The 10 best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs on guitar
The Red Hot Chili Peppers‘ new album The Getaway is a great record in many ways, but it’s not a great guitar record. Current guitarist Josh Klinghoffer certainly knows his way around his axe, but he’s more of a sideman than the main event. He loves adding colour to the more bombastic bass playing provided by Flea (who recently got his own Fender Signature Flea Bass). Looking further back into their discography, there are a wealth of mind-blowing guitar moments, particularly from the fingers of virtuoso John Frusciante.
The best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs on guitar
Some may be surprised to hear Frusciante labelled as a virtuoso, as much of his guitar playing is very simple. However this is simply his preference, rather than an inability to play more complex figures. This is clear from the rapid-fire fusion chops he displayed while working with The Mars Volta. He’s a guitarist who values song-writing and dynamics over flashy playing, but he still knows how to pull out all the stops when required. Frusciante’s playing and writing helped produce many of the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. But our list doesn’t neglect the other great axemen like Dave Navarro and Hillel Slovak who played in the Chilis over the years.
10. Can’t Stop – By the Way (2002)
Frusciante was on a minimalism trip by the time he recorded his fourth album with the band. We hear him let loose a little on Can’t Stop, although he doesn’t descend into musical gymnastics. He opens the song with an incessant, rhythmic finger-picked pattern before launching into the song’s signature funky riff. There’s some beautiful melodic playing in the chorus and a nice tremolo lead in the first half of the bridge. The intense squalling solo that ends the bridge section is one of the finest moments on the album.
9. My Friends – One Hot Minute (1995)
Dave Navarro‘s tenure with the band didn’t last all that long. However with such a talented musician working with the band, they were bound to produce some great moments. My Friends is the highpoint. The instantly recognisable acoustic guitar intro is a brilliant piece of writing. Navarro knows exactly when to sit back and when to move forward and he’s in top form on My Friends. The simple, octave-based solo ramps up the rock vibe and is a great piece of melodic playing.
8. Higher Ground – Mother’s Milk (1989)
Flea’s slap-bass rendition of Stevie Wonder’s synth bass line may be the signature opening to this song. However it’s Fruscanti’s layered guitar riffs that really bring the funk tune into rock ‘n’ roll territory. He mixes clean funky licks with distorted lines before ripping into a nasty riff in the verse. The punk-metal riff-fest at the end of the song is a nice demonstration of how weird and wonderful the Chilis were in their early days.
7. Sir Psycho Sexy – Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
Sir Psycho Sexy is filthy jam led by Anthony Kiedis’s dirty mind and fast tongue. Fruscanti lays down a slithering wah pattern over Flea’s bass line and sets the stage for it all. The guitarist had developed a distinct and brilliant funk-rock style by 1991 and it’s heard in spades on Sir Psycho Sexy. The verses showcase some funky clean comping while the bridges get increasingly weird. There’s some great Hendrix-inspired experimental lead playing on display in the second bridge and a tasty melodic guitar jam in the outro.
6. Behind the Sun – The Uplift Mofo Party Plan (1987)
The early days of the Red Hot Chili Peppers the band favoured frantic, rhythmic playing over melody and emotion. Guitarist Hillel Slovak, who was struggling with heroin addiction, had only a year left on the planet at the time of the album release. Nonetheless his catchy melodic playing on Behind the Sun set the stage for the future direction of the band. On the song the Slovak mixes layers of overdriven rhythm with effects-laden leads and sitar licks. The result is both forward-thinking and accessible.
5. Under the Bridge – Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
This one barely needs any introduction. If you’ve heard the Red Hot Chili Peppers, you’ve heard the finger-picked chords of Under the Bridge. Fruscanti’s Fender opens the song and closes it with a winding melody. In between he lays down some groovy, understated playing. The slight fret-buzz before the first chorus shows you the kind of magic that can happen in the pre-Pro Tools world when imperfections are left in the song. Some may think this song should be higher on the list. It’s certainly one of the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. However it’s in many ways based around the vocals more than Fruscanti’s admittedly brilliant guitar part.
4. Soul to Squeeze – Give It Away B-side (1991)
Soul to Squeeze was recorded in the Blood Sugar Sex Magik sessions, but was released first as a B-side and later as a single for the Coneheads soundtrack. Frusciante’s inspired playing anchors the track, but by the time the filmclip was shot in 1993, he had already left the band. The guitarist uses a chorus pedal to get the distinctive sound of the chord-based intro. He layers some simple but beautiful lead playing when the band comes in. The loosely double-tracked solo is a great example of how less is more. It’s also a nice insight into the type of minimalist playing Frusciante would explore more fully when he rejoined for 1999’s Californication.
3. Blood Sugar Sex Magik – Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
Chad Smith’s rock solid funk beat introduces the song and Frusciante powers up his wah to lay down a unique groove with a tonne of personality. He sits back a little in the verse while still using the wah to accent his rhythmic playing. The chorus just keeps it coming with a huge, almost metal-sounding riff anchoring the section. The double-tracked solo is an inspired piece of playing and Frusciante treats us to a wild, rollicking wah solo later in the song. If you want to learn how to play fiery funk-rock, you could do worse than studying Blood Sugar Sex Magik as your masterclass.
2. Scar Tissue – Californication (1999)
You can’t talk about the best Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar songs without talking about the phenomenal slide-playing in Scar Tissue. The haunting outro solo sounds almost like a human voice. Most pop songs are all about the vocals but Frusciante’s playing is responsible for much of the track’s appeal. The song is as simple as it comes but shows the smart note-choice and deft touch can achieve more than any amount of fretboard pyrotechnics.
1. I Could Have Lied – Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991)
I Could Have Lied is a deep cut from the Chili’s 1991 classic, and isn’t as well known as many of the tracks on this list. So why is it number one? Well, the song showcases some gorgeous, melancholy acoustic playing from Frusciante. Kiedis builds off the guitar figure along with a memorable vocal and lyrical performance which displays his increasing maturity as a songwriter. The real guitar magic in the song happens in the searing, emotive solo in the bridge. Frusciante coaxes a stunning tone out of his boosted Strat and it’s instant goosebump territory. He leaves the best for last when the main acoustic pattern returns and finishes with a classy melodic flourish. His lead playing throughout the second half of the song has an almost lyrical quality to it, imparting as much emotion as the vocals themselves, and that’s no easy feat. If Frusciante ever committed a better solo to tape I haven’t heard it.