Photo: Marina Chavez (1995) / Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

The 15 Best Red Hot Chili Peppers Songs

10. “Give It Away” from Blood Sugar Sex Magik

Single released: September 1991.

“Give It Away” was one of the band’s key breakthrough tracks, landing at the top of the Billboard Modern Rock chart and later being added to the list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock” by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The lyrics were supposedly inspired by Kiedis’ former girlfriend Nina Hagen giving him a jacket he liked. The song seems to simultaneously support a’ 60s-style philosophy of free love while criticizing attitudes of consumer excess run rampant in the late 1980s. The song’s ubiquity in the early ’90s anticipated the rock-rap hybrid tracks that would become popular throughout the decade. What exactly is being given away in this song? Love? Diseases? Possibly both.

9. “Universally Speaking” from By the Way

Single released: 15 July 2003.

On the second track from 2002’s By the Way, the Chili Peppers managed to create the psychedelic sounds they failed to capture on One Hot Minute. The jangly rhythm guitars sound a little like the Byrds’ “Turn Turn Turn”. The drum pattern is different than anything the Peppers had done before, embodying the spirit of Roy Orbison. There are some Beach Boys-style backing vocals on the chorus and some quirky guitar washes reminiscent of the Beatles circa “Tomorrow Never Knows”. It’s one of the catchier tunes from the latter part of the Chili Peppers’ career and proves their versatility, showing that they’re capable of creating a killer track without even a hint of funk.

8. “Readymade” from Stadium Arcadium

Album released: 9 May 2006.

“Readymade”, with its subtly shifting, hard-driving drum pattern, killer John Frusciante guitar solo (“Clean it up, Johnny”), and occasionally surrealistic lyrics (“I’ve gotta sister making babies with a Black and Decker blow torch”), is one of the most underrated songs from the Chili Peppers’ catalog. It was never released as a single and wasn’t accompanied by an official music video. It’s a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Ramones, and Jane’s Addiction, but it also retains the Chili Peppers’ sense of humor and unbridled energy. It also includes one of the cleverest pop-culture appropriations of a prominent Iraq War-era George W. Bushism (“And if I stay the course, I’ll stay the night”).

7. “Around the World” from Californication

Single released: 14 September 1999.

Californication begins with a bang. Flea, employing a heavy fuzz bass, lays down a simple blues riff before Frusciante enters with a choppy lead line. Overall, this album takes California and its distinctive culture as its subject. However, there’s a sense of universalism about this opening track. The speaker talks of having been around the world and seen everything, yet still embracing the people he loves and the place he calls home. “Around the World” establishes the West Coast spirituality vibe that pervades the whole record. After the doldrums of One Hot Minute, this opening track reassured Red Hot Chili Peppers fans that the boys were back in town.

6. “Dani California” from Stadium Arcadium

Single released: 4 April 2006.

“Dani California” is a perfect storm of intoxicating groove, soaring melody, and sophisticated narrative. Never in the Chili Peppers’ history had they weaved such an elaborate story. The tune gives the history of a young Southern girl who moved to California and lived a relentlessly hedonistic lifestyle. Kiedis has stated that Dani is a composite of all the women he has ever dated. “Dani California” is also notable for inspiring the most creative music video of the band’s career. The band members wear attire from various musical eras — rockabilly, psychedelia, glam rock, grunge, etc. — before finally “becoming themselves”.