Top 40 Before 40 Rock Artists - #14 - Rage Against the Machine

I don't think there was ever a point in my life where I thought to myself, "Man, I wish Rage Against the Machine would create music that wasn't so mainstream." 

These guys are famous for probably three things:

1 - Politicizing hard rock music to the masses to make more people aware of government and corporate atrocities all around the world.

2 - Tom Morello's guitar solos that sound more like synthesizers and a sound effects board than anything a guitar should be able to create (yet is, in fact, made solely from the guitar and some effects pedals).

3 - Rocking so hard that they blow the minds of all who listen which includes crowds of 100,000+ even years after being inactive.

The sheer respect and credibility that this band has amongst other artists is genuinely a feat in itself. 

Rage Against the Machine put so much of their ideology into their music that it is truly fascinating to hear years later about "fans" who are angry that they were bashing on Trump. They are not just anti-Trump (though, they are definitely against him), but they have been voicing their displeasure with every administration since Reagan.

For those of you who are just joining this list at this point, let me give a quick summary below:

  • In my almost 40 years on this planet, I have had the great pleasure of listening to a lot of music that doesn't make it to the airwaves, and a lot of these bands are some of my absolute favorites.
  • You WILL see some Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame bands on the list too, but for the most part, you are likely going to disagree with this list almost entirely.
  • I am sharing this ranking so that you get some insight into some great bands you may have never heard before AND for a little bit of a personal challenge to myself to rank these bands.

With that said, let's get to #14 on my Top 40 List Before 40:

Rage Against the Machine By Penner -, CC BY-SA 3.0,

By Penner -

#14 - Rage Against The Machine

The first album that Rage Against the Machine put out (self titled) was one of the most explosive and influential albums of all time for many different reasons. 

The guitar sounds that Tom Morello created spurred a ton of guitarists to start experimenting with pedals and other objects even further to create incredibly unique sounds. Several guitarists from major bands will have learned new techniques from Morello.

Meanwhile, frontman, Zack de la Rocha created some of the most controversial political lyrics and was able to use a mixture of rapping and singing to create a sound that, when tied to the hard rock music that the rest of the band put out, really kicked off a new wave of rock rap bands - none of which were nearly as good, nearly as influential, or nearly as impactful as Rage.

Songs like “Killing in the Name”, “Bombtrack”, “Know Your Enemy”, and “Bullet in the Head” sent the album to triple platinum status, and it spread the word that the band believed that the American system of government and justice was extremely skewed to the ultra rich, white sector of American society.

This message rang loud and clear, and millions of fans agreed. 

When Rage Against the Machine put out their second album Evil Empire and had songs like “Bulls on Parade”, “People of the Sun” and “Sleep Now in the Fire” sent the album to the top of the charts and again was certified triple platinum.

One of the most incredible things that Rage Against the Machine did during this time was essentially played a concert on Wall Street during trading hours to film the music video for “Sleep Now in the Fire” (which was directed by Michael Moore). 

When the police forced the band to stop playing after a few minutes, the band (under direction from Moore) decided to take a crowd of people into the New York Stock Exchange, but were later pushed back and the building pulled down their metal riot doors to stop intruders. The song and video specifically focus on the wealth inequality across the country and world to highlight the greed of American capitalism.

Their third studio album The Battle Of Los Angeles was also a chart topping album and had some great songs like "Testify" and "Guerilla Radio" as singles released off the album.

Now, for me, I liked both the music and the message, and I believe that as artists, if you don’t have a message to relay, then what’s the point of even making art? So, for this band to be so passionate about trying to make a revolutionary difference in American society was a key to helping me as a school kid in North Dakota to finding out a bit more about how things actually work in our “free” society.

Critics claimed that RATM sold out and thus were hypocritical as they used “the machine” to get rich. But the band has repeatedly given back to charities in their years, made it clear that using Epic Records to promote their message was an amplification effort as a means to spread their ideology further, and that more than most bands, they wanted to help create a change in the United States.

Well, critics can have their opinions, but if it was not for Rage, then I am not sure I would have heard about half of the atrocities that they have shed light upon over the years.

I even wrote a paper in high school about freeing Tibet from the tyrannical rule of the Chinese government. Most other papers that were turned in for that assignment were papers about someone’s dog or their grandpa. 

Say what you will, but the impact Rage Against the Machine had on both the music industry and the spreading of information to create a resistance to laying down for convenience is probably unrivaled beyond the year 1980. They truly became a musical revolution within themselves.

You can even check out a political short film they released earlier this year to help you understand how "white" people came to be known as white, and what that means for America. Watch "Killing In Thy Name" below.

Similar Artists That I Recommend That Didn't Make The Top 40:

AudioslaveBad Brains

<-- Check out #15 on this list or Check out #13 on this list → (Available May 25, 2021)

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