Deep Dive: Red Hot Chili Peppers, MOTHER'S MILK

Monday, August 16, 2021
Mother's Milk

It's the album that announced Los Angeles upstarts Red Hot Chili Peppers were a major force to be reckoned with, like it or not. Mother's Milk bridged the gap between the band's wild funk-rock beginnings and the group's ascent to superstardom with the release of the landmark followup, Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

It was a tragic path to Mother's Milk, as it was the first RHCP album after the death of founding guitar player, Hillel Slovak. The silver lining of that dark cloud is the introduction of budding genius guitarist, John Frusciante, still a teen when he was tapped to fill Slovek's massive space in the group. Also new to the band: drummer Chad Smith, fresh from Detroit and stints in local bands including Toby Redd.

"I wasn't a big Chili Peppers fan," Smith told Classic Rock, "but I knew of the band - 'Oh yeah, the guys with the socks on their dicks' [a reference to the Chilis' infamous occasional onstage apparel for concert encores, immortalized on the cover of 1988's Abbey Road EP]. I was more like, 'Wow, a band with a record deal. Yeah, I'll try out for that!'"

Despite the band's reservations due to Smith's more hard and classic rock leaning roots, it was clear that he was the man for the job. The revitalized outfit starting working on a new album with a decided focus and purpose.

"We were straight in, five days a week, writing," the drummer revealed. "Right away we'd just kind of jam and take parts and put things together and find out stuff that sounds good, and Anthony would come up with some melodies or scats or something over the parts. And we came up with some things that we do to this day."

Kicking off the album campaign was first single "Higher Ground," a hard rocking cover of the Stevie Wonder classic. Released in April 1989, the track made an impact on Billboard's Mainstream Rock and Alternative Airplay charts. It was an ideal setup for critically acclaimed second single, "Knock Me Down." Third and final single, "Taste the Pain," arrived with an interesting video in RHCP history: filmed before Chad Smith joined the band, the clip features Philip "Fish" Fisher on the drums.

Released on August 16, 1989, Mother's Milk scored with the band's hardcore fan base and legions of new listeners alike. The album flew past the group's previous LPs to hit the Billboard 200 hard, peaking at #52 over the week of December 2, 1989. The #1 full-length in the country that week: Milli Vanilli's Girl You Know It's True.

"We got four guys in the universe that ended up being in Los Angeles at the same time, and really that was the whole thing of it," Chad Smith said of the record. "And being free and able to just be yourself. That's really an important part of being in the Red Hot Chili Peppers."