The Black Rebel Motorcycle Club has been rocking the audience since 1998 as a trio from the San Fransisco Bay area. Their style of music was influenced by the legacy of Led Zeppelin, as well as mixing in noise pop, psychedelic rock, and space rock. With eight studio albums to their credit, the music featured bassist Robert Levon Been and guitarist Peter Hayes also shares vocalist duties. They also recorded and released six EPs and three live albums. Although founded as an American band, nine of the nineteen singles the band released appeared on the music charts belonging to the U.K.
From San Fransisco’s Lafayette High School, bassist Robert Levon Been teamed up with guitarist Peter Hayes after Hayes left The Brian Jonestown Massacre. It was also at this time Hayes was invited to stay in the family home of Been as he came from a troubled household that often had the young man find refuge outside the house in his own car. Now as bandmates, schoolmates, and roommates, the two focused on finding a drummer to complete the band’s lineup.
Originally from Devon, England, Nick Jago moved to California to be with his parents after spending time as a fine art student at Winchester School of Art. In 1998, the trio first called themselves The Elements before realizing another band already had that name. So they changed it to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, a name that was inspired by the 1953 Marlon Brando The Wild One.
After Black Rebel Motorcycle Club signed with Virgin Records, they released their first album, B.R.M.C. in 2001. This was followed by 2003’s musical jab at the United States government Take Them On, On Your Own. During this time, Been identified himself as Robert Turner as he didn’t want to be linked to his father, Michael Been. Been Sr. was the founder of an American rock band of his own, The Call. From 1980 until 2017, off and on, he and his group made quite the impression themselves as musical talent who had a loyal fan base of their own.
As for Been Jr., he chose to drop the pseudonym when promoting Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s third studio album, Howl. Released in 2005, it joined the ranks of B.R.M.C. and Take Them On, On Your Own as a favorite recording among the fans of the U.K. The first two recordings each became certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry while Howl became silver.
The decision to go with an identity that wouldn’t link Robert Levon Been to his father wasn’t because there were any serious differences between the two. As a second-generation rocker, Been wanted to carve a name for himself as his own man instead of riding the coattails of his father’s success.
Rockin’ Down the House
In 2003, while performing in concert at the Leeds Town Hall in West Yorkshire, England, the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club was told to stop as there was fear the 150-year-old floor inside the hall would collapse. This gave the band a bit of extra popularity in the U.K. as “the band who broke the floor.”
It was also during this time Been and Hayes were having issues with their drummer, Nick Jago. During the 2003 NME Carling Awards, the band won its Best Music Video award for “Whatever Happened To My Rock And Roll (Punk Song).” Instead of getting off the stage with them, Jago refused to leave. He stood in complete silence for nine minutes, making what should have been a joyous occasion a really awkward one.
After experiencing conflict with Virgin Records in 2004, the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club would later sign up in 2005 with Echo in the U.K. and RCA in the U.S. It was also during this time the conflict brewing between the band’s founders and Jago reached an all-time high. After performing an uncomfortable performance in Scotland, Jago quit the band after things between him and Hayes became too intense for comfort. As a result, the recording sessions for 2005’s Howl were done without him.
Even though things became so heated with Jago, after he went through several rehab attempts he did come back to record “Promise,” a ballad that was featured on the band’s third album release. Unlike the two previous albums, Howl was more laid back with a folksy style. The majority of the songs featured in the album were already written long before the band’s debut album, B.R.M.C.
In 2007, Jago was able to set whatever differences he had with Been and Hayes beforehand to record their fourth studio album, Baby 81. On June 6, 2007, the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club performed a live concert that was streamed on the internet by MSN Music. Not long after this, Jago was replaced by a new drummer, Leah Shapiro. She was able to learn all thirty of the band’s songs within a month’s time, allowing them to embark on a world tour without any trouble.
It was also at this time the group decided to release their next album independently. The Effects of 333 was an instrumental recording that was available for digital download on November 1, 2008. This would be the first of four recordings that would be released under the label, Abstract Dragon.
In 2009, via Vagrant Records, the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club released a live recording of concerts they performed in Scotland, Germany, and Ireland during the Baby 81 Tour. This was followed by 2010’s Beat the Devil’s Tattoo before embarking on a world tour. On August 19, 2010, while at the Pukkelpop Festival in Belgium, Michael Been, Robert’s father, succumbed to a fatal heart attack while he was backstage. At the time, Been Sr. was working with the group as a member of their sound crew.
On April 23, 2010, just a few days after Been Sr.’s death, Robert Levon Been and his bandmates performed before a sold-out crowd at London Forum. This live recording was released as a DVD on November 1, 2010, which was sold on Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s website, on tour, and in the U.K.
Specter at the Feast became the band’s seventh studio album. They began working on it in 2011 before it was released in 2013. Between recording sessions, they performed in concert in the Synergy Festival Concerts that were held in China and South Africa. There was also a tour held in South America, as well as in California. While in California from December 19th to December 21st, the popularity of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club played a key role in packing the houses with fans who wanted to hear their mix of classics and new material.
The popularity of the group was even greater throughout Europe and the United Kingdom. Because the existing trio of Been, Hayes, and Shapiro have worked so well together, their ability to develop as an act was noted by fans and critics who observed how their styles continued to evolve as performers.
During the 2013 tour, there was an Australian festival that had the organizers choose to abandon a multi-city event that had the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club as one of the lead acts. Instead of bailing out, the group went to the nation anyway and organized their own concerts. This spiked the band’s popularity even further as the majority of their shows were sold out as they toured the country.
Five years after Specter at the Feast was released, Wrong Creatures became the group’s eighth studio album. Among the group’s fan base, this served as a comeback after keeping such a low profile. The comeback was welcomed with the mix of American rock flavors that became BRMC’s signature sound. It was still just as dark and moody, as the instruments laid out tracks like “Haunt” and “Echo” as ghostly favorites that keep fans coming back for more. However, there was enough party-style rock in some of the livelier numbers such as “Little Thing Gone Wild” that once again allowed Robert Levon Been and Peter Hayes to play off each other’s strengths as vocalists and guitarists.
In addition to their impressive collection of albums, EPs, and singles, the group has also performed in musical material for a collection of movies such as 2007’s Southland Tales: Music from the Motion Picture, 2009’s The Twilight Saga: New Moon: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, and 2011’s Batman: Arkham City – The Album.
Top 10 Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Songs
#10 – Done All Wrong
Featured on the 2009 film and soundtrack for The Twilight Saga: New Moon, “Done All Wrong” was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s musical contribution to the supernatural-themed movie series. Starting off as an acoustic guitar number, this smoky number has been referred to as a Johnny Cash meets Eddie Vedder classic.
As BRMC continued to evolve as a rock band, their musical material became moodier. “Done All Wrong” did everything right as a song that set the mood of a movie storyline that mixed romance and the supernatural as an epic saga that became a global phenomenon.
#9 – Red Eyes and Tears
“Red Eyes and Tears” was the first single Black Rebel Motorcycle Club released from their debut album, B.R.M.C. in 2001. Although it didn’t chart, the music was enough to put the trio of Been, Hayes, and Jago on the map as a moody rock band that would win over a strong fan base that stuck with them through thick and thin. This love song featured fantastic guitar riffs that easily won over the favor of the fans, especially in Europe and the U.K.
#8 – Shadow on the Run
Featured in the 2011 album, Batman: Arkham City – The Album, “Shadow on the Run” was a dark and moody number performed by BRMC that perfectly suited the theatrics that best described the Dark Knight as one of DC Comics’ most iconic heroes. For a psychedelic number that literally toys with the soul as a song, this one hits the mark exactly as it was designed to do.
#7 – Whatever Happened To My Rock And Roll (Punk Song)
Musically, “Whatever Happened To My Rock And Roll (Punk Song)” was a modest hit on the UK Singles Chart after peaking at number forty-six. Among the fans, as well as a music video, this was a solid favorite. It won a 2004 NME Award for Best Music Video.
This fast-paced tune kept asking what happened to rock and roll music. According to the lyrics, BRMC seemed concerned this music genre was no longer measuring up to certain expectations like it used to. Whether or not this was meant to be a literal question, it was still entertaining enough as a punky punch.
#6 – Annabel Lee
Beautifully led by piano, “Annabel Lee” was the title track that served as an adaptation to Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 short story, The Devil In the Belfry. This unusual love story beyond the grave was a 2010 song from the album The Devil’s Tattoo that failed to make an impression on the charts but succeeded as an impressionable fan favorite for BRMC’s musical approach to one of Poe’s written works.
As a ballad, “Annabel Lee” was all about a maiden that was the love of the narrator’s life, demonstrating not even death itself was enough to keep the two soulmates apart. There were no mean guitar riffs or heavy drums in this wonderful tune, which made it even more dramatic as the piano solo played out the mood for the somber number it is.
#5 – Spread Your Love
On the UK Singles Chart, “Spread Your Love” became a number twenty-seven hit after it was released as a single in 2002. Fans of Vin Diesel may recall this song was used in the 2003 movie, A Man Apart. It’s also been a favorite song of choice for commercials used by the Las Vegas hotel, The Cosmopolitan, as well as Ketel One Vodka. Skins also used this song in its British comedy television series.
The opening riffs BRMC already worked in this tune’s favor with its amazing riffs. Add the sex appeal behind it and this is the type of song that’s designed to spread the love, or at least enjoy a steamy occasion together without any preset boundaries.
#4 – Stop
“Stop” was a successful single released by BRMC that peaked as high as number nineteen on the UK Singles Chart and at number forty-two on the Irish Singles Chart. From the album, Take Them On, On Your Own, the song starts out and plays like an addiction. Even though a certain something wasn’t liked, it was tried anyway. Over time, the ability to put a stop to it seems to be thwarted by the inability to jump off and change course.
As an album, this was BRMC’s musical approach to its criticism of a political system the band members didn’t agree with. Even though they’re technically an American band, they didn’t quite receive as much media attention as they did in Europe and the U.K. There was also a struggle with Virgin Records over the group’s artistic direction that ultimately led them to go independent.
“Stop” actually stated the obvious that could apply to so many political and social issues. However, for entertainment value, just getting caught up in the riffs is more than enough to simply enjoy the song from start to finish.
#3 – Little Thing Gone Wild
“Little Thing Gone Wild” was the first single released from the album Wrong Creatures. Although it failed to make an impression on any of the music charts, it did become a favorite song of choice for Microsoft’s racing video game Forza 4: Horizon. Whoever didn’t learn about Black Rebel Motorcycle Club yet quickly turned into fans the moment this heavy-hitting number revved things up as players raced their vehicles on the game’s U.K.-based map. If you want a great tune with strong riffs while on the road, “Little Thing Gone Wild” will do the trick.
But please, make sure to obey the speed limit.
#2 – Let the Day Begin
As a tribute to the late Michael Been, “Let the Day Begin” was a song Robert Levon Been and his fellow members of the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club recorded as a free download on their website. This 1989 hit from The Call was released by BRMC in 2013 and became a worldwide favorite after it was featured on BBC’s Top Gear television series during the twenty-first season. Also released as an EP, it was accompanied by “Returning” as a free download available for streaming for fans visiting their site.
#1 – Ain’t No Easy Way
Released in 2005, ‘Ain’t No Easy Way’ became a number twenty-one hit on the UK Singles Chart, as well as a number fifty hit on the Irish Singles Chart. On the European Hot 100, it became a number sixty-nine hit. It was the one and only occasion a tune released by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club would appear on this particular chart. From the album, Howl, the trio was inspired by the controversial 1950s poetry from author Allen Ginsberg. For him, what started out as a poem that was taken to court due to its dark content later became one of the most significant American literary works in modern history.
As for the song itself, it expressed it’s easy enough to fall in love but it’s not so easy to find a way out when things go wrong. “Ain’t No Easy Way” became one of BRMC’s most popular hits. Among the YouTube channels that have the clean and explicit versions of this song, there have been approximately two million views by fans who seem to be in agreement this is BRMC at their best.
Top 10 Black Rebel Motorcycle Club Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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