The Red Hot Chili Peppers have achieved legend status in the rock world over the course of their career spanning several decades at this point. They’ve built a reputation for their high-energy blend of funktastic alternative rock that is both in your face and in the depths of your emotions.
Frontman Anthony Kiedis, bass player Flea have held down the band since the beginning, with drummer Chad Smith joining in 1988 and with the guitar slot changing hands a few times over the years.
Mostly, though, that spot belongs to John Frusciante, the longest-standing guitar player and the crazy fingers behind all of the best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. He was with them from 1988 to 1992, 1998 to 2009, and 2019 onward.
From their humble beginnings in the early 80s to their current rock-god status, they have released a handful of albums that are now considered classics. These are Blood Sugar Sex Magic (1991), Californication (1999), and By the Way (2002).
While the Chili Peppers have released other albums with respectable merit, it is hard to argue that any of them are better than the aforementioned trio. That’s why you’ll find that this list is entirely populated by songs from those three albums, because no matter how you slice the top 10, it’s going to be heavily weighted towards them.
Perhaps if this was a top 20 list we would see something from Stadium Arcadium (2006) or I’m With You (2011), but unfortunately none of that material was able to crack our top 10.
See what we’ve got for the 10 best Red Hot Chili Peppers songs below.
10. “Soul to Squeeze” (1993)
Starting off our list is the non-album single “Soul to Squeeze”, from the Blood Sugar Sex Magik sessions. While the song somehow did not make the album, it was rightfully released as a single in 1993. The track offers Kiedis at his most laid-back and sentimental vocally, switching on the energy for one big drop during the bridge.
9. “Dosed” (By the Way, 2002)
Another song that is prized for its guitar work is “Dosed”, featuring four guitars weaved intricately together. Interestingly enough, while this song was released in 2002, it was not performed live by the band until 2017, and not even with John Frusciante but rather Josh Klinghoffer. They played it three times in 2017, and it has not appeared in a setlist since then.
8. “Can’t Stop” (By the Way, 2002)
7. “Otherside” (Californication, 1999)
“Can’t Stop” takes the cake for the most recognizable bass line in the RHCP catalogue, and perhaps even of the entire 2000s decade. Flea hits it hard right from the start and makes you want to jump around, and the whole song keeps that same tempo rolling.
“Otherside” brings a sentimental, brooding vibe, with lyrics about an addict’s struggle to get clean while constantly sliding back into the old habits that keep him down.
6. “I Could Have Lied” (Blood Sugar Sex Magik, 1991)
One of the darker and somewhat lesser-known Red Hot Chili Peppers songs to make our list is “I Could Have Lied” off Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Here Frusciante’s guitar work truly shines as they work through the moody track, resulting in an emotional peak accompanied by one of the best guitar solos to grace a Chili Peppers album to date.
5. “Give It Away” (Blood Sugar Sex Magic, 1991)
“Give It Away” is one of the funkiest songs that the Chili Peppers have. Coming early in their career as the lead single from the acclaimed Blood Sugar Sex Magik, “Give It Away” was an outrageous success and marked the band’s first number one single. It captures the youthful energy of the band at the time perfectly, and set the stage for their rise to international fame.
4. “Californication” (Californication, 1999)
The Red Hot Chili Peppers have a few songs that would be considered decade-defining for the 90s, but perhaps most of all this would apply to “Californication”, the title track off their 1999 album of the same name. This song takes a jab at the superficial lifestyles and attitudes of the Hollywood elite, and what one might have to do to get there.
3. “By the Way” (By the Way, 2002)
“By the Way” marks the career peak for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One could argue that at the time this song was released, they were the biggest band in the world, and this song was the centerpiece for that. It was the lead single and title track for their eighth album, and it has everything one could hope for from an RHCP song – the catchy lyrics, the creamy guitar, and the ability to turn on the heat in just the right moment.
2. “Scar Tissue” (Californication, 1999)
“Scar Tissue” is another quintessential Red Hot Chili Peppers song, and perhaps the most definitive of Anthony Kiedis himself. While the song is arranged with a feel-good guitar melody, the lyrics actually dive deep into the mind of a drug addict and the internal weight he carries through each and every day.
Kiedis himself struggled with drug addiction, and has said that this song and several others released during this time were written during that experience. He even titled his autobiography, Scar Tissue after this one, which is a highly recommended read for fans of the band.
1. “Under The Bridge” (Blood Sugar Sex Magic, 1991)
There’s something special about “Under The Bridge”, as it is perhaps the most personal of all the drug addiction songs that Anthony Kiedis has written. So personal, in fact, that he almost didn’t feel comfortable showing it to the band.
The lyrics touch upon the loneliness and depression that Kiedis experienced after three years of sobriety, wandering around Los Angeles and feeling the weight of it all.
You can feel the emotional weight in the lyrics and the arrangement, and the raw essence at the core of the band can be boiled down to just this one song, making it our choice for the best Red Hot Chili Peppers song.