Zany, whacky, over the top, and loud are just a few terms that have been used to describe alternative rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers over the years. While the Los Angeles, California rockers have plenty of fun both on and off the stage, they are craftsmen of their musical trade, and they take their job seriously.
From lead singer Anthony Kiedis’ understatedly philosophical songwriting skills, to the band’s effortless ability to groove together as one cohesive unit (no one rivals Flea’s slap-heavy basslines), we break down the hits and releases that have made the Red Hot Chili Peppers one of rocks’ most notorious, and respected, bands to ever come speeding out of the ‘90s alternative movement.
14. The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie
The Red Hot Chili Peppers never thought ‘The Adventures of Rain Dance Maggie’ would make it onto an official record, but when they played it for their production crew, the team was blown away. After several declared it was “the best thing” they had come up with in awhile, it became their lead single off their album, I’m With You. Though lead singer Anthony Kiedis often comes up with lyrics first for their tunes, founding bandmate and bassist Flea came up with the idea when he set out on a mission to write what he considered to be a perfect bassline. The danceable number began as an extended jam track. But Kiedis was so inspired by it, he wrote a story to go along with it about “Maggie,” a real woman who once had a profound effect on his life.
13. Tell Me Baby
The Chili Peppers have that whole psychedelic California vibe down so well, you’d think they’ve always resided in the Gold Rush state. While the members aren’t all from the L.A. area, they spent a ton of time there from their early days in garage rehearsal spaces to their rise as preeminent gods of the funk rock movement. This whole cultural phenomenon is packed into the song ‘Tell Me Baby,’ and the music video is essential to the track. While Kiedis and his band reached the pinnacle of musical success, millions who move to L.A. never do, and that’s exactly what this single unapologetically explores. The no holds barred track is featured on their seminal Stadium Arcadium album, which took charts by storm across the world and gave the bandmates their first album to climb all the way to number one.
12. The Zephyr song
With a light, feel-good groove, ‘The Zephyr Song’ is packed with freedom-centric imagery that focuses on Anthony Kiedis singing to a potential lover, and enticing her to “fly away” alongside him “in this perfect weather.” The single is a post-’90s release for the funky, psychedelic band. It represents a softer version of the rockers fans readily embraced. Making its way into the top ten on Billboard rock charts, it appears on their eighth studio album release, By The Way.
Recommended: More songs about flying away.
11. Road Trippin’
One of Anthony’s more personal tracks, ‘Road Trippin’’ offers a look into his relationship with his fellow bandmates which was at times strained. This time, a healing element is at the center of the tune, with the group opting for more ethereal instrumentation like orchestral notes and acoustic guitar, while their powerhouse drums are temporarily muted. Kiedis was inspired to write the fan-favorite after a hiking trip with the group. The vacation represented a renewal for the band, and this radiated through the track. While the single became a beloved song for Chili Peppers faithful, the band has remained selective about bringing it to the forefront of their live sets. They’ve only performed the intimate track a handful of times while on tour.
Recommended: Our pick of good songs for a road trip.
10. Give It Away
A monumental effort by the band that paid off in droves, ‘Give It Away’ ended up beating out rock royalty like Nirvana and Pearl Jam to win a Grammy for “Best Hard Rock Performance.” But long before the awards ceremony, the single’s effortless groove and refined energy was harnessed by hotshot producer Rick Rubin, who the band brought in to help smooth out their sound. With experience under his belt from working with legends like the Beastie Boys and Slayer, the band knew Rubin was the right man for the job. He ushered their sound forward brilliantly, and listeners responded, sending the philosophically-tinged single up the charts to number one. They also broke into the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time with the release.
9. By the Way
One of the band’s funkiest releases, Kiedis has long loved ‘By The Way’ for its unique, uncommercialized appeal. Feeling the song was quite marginal, he was surprised when their management team decided to release it as a single, and even more surprised when music critics hailed it as one of their best songs ever. Its positive reception sent it flying up the charts in unprecedented fashion in the UK, making its way to the runner-up spot on rock charts. The nonsensical, funked-out track is also a fan favorite, so much so that ‘By The Way’ has become one of their most performed songs in a live setting, appearing on their setlists over 600 times.
8. Dark Necessities
A moodier track by Fleas’ “Red Hots” features his grooving, punchy bass work and a funky rhythmic undercurrent that supports Keidis’ exploration of the messy, shadowy sides of peoples’ personalities, including his own. ‘Dark Necessities’ is a rare outsourced collaboration. They partnered up with hip-hop artist Danger Mouse for both the writing and production process. The chart climber features the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ classic L.A. funk sound, and they took the song a step further by hiring actress Olivia Wilde to direct the heavy-hitting music video.
7. Dani California
Lead singer Anthony Kiedis’ lyrics can often feel abstract. But the Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman is a talented storyteller. One of the techniques he’s used over the years is that of a recurring character. And she has quite the story arch throughout their various releases. First appearing in the band’s earlier work from Californication, Dani California became an integral part of Anthony’s songwriting as he grew artistically. From her days growing up in the south to her big move out to L.A. and getting into plenty of trouble, the “Dani” character is a composite representation of the most influential female relationships throughout Kiedis’ life. This international chart-topper boasts a striking narrative, and in return reveals a surprisingly intimate look into the lead singers’ own personal experiences.
A wildly popular track from their groundbreaking Californication album, ‘Otherside’ is a near-meditative tune that offers an intimate look into the band’s battles with overcoming addiction. The core members of the group contributed heavily to the song’s lyrical story, including original founding guitarist John Frusciante. Frusciante had to take a hiatus from the band just as they were reaching the pinnacle of their fame. After time spent in rehab, he rejoined the band to work on material and this single was one of the first they all sat down together to flesh out and record. A rare, slower track by the Chili Peppers, it’s a great representation of their unique fusion of different genres, including rock, funk, and even indie acoustic elements.
5. Scar Tissue
In 1999, the band released one of their most popular albums, Californication, that represented a massive change of sound. While their previous work had leaned more funk, and was far more experimental, this project represented a more laid-back vibe. Since albums like Blood Sugar Sex Magik, the Chili Peppers did a lot of growing. That growth translated to new tunes like ‘Scar Tissue,’ which focuses on heavier themes like overcoming addiction and battling loneliness. Their transformation was well-received by fans across the globe. The single was a smash hit for the band, and it stayed at the top of charts for over four months. ‘Scar Tissue’ is a guitar-driven song that’s near and dear to Kiedis’ heart. He named his autobiographical book after the hit.
4. Can’t Stop
Anthony Kiedis packs a ton of life lessons into this popular track, and what starts as a classic rocking Chili Peppers song soon turns into one of the band’s boldest statements. By the time ‘Can’t Stop’ was released in the early 2000s, the alt. rock group had built up a huge following and were masters of the Billboard charts. But they took things a step further with this hit, and didn’t hold back their view of a life well-lived. With thought-provoking lyrics like “Choose not a life of imitation” and “This life is more than just a read-through,” the “Red Hots” (as bassist Flea lovingly calls the band) transcended tight grooves and shock and awe production with the commanding effort, and leaned into their status as rock and roll heavyweights.
3. Snow (Hey Oh)
A Frusciante-driven, melodic guitar riff powers ‘Snow (Hey Oh).’ Another honest, raw tune about Kiedis’ love affair with substance abuse, the definitive Chili Peppers single offers a softer side to his relationship with his habits as opposed to others that highlight a more embattled outlook. One of the band’s most distinctive pieces thanks to Frusciante’s expert electric guitar work, he spent time away from the Chili Peppers not long after its release due to the stress that comes with the quintessential rockstar lifestyle. His work paid off before his exit though, ‘Snow (Hey Oh)’ spent several weeks at the top spot on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart.
Recommended: This appears on our list of ultimate feel good songs.
2. Under the Bridge
Before his time with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kiedis spent a good portion of his life overcoming addiction. As part of his recovery process, he kept journals, often getting down all of his thoughts and emotions on paper to help mitigate the depression he experienced. While recording their popular album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, their producer would often go through Kiedis’ journals looking for new material. When he found a few lines titled ‘Under The Bridge,’ he encouraged the band to put music to it, despite Anthony’s objections. Fearing the song was too soft and emotional for the band’s image, the lead vocalist was surprised when his fellow bandmates loved it. After their success with ‘Give It Away,’ they quickly realized ‘Under The Bridge’ would be their next single when every fan at a sold out show sang the pensive tune with them word for word. The poetic track full of gentle triumph went on to become one of their most successful releases ever.
Recommended: Our pick of influential 90s songs (includes this one).
The band’s time spent in California has colored a lot of their music. While they have a trademark funky, psychedelic sound that could only be born out of the wild streets of the L.A. district, the Red Hot Chili Peppers have never shied away from criticisms of the place that has brought them so much fame and fortune. With ‘Californication,’ a band favorite by the way, the popular single takes aim at the fake, destructive aspects of the entertainment industry. With direct references to Hollywood, excessive plastic surgery, and grunge rock giant Kurt Cobain’s difficult relationship with fellow rocker Courtney Love, the cult classic among Chili Peppers fans holds nothing back. And that’s exactly why ‘Californication’ has become their signature song since its release in 1999.
Recommended: This appears on our best rock songs playlist.