RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS
LINDA LA BAN CHARTS THE CHILI PEPPERS’ CAREER FROM ITS FUNK-PUNK BEGINNINGS TO TODAY’S HIT SINGLES
If any band can be described as having created a truly modern sound, it’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Inspired by Seventies funksters like Funkadelic and Parliament, and the late Seventies punk movement, the Chili Peppers build their music around the bass guitar, rather than the more common lead. Their blend of jazz, funk, punk and rock is fused with tremendous passion. Wild would be too mild a word to describe their appearance, but they are outrageous without being artificial. The pictures in the press of four half-naked yobs entwined in a moronic embrace, and pulling demented faces, might not be a beautiful sight, but it makes a change from the pouting pretty boy brigade.
Half-naked is actually a normal state of dress for the Chilis- not only do they perform that way, but their legend is based on it. When they were first signed to EMI, they gatecrashed their sales conference stark naked. And on their recent appearance on the ‘Jonathan Ross Show’, they insisted on being allowed to perform without clothes. When this was flatly refused, the band gave in, but only if their bass-player, Flea, could play upside down. Then, of course, there is the legendary sock routine …
None of this would matter if the Chili Peppers couldn’t deliver the goods, both on record and on stage. Their music knows no boundaries of imagination, while their frenetic live performances set new records in hyperactivity. Now, four albums into their career, the band are finally enjoying the commercial acclaim they deserve.
Lead singer Anthony Kiedis, alias Antwan The Swan, grew up in Michigan before moving to Los Angeles in his teens. He attended Fairfax High School in Holly-wood, where he because acquainted with what would become the original Chili Peppers line-up. Bassist Michael Balzary (‘Flea’) had moved to L.A. from Melbourne, Australia, when he was a toddler. HiIlel Slovak (guitarist) was born in Israel, which leaves Jack Irons (drums) as the only one of the band who can claim to be a native Californian.
The four youths began playing together in 1979 in a band called Anthem — the kind of garage band that is all geared up but going nowhere. Flea then left to join the seminal L.A. punk band, Fear. He also began an acting career with a commendable performance in Penelope Spheeris’s film about disaffected youth, “Suburbia”.
Irons and Slovak meanwhile moved on to join What Is This?, but the four ex-Anthem members were reunited when they were invited to do a guest spot during a friend’s gig at a local club. Their one-song performance, an unrehearsed “Out In L.A.”,was soon to become a Hollywood legend! John Lydon, the former Mr Rotten, had been courting Flea to join his band PiL around this time, but Flea turned him down. His decision was justified when EMI America offered the rechristened Red Hot Chili Peppers a recording deal. Unfortunately, Irons and Slovak had already signed a deal with a different label as part of What Is This?, so they weren’t able to play on the band’s first album. Their places were taken by session guitarist Jack Sherman, and drummer Cliff Martinez, who had previously played with Captain Beefheart and the Weirdos.
This line-up recorded the band’s eponymous debut album, with EMI label-mate Andy Gill (formerly of the Gang of Four) handling production duties. This was his first production job outside the Gang of Four, and it did not go harmoniously. His ideas were frequently at odds with the band’s, and neither party was pleased with the results. The LP, which was closer to avant-garde jazz-funk than anything they’ve done since, was only issued in the U.S., in 1984.
The Chili Peppers’ live reputation was still growing, even if their album sales weren’t. Their outrageous behaviour, which later led to two of the band being arrested on battery charges in Florida, began to build them an audience. Their infamous sock routine started around this time when they were playing in a strip bar. Trying to upstage the girls who were distracting ‘music lovers’ from their set, the Chilis walked onstage for their encore with nothing but a sock enveloping their manhood. The pose was to be repeated in a thousand publicity photos, bringing them far more column inches around the world than their music alone could have done. When it was time to record their second album, Hillel Slovak was free to rejoin the group, replacing Sherman on guitar. The mastermind behind the Funkadelic set-up, George Clinton, was called in to produce, and he invited the band to his country retreat near Detroit, where they wrote and recorded thirteen songs.
The album, “Freaky Styley”, also featured celebrated horn players Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley, Clinton sidemen who’d won a reputation through their work with James Brown in the 1970s. To complete the soul references, the album also included a cover of Sly Stone’s U.S. No. 1 hit, “If You Want Me To Stay”, while the first single from the album, “Hollywood (Africa)”, was an old Meters song.
“Hollywood” became the first Chili Peppers record to be released in Britain, with both the 7″ and 12″ editions now very collectable. Officially, the second album wasn’t issued here, though U.K. copies are rumoured to exist. Import editions did surface from the States, though, and the CD version is still available. More to the point, both the first two albums are about to be issued here for the first time by EMI; by the time you read this, they should be in the shops.
Meanwhile, the band played their first gig outside the U.S. at a festival in Germany. Then they took a short sabbatical while drummer Martinez left and original member Jack Irons rejoined. After much thought, they approached Michael Beinhorn (a cohort of Bill Laswell) to produce their next album.
That didn’t appear for a full two years after the second record, though, a period which the band used to boost their live following on the U.S. club circuit, and to fine-tune their sound. When “The Uplift Mofo Party Plan” finally appeared, it displayed a decidedly rockier feel than their earlier work; in place of the soul covers they’d once recorded, there was a hard and heavy version of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. The shift in style worked: within two months, “The Uplift Mofo Party Plan” had sold more copies than its two predecessors combined.
The lead single from the album had already reached the shops when the LP appeared. “Fight Like A Brave”, which in retrospect isn’t that far removed from the music that the Beastie Boys were making around the same time, was backed by a speedy cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire”, while the 12″ featured some additional mixes of the A-side. To promote the single, the band played some U.K. club dates.
Then in May 1988, the band issued the infamous “Abbey Road EP”. The cover of the record depicted the Chilis on that legendary zebra crossing outside the Abbey Road Studios, where that other fab four, the Beatles, had posed a couple of decades earlier. In 1969, Paul McCartney had worn no socks; this time around, the band were totally naked apart from those same articles of clothing!
The EP came in 7″ and 12″ formats, with the lead track being “Backwoods” from the third album, supported by “Hollywood (Africa)”, and “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes” from their debut. The bonus track on the 12″ was “Catholic School Girls Rule” from the second LP. The band supported the release by playing live dates in Manchester, Leicester and London, cashing in on the promotion which their decidedly unusual publicity photos had spawned.
Everything seemed set for success; then tragedy struck. Back in the States in June, Hillel Slovak died from an accidental heroin overdose, at the age of twenty-five. This was a severe blow to the rest of the band, which made them sit back and examine their own lifestyles and the group’s future. Jack Irons decided things had gone far enough, and left the Chili Peppers.
Flea and Antwan decided to keep the group going, however, and hosted auditions to find two new members. They eventually hired nineteen-year-old guitarist John Frusciante from California, a big fan who already knew all the band’s songs by heart, and twenty-six-year-old Chad Smith from Detroit on drums. By the spring of last year, this new line-up had completed work on the band’s fourth album, “Mother’s Milk”. Once again, Michael Beinhom was the producer of the record, which appeared in the U.K. in August.
The album contained eleven original com-positions plus two covers, Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire”. The latter, of course, featured Hillel Slovak on guitar, and his artistic talent could also be admired on the back cover, which displayed one of his impressionistic paintings. Flea’s abilities as a trumpet-player could be heard on three tracks, “Taste The Pain”, “Pretty Little Ditty” and “Subway To Venus”.
With all the Chili Peppers singles apart from the new release already having been deleted, and the scarce U.S. vinyl versions of the first two albums selling for anything up to £15, there is plenty of scope for collectors. You can also pick up an increasing number of promo items, mostly from the States, where almost every new release seems to have its own variety of CD promos these days.
Closer to home, the most popular item around at the moment is “Sock-Cess”, a 20-track promo CD which includes five cuts from each of their four albums. That sells for something around £15, though you can expect to see that price rise in the future.
The first single issued from the album was a tribute to Slovak, “Knock Me Down”, which came out in 7″, 12″ and CD formats, plus a picture disc. Several songs from the new album were used as bonus tracks, while “Special Secret Song Inside” from the third album also appeared in some formats.
Their version of “Higher Ground” was issued as the follow-up in January, backed with “Millionaires Against Hunger” (a track recorded with George Clinton but left off the second album), and “Mommy, Where’s Daddy?” from the first album as a 12″ bonus track. There was also a remix by Stetasonic’s Daddy-0, while the second 12″ version came in the novel (but naff) ‘cut-out chili pepper’ cover.
Finally, “Taste The Pain” appeared as the third single from the LP, backed by “Show Mc Your Soul (Pretty Woman)”, and with the usual variety of formats — all listed in the discography. The band have just enjoyed their first taste of U.K. chart success, on the back of another round of sell-out gigs. Even without the socks, the Chili Peppers are red-hot!
RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS COMPLETE UK DISCOGRAPHY
** I think this is accurate but please double check if you use it! I didn’t add the value given in the chart) **
Cat. No. Title
EMI America EA 205 — HOLLYWOOD (AFRICA)/NEVER MIND (7″; 8/85)
EMI America 12EA 205 — HOLLYWOOD (AFRICA) (remix)/HOLLYWOOD (AFRICA) (dub mix)/NEVER MIND (12″; 8/55)
EMI America EA 241 — 12 FIGHT LIKE A BRAVE (LP version)/FIRE (7″; 1/88)
EMI America 12EA 241– FIGHT LIKE A BRAVE (LP version)/(Mofo Mix)/(Knucklehead Mix)/FIRE (12”, 1/88)
EMI America 12EAP 241 — FIGHT LIKE A BRAVE (LP version)/(Mofo Mix)/(Knucklehead Mix)/FIRE (12″ picture disc; 1/88)
EMI Manhattan MT 41 — THE ABBEY ROAD EP: BACKWOODS/HOLLYWOOD (AFRICA) TRUE MEN DON’T KILL COYOTES (7″;5/58)
EMI Manhattan 12MT 41 — THE ABBEY ROAD EP: BACKWOODS/HOLLYWOOD (AFRICA)/TRUE MEN DONT KILL COYOTES/CATHOLIC SCHOOL GIRLS RULE (12”; 5/88)
EMI Manhattan MT 70 — KNOCK ME DOWN/PUNK ROCK CLASSIC/PRETTY LITTLE DITTY (7″; 8/89)
EMI Manhattan MTPD— KNOCK ME DOWN/PUNK ROCK CLASSIC/PRETTY LITTLE DITTY (7″ picture disc; 8/89)
EMI Manhattan 12MT 70— KNOCK ME DOWN/PUNK ROCK CLASS1C/SPECIAL SECRET SONG INSIDE/MAGIC JOHNSON (12″; 11/89)
EMI Manhattan CDMT 70— KNOCK ME DOWN/PUNK ROCK CLASSIC/MAGIC JOHNSON/ JUNGLE MAN (CD, 8/89)
EMI Manhattan MT 75 –HIGHER GROUND/MILLIONAIRES AGAINST HUNGER (7”; 11/89)
EMI Manhattan 12MT 75— HIGHER GROUND (Munchkin Mix)/(Dub Mix)/POLITICIAN (MINI RAP)/MOMMY WHERE’S DADDY (12″; 11/89)
EMI Manhattan 12MTX 75 — HIGHER GROUND/(Munchkin Mix)/(Dub Mix /POLITICIAN (MINI RAP) (limited 12″ with pop-out ‘chilli pepper’ sleeve
EMI Manhattan CDMT 75— HIGHER GROUND/(Munchkin Mix)/MILLIONAIRES AGAINST HUNGER/MOMMY WHERE’S DADDY (CD; 11/89)
EMI Manhattan MT 85 –TASTE THE PAIN (LP version)/SHOW ME YOUR SOUL (7″; 6/90. No. 29)
EMI Manhattan 12MT 85 –TASTE THE PAIN (LP version)/SHOW ME YOUR SOUL/ CASTLES MADE OF SAND (live) (12″; 6/90)
EMI Manhattan 10MT 85 –TASTE THE PAIN (LP version)/SHOW ME YOUR SOUL/ CASTLES MADE OF SAND (live) (square 8 3.4” pic disc, 6/90)
EMI Manhattan TCMT 85 –TASTE THE PAIN (LP version)/SHOW ME YOUR SOUL (cassingle. 6/90)
EMI Manhattan CDMT 85 –TASTE THE PAIN (LP version)/SHOW ME YOUR SOUL/ CASTLES MADE OF SAND (live)/NEVER MIND (CD;6/90)
EMI Manhattan 12MTX 85 –TASTE THE PAIN/SHOW ME YOUR SOUL/1F YOU WANT ME TO STAY/NEVER MIND (12″ remix,. Pop-out sleeve. 6/90)
EMI America AML 3125 — UPLIFT MOFO PARTY PLAN (3/88)
EMI Manhattan MTL 3125— MOTHER’S MILK (5/89)
EMI Manhattan MTL 1056 — THE RED HOT CHILLI PEPPERS (8/90, originally US. Only)
EMI Manhattan MTL 1057 –FREAKY STYLEY (8/90, originally US. only)
EMI America CDAML 3125 –UPLIFT MOP() PARTY PLAN (3/88)
EMI Manhattan CDMTL 3125 — MOTHER’S MILK (8/89)
10 EMI Manhattan CDMTL 1056 — THE RED HOT CHILLI PEPPERS (8/90)
EMI Manhattan CDMTL 1057 — FREAKY STYLEY (8/90)