How the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Debut Pointed to Big Things
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It wasn’t the grand introduction they were hoping it would be but, on Aug. 10, 1984, the Red Hot Chili Peppers entered the world stage with their self-titled first album.
The group, together at that point for just a year, had grown out of high school friendships between Anthony Kiedis, Hillel Slovak, Jack Irons and Flea. They originally called themselves Tony Flow and the Majestic Masters of Mayhem – an indication of their intent to keep things fun and low-key. In fact, Irons and Slovak were simultaneously in another group called What Is This?
Nevertheless, the chemistry between the four was undeniable. The Red Hot Chili Peppers decided to make a real go of it, even hiring a manager in Lindy Goetz. After a few shows around the L.A. area, jamming behind some of Anthony Keidis’ rap-flow poetry for a number of weeks, they got a bit more serious about their material by culling snippets for a demo tape. They also decided to change their unwieldy name to something a bit more relatable, and thus the Red Hot Chili Peppers were born.
Just as things seemed about to take off for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, however, they hit a roadblock. Two weeks before the band signed a seven-record deal with EMI America, Jack Irons and Hillel Slovak inked their own deal with MCA for What Is This? It was a disaster for Kiedis and Flea, who were mere inches from turning their dreams into a reality. Still, rather than let it all end, they decided to search for a replacement drummer and guitarist. Ultimately, they settled on Jack Sherman to take over Novak’s spot and Flea’s friend Cliff Martinez at the drums.
With a revamped lineup now in place, the group entered the studio to lay down some tracks, booking time in April 1984 at Eldorado Studios in Hollywood. Waiting there, however, was producer Andy Gill – and his conception of the band’s sound apparently couldn’t have been more different than that of Flea and Anthony Kiedis.
“For the first couple of days in the studio, everything seemed fine,” Kiedis wrote in his book Scar Tissue, “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!’”
All of that pent-up frustration spilled out. “One of the band members [reportedly Flea] did a pile of s– in a pizza box,” Andy Gill once said, “and placed it on the mixing desk in the middle of a mix. The engineer literally ran screaming from the studio. The last time I saw him, he was running down Sunset Boulevard.”
To no one’s surprise, then, the Red Hot Chili Peppers emerged with an album in which they’ve remained disappointed. Far from heralding their superstar future, The Red Hot Chili Peppers stalled one spot outside of the Billboard 200. “I felt like we had landed between two peaks in the valley of compromise,” Anthony Kiedis wrote. “I wasn’t ashamed of it, but it was nothing like our demo tape. Still, our take was, ‘Okay, this is our record and let’s keep marching on.’”
And that they most certainly did, even as The Red Hot Chili Peppers continued to sell respectably – eventually moving some 300,000 copies. By 1989, there’d been more lineup shifts. (Irons and the late Slovak, who died in 1988, even returned at one point.) But the Red Hot Chili Peppers were ready to begin a run of platinum-selling albums that stretched into the new millennium, securing induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along the way.
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