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.
Slovak returned for Freaky Styley (produced by George Clinton), and Irons rejoined for 1987’s The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. After Slovak’s 1988 death by heroin overdose, guitarist John Frusciante was recruited, and drummer Chad Smith replaced Irons.
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.
This was the lineup that recorded the classic albums By the Way (2002) and Stadium Arcadium (2006). Frusciante took a hiatus from 1993-1997 and left for good in 2009, replaced by Josh Klinghoffer, who’d been the band’s auxiliary tour guitarist. The group’s 10th studio album, I’m With You, was released in 2011.
Here, the Rock Hall suggests 10 essential Red Hot Chili Peppers songs.
1. “UNDER THE BRIDGE”
With its stripped, down-tempo feel, a lyrical guitar intro and Kiedis’ sensitive, autobiographical account of darker days in Los Angeles, “Under The Bridge” was a poignant portrait that diverted from the Chili Peppers’ typical sonic palette.
Amid the rise of alternative rock – and the tragic losses the 90s era saw as a result of heroin addiction – “Under The Bridge” peaked at Number Two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the summer of 1992 – the highest charting song of the band’s career.
2. “SCAR TISSUE”
The song was indicative of the more melody-driven, pop-oriented sound the band was affecting – a far cry from the loose funk jams of their earliest recordings.
Rubin’s comparatively barebones production, removing many of the effects of earlier album cuts, lent itself to the recording’s low-key undulations, with Frusciante’s steely solos providing powerful nuance. The song spent 16 weeks at Number One on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart.
The title track to the Chili Peppers’ 1999 release, this somber, minor key track illustrated Kiedis’ greater depth as a songwriter, with a commentary on his home state’s roll in marketing a homogenized, counterfeit culture (It’s understood that Hollywood sells Californication) that spoke of plastic surgery (Pay your surgeon very well / To break the signs of aging), pornography (First born unicorn / hard core, soft porn), progress (Space may be the final frontier /
But it’s made in a Hollywood basement) and referenced Kurt Cobain and David Bowie (And Cobain can you hear the spheres / Singing songs off Station to Station). Although it presented a more mature side of the Chili Peppers’ songwriting coin, musically, it was still a shiny, smooth groove that reflected the group’s more familiar framework.
4. “BY THE WAY” TO THE TOP
“By The Way,” the title track of the Chili Peppers’ eighth studio album, offered a return to the frenetic funk-rock bombast of previous efforts with the more melodious sensibilities of later works. The song opens with Frusciante strumming a simple New Wave-esque chord progression as Kiedis sings – not raps.
After that, “By The Way” seamlessly weaves Flea’s sizzling bass runs and Smith’s tight drumming with Frusciante’s scratchy, palm-muted guitar riffs and Kiedis sped-up narrative, dipping back and forth between such bursts and variations on the intro melody. The brilliant dynamic has made it a staple of live sets.
5. “SNOW (HEY OH)” TO THE TOP
Among the highlights of 2006’s 28-song, Grammy Award-winning double-album Stadium Arcadium, “Snow (Hey Oh)” followed the more introspective lyricism (Come to decide that the things that I tried / Were in my life just to get high on / When I sit alone come get a little known / But I need more than myself this time), and softer, layered musical textures and tones of By The Way. Driven largely by Frusciante’s speedily picked lead riff, the track’s soaring chorus and outro passage have made it a fan favorite.