Their music and lifestyles reflect the Southern California milieu in which they were born. They have been a band given to extremes, from thrashy, funky noise and personal excess to sunnier music and healthier living.
They formed in Los Angeles in 1983 as a foursome with Anthony Kiedis, Michael “Flea” Balzary, Hillel Slovak and Jack Irons. The last two left before the recording of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ self-titled 1984 debut and were replaced by drummer Cliff Martinez and guitarist Jack Sherman.
This was the lineup that recorded the classic albums Mother’s Milk (1989), Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991), Californication (1999) along with several others.
Here, the Rock Hall suggests 10 essential Red Hot Chili Peppers songs.
1. “TRUE MEN DON’T KILL COYOTES” TO THE TOP
The lead track on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ self-titled 1984 debut, produced by Gang of Four’s Andrew Gill, “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes” exemplified the quirky, funk-rock sound the boys from Southern California had been cultivating. The song was also the foundation for the group’s first music video.
2. “CATHOLIC SCHOOL GIRLS RULE” TO THE TOP
From its controversial title and subject matter (The good book says we must suppress / The good book says we must confess / But who cares what the good book says / Cause now she’s taking off her dress) to its fast tempo, “Catholic School Girls Rule” embraced the punk sound more closely associated with the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ California peers.
The latter element came with the input of producer George Clinton, the maestro of P-funk, who brought a loose, free jam feel to much of 1985’s Freaky Styley. It would be the only album he’d work with the Chili Peppers on as producer.
3. “FIGHT LIKE A BRAVE” TO THE TOP
“Fight Like A Brave” launched 1987’s Uplift Mofo Party Plan with an explosive funk-metal-rap hybrid and was the song that really introduced the band to college radio listeners across the country. Hillel Slovak, who’d masterfully tuned in to a funk groove on Freaky Styley’s jams, dialed up the distortion adding metal riffs to the mix.
The lyrics and title were a reference to Kiedis’ battle with heroin addiction – a battle bandmate Slovak would succumb to less than a year later, overdosing on the drug.
4. “TASTE THE PAIN” TO THE TOP
Similar to AC/DC’s triumphant comeback Back In Black following the death of lead singer Bon Scott, the Chili Peppers’ Mother’s Milk, released in 1989, was a landmark recording in the band’s career, made all the more impressive given the addition of new drummer Chad Smith after Irons quit, unable to cope with the loss of Slovak (though Smith did not appear on the actual recording), and guitarist John Frusciante.
“Taste The Pain” helped prove not only that the band’s core of Kiedis and Flea could still guide the group with a new ensemble, but also that the band was capable of bridging the gap between the all-out party atmospherics that was their hallmark and a more somber delivery.
5. “GIVE IT AWAY”
As the title suggests, the lyrics from the first single to be released off 1992’s best-selling Blood Sugar Sex Magik finds Kiedis primarily espousing the virtues of altruism (Greedy little people in a sea of distress. Flea and Chad Smith supply the track’s heady rhythmic brew of bass and drums, respectively, while Frusciante added the right amount of spunky solo work and funk-cum-hard rock riffs to register a distinct presence. The song’s resonant textures found a stunning visual complement to a music video that gained extensive MTV airplay.