33 Years Ago: Red Hot Chili Peppers Release Their Self-Titled Debut Album
These days, Red Hot Chili Peppers are Rock and Roll Hall of Famers with a string of successful albums that have helped define their career. But in 1984, the young rockers were just getting their start, fresh from high school and looking to make a name for themselves in the music industry. And while the band’s self-titled debut disc, released on Aug. 10, 1984, would not go on to sell millions of records or even generate a breakout hit, it did show the promise of things to come.
The original lineup featured Red Hot Chili Peppers mainstays Anthony Kiedis on vocals and Flea on bass, with future Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons and guitarist Hillel Slovak rounding out the band. The originally performed under the name Tony Flow and the Masters of Mayhem, playing their first show at the Rhythm Lounge to approximately 30 people. That show went off so well, they were asked back and eventually decided to change their name to Red Hot Chili Peppers after realizing there might be a future.
Word began to spread on the band, but there was one major issue — Slovak and Irons were committed to another band called What Is This?, and just as Red Hot Chili Peppers started to garner label attention, What Is This? inked a record deal with MCA. Six songs from the band’s initial shows with Irons and Slovak appeared on their first demo tape, but for Red Hot Chili Peppers to continue, they had to find a new guitarist and drummer. Initially, the band called upon Cliff Martinez and Dix Denney, members of L.A. punk band The Weirdos, but Denney didn’t pan out, leaving the band searching for a guitarist. They landed on Jack Sherman as the replacement for Slovak.
Sherman’s time with the band was tumultuous, but also influential. Producer Andy Gill told Diffuser, “Personality-wise, it was obvious he was not going to last. Jack was macrobiotic. They were into their drugs at that point and there was a bit of a clash there. But Jack actually turned them onto Funkadelic — they really didn’t know about that, so he brought a bit of that to the band.” The guitarist would not last the tour cycle with the band and eventually even sued the group over the emotional distress caused during his tenure. Eventually, Slovak and Irons would return to the group, but Sherman and Martinez stand as the musicians of record on the self-titled debut.
The band chose Gill to produce their album as he was a personal hero, having been a member of Gang of Four. He recalls, “When I first met (the Red Hot Chili Peppers), they were big fans. There’s a Gang of Four song called ‘Not Great Men,’ and they said that was the reason they started their band. That song just got them. They were very… they loved that sort of guitar music, funky guitar music I guess you could say. They, at that point in time, were doing their own kind of funky semi-rapped stuff and they also had these very fast, short, punk rock songs. At that time there were a lot of bands doing that super fast music, all over in two minutes. I thought that was not interesting — it was just sort of another take on punk rock. But the other stuff I thought was real interesting and cool. Probably my biggest contribution to them was to kind of get them to not concentrate too much on those punk rock songs and getting them to do the funkier thing.”
But being a new band, there was a few growing pains. The group argued with Gill over the sound and has stated that they were not thrilled with the results of their debut disc. Anthony Kiedis commented, “Andy’s thing was having a hit at all costs, but it was such a mistake to have an agenda.” He also wrote in his Scar Tissue book, “For the first couple of days in the studio, everything seemed fine. But I soon realized that Andy was going for a sound that wasn’t us. By the end of the sessions, Flea and I would literally stomp out of the studio into the control room, crawl over the console VU meters and scream, ‘F– you! We hate you!’”
That led to an incident between Gill and the band where they took out their frustrations by leaving a dump on the recording console for Gill. As Flea would later reveal in the liner notes for the album, “At one point during recording, I said, ‘I gotta go take a s–t’ … Andy responded in his dry holier than thou English way, ‘Oh, how charming, bring it back for me will you?’ So Anthony and I went into the bathroom down the hall and got a piece of cardboard and I rocked a big ol’ duke on it and we brought it to the control room and set it down on the mixing board in front of him … Ah that was fun.” In retrospect, Flea stated that while Andy and Gang of Four were an influence, he felt that Gill did not understand the album the band was trying to make.
He also stated that while Sherman and Martinez were part of the album, they probably should have stuck with Slovak and Irons. “Honestly, in retrospect, the smart thing to do would have been to try and keep Jack and Hillel there at least for the recording process to keep the original raw and rollicking rockin’ feeling we had at the time and I think we would have made a more intense and to the point record, capturing deep hard groove,” says Flea. “But we still did our best and wrote some good stuff with those two, especially ‘Mommy, Where’s Daddy.'” That song would feature a guest backing vocal by Gwen Dickey, who sang in the ’70s disco group Rose Royce.
The album did garner some attention. “True Men Don’t Kill Coyotes” would be released as their first music video. The bass-driven track would be a little slower than the pace of most future Chili Peppers songs, but did provide an entry point for fans to get familiar with their funkier sound. Meanwhile, the funk infused “Get Up and Jump” was released as the first official single. The song was the second track ever penned by the Chili Peppers, following on the heels of “Out in L.A.,” a track that Kiedis had improvised as a rap poem.
Another favorite from the album was “Green Heaven.” Flea says in the album’s liner notes, “I was so excited when Anthony wrote the lyrics for ‘Green Heaven.’ I used to call everybody I knew up and read ’em to them over the phone. I remember when we recorded that demo, while furiously banging away on that bass. I felt this ethereal floating feeling. I was just disappearing into the beat and I am sure we all shared it. To this day, it is the feeling I always strive for when I am in the studio recording. I sometimes touch it. I always know if I am playing well by what it does to my body.”
The disc also featured a cover of Hank Williams’ “Why Don’t You Love Me,” with a Chili Peppers stamp of course. “We used to listen to Hank Williams a lot with Bobby and that had a lot to do with ‘Why Don’t You Love Me,'” says Flea. “Most of it though just came out of the intense fire and ice style relationship of me and AK. I think there were a lot of times when we were all each other had.”
Though the album may not have turned out as the band wished, there were the seeds of something great on the horizon. As Flea reflected, “I used to really regret that we didn’t make the record I thought we could of, that it could have been a classic record, but Anthony recently pointed out to me that it was all part of our learning process and had we been too good too fast we never would have continued the long and rich growing process we are still on.”
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