Red Hot Chili Peppers

TrackAlbum / Single
Bunker HillFortune Faded B-side
Don't Forget MeBy The Way
Falling Into GraceOne Hot Minute
Goodbye Angels (Video Version)The Getaway
Mellowship Slinky In B MajorBlood Sugar Sex Magik
Never Is A Long TimeI'm With You Sessions
Out In L.A. (Demo)The Red Hot Chili Peppers
Sexy Mexican MaidMother's Milk
This Velvet GloveCalifornication
We BelieveStadium Arcadium

Red Hot Chili Peppers photo 1

Red Hot Chili Peppers (1989) l to r: John Frusciante (guitar), Chad Smith (drums), Anthony Kiedis (vocals, Flea (bass) Photo: Neal Preston



RHCP playlist


Contributor: Hamish Duncan

If you’ve been near a radio or a television at some point over the past twenty five years you’ve probably heard at least one Red Hot Chili Peppers song. They’re not exactly an obscure band, and with that omnipresence has come a fair amount of derision; their very mention in many conversations among music fans is a risky thing. People love to hate them, and quickly the jokes arise about slap bass and socks on cocks and songs about California.

But I love them, whether it’s for their musicianship, or their humour, or for something I can’t quite put my finger on, and I have for the past fifteen years. So let’s get started. Here are ten of my favourite songs by the band, in no particular (and thus alphabetical) order. I think my selections highlight the broad range of sounds they’ve explored throughout the years, includes singles, demos and B-sides, and features a majority of their many lineups.

Red Hot Chili Peppers have had five different guitarists and three different drummers perform on studio albums. No other major act has, with such frequency, had a major member of theirs leave, only for them to start fresh with someone new and change their sound completely. The group that recorded a quick punky demo in May of 1983 are almost unrecognisable to the current lineup that performs stadium rock, but that diversity is what makes them so interesting to me.

We start with a B-side. Bunker Hill was written and recorded for the smash-hit Californication in 1998 but remained unreleased until 2003. It was written during an integral but wounded time in the band’s history; guitarist John Frusciante had just come back into the fold after the (relative) disappointment of the Dave Navarro era, and his rearrival ushered in a new and wildly prosperous period for them. Bunker Hill is a steady, driving rock song which might not contain the showy fireworks the band of old were famous for, but it’s very much a standout, and was sadly relegated to B-side status; to date only legally available on one now-deleted single. It showed the band were capable of writing introspective, downcast but upbeat music, as also seen on their smash hit single Scar Tissue, and it’s a crime that it can’t be legally enjoyed today.

John Frusciante brought the band back from the brink in 1998 and then pushed them even further; Don’t Forget Me features an example of his explosive guitar work that became a central focus for many people. But it wasn’t all about flashy solos. Under an unchanging bassline from Flea, Frusciante very much takes the lead in this song, finger-tapping, writhing and contorting his ’62 Stratocaster into totally different forms. Elsewhere, Kiedis puts in one of his best vocals and the song becomes a melancholy elegy to hopelessness. Also of note, this performance of the song in France in 2006, which is supplemented with an aching, improvised intro and is one of the few times you can catch a glimpse of Frusciante’s exhibitionist streak, something that he so sorely tried to pretend didn’t exist.

I mention above that Dave Navarro’s time with the band was considered a disappointment, but I reject that notion entirely. One Hot Minute may have sold less than Blood Sugar Sex Magik did, but it still shifted six million copies worldwide and it’s a unique waypoint in the band’s history (not every band is lucky enough to have a goth streak) that is filled with amazing songs and interesting moments. Where most of One Hot Minute was filled with dark and layered guitar performances that created an almost metal feel, Falling Into Grace is a weird, sparse groove, heavy on the fuzz bass, culminating with prayer bells and meditative chants over an e-bow solo that’s one of the best in the entire band’s catalog. Sadly, it was never played live, but seeing as the verse requires Navarro to play through a talkbox, that makes perfect sense. Listen deep for Chad Smith’s expert drum work; still the most underrated drummer alive today. P.S. My MSN Messenger display name for many years was “A Million Years Old But Just A Little Girl”. I didn’t know what it meant then, and I don’t know now, but I still love the song all the same.

When Frusciante left the band for the second and final time in 2009, he was replaced (though I take umbrage with that word) with the person many considered his protege, Josh Klinghoffer. Much like as in Navarro’s time with the band, there are many out there now that say that a Red Hot Chili Peppers that lacks John Frusciante is not one worth listening to. This is, pardon my language, complete horseshit. Klinghoffer has proven himself again and again as not only Frusciante’s worthy successor but a better fit for the band in many ways. Where Frusciante regularly lead the band to a distracting and detrimental level, Klinghoffer is a subtler, more textual player, and his work on Goodbye Angels highlights this in a big way. The outro to this song is especially noteworthy; an ‘over the hill’ band with an average age of 49 rocking this hard is a rare thing indeed. Make sure you listen to the “Video Mix” which brings Smith’s once-neutered drums to the forefront and gives it the punch it deserves. Nigel Godrich mixed the rest of the album which lead to some interesting choices, but not in this case.

Mellowship Slinky In B Major is another track that has sadly never been played live. From their 1991 album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, known mostly for Under The Bridge or Give it Away, it’s a wonderful piece of work, full of disparate sections that somehow fit together perfectly, and Frusciante’s fretless solo is utter bliss; here’s a video of it being recorded.

I performed this track for my year 12 music exams. After six straight months of rehearsals, I can still play this in my sleep, a decade later.

Never Is A Long Time is sourced from sessions for their 2011 album I’m With You. It’s a love song to Kiedis’ young son and a perfect example of the wonderful cohesion (and piano-centric songwriting) the current lineup of the band displays. There are no leaders here, just four instrumentalists in a room, together, playing off one another, creating something special that ebbs and flows and rises to a spectacular, wailing ending. It should have been I’m With You‘s lead single; instead it lies in obscurity, appearing only on a limited releases, and was never played live. This is a consistent theme for the band – what’s so good about them is so frequently hidden away, and their duller aspects are pushed to the forefront.

From their latest guitarist to their first. Hillel Slovak tragically died of a heroin overdose in 1988, but he gave the band three album’s worth of fantastic material. Out In L.A. is the first song the band ever wrote, and this demo performance holds up today: just under two minutes of ecstatic bliss from four young men that hadn’t yet found themselves, working completely without pretense. When they recorded the track for their first album, sans-Slovak, it was ruined; like being flogged with wet lettuce. You must hear the demo version, which reigns supreme. Recently, Flea has mentioned this was his favourite recording session of all time and one can see why he feels this way.

Where Out In L.A. might be juvenile and silly, it has a naive charm. Sexy Mexican Maid, on the other hand, is utter ridiculousness. Majorly chauvinistic and even a little racist, it’s almost embarrassing to listen to today, but at the same time contains all the elements that defined the band when it was recorded in 1988. This was the era of hairspray and MTV, spandex and cocaine, and so for the Chili Peppers to come out with this swinging, metal-infused piece of hilarity that drips with immature sex and fades with a sax solo was a perfect antidote. It’s what Warrant wished they had made when they recorded Cherry Pie. If only Warrant had a rhythm section as good as the Peppers did. Check out this studio performance; Flea’s pants, Frusciante’s solo … there’s a lot to unpack here.

On the other end of the spectrum is This Velvet Glove, a track from Californication. It’s another song from that melancholy hopefulness vein that was so richly tapped during this era, and is built around beautiful, intertwining guitar and bass parts that explode cathartically during the chorus. And as the years have gone by it’s become an important track in the band’s catalog. Watch this performance; here we have the band’s soon to be departing guitarist practically handing over his spot to his successor in front of 50,000 people.

Lastly, somehow, already, We Believe was featured on the band’s twenty-eight track 2006 opus Stadium Arcadium and had the working title “Fela Funk”. That’s understandable listening to the syncopated verses but, thanks to Frusciante’s studio wizardry, it ended up sounding more like a romp through the stars than anything Kuti-inspired. And with a backing track that’s silky smooth but tight as a fist, it makes Flea and Smith’s utter mastery of their instruments sound effortless. The album is full of these hidden gems; the band’s discography is full of them too.

There are frequent themes here; the band subverting expectations, a world class rhythm section laying the bed for a unique guitarist and constantly frustrating commercial decisions. But those are all what I’ve taken from the band’s career. Others will think differently. The output of an artist becomes something we mould for our own making.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers have released eleven albums over a thirty-five year history and not one album sounds exactly like another. And it is, of course, impossible to nail down just ten songs as “favourites”; ask me again tomorrow and I may have ten completely different tracks in mind. Furthermore, the band is arguably two different beasts; their live performances regularly outshadow their studio counterparts, and sometimes what was not captured to its full potential on tape is quite often perfected on stage. The band have played live 1700 times since 1983 and no two shows are the same. Frequently filled with extended jams and improvisations, their shows can resemble ones by the Grateful Dead, if the Dead also happened to be the most successful act in alternative-rock radio history and had to spend half their time appeasing casual fans.

While the live aspect is incredible, the studio is where my interests lie. For the past six years, I’ve run the RHCP Session Archive which is dedicated to cataloging each and every recording session undertaken by the band since 1983. They may only have eleven albums but there’s a fair amount of confusion and misinformation and I’ve made it my task to clear up as much of that as I can, at the same time uncovering any mix differences and alternates that are out there for fans. It’s been an incredibly rewarding undertaking that isn’t even half complete. And so, because of this, the majority of my Chili Peppers listening these days is spent comparing identical sounding versions of tracks, and trying to track down long deleted German imports to listen to remixes I don’t even like.

But when I do listen to the band in a purely casual way, I’m constantly impressed by their musicianship and their ability to change up their sound from album to album. They’ve soundtracked the past decade and a half of my life, starting as guitar heroes and becoming something I study with more passion than my own university studies. They have been a constant presence and will be, hopefully, for many years to come. Here’s to the ten tracks above, and so many more.


RHCP playlist



Red Hot Chili Peppers photo 2

Red Hot Chili Peppers (2011) from top to bottom: Chad Smith (drums), Josh Klinghoffer (guitar), Flea (bass), Anthony Kiedis (vocals) Photo: Clara Balzary


Hillel Slovak (1962–1988)


RHCP studio albums: The Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984), Freaky Styley (1985), The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987), Mother’s Milk (1989), Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991), One Hot Minute (1995), Californication (1999), By The Way (2002), Stadium Arcadium (2006), I’m With You (2011), The Getaway (2016)

Red Hot Chili Peppers official website

RHCP Session Archive

RHCP Live Archive

Red Hot Chili Peppers discography

John Frusciante official website

“Red Hot Chili Peppers – By the Way: The Biography” by Dave Thompson (Virgin 2004)

“Scar Tissue” by Anthony Kiedis with Larry Sloman (Sphere 2005)

“Acid For The Children: A Memoir” by Flea (Headline 2018)

“How To Sound Like John Frusciante” from Beginner Guitar HQ

Red Hot Chili Peppers biography (Apple Music)

Hamish Duncan lives in Sydney, Australia. His work has been featured in The Rumpus, Tharunka, and Beats Per Minute. Since 2012, he has run the Red Hot Chili Peppers Recording Session Archive – find it on the net, on twitter, and on facebook. One day, he hopes to write the definitive John Frusciante biography.

TopperPost #740

1 Comment

  1. David Lewis
    Feb 3, 2019

    The RHCP are a funny bad, as you state – those who hate them love to hate them – they rank somewhere above the (equally unfairly derided) Nickelback*. To me, they fall into that category of bands that have a great rhythm section, and a front person who doesn’t match up. Having said that, I’ve never seen them live, and I imagine Kiedis earns his place live.
    I think they’re at their best at a medium volume – a superb example is By The Way, which I think highlights their strengths and minimises their weaknesses.
    They have perhaps the best rhythm section in current rock with Flea and Chad Smith. So you’ll get no hate from me.
    *Nickelback may not be a great band or even a good one, but they’re not the awful noise their critics make them out to be. The Chili Peppers are a better band, for reasons discussed above.

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