Red Hot Chili Peppers' 'Californication' Turns 20: Ranking All the Tracks
Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication, which turns 20 today (June 8), was wildly popular in 1999. It was everywhere. You couldn't exist in American pop culture without hearing its singles, including "Otherside," "Californication," and the Grammy-winning "Scar Tissue."
It was a barrage that helped drive the album to a band-best record of 15 million copies sold worldwide. It's omnipresent in the digital music age, too, which rose long after the album's release. Combined, those singles have over a billion of Spotify streams, and on YouTube, fans from all around the world obsess over live performance videos and cover the songs. Californication, like Hollywood, became a mass cultural export -- it was a truly global phenomenon; just watch videos of gigs from Ireland to Australia to South America to witness some of RHCP's most fervent fans.
Let's all thank John Frusciante, RHCP's original guitarist, who, after a slide into drug addiction in the mid-1990s, returned to the band to help them recapture their magic. He brings an emotional melodicism and virtuosic playing that Dave Navarro, his short-lived substitute, just couldn't summon on the band's lackluster '95 LP, One Hot Minute. On Californication, all pistons are firing for RHCP—bassist Flea and drummer Chad Smith bring the punk-funk, Frusciante goes full Hendrix on the guitar, and frontman Anthony Kiedis is contemplative and emotional, but equally playful, and opens his range and discovers his knack for pop melody.
The album is packed with career-making moments. Here are all the tracks, ranked.
15. "Right on Time"
It's a 1:53 blast of funky ferocity, alternating from mesmerizing bass with Kiedis' rapping, then full of blitz with wah-wah guitar. "Supercalifragilistic / Kiss me in the futuristic / Twisted but I must insist / It's time to get on top of this."
Another space-bound tune from Frusciante and Kiedis, with this one going down a psychedelic wormhole. A lava lamp guitar riff opens as our muscled frontman gets intergalactic: "A butterfly that flaps its wings / Affecting almost everything / The more I hear the orchestra the more I have something to bring." Then it goes all in: A trippy interlude finds sitar lines and bells chiming in the mountain mist, Kiedis cooing, "And now I see you in a beautiful and different light / He's just a man and everything he does will be all right / Call out my name, call and I came."
13. "Emit Remmus"
It's one of the weirder tunes on Californication—droning guitar twangs alongside a bubbly bass line, flaunting the band's tendency for writing tunes from jam sessions. Kiedis focuses again on his hometown: "The California animal is a bear / Angeleno but the devil may care / Summer time to talk and swear / Later maybe we could share some air."
12. "Purple Stain"
Here's a fun one: funk bass galore and punk guitar interlock with Kiedis' word play: "Black and white a red and blue / Things that look good on you / And if I scream don't let me go / A purple stain I know / And if I call for you to stay / Come hit the funk on your way." The band's obsession with Parliament-Funkadelic and the like is fully on display.
11. "I Like Dirt"
A funk jam on par with Jamiroquai -- this one moves. Flecked guitar chords and bass mirror each other over Smith's upbeat drumming. Kiedis is again scatting away: "The earth is made of dirt and wood / And I'd be water if I could / Live in a dream in your stream / Live in a dream."
A melodic funk-rocker that shows RHCP striking a new balance on this album -- it's contained and smart, but still definitely the Chili Peppers. A straight-ahead chord progression is shadowed by bass and drums, and Kiedis wailing, "I can't tell you who to idolize / You think it's almost over / But it's only on the rise / Calling calling / For something in the air / Calling calling I know you must be there."
9. "Get on Top"
This one's a full-on funk blast, reminiscent of the Chili Peppers of yore. Flea and Smith's rhythmic assault melds with Frusciante's wah-wah guitar as Kiedis playfully rhymes "Sammy D" and "Salmonella" (and "Speed Baller" with "Rhodes Scholar") because "You're ill but I'm iller." It goes full funky town on the bridge, "Extra planetary sign when do we align." This is RHCP's sweet spot.
8. "This Velvet Glove"
A headier moment for Frusciante's trippy guitar work to shine. With a slick electric riff layered over acoustic guitar strumming, this tune has a dark side, as do Kiedis' lyrics of desperate love: "Your solar eyes are like nothing I have ever seen / Somebody close that was made for you / I'd take a fall and you know that I'd do anything I will for you."
7. "Road Trippin'"
There's nothing like a California road trip. This acoustic ditty with sweeping strings is an outlier on this album of measured pop singles and funk-punk firecrackers. Kiedis narrates a road trip with his homies, up the Pacific Coast Highway to Big Sur, checking the surf reports and scarfing snacks along the way. "Blue you sit so pretty West of the 1 / Sparkles light with yellow icing, just a mirror for the sun / Just a mirror for the sun," Kiedis sings.
6. "Parallel Universe"
A skittering beauty with interlaced guitar and bass riff, that explodes in one of the album's hardest rocking bits: "Deep inside of a parallel universe / It's getting harder and harder / To tell what came first," Kiedis ponders over the pulsing lick. "Christ I'm a sidewinder / I'm a California king / I swear it's everywhere / It's everything." Enter scorching solo.
Another one of the album's blockbuster singles, brought to you by Frusciante's mesmerizing guitar work and Kiedis' measured singing. "How long, how long will I slide? / Separate my side, I don't / I don't believe it's bad / Slit my throat it's all I ever." With Frusciante's backing vocals and the increasing urgency of his guitar playing, the tune climbs to a spine-tingling beauty that's imprinted in the minds of all old enough to remember this album release cycle. The video was a hit, too.
In the PNW, old-timers refer to the "Californication" of Washington or Oregon or Idaho, aka all the Cali residents fleeing home for their cheaper, less-congested neighbors. But the core of "Californication" all really boils down to artifice to Hollywood. "It's the edge of the world and all of western civilization," Kiedis sings over that gliding guitar riff. "The sun may rise in the east at least it's settled in a final location / It's understood that Hollywood sells Californication." Then again: "Pay your surgeon very well to break the spell of aging / Celebrity skin is this your chin or is that war you're waging?" The pop craft here is top-notch, and reaches an apex with Kiedis -- a Midwesterner who moved west as a youngster and grew up wheeling and dealing on Hollywood Boulevard -- crooning, "Dream of Californication!" It's a championing of what made RHCP, RHCP, warts (or lack thereof, depending on your doctor) and all.
3. "Around the World"
The big punk-funk scorcher, opening with Flea's fuzz-toned and fluttering bass lick, before Kiedis lets 'er wail. It's quite the opening statement. Kiedis' rap-scat drops off to a smooth, wide-screen chorus before the whole loop is started over again. Kiedis globe trots from Russia to Bombay and Ohio and Wisconsin. But there's trouble brewing at home: "I try not to whine / But I must warn ya / 'Bout the motherfuckin' girls from California."
It's the album's most tender, heart-wrenching moment – a truly meditative, downtempo tune like you've never before heard from RHCP. "Are you wasting away in your skin? / Are you missing the love of your kin? / Drifting and floating and fading away." In a sense, it's the band's druggiest song, as well as one of its most enduring and universal – check out this cover by Miguel.
1. "Scar Tissue"
That riff! Everyone remembers it; everyone can hum it. Nicely done, Frusciante. "Scar tissue that I wish you saw / Sarcastic mister know-it-all / Close your eyes and I'll kiss you 'cause / With the birds I'll shareeeeeeeee," Kiedis sings in a career-defining moment of pop bliss for this rough-and-tumble SoCal funk outfit. It went on to top the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs and Alternative Songs charts and hit No. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. In 2000, it won the Grammy for best rock song. "With the birds I'll shareeeeeeeeeeee."