In the beginning the word was Red Hot Chili Peppers with the accent on red-hot. They began life as a psychedelicised hard rock troupe with plenty of funk and hip-hop grooves to call on. Founding members Anthony Kiedis (vocals and lyrics), super bassist Michael ‘Flea’ Balzary, drummer Jack Irons and guitarist Hillel Slovak emerged from a schoolmate’s thing at Fairfax High – in those days they were rapping and rocking and performing improvised live sets that soon won them a following outside the school hall. In 1983 their reputation was so word-of-mouth that they signed an unprecedented seven-album deal - with Slovak and Irons making way for Cliff Martinez and Jack ‘Jewfro’ Sherman. Their debut album, The Red Hot Chili Peppers (1984) produced by Gang of Four’s guitarist Andy Gill in Hollywood nailed down a brand of funk rock and rap that became the blueprint for the next few years. Writers and hard-core rockers loved the album’s dense textures and atmospheric vocals and the Chili Peppers built a strong college and FM radio basis. Outstanding cuts like ‘True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes’, ‘Get Up and Jump’ and a weird enough cover of Hank Williams’ ‘Why Don’t You Love Me’ ensured the album won raves and this item has long been regarded as a well kept secret amongst the fan base, who would also have noted that Gwen Dickey from ‘70s soul disco outfit Rose Royce provided backing vocals on the haunting ‘Mommy, Where’s Daddy?’
1985’s equally punchy Freaky Styley captured the mood of the decade with a fierce amalgam of white rock riffs and in the groove soul funk, all of it expertly overseen by none other than George Clinton of Parliament- Funkadelic fame – a pretty inspired choice considering the RHCP’s propensity to take their sound out to the edge. The core fans were also thrilled to find that Slovak returned to chop his guitar antics into a rhythmic mash up. It was and is a unique blend of styles, aided by copious amounts of Clinton’s tall tales and his alchemical approach to recording. Made in Detroit, Freaky Styley, is a down and dirty disc enlivened by the controversial ‘Catholic School Girls Rule’ and the band’s fiendish reworking of a Meters strut now named ‘Hollywood (Africa)’. Adding a blowsy New Orleans flavoured coating to their West Coast thrust did the Peppers no harm, nor did the addition of high class horn parts from Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, while Clinton used his clout to persuade Gary Shyder and Andrew Williams to add a vintage sheen to the modernist mood. The Meters themselves also turned up for their showpiece as did Sly Stone, composer of ‘If You Want Me To Stay’ (listen to the original on Sly and the Family Stone’s epic Fresh album).
The sound so thick it stuck to the ribs and having a live intensity to match took a toll on various band members but The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987) didn’t suffer since various band changes enabled the original group to convene on an album that tricks reggae grooves into a molten heavy metal melange and this became their first Gold seller. Often reckoned by the band members to be the rockingest thing they’ve done, it is certainly a wildly eccentric garage grinder. They cover Bob Dylan’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and remove all the folk to replace it with sparse funk. The overall tone of the album deals with band tensions, life in Los Angeles and sexuality, but if tracks like ‘Love Trilogy’ aren’t for the faint hearted, so much the better for those with stronger constitutions. Other highlights are regular live faves – ‘Me & My Friends’ and ‘Behind the Sun’.
After wowing everyone with their The Abbey Road E.P (where they infamously march across the zebra crossing made famous by The Beatles naked save for strategically placed socks) RHCP were devastated by the death of Slovak and the departure of Irons but regrouped again by adding guitarist John Frusciante (a Slovak devotee) and drummer Chad Smith. Producer Michael Beinhorn maintained his insistence on alternative heavy rock with a commercial edge and finally there was pay dirt thanks to ‘Higher Ground’, ‘Knock Me Down’ and ‘Taste the Pain’ which helped establish the group as festival killers and won them admiration for their unstintingly honest approach to being in a hard living rock act with all the hedonism and tragedy that might prevail. They also nailed their colours to the soul and psych mast with exhilarating versions of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ and Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Fire’, ambitious choices both but an indication of their actual prowess as players when heard. No good tackling this kind of thing if you don’t have the guts and ability to carry the conceit off - but they do and did. This album is also notable for the immaculate array of backing singers who lend a spiritual touch to even the most claustrophobically warped numbers. It’s all punk rock classics though and when experienced in remastered mode it’ll knock your sox off. Even the sweetly acoustic ‘Pretty Little Ditty’ sounds like nobody else on earth. This is the album where the Chili Peppers silence all the doubters and turn their groove into golden currency.
Just before superstardom beckons our charges away we’d like to point you in the direction of What Hits? where classic tracks from the fab first four albums are augmented by the huge single hit ‘Under the Bridge’ from the runaway smash Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and the rare ‘Show Me Your Soul’ as used in the soundtrack to Pretty Woman.
Our other compilation is the excellent Out in L.A. (1994) where rarities abound as do demos, alternative versions and some fine live numbers – check their version of ‘Castles Made of Sand’, the Thelonius Monk homage ’F.U.’ and the outtake ‘Blues for Meister’ where the esteemed Flea steps up to the microphone.
All taken this is a heavy heady mix but seeing as how the Red Hot Chili Peppers ascent has been nothing short of miraculous – remember that they dragged audiences into their way of thinking rather than pander to prevailing trends - it’s all we’ve come to expect from this sublime exemplar of Californication. Take it to the bridge, Pepper boys.
Words: Max Bell
The Red Hot Chili Peppers is the debut studio album by American funk rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, released on August 10, 1984 on EMI America Records. The album was produced by Gang of Four guitarist Andy Gill, and is the only album to feature guitarist Jack Sherman.
Freaky Styley is the second studio album by American rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, released on August 16, 1985 on EMI America. The album name holds its origins in a commonly used phrase in the 80s to describe anything as being "freaky styley". Freaky Styley marks founding guitarist Hillel Slovak's studio album debut, following his return to the band earlier in the year. The album is also the last to feature drummer Cliff Martinez. Freaky Styley was produced by George Clinton, of Parliament-Funkadelic.
The Uplift Mofo Party Plan is the third studio album by American rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, released on September 29, 1987 on EMI America Records. Due to prior obligations resulting in temporary personnel changes following the band's formation in 1983, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan is the only studio album to feature all four founding members of the band on every single track: vocalist Anthony Kiedis, bassist Flea, guitarist Hillel Slovak, and drummer Jack Irons.
The record features the band's signature funk rock musical style, but also draws influences from reggae and heavy metal. For the album, the Red Hot Chili Peppers recruited new producer Michael Beinhorn, who encouraged the members to expand their musical horizons in order to create a more diverse work. The recording process was difficult due to Kiedis' drug addiction; however, the band was ultimately content with its work on Uplift. Flea later referred to the album as "the 'rockingest' record" the band has ever made.
The album was more successful than its predecessors both critically and commercially, and was the band's first album to enter the Billboard 200, where it charted at number 148. Although Uplift's follow-up Mother's Milk would reach Gold first, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan would go on to become the band's earliest effort to do so. Following the tour to promote the album, Slovak died of a heroin overdose and shortly after, Irons decided to quit the band, unable to cope with his friend's death.
Mother's Milk is the fourth studio album by the American rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers, released on August 16, 1989, on EMI America Records. After the death of founding guitarist Hillel Slovak and subsequent departure of drummer Jack Irons, vocalist Anthony Kiedis and bassist Flea regrouped with the addition of guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith. Frusciante's influence altered the band's sound by placing more emphasis on melody than rhythm, which had dominated the band's previous material. Returning producer Michael Beinhorn favored heavy metal guitar riffs as well as overdubbing that was perceived by Frusciante as excessive, and as a result Beinhorn and Frusciante constantly fought over the album's guitar sound.
The record was a greater commercial success than any of the Chili Peppers' three previous studio albums. Mother's Milk peaked at number 52 on the Billboard 200 and received widespread recognition for singles "Knock Me Down" and the Stevie Wonder cover "Higher Ground". The album became their first gold record in early 1990, and was the first step for the band in achieving international success. Although the record was not met with the same positive critical reception that its predecessor The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987) had garnered, Mother's Milk, according to Amy Hanson of Allmusic, "turned the tide and transformed the band from underground funk-rocking rappers to mainstream bad boys with seemingly very little effort". Mother's Milk would eventually go platinum.
What Hits!? is a "best-of" compilation album by Red Hot Chili Peppers, released on September 29, 1992 by EMI. The album contains tracks from the band's first four albums as well as "Under the Bridge" from their fifth album, 1991's hit Blood Sugar Sex Magik and the Pretty Woman soundtrack contribution/Taste The Pain B side "Show Me Your Soul".