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Top 20 Political Songs: Killing in the Name | Rage Against the Machine | 1992

"You justify those that died by wearing the badge"

The Christmas No 1 for December 2009 after a successful campaign to defeat Simon Cowell's annual X Factor coronation, 'Killing in the Name' was a cult classic before it spawned a Facebook campaign.

The Christmas battle was not entirely sanitised - a Radio 5 live performance had its broadcast cut short as Zack de la Rocha reneged on an agreement not to swear. On the recording, an anxious voice can be heard exclaiming, "Get rid of it!" The presenter then apologises, saying: "We were expecting it and asked them not to do it, and they did it anyway."

Regardless of its latter-day mainstream acceptance, the song remains an angry anti-establishment scrawl which proclaims "Some of those who wear forces are the same that burn crosses", rails against control and builds to the central scream "F*** you, I won't do what you tell me!". The repetitive, agitating lyric rails against an authority seen as institutionally racist:

Those who died are justified for wearing the badge, they're the chosen whites.

You justify those that died by wearing the badge, they're the chosen whites.

"Killing in the Name" has been linked to the 1992 Los Angeles race riots that followed the acquittal of four police officers accused of assault and using excessive force in a videotaped beating of Rodney King. The song has outgrown its context: a rebel howl that alerted young people to the power of raw expression, the sound was subsequently taken in a blatantly commercial direction by Limp Bizkit.

Next: Talkin' 'bout a Revolution.

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