My obsession with the Red Hot Chili Peppers began in earnest in 1991 with the release of their fifth album Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Give It Away, Under The Bridge, Suck My Kiss and Breaking The Girl were all massively influential songs that saw me not long after, embrace whole heartedly the alternative rock explosion of the early 90s, and rejoice in the sounds of bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Later, of course, I would go back and dive deep into the Red Hot Chili Peppers back catalogue and discover that the one thing that stood out the most to me about the Red Hot Chili Peppers was Flea’s innovative electronic bass and funk hooks. If I am to be honest Flea made me a Red Hot Chili Peppers fan for life.
This short retrospect isn’t complete without mentioning a few fun facts. So here we go. Since forming in 1983 in Los Angeles, the Red Hot Chili Peppers has sold over 60 million albums worldwide. And it’s fair to say I’ve bought some of them! In 2012 they were also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, ahead of some very big bands and if my memory serves me correctly it was ultimately because of their inventiveness, incorporating a lot of different sounds and genres into their music. That said, when you listen to their music you will undoubtedly be surprised to hear vast elements of funk, punk, rap and psychedelic rock. Interestingly, the one constant and probably the single most important factor, apart from the importance of lead singer Anthony Kiedis and bassist Michael Peter Balzary aka Flea, is also their songwriting flair and their affection for and at times unforgiving portrait of Californian life. (Check out Under The Bridge and Californication.)
Importantly, and I cannot let pass without saying that the Red Hot Chili Peppers in their heyday were a force to be reckoned with, especially on stage. Like Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were a band renowned for their live shows, offering up a live funk-rock experience that was often wild and physically invigorating. Still today they are playing incredibly sold out shows reminding the faithful that they aren’t a spent force yet.
And so, without further ado, the following top 10 songs is what I believe to be the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s most memorable and influential rock songs of their entire catalogue. Enjoy!
10. Breaking the Girl (from Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991).
Anthony Kiedis has often been put down for his lack of vocal range but really gives it a red hot go on Breaking The Girl. With a mellow and melodic acoustic arrangement featuring a mellotron and flutes the Red Hot Chilli Peppers are channelling Led Zeppelin’s The Battle of Evermore and Friends. The song of course focuses on the stormy relationship once shared between Kiedis and his former girlfriend Carmen Hawk.
9. Californication (from Californication, 1999).
Anthony Kiedis was once quoted as saying that the songs from their 1999 album Californication would “tell tales of wandering souls who’ve lost their way searching for the American dream in California”. The title track itself explores the dark side of fame in Los Angeles, particularly Hollywood. Of interest, you will hear throughout the song some cleverly interwoven references to pop culture, but by far the most impressive aspect of Californication is John Frusciante infectious finger picking. Moreover listen out for his wailing guitar solo too.
8. Dani California (from Stadium Arcadium, 2006).
Dani California won two Grammy Awards in 2007 (for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal) and still today stands as one of the Chilli Peppers most important rock songs. The song according to Kiedis is about a young troubled Mississippi girl who moves to California only to have her dreams shattered by the bitter reality of life. Interestingly ‘Dani the girl’ is first mentioned in the song Californication as an unnamed teenage bride. She was next introduced to fans in the song By The Way, but is fittingly given centre stage in the tragic narrative of her life created by Keidis on Dani California.
7. Cant Stop (from By The Way, 2002).
While it’s generally agreed that Flea’s greatest baseline is found on the song Give It Away, his bass work on Cant Stop comes damn close to topping it. Overall its an inspiring funk jam set against what appears to point to Kiedis life of drugs, sobriety and relapse. Then again, lyrics such as “Choose not a life of imitation” points to Kiedis views of embracing life by being different or unique. If anything, Kiedis apparently had a tricky time matching rap lyrics to fit the song’s beat. So, what might seem like a cryptic message just might be surrealist lyrical nonsense.
6. By The Way (from By The Way, 2002.)
A clash of styles between John Frusciante’s melancholic guitar and Flea’s heavy funk baseline on By The Way has been analysed so much over the years that it’s difficult to add anything new to the discussion. But its worth saying that without that interplay between the song’s gentler textures and its brutal machine gun-like sound, the success of the song may not have been so forthcoming.
5. Suck My Kiss (from Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991).
Suck My Kiss just might be the Chilli Peppers most aggressive punk-funk hit from their entire catalogue. On it you will find Flea on bass at his wilful best with Kiedis producing some of his most explosive lyrics ever (see also Sir Psycho Sexy) which unabashedly overflow with sexual overtures that will make any casual listener blush.
4. Scar Tissue (from Californication, 1999).
The Red Hot Chilli Peppers had all but reinvented themselves as musicians on their seventh studio album Californication. The stylistic change and creative input of the return of John Frusciante (who left the band in the early 90s and only returned in 1999 after beating his heroin addiction) was ultimately the x factor that helped propel the band forward into the new millennium. This is no more evident than on the rock ballad Scar Tissue which sees Frusciante’s big moody guitar taking centre stage. Flea in particular benefitted with Frusciante returning to the band. Their close musical partnership shines bright here. (It would ultimately see the two guitar heroes try to out do each other on the album By The Way.) Lyrically there has been much confusion about Scar Tissue’s meaning. Personally I believe the song is about despair, loneliness and rebirth.
3. Give It Away (from Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991).
I remember when Give it Away was all over the radio in 1999. It was such an in-your-face song that I was left to wonder WTF! Years later I would learn that Anthony Kiedis drew inspiration for this song from the German singer Nina Hagen. Apparently he was rifling through her wardrobe when he came across a jackets that he really liked. Hagen insisted that he take it, explaining that the act of giving makes the world a better place.
2. “Otherside” (from Californication, 1999).
The somber emotionally charged mid tempo alt-rock classic, Otherside was released way back in 2000 as the RedHot Chilli Peppers third single from their acclaimed album Californication. It was apparently written about former band guitarists Hillel Slovak’s battle with heroin addiction. In short, songs like Otherside are ever-present throughout their back catalogue, a stirring reminder of their own struggles and shared experiences as a group.
1. Under The Bridge (from Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991).
Under The Bridge is one of Red Hot Chili Peppers most enduring songs. In fact, it may well be the greatest song Anthony Kiedis has ever penned. The lyrics come from a haunting place, a time in Kiedis life where he felt completely lost in a haze of addiction. Interestingly most of the ideas for the song were found in a notebook kept by Kiedis. Within its pages Kiedis wrote a poem called “Under The Bridge” where he talked about the loneliness and despair of his life. Red Hot Chilli Peppers producer Rick Rubin stumbled across the poem one day in Kiedis notebook and encouraged him to present it to the band. Its singalong chorus “I don’t ever want to feel like I did that day? Take me to place I love, take me all the way” is still as poignant as ever. Sonically, its somber mid tempo melody brilliantly matches Kiedis melancholy mood before exploding in the song’s climatic finale.
I’m not a big Chilis fan but I’ve always liked Breaking the Girl.
Great choices. I used to be a fan, but have strayed away. One day I will revisit them as their early stuff was so great.
Here’s hoping you consider Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) for your ‘You Picked It’ series.
I don’t have that one in my collection, but I used to so I’ve heard it and it is a genre that I listen to so probably won’t be anytime soon. I do like that one and need to get it back in the collection so then it can be added to that series.
Good list, Robert. I’m glad to see Breaking the Girl in there – often gets overlooked. For my money, I would like to nominate ‘My Friends’ and ‘Deep Kicks’ from the One Hot Minute album – which is a criminally overlooked record in general.
“By The Way” back up vocals are just on another level. This is a great list. I’ve always loved both “Snow” and title track “Stadium Arcadium” too.
Some strong choices here – great to see Otherside up high too, caught them live on that tour. I think I’d throw in Don’t Forget Me and I Could Have Lied in place of Suck My Kiss and Danni California but all belters
Great list! I am not a fan, but I like some songs. I first heard Otherside around 2008, I think, and it left a deep impression. It is probably the most depressing song I’ve ever heard.