Rage Against The Machine’s and Audioslave’s Guitarist Tom Morello is possibly the most innovative guitarist of the 90s – maybe it has something to do with his multi-cultural roots. His uncle was Jomo Kenyatta, the George Washington of Africa. Tom explains, “My dad was a Mau-Mau from Nairobi, and my mom was Italian. She ran guns – and made cookies!”
Here, Morello reveals to TC the songs that inspired him musically and politically. As he says, “When it comes to the guitar, I’m not influenced by other guitarists”.
Fuck The Police by NWA (1988)
“This tune really cut to the heart of the matter in three words. Somebody really should fuck the police! I like the way the lyrical structure is set up. It’s about a cop being put on trial by the community. It’s almost prophetic – this is a couple of years before Rodney King and the LA riots. In this case, the community is Ice Cube, Dr Dre and Easy E, and they put on a very flavourful prosecution!”
Out on the tiles by Led Zeppelin (1970)
“A lesser known Zep song, but it’s my favourite. I still don’t understand why this song isn’t a mainstay on classic rock radio that I’ve always loved. It contains the mother of all fucking riffs – an awesome Jimmy Page heavy funk groove that I’ve always loved.
There’s also a great moment where You can tell they’ve included part of an outtake – it’s not one of Robert Plant’s best vocal performances, and you hear him saying to stop the tape. It gives the tune this great loose vibe.”
Biko by Peter Garbriel (1980)
“The most moving three minutes of music I’ve ever heard. It tells the death of antiapartheid activist Steven Biko at the hands of the South African security police 20 years ago. it contains a lyric that really fired me up as a teenager. That gave me hope in having a revolutionary outlook. I realised just as the oppressed South African people still had hope, so did the downtrodden community in the southside of Chicago.
“It’s also really amazing how on that particular track Gabriel incorporates some elements of world music, specifically South African heats, without it coming across in a country, Paul Simon kind of way. It’s a deep and powerful song, yet, at the same time, it’s also very uplifting.”
Loud Love by Soundgarden (1990)
“Soundgarden and Jane’s Addiction were the two bands that dragged hard rock into intellectual and artistic respectability. Loud Love features an absolutely awesome riff, which is enhanced by a hair-raising arrangement. It was one of the first songs to legitimise die use of serious Sabbathand Zeppelin-type rifts within the context of music that wasn’t lyrically fluffy.”
King of Rock by Run-DMC (1985)
“This tune was my first introduction to the idea of mixing hip-hop with hard rock guitar which, on this track, I think was played by Eddie Martinez. For your average, white, suburban teenager, this concept was out there, although cool at same time. There’s a no admittance attitude to this culture thats very appealing, which is why you find it influencing bands from Fun Lovin’ Criminals all the way to Korn”
Had a dad by Jane’s Addiction (1988)
“I always loved Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and those big riff rockers. But I also loved bands that had something to say, had an artiste vision beyond groupies and limos, Like the Clash and Public Enemy. Jane’s Addiction had it all. The one element of my triangulation of great rock that Jane’s was missing was hip-hop, but in place of that, they had a folk element that complemented their sound.
“Not only is this an awesome, heavy track that’s syncopated with Steven Perkin’s amazing drumming, it also contains my favourite Jane’s lyric. After lamenting this shafting his father gave him, Perry Barks, “Let’s rock!’ – that’s my life.”
“I LOVE BANDS THAT HAVE AN ARTISTIC VISION AND JANE’S ADDICTION CERTAINLY HAVE THAT” – Tom Morello
Poison By The Prodigy (1995)
“‘When it comes to the sounds that l make on the guitar, I’m not really influenced by other guitarists. However, whenever I listen to Terminator X or Liam Howlett of the Prodigy, I’m inspired and I’ll try to recreate that vibe when I play. I had the pleasure of performing wilh The Prodigy on One Man Army, a tune featured on the spawn Soundtrack and I think Liam Howlett is a simply amazing composer as well as a great musician. He has an excellent touch with arrangements. Some of the best rave songs ebb and flow, coming way down, the exploding in a release of tension. The Prodigy is the only techno band that approximates this.”
What We All Want by Gang of Four (1981)
“Andy Gill is one of my favourite guitar players of all time. But when I first heard this band l bated his guitar playing, because nack then I was really into dying whole Randy Rhoads, Van Halen, Al Di Meola thing. To me, Andy Gill sounded like he was playing with a different band during this song. I later grew to appreciate the brilliance of his deconstructed guitar parts. He plays the unexpected. Its kind of out playing without having any of the slightest jazz pretensions. Its jagged, yet contrasts sublimely with the stiff funk that’s going on underneath.”
Youngstown by Bruce Sptringsteen (1995)
“This tune comes from The Ghost of Tom Joad album [the title song of which Rage covered]. However, Youngstown is an intensely moving track about how good, ordinary people can become ground up in the cogs of capitalism, and then discarded. And in a similar way to Biko, I think there’s a thinly veiled threat involved in this tune as well. It’s an awesome minor-key ballad. This is a song I wish I’d written”
The Mob Rules by Black Sabbath (1981)
“It’s just this huge riff, this terrifying leap – and Ronnie James Dio’s vocals are almost demonic in promising an Imminent apocalypse. The first time I heard it was in the cartoon movie, Heavy Metal, where it accompanies a scene where the unwashed rabble are storming the barricades, and it was just the perfect soundtrack to it.
“Whenever we tour Europe, we, always have a night where the crew smokes loads of hash in the darkened den of the tour bus as we crank up The Mob Rules and revel in that teenage bliss.”
Clampdown by The Clash (1979)
“This was the first cover song Rage ever did. When I heard the lyrics, ‘You grow old and you calm down’, I thought, Man, That’s never going to be me’. So when I hear this song, it reminds me of how angry I am. Musically, the thing I find arresting is the first big chord, which is the closest The Clash ever got to heavy metal.”
By the time i get to Arizona by Public Enemy (1991)
“By the time i get to Arizona is a huge groove. This track isn’t a Bomb Squad production, which tended to be more crazy and hectic, which perfectly complemented Chuck D’s lyrics. Instead, this tune employs a deep, huge bass line and featureds great lyrics that threaten the state of Arizona, because it’s the last place in the union to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a public holiday.”