“Tribute” is the first single of Tenacious D’s self-titled debut album. It was released July 16, 2002. The song is a tribute to what Gass and Black refer to as “The Greatest Song in the World” (often confused as the song’s title), which Tenacious D themselves came up with, but have since forgotten. It was released as a downloadable track for Rock Band in addition to appearing as a playable track for Guitar Hero Live.
Tribute was the first song Black and Gass played live as Tenacious D. The song, like many other songs that were recorded on Tenacious D, was originally performed on their short-lived HBO TV series. During earlier performances of this song Kyle Gass played the opening to “Stairway to Heaven“. The two songs are both in A minor and have very similar chord progressions, and critics have said the songs sound alike.
The song chronicles the band members’ encounter with a demon who demands the duo play “the best song in the world” or have their souls eaten. Having nothing to lose from trying, they play “the first thing that came to our heads”, and it “just so happened to be the best song in the world.”
Given the “Stairway to Heaven” interlude in the original TV series version, along with the similarity of the chord progression in both songs, Tribute at first implies that the best song in the world is indeed that song. However, the lyrics make clear that Tribute sounds nothing like the song they came up with to please the demon; as Black describes: “And the peculiar thing is this my friends: The song we sang on that fateful night, it didn’t actually sound anything like this song.”
In an interview the band claimed that the inspiration from the song came after Jack Black played Metallica’s “One” for Kyle Gass, describing it as “the best song in the world”, leading to a failed attempt to themselves write an even better song, and a discussion of the meaninglessness of labeling any song that way. Tribute was written as a paean to the impossibility of reaching musical perfection, making the claim that the greatest song in the world had in fact been theirs, but that they had forgotten it.
In Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, it is implied that the climax of the movie, a rock-off challenge between Satan and Tenacious D told through the song Beelzeboss (The Final Showdown), is the incident chronicled in Tribute, and that the portion of Beelzeboss performed by Tenacious D is the song receiving tribute. After defeating Satan, Jack and Kyle recall the incident once more, describing it as, “the greatest song in the world”. Unfortunately, they are unable to remember how it went. Also in the song Beelzeboss, they mention that they know the demon’s weakness, referred to as their “rocket sauce”, which is what they use in their HBO television series to defeat the demon. However, unlike the demon in the television episode, Satan says they are “Fuckin’ lame” and tries to take Kyle Gass to hell after all, while the demon asks if they are angels. However, considering that they do not remember the song, they may have forgotten this as well. This was confirmed in a commentary with Jack Black for the movie.
The music video for “Tribute”, directed and edited by Liam Lynch, features Jack Black and Kyle Gass, in a cheap shopping mall karaoke booth, rewired to record their song.
As they sing, the video cuts between footage of the pair walking down the “long, lonesome road” and the encounter with the demon played by Dave Grohl. The demon also performs the electric guitar solo in the music video. After the solo, Black and Gass jump out of the booth and start shouting the lyrics at mall shoppers and dancing flamboyantly. Passersby include cameos from Lynch and Ben Stiller. While most pay no attention, an old lady, played by Linda Porter assaults Black with her purse after he grabs her while singing. A policeman, played by JR Reed, who played “Lee” in the band’s television series, takes Black and Gass away. At the end the same old lady who was frightened by the duo picks up the now-recorded CD, eyes glowing red, and cackles demonically.
Although the video had huge success on UK television, the song was never actually released there as a single. “Tribute” was nominated for two Music Video Production Association Awards: “Alternative Video of the Year” and “Directorial Debut of the Year”. In addition, it was a nominee for best video in the 2002 Kerrang! Awards.
Some critics described the plot of the song as being similar to the song “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band.