10 Best Red Hot Chili Peppers Songs
Few alternative rock bands have not only survived, but thrived, for as long as the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Formed in Los Angeles all the way back in 1983, the Chili Peppers have withstood numerous lineup changes, changing musical tastes, the rapid decline of the music industry and even the tragic death of a member, all the while churning out consistently popular and adventurous music. Nearly three decades in, they now have 10 full-length albums (their latest, ‘I’m With You,’ dropped in 2011) to their credit and dozens more successful singles, including three that hit the Top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. Earlier this year, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but despite the end-of-career-type of honor, don’t expect them to slow down anytime soon. In honor of this still-vital band, we examine the 10 Best Red Hot Chili Peppers Songs.
Many Peppers fans feel the band didn’t find its footing until ‘Mother’s Milk,’ but ’Behind the Sun’ proves that the years with founding guitarist Hillel Slovak had their share of highlights. Unusually melodic and restrained for ‘The Uplift Mofo Party Plan,’ the tune would prove to be the original Peppers lineup’s only charting single -- albeit five years later, in 1992, when released as a single off the ‘What Hits!?’ money-grab compilation.
The fourth single off ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik,’ ‘Breaking the Girl’ is an enchanting ballad in an odd 6/8 time signature driven by John Frusciante’s Zeppelin-inspired acoustic guitar riffs. Singer Anthony Kiedis once revealed that the tune’s abstract lyrics are about his troubled relationship with his model ex-girlfriend Carmen Hawk.
The death of Hillel Slovak, the result of a drug overdose, started a transitional period that eventually led to the arrival of Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith -- and that landed Kiedis in rehab. When he got out, he penned ‘Knock Me Down,’ whose lyrics find the singer bravely asking for help in dealing with his own drug demons. “If you see me getting high/ Knock me down,” he sings.
The only non-single album track to make our list, ‘I Could Have Lied’ is a slow-burning, funky groove, with lyrics that betray a new level clarity from Kiedis – clarity due to the simple fact that they can be interpreted numerous different ways, each with its own profound meaning and truth. Is it about someone cheating in a relationship? A deeper, spiritual betrayal? Drugs? The answer, of course, is in the ear of the beholder.
This song is all about juxtaposition. If it were just the melodic verses on their own, it would be standard-issue, latter-era Peppers fare. If the tune was only the driving, stomp-infused bridge, it would be an uninspired novelty play. But put the two together – the melodic chocolate and the funky peanut butter – and you have a career-spanning, genre-splicing jam that managed hit No. 1 on both the mainstream and alternative rock charts.
‘Soul to Squeeze’ was left off ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ because it didn’t quite fit the vibe, but that didn’t stop the song from eventually topping the alt-rock chart. When it did finally drop – as a single on the ‘Coneheads’ movie soundtrack, of all places – ‘Soul to Squeeze’ was both a placeholder while the band worked on ‘One Hot Minute’ and the spiritual follow-up to ‘Under the Bridge.’ (Don’t worry, we’ll get to that one soon.)
An ode to all things classic rock, ‘Dani California’ features a scorching Frusciante guitar solo taken straight out of the Hendrix school of guitar – not to mention a four-chord main riff so similar to Tom Petty’s ‘Mary Jane’s Last Dance’ that there was talk of legal action. The amazing video saw the band saluting the iconic musicians that blazed trails ahead of them by dressing up in the distinct styles of the Beatles, David Bowie, the Sex Pistols, unplugged Nirvana and more.
A breakthrough for the Peppers, ‘Give It Away,’ the lead single off ‘Blood, Sugar, Sex, Magik,’ shot straight to the top of the alternative rocks chart. (Later on, it also landed on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock” list.) The upbeat party jam can also be credited (or blamed) for leading the rock-rap hybrid that became so ubiquitous later in the decade.
We may be the only people in the world who think of this when they hear the opening guitar part of ‘Scar Tissue,’ but damn, that John Frusciante can write a great Sea and Cake riff. Anyway, this first single off 'Californication' marked Frusciante’s return to the fold after years of battling drug addiction, and the reunion was a sweet one: His melodious fretwork helped ‘Scar Tissue’ peak in the Top 10 of the Hot 100 tally, and it became the band’s fourth single to reach No. 1 on the alternative chart. (They now have a total of 12 No. 1’s on that tally over the course of their career.)
'Blood Sugar Sex Magik' is the album that propelled the Peppers to international rock stardom -- since dropping in 1991, it’s sold more than 15 million copies around the globe, by far their best showing – and ‘Under the Bridge’ is the song that changed everything. A soulful ballad that both pays tribute to the band’s City of Angels hometown and delves into the singer’s drug demons, the tune was a massive crossover success, peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.