The Red Hot Chili Peppers were on the verge of superstardom in 1990. This would have been a surprising notion to any of the members, or anyone who was around the band during their first decade, for that matter.
In the ‘80s, the Chili Peppers were funk rap party animals who indulged in herculean amounts of drug abuse and played a relatively unmelodic bent. They were like Faith No More without the prog elements and versatile lead singer, or a white Parliament-Funkadelic without the built-in mythos or the sprawling and groundbreaking influence. They were a bunch of goofballs who were probably destined to fail.
It took a tragedy for the band to edge ever closer to the mainstream. Guitarist Hillel Slovak died of a heroin overdose in 1988, devastating his bandmates. Drummer Jack Irons no longer wanted to be in a band where his friends were dying, so he departed, leaving only singer Anthony Keidis and bassist Michael ‘Flea’ Balzary. Summoning some untold strength – and perhaps ignoring some cosmic signs – the two decided to rebuild and carry on.
It would have taken two mammoth talents to turn the Chili Peppers into something palatable for alt-rock radio, but that’s just what they found in John Frusciante and Chad Smith. Frusciante was a music theory whizz and guitar wunderkind who was also a massive fan of the Chili Peppers, while Smith was a heavy metal drummer who showed uncommon adaptability, including in the band’s preferred jam genre, funk.
With a newly solidified lineup, the Chili Peppers went into the studio and created Mother’s Milk. Frusciante was only 18 when the album was recorded, but he is already pushing the Chili Peppers into greater realms of maturity, primarily by incorporating a greater sense of melody for which Keidis was required to sing more. When Keidis wasn’t singing, Frusciante picked up the slack, as can be heard on the album’s instrumental ‘Pretty Little Ditty’.
The song isn’t a funk jam or relentless burst of energy like the band’s previous material. Instead, it’s a joyous and calming piece that relies on Frusciante’s inherent love of counterpoint and Flea’s childhood training on the trumpet. It’s unlike anything that the Chili Peppers had released up to that point, and it helped lay the groundwork for the band’s next steps on Blood Sugar Sex Magik.
Of course, because this is still the Chili Peppers, Keidis is required to tell a story about his grandmother completely with a gross punchline before Frusciante and Flea play ‘Pretty Little Ditty’ at the Pink Pop Festival in 1990. Smith and Keidis can be seen dancing along to the song in the wings, and frankly, it’s remarkable that the Chili Peppers could sit still for a solid two and a half minutes to play something not funk-related in 1990. This is the incarnation that currently exists in 2021, so I wonder what the chances are of seeing a revived version of ‘Pretty Little Ditty’ on the band’s 2022 world tour.
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