The Red Hot Chili Peppers have an exceptional catalog complete with numerous hit anthems and cult classics.
Across a discography spanning nearly forty years, the L.A. quartet has not only a plethora of well-known singles but an extensive collection of mesmerizing album tracks and rarities to explore. Here are seven worth checking out.
Knock Me Down
“Knock Me Down” was released in 1989 as the second single from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ fourth studio album Mother’s Milk.
The track initially evolved from a jam session and mainly focuses on the negative representations of rock stars in the public eye. More specifically, the song is rumored to be inspired by Chili’s former guitarist Hillel Slovak, who tragically died of a heroin overdose in 1988.
This particular tune was a shift in style compared to some of the band’s other creations up to this point, with deeper connotations of suffering which contrasted the simplistic lyrics concerning sex and self-indulgence their fans had come to expect.
“Knock Me Down” has a soft, energetic vibe with a rhythmic groove and fantastic melodic chorus. Interestingly, its guitar riff is undeniably similar to the Rolling Stones song “Miss You.”
Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Featuring on the band’s 1991 iconic album of the same name (one of five Chili Pepper EPs to feature a song with an identical title to its album), the track “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” is arguably the heaviest offering on the record.
Reportedly penned by lead vocalist Antony Kiedis as an ode to his then-girlfriend, the lyrics are spiritually framed metaphors about sexual fantasy and lust.
Like much of the album’s sound, “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” has a thundering drumbeat slathered with a sleaze-filled funky bass line. Another highlight of its mix is the swirling and sensual guitar riff that seems to meander throughout.
Kiedis’ vocal performance on this song is fascinating. During the verses, he delivers a deep growl full of filth which bluntly contrasts the reckless and rocking swagger that bursts through in each chorus.
“Love Rollercoaster” often ‘flies under the radar’ of newcomers to the Chili Peppers’ history.
Because rather than appearing amongst any of their album tracklists, this tune actually surfaces as part of the soundtrack to 1996’s animated movie Beavis and Butthead Do America.
A fairly unknown entity to casual fans, it’s largely a cover of American Funk R&B group Ohio Players’ original from their 1975 album Honey. Cleverly reworked by Red Hot Chili Peppers, this number was the last single to feature ex-guitarist Dave Navarro and reached number one in the U.S.
Uncharacteristically for the Chilis, the song has a strong pop vibe and samples significant portions of its key melodies from the swinging original. However, it creatively embellishes the Ohio Players’ chart-topping hit with drummer Chad Smith’s typically earthy beats, Flea’s plucky bass, and a ‘choir style’ backing vocal.
A notable inclusion is Kiedis’ originally crafted lyrics, injected masterfully into the mix in his conventional rap styling.
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ seventh album Californication is a piece of contemporary genius and jam-packed full of innovative songs. Track eight, “Porcelain,” is no exception.
Inspired by a woman that he crossed paths with at a YMCA in downtown L.A, singer Kiedis hints at tales of a flawed heroine with no support to speak of and little money to her name.
Even the title itself, “Porcelain,” seems to convey the delicate fragility of the central character in question. The track is effective in stirring feelings of sadness and beauty in equal measure.
A poignant addition is the use of ‘vinyl fuzz’ throughout the mix; a subtle crackling noise adds a certain innocence to proceedings.
This recording also leans largely on Flea’s echoing bass notes and the wonderment of guitarist John Frusciante’s dreamy tinkering. A real favorite amongst the Chili’s harem is a cohesion between Kiedis’ and Frusciante’s voices as they synthesize with delicate harmonizing.
“Quixoticelixer” is a less-celebrated Chili Peppers’ song due to its understated release as a B-side from the band’s Californication sessions. The track sits amongst some of the most interesting songs from this very productive period.
The name of the song is cryptic in nature and in reality, its true meaning may remain somewhat of a secret. The title is likely a quirky combination of the term ‘quixotic’ and a play on the word ‘elixir.’
“Quixotic” refers to someone’s dream-like spirit and individuals who have a tendency to romanticize things to the extreme. Although simpler theories suggest the song is more of a reflection on being under the influence of illegal substances.
“Quixoticelixer” has a soft complexity. Its wall of high-pitched guitars provides a vibrant feel alongside contrasting mellow verses and upbeat chorus lines. A superb tempo shift towards the track’s conclusion is also both surprising and uplifting.
Released as a fourth single from the accomplished album By The Way, “Dosed” is both a brilliantly arranged and beautifully recorded song.
Frusciante and Flea can be heard honing different riffs on four separate guitars that are layered simultaneously at different points throughout the track. One recurring piece of genius is the lead guitar work, particularly stunning as the pluck of strings sounds can almost be mistaken for gorgeous piano runs.
Vocal performances on the track are also majestic: Kiedis’ and Frusciante’s melodic singing in soulful yet pristine harmony. The pair masterfully lay down purring, delicate and sweet tones over the top of an extremely memorable chorus.
Belonging to 2006’s rock epic Stadium Arcadium EP, the song “Wet Sand” is a true triumph.
Originally earmarked as the working title to one of Frusciante’s solo efforts, lead singer Kiedis is said to have adored the phrase so much that the guitarist was willing to forfeit his creation and humbly admitted that “it seemed more of a Chili Pepper Song” anyway.
Kiedis went on to explain that the song’s concept focused on a dysfunctional woman that he’d once fallen in love with.
The tune’s intro is especially classic. Its elegant strumming guitar is soon accompanied by basic bass flicks and a serene beatbox-style vocal.
“Wet Sand” is a slow burner, starting life as a somber rock ballad and ending in ecstasy. The pounding of keyboards and explosive drums help the song reach its crescendo, filled with screaming vocals and hypnotizing lead guitar work that finally implode to a dramatic end.
Photo: Red Hot Chili Peppers (Steve Eichner/Getty Images)
PS — While we’re on the topic of Rock History, you might enjoy our YouTube series of daily one-minute nuggets of memorable moments…