculation followed that the group would get back together. However, Cornell’s untimely passing in May last year sadly brought a permanent end to the group.
Never happy to sit still, Morello has constantly been pushing himself in various directions thanks to his involvement with numerous side projects as well as a solo career.
Using the pseudonym The Nightwatchman, he has released four solo studio albums.
Despite all of the other work that Morello has been involved with, he will forever be known as the guitarist of Rage Against The Machine. The band reunited in 2007 and toured together for a number of years, including a date at Dublin’s O2 Arena in 2010.
The band have since disbanded again but multiple members of the band, including Morello, have openly discussed their desire for the band to get back together and finally record a 5th album.
Happy birthday Tom Morello.