Lead Vocal: Bobby Cohen
" ... the best record the Chili Peppers have ever made."
Music was getting dull again. Big hair and arena rock took over during the 8os, through artists like Wham, Duran Duran, and Bon Jovi. In contrast to this formulaic and overproduced rock music, there was a hot and sticky brew of rebellion stewing on the West Coast of the US. Red Hot Chili Peppers, Guns N Roses, and Rage Against The Machine were boiling in LA; and then Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and the grunge gang bubbled in Seattle.
Of these the Red Hot Chili Peppers had the most unique sound. A blend of Rock, Funk, and Hip-Hop held down by Flea's sublime bass.
If ever a band defined drug abuse and dysfunction it was RHCP. Nearly every member wandered in and out of serious heroin addiction throughout the band's early years. Their first guitarist, Hillel Slovak, died of an overdose in 1988. Teenage wunderkind John Frusciante — who ended up getting addicted, quitting the band in 1992, and spending the next several years in poverty and squalor, replaced him. Their next guitarist, Dave Navarro, featured on only one album (One Hot Minute, widely considered their worst work) and was kicked out in 1998 for drug use (after which he returned to Jane's Addiction).
In 1998 a recovered and rehabilitated Frusciante rejoined the band. They softened their sound, released Californication, and achieved the mainstream success they are known for today. This group of nihilistic former junkies performed for Al Gore in 2007, for the Obama campaign in 2012, and for the Bernie Sanders campaign in 2016!
Anthony Kiedis is rightfully proud of Californication's lyrics. Clearly hip-hop influenced, it's a biting social commentary with an erudition that you can't learn in college. And every reference that seemed 'Hollywood superficial' moved mainstream, just like the band did! Kiedis' lampooning of cult-like celebrity worship and overzealous cosmetic surgery seems almost more relevant today than it was at the time. For fun, try and find the less obvious references in the lyrics to Chinese industrial esponiage, NIMBYism, Internet addiction, Fake News, and Schumpeterian economics.
The song as Kiedis wrote it felt incomplete, and almost did not make it on the album until the newly-rejoined John Frusciante showed up in the studio one day with a guitar part that just fit. Add on Flea's bass line and a relatively subdued George Harrison-esque solo (a simple melody with a key change from Am->A), and you have the song as we know it now.