Red Hot Chili Peppers: Chuck’s favourite tracks
This list includes songs from the debut album till Unlimited Love (2022). It will be updated once Return of the Dream Canteen (also 2022!) is released in October.
Love ’em or hate ’em, there are two things you cannot deny the California quartet: their longevity and their uniqueness. Close to four decades of cranking out a sound that cannot be mistaken for anyone else is reason enough for them to be certified legends (which they are, with a Hall of Fame induction and Hollywood Star).
Different people might like different aspects of the Peppers: Some just love the funk and groove. Some love their clever songwriting and irrepressible melodies. Some perhaps like their persona and antics. Some might like the lyrics — for better or worse. Many are bowled over by their insane live performances. Snobs might appreciate the sublime work of two of rock’s greatest instrumentalists — bassist Flea and guitarist John Frusciante. Certainly, there’s lots to dislike too (the innuendos, the compressed sound, YMMV antics, repetitive bits, and some truly awful songs), but consider this: this is a rock band from the early 1980s whose most recent album tilted the scales at 17 songs, the least-listened to having a whopping 4.9M Spotify spins. This band is not just highly relevant in an age when rock is apparently dead, it keeps putting itself out there and far from many legacy acts, it sounds like it still has creative juice in the tank.
I’ve always been an on-and-off listener and thought it’s about time I dove deep into their discography: chronological, B-sides, everything. Here’s my list of favourites with a line each about my top 20.
A few notes, though, before we begin:
- Annoyingly, streaming platforms don’t have some B-sides, so for a more comprehensive list, check out the YouTube link.
- I’m a sucker for melody, so my picks should reflect that. RHCP does vocal harmonies really well, I think.
- There are always some “fan favourites” I’m not all that hot for. In this case it’s Suck My Kiss, Sir Psycho Sexy and The Zephyr Song. I always say — these playlists reflect my favourites, and not necessarily the most essential or famous (there are enough playlists for that, I think!).
- I’ve read many times the best way to experience RHCP in their full wacky glory is live, and the 2003 Slane Castle gig seems to be the most legendary of the lot. It helps that in live shows, guitarist Frusciante (and briefly, Josh Klinghoffer) really let loose.
- Really, my complaint with several RHCP songs is that the guitar solos aren’t longer. So many in my top 10 would have been all-time masterpieces if they let Frusciante go on for a while more.
- Despite questionable production quality at times, the songs are a delight to listen to on good headphones.
- While Flea’s place in rock’s pantheon as one of the greatest bassists of all time should never be in question, it’s worth listening to John Frusciante who to my mind is the soul of the band. It’s not just his lead work — he’s a really good rhythm guitarist and his choice of tone / patch is top-notch.
- Finally, at their best, RHCP just sound like they’re having fun. With all due respect to Hilel Slovak, Jack Irons and Josh K — the foursome of Keidis, Smith, Frusciante and Flea are the definitive lineup, and friends who are in love with what they do. Listening to RHCP is simply delightful.
And like a Kerrang piece about the band said, “and if you don’t like it you can go ding dang dong dong ding dang dong dong ding dang…”
The Top 20
Californication: I know it’s a common topper, and for good reason. That intro, those cryptic lyrics, that solo, the subtle organ work, the cool video, and the dark-yet-playful mood. I was blown away when I realised the intro was played by guitar AND bass, and not just guitar. Bonus- have you heard this demo version?
Snow (Hey Oh): Such an uplifting song with lots packed in. Highlights are a great JF arpeggio and vocal harmony. A solo short of a true masterpiece.
Under The Bridge: The song that transformed the Peppers from eccentric funkers to ‘destined for mainstream success’. There’s lots to appreciate even if you’ve heard it hundreds of times before — Frusciante’s rhythm playing, Flea’s sublime lines, a drum entry that is nothing short of iconic… And that choir. Beautiful. I consider this to RHCP what Fade To Black was to Metallica.
Tell Me Baby: Flea delivers some of his best work and Kiedis pulls off three different styles of singing with some clever lyrics. Despite the sobering song message, it’s sheer fun.
Dani California: I mean, this is ‘hit’ from the word go. JF’s choice of tone from wah to fuzz to overdrive is *mwah*. Terrific if unfairly short outro.
Parallel Universe: Great galloping buildup. RHCP are so good at this, resolving with a gloriously satisfying chorus (that’s only ruined by badly compressed production). The studio version has a minute of JF brilliance with solos coming in and out — meaning the live versions have even more.
Here Ever After: Off their 2022 release, Unlimited Love, the Peppers show they still have it in them. They sound rejuvenated — every member shines, none more so than warhorse Flea and his cute bass licks. It’s a really interesting melody and chorus. Top, top track.
Turn It Again: Stadium Arcadium has some obvious hits and then some gems like this (4 of my top 8 are from the album!). While the guitar really shines here, Keidis pulls off a really cool melody. This chorus must rank as among their best. This album was probably JF at his finest — and they really let him loose on this track with the multiple solos dubbed on top of each other.
Can’t Stop: This is a great example of how the Peppers channel their funk roots, transitioning into a glorious melodic chorus. This has all the elements of a great RHCP song: backing vox, tight rhythms, tasteful tempo changes… This would be the ideal song to introduce someone to the band.
Dark Necessities: The best song from the Josh Klinghoffer era, it features a neat solo from him too. But the hero here really is Flea’s bassplaying that drives the song, and a superb chorus.
Road Trippin’: A great example of what the band can do stripped-down, driven by an acoustic guitar and some keys. All about that vocal melody and harmony.
Black Summer: The first single of their first 2022 album, it’s nothing extraordinary but just the RHCP basics, all done well. Significant since it’s the first release since the beloved Frusciante re-returned (fans will not be disappointed). Like a comforting familiar bowl of soup, this.
This Is The Place: Another killer chorus amidst very good instrument tone choices.
I Could Have Lied: RHCP’s softer side really sets them apart and shows what good musicians they are, especially in their era when most songs were about Kiedis’ prowess. Frusciante is dripping with creativity — throwaway guitar parts and two of his finest solos.
By The Way: A track that picks up and how. A fine showcase for AK’s rapping, seguing into one of their best choruses. Keep an ear out for that harmony!
Around The World: This is such a fun, nuts song — as should be evident from that iconic fuzz bass intro. Keidis is in his own trip and somehow Flea lays the groundwork. A track of a band aware they can get away with anything.
Minor Thing: I’m keeping this here just for John fucking Frusciante and his guitar tone. Those two solos — could keep listening to them for ever.
Otherside: Another of those broody songs RHCP has gotten so good at. The gradual buildup and restraint make the song, but I ain’t that much a fan of the bridge.
Goodbye Angels: Some silly (ayo ayo), some brilliance (“say goodbye” melody)… But then that’s the Peppers tradeoff for you. Magnificent outro by Josh.
Stadium Arcadium: Much of the usual to love here (chorus, harmony) but I’m going to pick a Knopfler-like solo by Frusciante at 2:53 to be the star of this show.
Other highlights I keep coming back to:
- The backing vocals in If You Want Me To Stay
- The flamenco feel of Cabron
- The outro solo in Wet Sand
- The mix of fast-paced rock and horns in Torture Me
- The heart-wrenching chorus of Love Of Your Life
- The yummy intro of Venice Queen
- The outro of Look Around
- General funkiness of The Power Of Equality
- The 8-minute trippiness of In Love Dying
- “Your Lo-oh-oh-oh-ove” in Especially In Michigan
- And yes, those are pots and pans in Breaking The Girl
As always, my disclaimers stand: This is MY personal favourite list. It should act as a good entry point into RHCP for newbies, and a way to discover hidden gems for those familiar with them. This is NOT a list of essentials so please don’t ask why X song is not there or how I could be stupid enough to rank A ahead of B.
If you prefer listening to whole albums, their breakthrough Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the fan-favourite Californication and the something-for-everyone Stadium Arcadium are all great places to begin.