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The Livewires

The RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS dish up a fiery, sharp mixture of rock, funk, and rap. Recurring tragedy often added sting to their success, however.

Four men in single file at a cross-walk in London: The Beatles. maybe? Yet if these four men are sporting nothing but strategically positioned socks, then it must be some other group of eccentrics. This bold homage to the Fab Four is to be found on the cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1988 debut album and portrays the band in their some-what unusual costume, which at the time was used regularly as a stage outfit.

The music of the band formed in 1983 by four school friends in Los Angeles is just as idiosyncratic as their act. Michael “Flea” Balzary, Hillel Slovak, lack Irons, and Anthony Kiedis, the original lineup, played a somewhat confusing mixture of hip-hop, funk, and rock elements which they merged with an absurd stage show-including the socks. In a very short time, this earned them the reputation of being a hot live act.

They made recordings as well, such as Freaky Styley together with their idol George Clinton, the grand master of funk. It was years, however, before the Chili Peppers became international superstars.

Crossover Milestones

The Chili Peppers had been through diverse personnel changes, drug excesses, and the death of a band member by the time they achieved their international breakthrough in 1991 with the album Blood Sugar Sex Magik. The album reflects the band at the height of their creativity and became a milestone in the then crossover wave; many consider it to be the best album of the 1990s.

Songs such as the dance-floor filler “Give It Away” are the epitome of the flunky, Chili Pepper sound, but a ballad, of all things, contributed to the album’s commercial success the elegiac “Under the Bridge,” in which singer Anthony Kiedis addresses his drug experiences.

This career high brought with it the surprising departure from the band of guitarist John Frusciante, As an eighteen-year-old fan of the group, he had replaced the deceased Hillel Slovak and had proven to be a lucky choice. Not only was he able to precisely replicate his idol’s movements, he was also able to mimic his guitar playing perfectly.

Frusciante chose to perform for smaller audiences and to dedicate himself to his drug career, however. He was replaced by Dave Navarro, with whom the less successful album One Hot Minute was recorded. Frusciante returned in 1998 to replace the now drug-addicted Navarro—and success returned with him: Califonication became the Peppers’ best selling album.

The Red Hot Chili Peppers confirmed their status as one of the most important contemporary rock groups with their subsequent releases By the Way (2002), a live and a greatest-hits album, plus the double CD Stadium Arcadium (2006).

A Talented Live Band

With their reputation as a talented live band, the crowds still continue to flock to the four Californians’ concerts after twenty-five years of band history. The heavily tattooed musicians embody a “sex, drugs, and rock `n’ roll” lifestyle like few others, albeit the drug escapades are now said to be a thing of the past. Anthony Kiedis, who earlier appeared in media head-lines on account of an affair with top model Heidi Mum, provides a first-hand account of their wild days in his highly readable autobiography, Scar Tissue.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, drummer Chad Smith replied as follows to the question of whether they would ever reappear in their socks again: “We have done that so often that it is almost like with the KISS make-up. Give $100 million for the Reunion Tour 2022 and we’ll do it in every city. The socks won’t be visible under our fat bellies, but we’ll be wearing them!”

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