“I didn’t want to tell the same old story that we’ve been hearing for the last 50 years in rock music,” Anthony Kiedis reflected in a recent interview. “Hopefully we’ve said something that hasn’t been said before, or at least said it in a way that hasn’t.”
He was talking about Unlimited Love, the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 12th album, but he might as well have been describing the entire long arc of their nearly 40-year run. A band that released its full-length debut the same year as Run-D.M.C. and the Smiths became alt-rock’s ultimate survivors by sounding like no one but themselves, making it up as they went along and following their love rollercoaster ride wherever it took them.
The core duo of shameless verbal acrobat Kiedis and blissed-out bass bopper Flea — along with certified guitar god John Frusciante, steady drummer Chad Smith, frequent producer Rick Rubin, and all the other doctors of rhythm with shorter tenures at RHCP University — have preserved the Chilis’ californicating essence through countless reinventions and funk-rap breakdowns. They have endured because no other band would dare be this ridiculous and this great for this long.
Here are their 40 greatest songs.