Red Hot Chili Peppers' Origins:
Red Hot Chili Peppers struggled through the ‘80s, but eventually became one of the most celebrated rock groups of the ‘90s and early 21st century. The band confronted tragedy, personnel changes and addiction, but their template of punk, funk and pop is as recognizable as any in contemporary rock. The band formed in the early ‘80s in Los Angeles, with Anthony Kiedis on vocals, Michael Balzary (later going by Flea) on bass, Hillel Slovak on guitar, and Jack Irons on drums. After initially calling themselves Tony Flow and the Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem, they changed their moniker to Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Lineup Changes and Early Struggles:
On the eve of recording their debut album, Slovak and Irons departed to concentrate on another band they were involved with. Lacking two of the group's core members, 1984’s The Red Hot Chili Peppers was an unpromising debut. Even when Slovak rejoined the group for the follow-up, 1985’s Freaky Styley, the band’s trademark meshing of different genres still felt unfocused. Like with their debut, Freaky Styley failed to garner much chart attention.
Getting Their Act Together:
Before work began on the band’s third album, Irons returned to the group. 1987’s The Uplift Mofo Party Plan
, the first to include all four original group members, started to solidify the sonic playbook Red Hot Chili Peppers would continue to explore throughout their career. A mixture of funk and rock, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan
offered a livelier, looser approach to ‘80s hard rock. And with their funky cover of Bob Dylan
’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” Anthony Kiedis started a RHCP tradition of goosing a classic rock staple with their trademark sound.
The Uplift Mofo Party Plan
had been more commercially successful than the group’s first two records, but there would be problems elsewhere in the group. Slovak, who had been suffering from drug addiction, died in 1988 of an overdose. Slovak’s death prompted the permanent departure of Irons, who would much later become the drummer for Pearl Jam
for a brief time. Once again, the band was in need of a guitarist and drummer.
Flirting With the Mainstream:
In preparation for the follow-up to The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, the band hired guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith, releasing Mother’s Milk in 1989. Mother’s Milk highlighted the sensual allure of the group’s funk and rock, even producing a hit on the mainstream rock charts with their cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground.” The album eventually went double platinum and set the stage for the band’s later worldwide success.
Finding Commercial and Creative 'Magik':
Signing to Warner Bros. records, Red Hot Chili Peppers recorded Blood Sugar Sex Magik
with respected producer Rick Rubin
. Released in ’91, the album trimmed away the indulgences of past RHCP albums, focusing the group’s many sonic influences into accessible rock songs. Blood Sugar Sex Magik
produced four singles that demonstrated the album’s range, from the pop ballad “Under the Bridge” to the funk rocker “Give It Away.” Kiedis rapped, sang and crooned on Blood Sugar Sex Magik
, displaying a real depth and vulnerability while remaining a horny, charismatic frontman.
A Revolving Door of Guitarists:
Sadly, although Blood Sugar Sex Magik was their biggest hit to that point, selling more than 7 million copies in the U.S., the band continued to have lineup problems. Frusciante left the group, resulting in former Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro filling the spot. 1995’s One Hot Minute emulated Blood Sugar’s ability to merge maturity and bad-boy attitude, although it lacked that album’s distinctive singles. Not as critically admired as Blood Sugar, One Hot Minute was nonetheless a sizable hit in its own right, helped by the acoustic ballad “My Friends.”
A Bid for Maturity:
By the time of their next album, 1999’s Californication, Navarro had left the group and Frusciante had returned. Viewed as a comeback after One Hot Minute, Californication deemphasized the band’s funk influences and instead leaned toward pop and rock. By this point, Red Hot Chili Peppers had a firm grasp on writing mid-tempo songs that sounded good on the radio, and Californication had two such winners in “Scar Tissue” and the title track. Whereas before the band celebrated their raucous lifestyles, Californication seemed to regard the hedonism with a twinge of sadness and regret.
Still Red Hot in the 21st Century:
With their lineup unchanged, Red Hot Chili Peppers have continued their win streak from the 1990s into the new century. 2002’s By the Way and 2006’s Stadium Arcadium adhered closely to Californication’s eclectic musicianship and introspective lyrics. Together, the two albums sold a combined 17 million copies worldwide. Not only was the band's commercial standing exceptionally high, Stadium Arcadium went on to earn six Grammy nominations, including one for Album of the Year.
'I'm With You':
By the time Red Hot Chili Peppers released their next album, 2011’s I’m With You
, a major personnel change had occurred. Longtime guitarist John Frusciante had left the band
, paving the way for new member Josh Klinghoffer
. In advance of I’m With You
’s release, the band unveiled the first single, “The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie.”
Flea - bass
Anthony Kiedis - lead vocals
Josh Klinghoffer - guitars
Chad Smith - drums
Essential Red Hot Chili Peppers:
Blood Sugar Sex Magik
Red Hot Chili Peppers’ first commercial blockbuster paved the way for the sound and thematic direction the band would take for the rest of their career. Much of the band’s best material seeks to find an equilibrium between the raucousness of youth and the wisdom of adulthood, and Blood Sugar Sex Magik
bounces, crashes and soars because of that internal tension.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Uplift Mofo Party Plan
Blood Sugar Sex Magik
One Hot Minute
By the Way
I’m With You