Try to imagine this happening nowadays: A wacky cult band gets signed to a major label, there’s a big push behind them and they get to work with a couple of legendary producers. But the first few albums essentially go nowhere; the band remains a cult act with a stack of good reviews and disappointing sales. So what happens? Instead of getting bounced back to sell off their Myspace page, as they probably would nowadays, the band gets signed to another major label for even more money, and proceeds to go over the top.
That’s basically what happened to the Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1991. Though Blood Sugar Sex Magik is remembered as their classic breakthrough, it was their fifth album—and it was four albums and a Stevie Wonder cover (“Higher Ground”) before they got any serious airplay. In their early days, the Chili Peppers did everything they could to capture their onstage mayhem on vinyl—band-hero Andy Gill (of Gang of 4) produced their first album, funk deity George Clinton did the second. Just when they were hitting a groove, original guitarist Hillel Slovak died of an overdose. Who’d have thought they had a classic album in them?
Rick Rubin evidently did. The whiz kid producer took over for Blood Sugar Sex Magik—their second post-Slovak album, the first for a new label, and the first with a double album’s worth of music (don’t forget, the CD era was just beginning in 1991). Rubin was still a few years away from making spooky records with Johnny Cash, but he already knew that nothing sounds better than a live band recorded a dry as possible—so the sound of Blood Sugar Sex Magik is the band working out with no sonic excess, the guitars are razor-sharp and you don’t have to strain to hear bassist Flea’s back beat. The two new members, guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith, had staked out their territory by now; and the songwriting was starting to get serious: “Under the Bridge” famously found singer Anthony Kiedis laying his battle with addiction on the line. Then again, it’s not too serious, and you can’t get too philosophical album an album that includes the line “Kiss me right here on my tattoo.”
We’re assuming that everyone knows about the two mega hits, “Under the Bridge” and “Give It Away”; and the two almost-as-mega hits, “Suck My Kiss” and “Breaking the Girl.” So here’s a few tracks you might want to explore:
“The Power of Equality”: A trademark Chili Peppers funk jam in the vein of “Give It Away”—but it just may be an even better song, with a hook that grabs you from the first second. And you’ve got to love the way Rick Rubin records those drums, especially the dry tub-thumping sound of the snare.
“My Lovely Man”: The song for Hillel Slovak, proof that the band had a sensitive side. And a song you can still nail on vocals if you suck as a rapper.
“Blood Sugar Sex Magik”: The title track is guitarist John Frusciante’s greatest moment of glory: he slings riffs left and right, with some heavy strumming behind the chorus and slinky riffs afterward. Songs like this explain why God gave you a plastic guitar.
“I Want My, I Want My DLC!”
The songs in Rock Band are only the beginning. Each week we’ll be rolling out more downloadable songs, essential tracks (and sometimes whole albums) from every era of rock history. Check the Rock Band website to find out what’s new.
Tracks will usually sell for $1.99 each; with three-pack specials costing $5.49. (On the Xbox 360, that’s 160 Microsoft Points per track and 440 per three-pack). Occasional special or discounted tracks may cost a dollar more or less.
Downloadable content for the Xbox 360 is available through the XBOX LIVE marketplace. Downloads for the PLAYSTATION 3 version of Rock Band are available through the PLAYSTATION Network Store. In each case, the songs are downloaded onto your hard drive.
If you’re playing solo, you can start rocking right away. For head-to-head or multi-player online, all players will need to download the song.