Plus One

The 11 best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs

Why have a Top 10 when you can have one more? Here are our 11 favourite Red Hot Chili Peppers songs, ranked

Formed in Los Angeles in 1982, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are undeniably one of the world’s most decorated and recognisable rock bands. Made up of vocalist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, drummer Chad Smith and guitarist John Frusciante, RHCP are best known for their funk-rock sound, electric live performances and colossal back catalogue.

With a career that spans over forty years, RHCP have sold over 120 million records worldwide and their influence stretches far and wide. In fact, we’d argue that every person (yes, even you) has a RHCP album that’s soundtracked at least one formative life moment, from falling in love at parties to falling apart at the seams. They are the funky ghosts of past, present and future, and here’s eleven of their very best songs to get you reacquainted…

11. Pretty Little Ditty

(Mother’s Milk, 1989)

Crazy Town have a lot to answer for. Yes, before Shifty Shellshock and his merry band of tattooed men crashed into the noughties with ‘Butterfly’, that gorgeous guitar line belonged to ‘Pretty Little Ditty’, an eclectic instrumental jam from 1989’s Mother’s Milk. Fusing Fru’s dreamy strummed meanderings with Flea’s warm brass, its sweet simplicity has long been a fan favourite (and rightly so). 

10. Breaking The Girl

(Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991)

Written about Kiedis’s relationship struggles, this melodically shifting ballad was the fourth single to be released from RHCP’s seminal Blood Sugar Sex Magik. A testament to Rick Rubin’s expert production and a bittersweet lesson in heartbreak, ‘Breaking The Girl’ features Led Zep-inspired guitar riffs, a complex percussion bridge recorded using junkyard flotsam, and a haunting Mellotron flute line that (even after thirty years) can still scratch love’s old wounds.   

9. Californication

(Californication, 1999)

Californication was a life-changing album for the Chilis. Not only did it relaunch them back into the public consciousness and backdrop a million backpacker summers, it was the album that welcomed John Fru back into the fold. It also returned them to producer Rick Rubin, who helped the band navigate this nuanced, more spiritual take on their signature sound. ‘Californication’, still one of RHCP’s most-played live tracks, is a bittersweet rumination on pop culture and the souls that seek salvation in fame.

8. Suck My Kiss

(Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991)

A stomping sucker punch of a track, ‘Suck My Kiss’ is best heard very loud, and very, very live. The third single taken from Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the funk slap-dash of ‘Suck My Kiss’ is heightened by Kiedis’s exuberant youthfulness, his LA punk physicality commanding the song’s stage with the charged couplet “give to me sweet scared bliss, your mouth was made to suck my kiss.” It’s pompous, cocksure and simply marvellous.

7. Scar Tissue

(Californication, 1999)

‘Scar Tissue’ was the first single to be taken from Californication, and for many, it sounded like the band’s soul had fallen back to earth. Fragile, emotive and bookmarked with haunting slide guitar solos from the newly-returned John Fru, ‘Scar Tissue’ still glows like a warm summer memory. It also served as the title for Kiedis’s 2004 autobiography, which revealed the depth of his drug addiction and how he wasn’t fully clean when recording Californication – a truth that shocked a lot of RHCP fans at the time. However, the frontman’s courage in tackling themes of addiction, pain and in loss in songs such as ‘Scar Tissue’ have long-since surpassed this turbulent past. In fact, it’s Keidis’s vulnerability (in hindsight) that makes this track so damn powerful.

6. Can’t Stop

(By The Way, 2002)

The second stand-out track from eighth studio album By The Way (2002), ‘Can’t Stop’ feels like a return to RHCP’s funk form. Multi-layered and full of sensuous musical texture, the track features everything from handclaps, harmonies and, of course, that wailing Fru guitar solo (accompanied in the video by a slow-mo release of what look like pink, fluffy marshmallows). It later transpired that, despite its commercial success, By The Way very nearly derailed the band. Frusciante’s command of both the guitar and bass ensembles (rather than it being a collaborative effort) left Flea feeling like he had “nothing to offer” and the charismatic bassist almost left the band as a result. Thankfully, this never happened. Because let’s face it, there’s no RHCP without Flea.

5. I Could Have Lied

(Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991)

The song that feels like having your actual heart ripped in two, ‘I Could Have Lied’ was reportedly written after Kiedis was left “shattered” by a romantic entanglement with the late Sinead O’Connor. Kiedis has frequently used his love life as subject matter for RHCP songs, but ‘I Could Have Lied’ takes this lived experience to a whole new level. Inspired by Hendrix’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’ and encouraged by Fru to probe this new level of heartbreak, Kiedis went on to pull one of the greatest, most devastating love songs ever recorded out from the cracks. Shimmering with emotional intensity and soaring guitar laments for the fleetingness of unrequited love, it’s still impossible not to feel moved by this track thirty years on.   

4. Otherside

(Californication, 1999)

While Californication was probably RHCP’s biggest commercial success, the album was spiked with sadness. ‘Otherside’ is the perfect example of how these worlds collide. Again, after it was revealed much later that Kiedis was still trying to manage his drug addiction during the recording of Californication, ‘Otherside’ has fast-become one of the band’s most lauded songs. Under the mercurial composition there’s a frank depiction of recovery and the threat of relapse – “Pour my life into a paper cup, the ashtray’s full and I’m spillin’ my guts, she wanna know am I still a slut? I’ve got to take it on the other side”.

3. Under The Bridge

(Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991)

A mournful ode to Kiedis’s sobriety, loneliness and addiction, ‘Under The Bridge’ was arguably the first RHCP track that allowed the frontman space to face his demons. What started out as a poem (producer Rick Rubin reportedly found the lyrics scribbled in Kiedis’s notebook and encouraged him to share them with the rest of the band) became a commercial hit, and an integral part of the 90s alt-rock scene. Raw yet tenderly arranged, the track’s stark beauty tiptoes through quiet rooms to settle somewhere between feelings of sadness and joyful hope. 

2. By The Way

(By The Way, 2002)

The title track from By The Way is pure celebration. Each component: Flea’s thumping f*cking bass, Smith’s beats, Fru’s shaman-like ability to simultaneously jangle and scuzz (and those harmonies, those harmonies, gah), and then there’s Keidis’s voice, delicate yet loaded with LA swagger. It’s a culmination of talent and experience, tragedy and transformation. This is the RHCP acutely aware that they’re at the top of their game, and it sounds like perfection.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

1. Give It Away

(Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991)

If you could call to mind one track that truly defines the RHCP’s signature slap-funk sound, ‘Give It Away’ would 100% be it. From Flea’s sliding bass drops to Keidis’s circumlocutory punch-gut lyrics (over accentuated and sounding like complete nonsense, although it’s been reported that inspiration came from a conversation the frontman had with Nina Hagen), Fru’s psych-out guitars and Smith’s rhythmic commitment to keeping sh*t moving, this is a band at the very top of their game. Fearless, on the cusp of greatness, while simultaneously carving out a RHCP-shaped niche for themselves, ‘Give It Away’ is the fabric, the encore, and the DNA of this band’s beating heart.

Red Hot Chili Peppers play London and Glasgow on the 21 and 23 July, with tickets still remaining for both dates here.