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Red Hot Chili Peppers

A pioneering hybrid fusion of funk, metal and punk, many have followed in the footsteps, but few have lasted the pace (and numerous personnel changes) of the platinum-selling RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS; groups such as FAITH NO MORE, JANE’S ADDICTION and even The BEASTIE BOYS and NO DOUBT owe them a great debt. Always an utterly compelling live proposition, the group’s hyperactive stage show was/is the stuff of legend, what with Kiedis’ manic athletics and Flea’s (possibly) JIMI HENDRIX-inspired upside down bass playing, hanging feet-up by a rope!!!
After four years as Anthem, the Chilis were formed (initially as Tony Flow & The Miraculously Majestic Masters of Mayhem) in Hollywood, California in 1983 by school friends Anthony Kiedis (aka vocalist Antwan The Swan), Israeli-born guitarist Hillel Slovak and bassist Michael Balzary (aka “Flea”); last in the door was drummer Jack Irons. Noted for their naked shows around the er.. Sunset Strip, and through word-of-mouth, this motley bunch of funky funsters were snapped up by E.M.I., inking the deal stark naked as part of a now famous publicity stunt; the exhibitionist streak was to be a mainstay of their early career, most famously on the cover for the `Abbey Road’ EP of ‘88, the lads wearing nought but one sock each, strategically placed (no prizes for guessing where!) in a send-up of the classic BEATLES’ album of the same name. With Irons and Slovak unfortunately still under contractual obligations to their own group, What Is This, guitarist Jack Sherman (ex-CAPTAIN BEEFHEART/MAGIC BAND) and drummer Cliff Martinez (ex-TEENAGE JESUS & THE JERKS) filled in on their eponymous Andy Gill (of GANG OF FOUR)-produced debut album, THE RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS (1984) {*5}, a promising start which introduced the band’s mutant funk-punk detachments. Taking their cue from the cream of 70s funk (obvious reference points were SLY & THE FAMILY STONE, JAMES BROWN, The METERS, etc.) and injecting it with a bit of L.A. hardcore mayhem, The Chili Peppers came up with such gonzoid grooves as `Get Up And Jump’ and `True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes’, although the most interesting tracks were the haunting `Grand Pappy Du Plenty’, a kind of pre-“Twin Peaks” slice of instrumental noir and a cover of HANK WILLIAMS’ `Why Don’t You Love Me’.
The GEORGE CLINTON-produced follow-up, FREAKY STYLEY (1985) {*7} – featuring the return of Slovak among guests Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley (of the FUNKADELIC and PARLIAMENT alumni) – sounded more cohesive, most impressively on the galvanising defiance of the hypnotic title track. Alongside fairly faithful covers of SLY & THE FAMILY STONE’s `If You Want Me To Stay’ and The METERS’ `Africa’ (re-titled `Hollywood (Africa)’), the group “got down” with their own groove thang on the likes of `Jungle Man’ and `American Ghost Dance’. `Catholic School Girls Rule’ and `Sex Rap’, meanwhile, left no doubt as to The Chili Peppers’ feminist-baiting agenda.
While these records were Stateside-only affairs, their manic reputation was beginning to reach across the Atlantic; THE UPLIFT MOFO PARTY PLAN (1987) {*7} introducing the band to a receptive UK audience. Tougher than their earlier releases, the record consolidated the group’s place at the forefront of the burgeoning funk-metal explosion, their brash, kaleidoscopic sound interjecting a bit of colour and excitement to Blighty’s rather dour rock scene. With Jack Irons back in the drum stool, the rapping Kiedis, Flea and Slovak were again raucous and sweaty on the likes of the almost anthemic, `Fight Like A Brave’, `Me & My Friends’, `Behind The Sun’ and `Backwoods’; the only cover here was a near unrecognisable take of DYLAN’s `Subterranean Homesick Blues’. Led by a version of JIMI HENDRIX’s `Fire’, the aforementioned “Abbey Road” EP, compiled party-ish tracks from their earlier sets.
The party was cut somewhat short, however, with the death of Slovak the following June; yet another victim of a heroin overdose. With Kiedis also a heroin addict at the time, Irons (who subsequently formed the band, Eleven) obviously didn’t like the way things were going and decided to bail out. Eventual replacements were found in guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith; the group throwing themselves into the recording of MOTHER’S MILK (1989) {*7}. Unfairly criticised in some quarters, the album contained some of RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS’ finest moments to date – they’d dropped their definitive article at this stage. The Hillel tribute, `Knock Me Down’, was an impassioned plea for sanity in the face of drugs hell, while the group enjoyed MTV exposure for the first time with the video. A brilliant, celebratory cover of STEVIE WONDER’s `Higher Ground’ also scored with MTV, easing the band slowly out of cultdom. `Taste The Pain’ was an uncharacteristically introspective song (by Chili standards anyhow), no doubt also borne of the band’s recent troubles and showing a newfound maturity in songwriting. The inclusion of `Fire’ was mystifying, although the work of JIMI HENDRIX (through B-side versions of `Castles Made Of Sand’ and `Crosstown Traffic’) remained outtakes and ones for live goers.
More trouble was to follow the band in April 1990, when Kiedis was given a 60-day jail sentence for sexual battery and indecent exposure to a female student (the following year, Flea and Smith were both charged with offences of a similar nature). As well as clearly possessing red hot libidos, by the early 90s the band had become red hot property following the release of the Rick Rubin-produced BLOOD SUGAR SEX MAGIK (1991) {*8}. Competing with the onset of grunge/NIRVANA, their first release for Warner Brothers, at last the band had fulfilled their potential over the course of a whole album, a feat that proved worthy as they hit the US Top 3. With another series of striking videos, the Chili Peppers almost scored a US No.1 with the aching ballad, `Under The Bridge’, while the body-jerk funk-rock of `Give It Away’ made the UK Top 10. Featuring other gems such as `Breaking The Girl’, `Suck My Kiss’ and the title track (the minute-long take of `They’re Red Hot’ was its ROBERT JOHNSON bookend), the band had finally come-of-age. A multi-million seller, the album catapulted the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS into the big league, the band subsequently securing a prestigious headlining slot on the 1992 Lollapalooza II tour; Frusciante had suffered from drug problems and was replaced by a series of guitarists from Zander Schloss, Arik Marshall and Jesse Tobias.
By the release of ONE HOT MINUTE (1995) {*6}, a transatlantic Top 5, Tobias had been replaced by Dave Navarro (ex-JANE’S ADDICTION), adding a new dimension to the band’s sound. For many, the set failed to emulate its predecessor’s peak achievements, although the dreamy `Walkabout’, `My Friends’ and to the japery of `Aeroplane’, all three becoming UK hit singles. While many of the group’s funk-rock contemporaries folded or fell by the wayside when that scene went out of fashion, RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS developed into one of America’s most entertaining and biggest selling alternative-rock acts through a combination of sheer hard work, talent and concrete self belief (and no doubt a hefty dose of copulating!).
Never the most stable of bands, rumours of a ‘Peppers split were rife in 1997, although they still managed to hit the UK Top 10 with their fantastic cover of The OHIO PLAYERS’ `Love Rollercoaster’ (straight from the Beavis & Butt-Head Do America movie).
With the returning Frusciante out from the bench to replace Navarro, the band were back with a bang on 1999’s CALIFORNICATION {*7}. Meanwhile, another stab at the singles chart paid off with a transatlantic Top 20 hit, `Scar Tissue’. Their trademark P-funk beat was back on show again, although it was down to memorable big hitters like `Around The World’, `Otherside’, `Road Trippin’’ (both softer ballads) and the classic title track (all UK Top 30 entries) to boost their hook, line and sinker CV.
The release of 2002’s BY THE WAY {*7}, saw the RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS proving themselves to be one of the few acts in popular music to carry off almost two decades’ worth of consistently wonderful music. Incredibly, the band still looked great, still sounded fresh and still had that edge of danger that almost all rock artists lose along with their figures as middle age looms. Granted, their hooks and melodies may be sounding that bit more wistful, and their words that bit more wise these days, but if that translates into songs as gorgeous as UK Top 3 title track single, growing old can only be a good thing; follow-on hits `The Zephyr Song’, `Can’t Stop’, `Universally Speaking’ and `Fortune Faded’ (the latter exclusive to a GREATEST HITS (2003) {*8} package, kept their fires a-burning. LIVE IN HYDE PARK (2004) {*6} was a concert document testifying to the band’s enduring popularity on British shores, a straight to No.1 record not even released in America.
The quartet’s global superstardom was such that they could record a sprawling double set, call it STADIUM ARCADIUM (2006) {*6} and fill it with the kind of ruminative pop that’s surfaced with increasing frequency as they’ve hit middle age. IGGY POP aside, Kiedis is still the most energetic 40-something in the business, but he finally sounded like he was tiring of the chipper-hop which kinetic-ised `Tell Me Baby’ (the second track to be lifted from the album), issuing the lower-gear `Dani California’ as a lead single instead, one that became the subject of speculation after some commentators pointed out its similarity to TOM PETTY’s `Mary Jane’s Last Dance’; the fact that it became the fastest selling in their career (US Top 10, UK No.2) suggested that slowing down didn’t mean turning off or tuning out. Kiedis even compared the album – their first transatlantic No.1, and first time they’d gone straight to the top of the US charts – to the band’s early-mid 80s releases. Yet it was difficult to divine that manic energy in the careworn balladry that filled most of the set’s grooves, even if the record did explore territory previously foreign to the Chilis – check out the spacey `If’ for example, a song that veered into film composer Frusciante-esque solo soundscapes.
Back from a sustained hiatus in which Chad Smith moonlighted with SAMMY HAGAR/JOE SATRIANI/Michael Anthony-vehicle CHICKENFOOT and Frusciante bailed out (he was superseded by Josh Klinghoffer), I’M WITH YOU (2011) {*5} got the Chilis cooking again. Centred on rock-rap ballads (`Brendan’s Death Song’ was dedicated to an early-80s venue entrepreneur) rather than their usual bombastic funk approach, many long-time followers were disappointed by their soft-touch/glam approach; example the MOTT THE HOOPLE-like `Even You Brutus?’ and the derivative `Look Around’.
Another five years down the line, a 70s-soulful and funk-flowing RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS returned to the fray with transatlantic Top 3 set, THE GETAWAY (2016) {*8}. Produced by DANGER MOUSE and engineered by RADIOHEAD associate Nigel Godrich, Kiedis and Co press-played on the heart-strings of their long-standing fanbase rather than shellin’ their cribs – with the exception of The STOOGES-via-FREE piece sweetie `Detroit’ (Josh in full flow). Ditto `This Ticonderoga’ and/or the heavenly hip-hop `Goodbye Angels’. Receiving mixed reviews from the NME et al (maybe the maturing opening title piece didn’t rock their boat), the dislocated disco of minor hit `Dark Necessities’ or the DAVID ESSEX/“Rock On” rip-off beats of `We Turn Red’, couldn’t quite transport all and sundry back to the sexy 70s. To prove this influence beyond any doubt, their ELTON JOHN (and Bernie Taupin) collaboration `Sick Love’, echoed their time in the dusty DeLorean, while the sounds of The ISLEY BROTHERS or The BROTHERS JOHNSON resonate over the album’s best bits, `The Longest Wave’ and `The Hunter’. Updating their moping mojo, the ‘Peppers relocate their sunny day drive-bys to the 80s for `Go Robot’.
On a footnote, RHCP have covered songs including:- `Search And Destroy’ (IGGY & THE STOOGES), `Suffragette City’ (DAVID BOWIE), `Tiny Dancer’ (ELTON JOHN), `Dr. Funkenstein’ (FUNKADELIC), `Teenager In Love’ (DION & THE BELMONTS), `I Feel Love’ (DONNA SUMMER), `Brandy’ (Looking Glass), `Right On Time’ (JOY DIVISION), `Black Cross’ (45 Grave), `Havana Affair’ (RAMONES), `Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere’ (NEIL YOUNG) and `I Get Around’ (The BEACH BOYS).
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD-BG/MCS // rev-up MCS Jun2012-Jun2016

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