Grunge. Wu-Tang Clan. Radiohead. “Wonderwall.” The music of the ’90s was as exciting as it was diverse. But what does it say about the era—and why does it still matter? On our new show, 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s, Ringer music writer and ’90s survivor Rob Harvilla embarks on a quest to answer those questions, one track at a time. Follow and listen for free exclusively on Spotify. Below is an excerpt from Episode 30, which explores the history of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and their biggest hit.
I don’t mean to start on a derogatory note, but I would like to list for you, now, the Top 20 Worst Red Hot Chili Peppers Song Titles. Not songs. Song titles. Some of these songs are pretty good but the song titles are, let’s say excessively virile, and as such they are often quite embarrassing to say out loud, if you’re me, saying them out loud into this microphone, for a recording that might then be heard by strangers, or for that matter heard by my mother. Weird decision, by me, to start this like this. Red Hot Chili Peppers, formed in Los Angeles, California, the city they live in, the City of Angels, in 1983. Yeah. Wanna feel old? Try being in the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Funk-metal? Rap-rock? Alternative? Punk? Who are these guys? What are these guys? Unembarrassed. That’s what these guys are. Naked on album covers or on magazine covers or onstage, other than the socks on their penises. Macho as all hell but with semi-benign neo-hippie wibbity-wabitty undertones. Flower children with erections lasting longer than four hours. Carefree Lakers fans who occasionally struggle with life-threatening, and in one case life-ending, drug addictions. They contain multitudes. Multitudes of guitarists, for one thing. These fellas got a way with words. An excessively virile way with words. There’s a devil in their dicks and some demons in their semen. OK. Top 20 Worst Red Hot Chili Peppers Song Titles. I wrote a thing about this band a couple years back and relistened to their entire catalog and had a great time actually, but I also compiled this list. Top 20, so in ascending order of badness, or really it’s just unembarassedness. Good for them. Bad for me. Here we go:
20. “Funky Crime”
19. “Even You, Brutus?”
18. “Get on Top”
17. “Shallow Be Thy Game”
16. “Lovin’ and Touchin’”
15. “Sir Psycho Sexy.” (We’ll get back to “Sir Psycho Sexy.” I have thoughts. Not impure thoughts. Regular thoughts.)
13. “Suck My Kiss” (Great song. We’ll get back to “Suck My Kiss,” as well.)
12. “No Chump Love Sucker”
11. “She’s Only 18” (The fellas in the Red Hot Chili Peppers were roughly in their mid-forties when “She’s Only 18” came out, just for your reference.)
10. “Grand Pappy Du Plenty”
9. “Funky Monks”
8. “Skinny Sweaty Man”
(It gets much gnarlier from here. At this point I’d like to have my identity concealed like people in the witness-protection program when they appear in true-crime documentaries.)
7. “Catholic School Girls Rule”
6. “Party on Your Pussy” (Oh God. OK.)
5. “Sex Rap”
4. “Stone Cold Bush”
3. “Sexy Mexican Maid”
2. “Fela’s Cock” (Look it up, but not on my computer. And finally...)
1. “Hump de Bump”
Great trumpet line on “Hump de Bump,” if we’re being honest. “Hump de Bump” appeared on the 2006 Red Hot Chili Peppers double album Stadium Arcadium, along with “She’s Only 18” and 26 other songs spanning more than two hours. Let’s back up. Let’s regroup. My name is Rob Harvilla. This is 60 Songs That Explain the ’90s. Soon I will be entering the witness-protection program due to embarrassment. But today we’re talking “Under the Bridge.” And also “Sir Psycho Sexy.” But primarily “Under the Bridge.” Crown jewel of 1991’s mighty Blood Sugar Sex Magik, which also features “Sir Psycho Sexy”; that album is, in turn, the crown jewel of the fearsome Red Hot Chili Peppers discography, which now spans 35-plus years. “Under the Bridge” is the band’s highest-charting single ever; it peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, bested only by Kriss Kross’s “Jump.” Fair enough. That’s a very pleasing one-two punch, actually.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers were already battle-scarred veterans by 1991. In 1992 they put out their first greatest-hits compilation, which other than “Under the Bridge” concentrated on the four albums that preceded Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Grizzled veterans, these guys. The Aerosmith of alternative rock. Don’t overthink it. Grizzled veterans who’d sustained casualties. So. 1983. City of Angels. Anthony Keidis is your frontman. Not a great singer per se, but a phenomenal frontman, in large part because he doesn’t give a shit that he’s not a great singer. His not-great singing is a feature, not a bug. Speaking of bugs, Michael Peter Balzary, known unprofessionally as Flea, is your bass player. Most influential and adored bass player of his generation? Unless you’re way too into Primus, yes.
To hear the full episode click here, and be sure to follow on Spotify and check back every Wednesday for new episodes on the most important songs of the decade. This excerpt has been lightly edited for clarity and length.