Stop for a second to consider that Red Hot Chili Peppers have been making music for over 34 (!) years now. This is a band that has gone through numerous shifts in the music industry, multiple lineup changes, various evolutions in their sound/style, and have still somehow managed to remain one of the most popular rock bands of our time. Narrowing down their ten best songs was no easy feat; with 11 studio albums in their discography, we’ve tried to pick an equal selection from all the points in their massive catalog. Hold on to your (tube) socks – here we go!
1) “Skinny Sweaty Man” (Uplift Mofo Party Plan, 1987)
The first few albums in the band’s catalog are an absurd, playful, and overall inconsequential blur, but it’s not hard to understand how they were able to draw attention with a style that was all their own. “Skinny Sweaty Man” packs punk rock aggression and imaginatively cartoonish vocals into a decidedly funky and nonsensical jam that is seemingly over before it even started.
2) “Pretty Little Ditty” (Mother’s Milk, 1989)
“Pretty Little Ditty” is said to be the first song that then-new guitarist John Frusciante wrote with Flea, and its raw-sounding live feel offers an intriguing peek into the songwriting process that would soon propel the band out of the trenches of the LA music scene and into superstardom. Listeners with good ears will also note that a portion of this instrumental tune was later sampled as the primary part in the now-sort-of-cringeworthy Crazy Town 6x platinum single, “Butterfly.”
3) “Give It Away” (Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991)
If we’re being totally honest, you could easily make a top ten list of RHCP songs drawing only from Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The pinnacle of their career and the moment when they really unlocked the true potential of their sound (and coincidentally broke through to mainstream success), there’s no better example of their winning sound – from Flea’s over-the-top funk-inspired bassline to singer Anthony Kiedis’s stream-of-consciousness boisterous vocals – than that album’s lead single, “Give It Away.”
4) “Soul to Squeeze” (Coneheads OST, 1993)
Recorded during the Blood Sugar Sex Magik sessions, “Soul to Squeeze” didn’t see the light of day until it was included as a single from the soundtrack to the SNL-inspired Coneheads movie. The wistful tune not only showcases what was then an emerging, more melodic side of the band, but also could serve as a foreshadowing for the success they would find with ballads in the latter half of their career. If you’re not moved by Frusciante’s Hendrix-inspired guitar parts, you may not have a soul…to squeeze.
5) “Aeroplane” (One Hot Minute, 1996)
One Hot Minute may be the least-Peppers-sounding album in the band’s catalog, but single “Aeroplane” ironically revisits the funked-up sound of their earlier days with a heightened sense of songwriting that they lacked in the ’80s. And to be honest – can you think of any other rock radio hit that features a slap-bass solo?
6) “Scar Tissue” (Californication, 1999)
1999’s Californication found the band reunited with their former guitarist John Frusciante, a bit wiser after years of drug abuse and inner turmoil, and perhaps a bit more serious than they’d ever been. Fortunately what didn’t change was their ability to make great music, and the poignant-yet-peppy “Scar Tissue” unveiled a sense of melody in Kiedis’s voice that had been unexplored up to that point.
7) “By the Way” (By the Way, 2002)
The title track from their By the Way album is quintessential third-wave Chili Peppers: melodic, hard-hitting, funky, catchy, over-the-top, emotional, and introspective all at once. The sound of a band that had truly figured that whole “biggest band in the world” thing out.
8) “Strip My Mind” (Stadium Arcadium, 2006)
There are plenty of songs to choose from the band’s sprawling double album, but “Strip My Mind” best epitomizes their identity as a classic rock band in the most complimentary way. From the blazing guitar solo to Frusciante and Kiedis’s insistent melodies, this song is stripped down yet so huge-sounding at the same time.
9) “Brendan’s Death Song” (I’m With You, 2011)
After John Frusciante left the band for the second (and presumably final) time, the band found themselves unexpectedly cast into their fourth incarnation with new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer. The best in the new batch of songs they subsequently created was this largely-acoustic, sprawling ballad about death and the passage of time, proving that there were still some new tricks that this old dog could be taught.
10) “Dreams of a Samurai” (The Getaway, 2016)
Three decades ago, one couldn’t predict that the dudes wearing socks around their privates on stage while rapping Dr. Seuss lyrics would be around over thirty years later, let alone expanding their sound to include piano ballad/noise-alt-rock like “Death of a Samurai.” But much like the rest of their most recent album The Getaway, the song finds RHCP unafraid to explore new territory while still remaining true to the spirit they’ve always carried in their music. And so it’s not too far-fetched to predict that they’ll continue to crank out new music for several years to come…
There’s no shortage of Chili Peppers music on the Trebel Music app, where you can download all the songs you want to your phone for FREE!