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Album: Blood Sugar Sex MagikReleased: 1991Charted:
Lead singer Anthony Kiedis wrote this about his days as a heroin addict and the loneliness that went with it. The bridge mentioned in the song is a place where he sometimes went to buy drugs and get high.
This was the biggest hit for The Red Hot Chili Peppers, but it was not typical of their sound. This was a ballad, but most of their songs to that point were hard rock or funk. This was particularly challenging for Kiedis to sing during the Blood Sugar Sex Magik
tour, but the Chili Peppers became comfortable with the sound and followed this up with more slower singles like "Soul To Squeeze" and "Breaking The Girl."
This song was originally just a poem that Kiedis wrote. He didn't write it for the Chili Peppers - it was a very personal poem that he thought he might use somewhere else. Producer Rick Rubin found it in one of his notebooks and told Anthony that it could be a great song. At first, he didn't want to sing it or share it with anyone, but he eventually came around.
Rubin recalled to Newsweek
in a 2013 interview: "My thinking was that the Chili Peppers were not limited to being a funk band with rapping. And I remember Anthony was embarrassed to show the song to the other guys in the band. But he sang it to John [Frusciante, guitarist] and John came up with his part. Then he played it for Flea [bassist] and Flea came up with his part. And it ended up being a really good song—even though they didn’t realize how good it was until people starting responding to it."
The band got a headlining slot on the 1992 Lollapalooza Tour when this became a hit. The gig greatly expanded their fan base and showcased their skills as a very energetic live band.
In 1990, after the death of his best friend and Hillel Slovak, Kiedis suddenly became afraid. He was sitting behind the wheel of his car and just began singing "sometimes I feel like I don't have a partner..." Slovak, who played guitar in the band, died of a drug overdose in 1988.
The "City of Angels" Anthony Kiedis sings about here is Los Angeles, where he lived since he was 12 years old. Much of the song deals with his relationship with the city. "It really repulses me these days," he told Goldmine in 1996. "Just sucking in that toxic cloud of hellish smog every day that I live... not a pleasant thought. But I do have a strong family tie to that city that I'll probably never be able to sever."
Guitarist John Frusciante's mother sang backup on this along with two of her friends from church.
In his book Scar Tissue
, Kiedis explained that he thought up the lyrics while he was driving from a session with the Red Hot Chili Peppers. He was kind of sad because John Frusciante and Flea were getting closer as friends and Anthony was set apart from that, due to the fact that he was deeply involved with drugs. That's why he wrote, "Sometimes I feel like I don't have a partner."
Kiedis also wrote of the song: "Under The Bridge... I started freestyling some poetry in my car and putting the words to a melody and sang all the way down the freeway. When I got home, I got out my notebook and wrote the whole thing down in a song structure, even though it was meant to be a poem to deal with my own anguish."
Before he left the band in May 1992, John Frusciante sometimes improvise intros and exaggerate his background vocals when performing this song live, as he was getting fed up with the song and with Kiedis. This is evident on their February 22, 1992 Saturday Night Live performance when he clearly throws Kiedis off at the beginning of the song, then screams his backup vocals later in the song.
The music video was directed by Gus Van Sant, who went on to direct the movies Good Will Hunting
and Finding Forester
. The bridge in the video also appears in the "By The Way" video.
The song was covered in 1998 by UK girl band All Saints, where it was arguably changed to a run-of-the-mill love song. Notable changes were the line "City of Angels" to "City of cities," "I walk through her hills" to "I walk through his field" and a complete deletion of the last verse due to the drug references. It was released as a double A side with another cover, "Lady Marmalade
," and reached #1 on the UK singles charts. The Yorkshire singer-songwriter Richard Hawley played guitar on the All Saints version.
In Weird Al Yankovic's "Bedrock Anthem
" this song and music video is parodied in the beginning. It then switches to a parody of "Give It Away
Guitarist John Frusciante's intro drew heavily on the 1971 David Bowie song "Andy Warhol
." His guitar playing becomes more rapid until it reaches an E major seventh chord that halts the song. He borrowed the E major seventh chord technique from T. Rex's "Rip Off," a track from the British group's 1971 album Electric Warrior
Blood Sugar Sex Magik was the first album the band released for Warners Records. They were previously with EMI.