John Frusciante’s third stint with the Red Hot Chili Peppers had only just been announced before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the excitement of seeing arguably the iconic band’s most classic lineup live.
Frusciante first joined the band in 1988, following the tragic death of guitarist Hillel Slovak.
His first exodus from the Chilis came in 1992, when he was replaced by Dave Navaro, before returning once again later that decade just in time for 1999’s Californication.
Frusciante was replaced by Josh Klinghoffer when he announced his second departure in 2009, and while the latter has done an admirable job (even becoming the youngest person to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame), the revelation that Frusciante would return was music to the ears of long-time fans of the group.
While there’s no chance of seeing the prodigal son play live anytime soon, the good news is that drummer Chad Smith has revealed that the Chilis were back in the studio with Frusciante.
So while we wait for new music from the band, and for live shows to return, we look back at six of the most underrated songs from the Red Hot Chili Peppers that starred John Frusciante on guitar.
*Please note, these are listed only in the order that they were released and have not been ranked. I’ve also tried to feature albums spanning across as much of the band’s discography as possible.
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‘Knock Me Down’ (1989):
I felt it was pretty important to include a song from Mother’s Milk as the record showed just how prodigiously talented Frusciante was. Recorded when he was still a teenager, ‘Knock Me Down’ starts off with a hard-hitting riff that showed the guitarist wasn’t afraid to put his stamp on the band.
Sure, the vocals and instrumentation are still pretty raw, but the entire song functions thanks that thick, heavily textured riff established by Frusciante in bar one.
‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ (1991):
The title track from Frusciante’s second album recorded with the Chilis is often overshadowed by higher-profile tracks like ‘Give It Away’, ‘Suck My Kiss’ and ‘Under The Bridge’. The fact is though, that ‘Blood Sugar Sex Magik’ showed off everything you needed to know about the band at this stage in their evolution.
Frusciante’s guitar is starting to feel a lot more polished, but the overall sound is still shaped by those classic syncopated rhythms that defined the Chilis’ music in their earlier years.
‘Around The World’ (1999):
After spending most of the ‘90s whacked out on heroin, crack cocaine and alcohol, Frusciante went to rehab, and after undergoing skin grafts and having his rotten teeth replaced by dentures, he returned to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The result was Californication, arguably the band’s greatest record to date.
Frusciante delivered some iconic riffs on songs like ‘Scar Tissue’ and the album’s title track, but opener ‘Around The World’ was just as important. Like an announcement to the world, a heavy opening is followed by screams and then, after a short rap verse, Frusciante delivers a gorgeous melodic progression that somehow both counters and compliments Anthony Kiedis’ vocal line.
This is one of two more melodic tracks in the list, and it was a sound that began to characterise more of the mature Red Hot Chili Peppers sound that would develop as the 2000s went on.
Frusciante sets up the rhythm with these triplets that feel so delicate and intricate, and also plays short arpeggio-like lines that sit above Kiedis’ vocals, only occupying the melodic space when absolutely necessary. Beautiful.
‘Wet Sand’ (2008):
Stadium Arcadium was another album where John Frusciante took a ‘less is more’ approach, and was the last to feature him before he took another hiatus. Songs like ‘Dani California’ and ‘Snow (Hey Oh)’ took the spotlight, but ‘Wet Sand’ shines through as one of the most emotion-filled songs the Chilis have ever recorded.
For a band that often opened songs at break-neck speed, the interplay between Kiedis’ vocals and John’s phrases is striking, and at the time it almost felt like a goodbye song.