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Rock Hall Anniversary: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Mother’s Milk

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In the summer of 1988, the Red Hot Chili Peppers were in a crisis following the critical success of their 1987 album The Uplift Mofo Party Plan. First, guitarist Hillel Slovak succumbs to a heroin overdose, and drummer Jack Irons quits. But with vocalist Anthony Kiedis and bassist Michael “Flea” Balzary vowing to carrying on, they do just that.

By the end of the year, they recruit John Frusciante on guitar and Chad Smith on drums, and they were at work on their fourth album Mother’s Milk. Produced by Michael Beinhorn, the album swayed the band from their usual funk and punk rock sound, and to more melodies, harmonies and more complex song structures. One song that would reflect this musical shift is the cautionary “Knock Me Down”, which brought a more alternative rock sound, while also integrating punk influences, as well as offer introspective lyrics (that which analyzed the death of Slovak).

Another key track is a cover of Stevie Wonder’s 1973 hit “Higher Ground”, which according to Flea, “was a perfect cover, given the situation they were in, especially during 1988.” Other key tracks on Mother’s Milk include “Taste the Pain”, “Pretty Little Ditty”, and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire”.

Mother’s Milk brought the Red Hot Chili Peppers to a wider audience, as the album peaked at number 52 on the charts, and went gold (later platinum). However, the album received mixed reviews from critics as some were unimpressed and felt it didn’t really break any new ground, while some praised the album for its eclectic style of funk and alternative rock. Mother’s Milk would be the Chili Peppers’ last album with label EMI, as the band would later move to Warner Bros. And with producer Rick Rubin at the helm of their later works, would be on their way to bigger things.