The Red Hot Chili Peppers have been in our lives for a very, very long time. Like, an incredibly long time. In 2023, the band will celebrate its 40th anniversary and it is nothing short of amazing that they’re approaching such a milestone. No really, it’s kind of unbelievable when you consider the drug use, deaths and personnel changes the band has endured over the years. There’s also the fact that the band’s sound during their first decade was pretty narrow in scope- a bombastic, sun-soaked romp of metal-fused funk guided by Anthony Keidis’ vocals, which was mostly rapping, hooting, and hollering back then. There wasn’t much there to hint at any kind of long-term success or career longevity.
But alas, here we are.
On Friday, the band is to release Unlimited Love, their 12th studio album and first since 2016’s The Getaway. The real news is that it’s their first album with guitarist John Frusciante having returned, embarking on his third stint with the band after leaving for the second time in 2009. Frusciante famously had left in the early 90s while touring in support of the band’s breakthrough album Blood Sugar Sex Magik. He returned later in the decade, once again contributing to some of the band’s best material they’ve ever produced. With Frusciante back in the mix, it helps wash away some of the blandness that has hung heavily over the band in recent years and brings with it a renewed sense of promise and enthusiasm.
I’ve already ranked the band’s albums but with a new album coming out and some of the aforementioned vibe of renewal, I thought I’d rank their 20ish best songs. It’s worth noting that “Under the Bridge” is not included. Why? I don’t know, man. Maybe because I didn’t know where to put it. Maybe because I didn’t think it should be included. Maybe I thought to myself, ‘when was the last time I voluntarily listened to that song and that should matter because it’s been a minute.’ Or maybe it’s bits of all three of those things and whatever, it’s…wait for it…water under the bridge.
Let’s move on and get into it.
Optional musical accompaniment can be found here.
20. “Funky Monks” (1991)
Blood Sugar Sex Magik has a lot going on. I haven’t looked recently but I think there are something like 83 songs on it, give or take a couple. As the years have gone on, all that material means a solid, straight-forward track like “Funky Monks” kind of gets forgotten. But not anymore, right? “Funky Monks” is dope.
19. (tie) “Sick Love” (2016), “Wet Sand” (2006)
Let’s start with “Sick Love,” which is the only song released in the last decade-plus to make this list. If this list was the best 30 or 40 songs, that might be different but that’s neither here nor there. “Sick Love” makes the cut because it’s one of the few songs they’ve released sans Frusciante that has a Frusciante vibe to it, as well as a delightful little groove. It’s almost as if they unintentionally tried to run it back to their more prolific periods when writing the song. And as for “Wet Sand,” it’s peak anthem rock Chilis. My only issue with the song is that it’s not an album closer, which it should be.
18. “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes” (1984)
Early Chili Peppers and I’m talking pre-Mother’s Milk, is like taking a stroll down Las Vegas Boulevard for the first time- it’s a wild experience. You’re not totally sure what to think about it and that really never changes. It keeps you on your toes, just like early Chili tunes do.
17. “My Friends” (1995)
The Chili Peppers love to talk about how much they love each other. And that’s cool. Because of that context, a haunting and darkly atmospheric tune like “My Friends” hits that much harder. In the mid-nineties, the band was in a weird place and you have to wonder how much of the song is Anthony Kiedis talking to parts of himself and/or the other members of the band.
16. “Nobody Weird Like Me” (1989)
“Nobody Weird Like Me” takes off like a fucking rocket ship and perfectly mashes up the wild tendencies of the band’s early years with the rock-infused vibe they had started to embrace with the addition of both Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith, both of whom came on board before Mother’s Milk. This song is the musical equivalent of shotgunning a couple of Red Bulls and seeing where the day takes you.
15. “The Righteous & the Wicked” (1991)
Blood Sugar Sex Magik still holds up all these years later because of songs like “The Righteous & the Wicked,” a track that stomps along rhythmically underneath Frusicante’s buzzsaw guitar parts. This song could only work on Blood Sugar. On any other album, it would have felt like an alien but on Blood Sugar, it finds a cabal of like-minded freak shows.
14. (tie) “Warped” (1995,) “Behind The Sun” (1987)
Dave Navarro, who was brought in to replace Frusciante, reportedly couldn’t stand funk, something that made his hiring even that much stranger. I’m sure it made sense in some way though, given his Jane’s Addiction pedigree. But Navarro made the band darker and more sinister. Blood Sugar Sex Magik is by no means a light and fluffy album, but it sounds like effin’ rainbows and butterflies compared to One Hot Minute. Now, this isn’t all Navarro’s fault because again, the band as a whole was in a weird headspace at the time, so the mood shift was a group effort. It’s hard to imagine the fun-loving, tricksters who recorded the joyful romp “Behind The Sun” making “Warped” less than ten years later but here we are and there we were.
13. “Snow (Hey Oh)” (2006)
Did Stadium Arcadium need to be a double album? No. Nothing needs to be a double album if we’re being honest. You easily trim the album down to 14 songs and be no worse for the wear. That’s a tired argument though and you can’t knock the hustle. Similarly, you can’t knock the endless appeal of “Snow (Hey Oh,)” a song that has a happy bounce, as opposed to songs on Blood Sugar that had a determined bounce. Either way, the presence of any kind of bounce in a song is a plus in my book. The song also really showcases how far along Kiedis had come as a singer.
12. “Suck My Kiss” (1991)
“And I’m sailing” Kiedis wails before the music kicks in and given the rocky seas produced by the band, you have to wonder if Kiedis knows what sailing even is.
11. “Scar Tissue” (1999)
Ah yes, our first “shouldn’t this song be higher?” song. Maybe. But I also think 11, especially when you factor in this is the top 20 of all Chili Peppers’ songs, is still pretty damn high. It’s a beautiful, sparse, mature, and wonderfully simple song and I’ll never change the station when it comes on the radio. I also think 11 is the perfect spot and now I say good day, sir.
10. “Aeroplane” (1995)
“Aeroplane” is probably the most Chili Peppers-sounding song on One Hot Minute and if they could have put more songs like it together, perhaps the Navarro addition might have worked better. But he was always too rock for them and didn’t have the finesse in his playing they had become accustomed to since having Frusciante around. Maybe they just caught Navarro on a good day with this song and he was down to get a little funky with it. However it came to be, it’s a great song.
9. “Hard to Concentrate” (2006)
You know, when you really think about it, this song is really impressive. Broken down, it’s as busy as any other Chili Peppers’ song but you kind of can’t tell because of how restrained it feels. As per usual, Flea’s bassline is the anchor and my dude is putting in work on the song, but Frusciante and Smith seal the deal with their parts. Oh, and it’s lyrically super sweet. So in closing, very impressive, very busy but very restrained, very sweet. Thank you for listening.
8. “Give It Away” (1991)
This song is so damn good and so much flippin’ fun that these nuts murdered it when they pretended to play it during halftime of the Super Bowl and it still rocks. This song is a monster and not even public embarrassment and subsequent shame can stop it. That is also impressive.
7. tie “By The Way” (2002,) “Soul to Squeeze” (1993)
It’s another tie but this one is noteworthy because here’s the thing, “Soul to Squeeze” wasn’t originally included. I just left it out. Not sure why really. But then when looking back, it felt wrong to not include it, and then when really looking back, it felt wrong not to include it in the top 10. But at that point, I didn’t feel right bumping any of the songs in the top 10, and well, here we are. As a bonus, when doing “research” for this, I learned that Frusciante played guitar on “Soul to Squeeze,” which is something I always wondered about as the video only features Kiedis, Flea, and Smith. Frusciante had already bailed when they shot it. Oh and “By The Way” could easily be number one if I was doing this on another day.
6. “Me And My Friends” (1987)
Who is Bob? Kiedis sings about this Bob fella, a friend that “like the devil knows hell I know Bob well,” throughout the entire first verse. You could dismiss it as nothing, but then the next verse is about Hillel (Slovak, the band’s guitarist at the time) and the third verse is about Jacky (Irons, the band’s drummer at the time.) So that would leave Flea, but Flea’s real name is Michael, not Bob. Flea and Kiedis are long-time homies, so what gives, and WHO THE HELL IS BOB?
5. “Readymade” (2006)
I love this song so much. I love everything thing about it. I love the guitar part and the whirling dervish bass line and how the drumbeat flips after each time around the bend. I love the breakdown and I love to listen to this song while driving because it’s a fantastic driving song. I love that this song brings me back to a special time and place and I love that when I hear it, I want to immediately listen to it again.
4. “Knock Me Down” (1989)
“Knock Me Down” isn’t just a dynamic song as it’s a significant marker for the band, especially lyrically. Coming off of Slovak’s drug overdose and Kiedis’ own struggles with drugs, the song features Kiedis trying to reverse course and call out his destructive past behavior. The song also showed that they could do more than sing about having sex and doing drugs. They could uh, sing about the dangers of having sex and doing drugs, which is the same, but different. The song also features Frusciante on lead vocals, something that happened by accident but in the end, works for the best.
3. “Tell Me Baby” (2006)
Stadium Arcadium was almost three albums, so settle down when you complain about it being an over-stuffed double album. And who cares? The album was the culmination of the second Frusciante era and probably the song that best ties a bow on the whole period was “Tell Me Baby,” a wild and free burst of funk/rock goodness.
2. “Breaking the Girl” (1991)
Amidst the chaotic anarchy of Blood Sugar Sex Magik there’s the wonderfully melodic “Breaking the Girl.” Complete with a Led Zeppelin-esque 12-string guitar part and a mellotron and highlighted by a break in the action that features the band banging on shit they found in a junkyard, “Breaking the Girl” is truly one-of-a-kind. Much like with “Knock Me Down,” the lyrics feature Kiedis wrestling with past behavior and decisions, highlighting a hauntingly vulnerable song. They had never done something like it before and they haven’t since, probably for good reason.
1. “Can’t Stop” (2002)
“Can’t Stop” is the best of the old Chili Peppers and the best of the new Chili Peppers and is a marriage of their early funk/rock madness and the pop sensibilities Frusciante grew into and brought to the band during his second stint with them. Lyrically, it’s one of those songs where Kiedis’ vocals are more akin to another instrument, walloping out rhythms and sounds that feel more percussive than anything. He’s saying words and that’s cool. But it’s how he’s saying that adds to the song. “Can’t Stop” also features one of the best rock openings out there and you can see why it would become a staple of their live shows.
LOVE LOVE LOVE the Peppers! I was just thinking about them the other day!