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Best Red Hot Chili Peppers Songs: 20 LA Punk-Funk Classics
List & Guides

Best Red Hot Chili Peppers Songs: 20 LA Punk-Funk Classics

The best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs show how rock’s funkiest monks have kept faith with their vow to continue making seminal music

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Red Hot Chili Peppers’ backstory has all the ingredients for a blockbuster movie that could only be made in the band’s beloved Hollywood. The script begins with our heroes trapped in a wilderness of cult status, during which time they endure the death of a key band member; yet they emerge in triumph, go on to take their place among the best 90s musicians and then enjoy prolonged superstar status. Crucially, while all this unfolds, they alchemise a singular original sound, drawing upon funk, punk, rap and rock as they assemble a seminal catalogue of music – ensuring that when it comes to soundtracking a box-office smash, the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs have all angles covered.

Listen to the best of Red Hot Chili Peppers here, and check out our best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs, below

20: True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes (from ‘The Red Hot Chili Peppers’, 1984)

With contractual issues with their other band, What Is This?, preventing original guitarist Hillel Slovak and drummer Jack Irons from appearing on the record, Red Hot Chili Peppers’ self-titled debut album was generally regarded as something of a compromise. Though they were big Gang Of Four fans, Flea and Anthony Kiedis didn’t get on with producer and GO4 guitarist Andy Gill, and they were still bedding in guitarist Jack Sherman and drummer Cliff Martinez while the album was recorded.

Despite the travails, The Red Hot Chili Peppers still had its highs, including the band’s firstly fully-realised classic, True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes. Chili Peppers biographer Dave Thompson later suggested this dark, tribal workout, which deals with the just-for-kicks craze for culling wild dogs in the Hollywood Hills, “ripped out of the speakers with the same animal passion as the beasts in the song”. One of the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs, its bite still draws blood today.

19: Hollywood (Africa) (from ‘Freaky Styley’, 1985)

With Hillel Slovak back in the fold, the Chili Peppers skilfully blended their highly original punk-funk sound on their second album, Freaky Styley. As the record was helmed by influential Parliament-Funkadelic leader George Clinton, the emphasis was inevitably placed on the funk part of the equation, with the album’s best moments including a blissful cover of Sly And The Family Stone’s If You Want Me To Stay and an infectious reworking of Africa – fittingly retitled Hollywood (Africa) – by New Orleans funkateers The Meters. Pepped up by stabs of brass and accentuated by Slovak’s scratchy guitar, the latter song rode a monster groove which still has the talent to seduce.

18: Tippa My Tongue (from ‘Return Of The Dream Canteen’, 2022)

2022 was an auspicious year for Chili Peppers devotees. Not only had guitarist John Frusciante rejoined the band, but his return was celebrated with not one, but two bountiful double albums, Unlimited Love and Return Of The Dream Canteen. Both were bursting at the seams with excellent tracks, but the latter’s seemingly effortless opener, Tippa My Tongue, quickly announced itself as one of the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. Featuring a kiss-off line (“We’ve only just begun/Funky monks are on the run”) that felt like a reaffirmation of faith, the song found the band back on familiar funky ground, yet sounding fresher than ever.

17: Fight Like A Brave (from ‘The Uplift Mofo Party Plan’, 1987)

A pivotal record in the Chili Peppers’ canon, the group’s third album, The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, was the one they’d been trying to capture ever since they’d first exploded out of Los Angeles, in 1982. Still a riot to behold, The Uplift Mofo… took the band to the cusp of a mainstream breakthrough, but it has added poignancy as it’s the only full-length album the original Chili Peppers’ line-up made before Hillel Slovak’s death, from a drug overdose, in June 1988. Inspired by Anthony Kiedis’ desire to address his own drug-related issues, the album’s tremendous opening track, Fight Like A Brave, was a radio-friendly rock anthem, and its lyrics (“No one can tell you that you’ve got to be afraid!”) still send a powerful message of solidarity to those facing peril in their personal lives.

16: Black Summer (from ‘Unlimited Love’, 2022)

The long-awaited follow-up to 2016’s The Getaway, 2022’s Unlimited Love rode in on especially heightened anticipation, due to the return of the Chili Peppers’ prodigal guitarist John Frusciante. It didn’t disappoint, either: Frusciante played with his customary fluidity, and his bandmates performed with all the zeal of a group confident that they’d struck gold all over again. From the off, its mellow yet robust opening song, Black Summer, sounded like a classic-in-waiting. As Vulture succinctly put it: “Black Summer is everything you’d want with a Chilis joint – ethereal riffs noodling along, wonderfully nonsensical lyrics, and a music video that has Anthony Kiedis disrobing at the midway point.”

15: Dark Necessities (From ‘The Getaway’, 2016)

The Chili Peppers broke with tradition on their 11th album, The Getaway, by choosing to work with Danger Mouse instead of their long-time producer/associate Rick Rubin. Ever a hip name to drop, Danger Mouse (aka Brian Burton) has an impressive CV, both as a musician (with soul duo Gnarls Barkley) and as the producer of key releases by genre-spanning artists as diverse as Gorillaz, The Black Keys and Norah Jones, and he discovered that the Chili Peppers were just as open to influences from across the board. Framed with hip-hop beats and housey piano breaks, and infused with an irresistibly soulful chorus, The Getaway’s lead single, Dark Necessities, showed that Danger Mouse had broadened the Peppers’ palette without sacrificing their core values. It remains one of he most satisfyingly mature entries among the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs.

14: Snow (Hey Oh) (from ‘Stadium Arcadium’, 2006)

The sustained multi-platinum success of the Californication and By The Way albums delivered Anthony Kiedis and co onto the stages of the world’s biggest arenas early in the 21st century, and the group’s next album, Stadium Arcadium, acknowledged their new-found superstar status. Yet while the record’s title and contents (a whopping 28 tracks spread across two discs) suggested something grandiose, much of the music ranked among the Chili Peppers’ most lean and accessible to date. Arguably the finest of the Billboard chart-topping record’s quintet of singles, the lush Snow (Hey Oh) continued in the vein of the softer, yet infinitely melodic style of songwriting the band patented on Californication, and it can still melt the hardest of hearts.

13: Aeroplane (from ‘One Hot Minute’, 1995)

Having hit the big time with Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Chili Peppers seemingly had the world at their feet, but they were forced to regroup after an increasingly disaffected John Frusciante quit in 1992. After a series of short-term replacements failed to work out, the band drafted in Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, who brought with him a schooling in classic rock and psychedelia. Navarro shifted the band’s dynamic during his five-year tenure with the group, and One Hot Minute, his lone album as a Chili Pepper, was darker and harsher than anything the group had released to date. The standout among its three hits, the gloriously catchy Aeroplane remains one of the poppiest moments among the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs.

12: Higher Ground (from ‘Mother’s Milk’, 1989)

The Chili Peppers recorded an enthusiastic cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Fire for 1988’s The Abbey Road EP, and the song later made its way onto their fourth album, Mother’s Milk, in tribute to their fallen comrade, Hillel Slovak. That same album saw the band hailing another of their heroes, Stevie Wonder, with a notably more substantial reworking of his Innervisions classic Higher Ground. Though opening with some gravity-defying bass playing from Flea, the Chili Peppers’ take on Higher Ground also indulged their love of heavy metal, with the song driven along by John Frusciante’s thunderous riffing and Chad Smith’s no-nonsense drumming. Thanks to the band’s super-intuitive playing, however, the bombast never obliterates the absolute mother of a groove the song rides throughout. The final coda’s hardcore sprint to the finish line feels breathlessly apt.

11: Soul To Squeeze (from ‘Coneheads (Music From The Motion Picture Soundtrack)’, 1993)

Those who fell in love with Kiedis and co’s signature hit, Under The Bridge, will have been thrilled to discover another of the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs on the single’s flipside. Recorded during the Blood Sugar Sex Magik sessions, the excellent Soul To Squeeze remains a pop song of a similarly high calibre, featuring one of Kiedis’ most intimate, close-miked vocals and a gloriously restrained performance from his bandmates. The song was simply too good to languish as a B-side and it enjoyed well-earned mainstream success as a standalone US Top 30 hit in 1993, after featuring on the soundtrack to Steve Barron’s sci-fi comedy, Coneheads.

10: Breaking The Girl (from ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’, 1991)

Though less commercially successful than its predecessors Under The Bridge and Give It Away, Breaking The Girl holds its own among the best Red Hot Chili Peppers’ songs. A turbulent ballad concerning Anthony Kiedis’ stormy relationship with his then girlfriend Carmen Hawk, its adventurous musical backdrop was inspired by similarly stormy Led Zeppelin ballads such as Friends, and it was embellished by strident 12-string acoustic guitar and a floaty Mellotron part akin to The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever. Breaking The Girl is also one of very few Chili Peppers songs performed in 6/8 time (a tempo the band recently revived on Tangelo, from Unlimited Love), and its elusive, psych-tinged beauty stubbornly refuses to fade.

9: By The Way (from ‘By The Way’, 2002)

Having delivered some of the best 90s songs in the shape of the mega-hits Under The Bridge and Californication, the Chili Peppers proved they could write poignant yet anthemic rock songs with a universal appeal. They explored the formula to a greater extent on 2002’s By The Way: an album almost devoid of their signature punk-funk stylings which nonetheless moved around eight million copies and cemented the LA quartet’s reputation as one of the world’s biggest bands. By The Way remains a consistently fine listen, though its moody, driving title track always had something special, ensuring it still ranks among the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs to this day.

8: Knock Me Down (from ‘Mother’s Milk’, 1989)

The first Chili Peppers album to feature John Frusciante and Chad Smith, Mother’s Milk was the bridging point between the band’s early years as cult heroes and their future as stadium-sized megastars. Their fourth studio album, it also scored the Chili Peppers their first platinum disc, and much of its success was down to its lead single, Knock Me Down – the band’s first Billboard Modern Rock Tracks Top 10.

The Chili Peppers’ most direct rock/pop song up to that point, Knock Me Down had a broad appeal, not least because Anthony Kiedis’ lyrics (“If you see me getting mighty/If you see me getting high/Knock me down, I’m not bigger than life”) were relatable for most people struggling with life in general. Then again, its message was all too personal for the singer, who had started to write the song during sessions for The Uplift Mofo Party Plan, but only completed it following Hillel Slovak’s death. “It’s about Hillel and myself,” Kiedis told band biographer Dave Thompson. “It’s about our friendship and the relationship between friends in general. I know Hillel would be proud of it and that makes me feel really good.”

7: Behind The Sun (from ‘The Uplift Mofo Party Plan’, 1987)

Deriving from a riff worked up by Hillel Slovak, Behind The Sun was an atypically blissful and beatific psych-tinged pop song which stood apart from most of the early Chili Peppers’ repertoire. The band worked hard on realising it during The Uplift Mofo Party Plan sessions, with Slovak enriching his original motif with additional layers of guitar and even a sitar part. In his memoir, Scar Tissue, Anthony Kiedis noted that Behind The Sun “was a definite branching out for us”, and producer Michael Beinhorn believed it could well be a hit. He was proved right in the end, for while the song only became a single when it trailered the release of the band’s 1992 collection, What Hits?, it duly notched up a Top 10 placing on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart, belatedly proving its worth among the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs.

6: Around The World (from ‘Californication’, 1999)

After quitting the Chili Peppers for the first time, in 1992, guitarist John Frusciante lost much of the decade to drugs and assorted personal difficulties, so his fans and bandmates alike were surprised and thrilled when he emerged from the shadows and rejoined the group in 1998.

Nonetheless, while everyone wished Frusciante well, few would have expected his return to galvanise the Chili Peppers into making a record as confident and daring as Californication – or that the album would go on to sell over 15 million copies worldwide. The gifted guitarist rapidly reintroduced himself on the album’s opening track, Around The World: a brilliant, mood-defying four-minute summation of the Chili Peppers’ global exploits, topped off with a sumptuous chorus. It really felt like he’d never been away.

5: Can’t Stop (from ‘By The Way’, 2002)

One of the few By The Way tracks to contain a modicum of funk, the album’s terrific third single, Can’t Stop, is a wonderfully angular pop song which owes a debt to one of the Chili Peppers’ earliest influences, Gang Of Four (though it namechecks another one, New York City jazz-funk fusionists Defunkt, in the lyrics). One of the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs of the 2000s, Can’t Stop also finds room for a sparse, reggae-style breakdown during the bridge, yet it never lets go of the groove powering it across an all-too-brief four and a half minutes. Undeniably one of the best songs of the 2000s, Can’t Stop is both strange and strangely familiar, yet its elusive quality merely adds to its allure.

4: Scar Tissue (from ‘Californication’, 1999)

Chosen as the lead single from the Chili Peppers’ long-awaited seventh album, Californication, Scar Tissue made it clear that the band wouldn’t be pursuing the psychedelic darkness of One Hot Minute now that Dave Navarro had handed the baton back to John Frusciante. Indeed, this lovely, lilting song, embellished by languid slide guitar and one of Anthony Kiedis’ most plaintive vocals, also revealed that the group had matured enough to reflect on their earlier, wilder years and were ready to tackle fresh sonic challenges. Kiedis later said he felt the song had a “playful, happy-to-be-alive vibe”, and Scar Tissue’s across-the-board appeal rewarded the Chili Peppers with their second US Top 10 success and a Grammy Award.

3: Give It Away (from ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’, 1991)

Deriving from a brilliant, looping bassline Flea devised while jamming with John Frusciante, the tough, lithe Give It Away was the first song the Chili Peppers worked up for their breakthrough fifth album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Searching for a suitable lyric for this powerful new track, Anthony Kiedis recalled a conversation he’d once had with trailblazing German punk singer Nina Hagen, when she gifted the singer her favourite jacket. In his memoir, Kiedis recalled, “It was the nicest jacket she had and that’s why she gave it to me. She told me it’s always important to give things away, it creates good energy – and the world becomes a better place, too.”

2: Californication (from ‘Califonication’, 1999)

The Chili Peppers always perform Californication’s talismanic title track with such apparent ease and grace that you’d never guess completing the song almost drove them mad. Anthony Kiedis had finalised the lyrics (which broadly deal with the darker side of Hollywood and the export of culture through the movie industry), but – try as they might – the band just couldn’t get the music to sit with it. Indeed, they came close to discarding Californication altogether until an excited John Frusciante came in with the chords and melody that added up to a stone-cold classic song. Topped off with one of the best music videos of the 2000s, Californication defines the era like few other tracks can.

1: Under The Bridge (from ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’, 1991)

For different reasons, the track which pretty much places itself at the top of this list of the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs could also have ended up on the shelf. In fact, if producer Rick Rubin hadn’t encouraged Kiedis to show it to the band, the singer’s intensely personal salute to both the late Hillel Slovak and the seedier side of his home turf in LA (“The city I live in, the City Of Angels”) may never have even made it out of rehearsals.

Thankfully, it did, and while the band were initially concerned that their fans would struggle to accept a song exuding such tender vulnerability, it turned out the whole world was keen to return the embrace. Accordingly, the seemingly ageless Under The Bridge shot to No.2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and, with the help of one of the best 90s music videos, very quickly turned the Chili Peppers into global stars. The song has since taken on a life of its own. In September 2022 it became one of the first 20 songs to hit one billion streams on Spotify, and its star shows no sign of waning.

Find out where Red Hot Chili Peppers rank among our best 90s musicians.

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