Looking back, I guess it seems pretty wacky — now. My Florida-based band, Dead Serios, had been criss-crossing the southern U.S. — performing with an array of up-and-coming rock hopefuls in various nightclubs, beer joints and frat houses. In the fall of 1989, we found ourselves in Columbia, South Carolina, playing a series of shows with a then-unknown indie combo called Hootie and the Blowfish. Typically too broke to pony-up for hotels, Dead Serios band members frequently crashed on the couches of the local band members with whom we performed.
I recall staying at the college campus rental house of Hootie frontman, Darius Rucker and guitarist, Mark Bryan. Just prior to leaving for that night’s gig, we all were congregated on the Hootie house porch — drinking beer and shooting bull. I remember Mark bringing out his enormous boom box and blasting it loud enough for even distant neighbors to enjoy. The songs sounded crisp and fresh — punched up by hip-hop-inspired vocals, driven by authentic, funk-fueled basslines and oozing insane guitar riffs. I remember Mark being consumed completely by the music — leaping from the porch and dancing wildly across the front lawn. An admitted drooling hair band disciple in the day, I was totally clueless. “Dude, what is this?” I had to inquire. Without skipping a beat, Mark informed me passionately that it was the latest from a group called Red Hot Chili Peppers — a just-released record entitled Mother’s Milk. “RHCP 101” now was in session.
Produced by Michael Beinhorn (Hole, Violent Femmes, Marilyn Manson), the fourth studio set from the LA-based brigade was the right record at the right time. The music scene was being strangled by soulless arena rock poster boys and bludgeoned by lip-syncing pop stars. Simply put, a mighty kick in the ass was in order. 30 years ago this week (August 16, 1989), that ass-kicking ensued.
Arguably, this was one of the songs that helped propel RHCP to “Higher Ground.”
Mother’s Milk was an important record for a couple of reasons. It breathed much-needed fresh air across the barren rock landscape and it captured a ground-breaking band while it was hungry and fearless. The record came a time when RHCP were at an early crossroads — following the recent death of founding guitarist Hillel Slovak and the subsequent departure of drummer Jack Irons. It also offered a glimpse of the developing unique radio-friendly factor that soon would become the group’s stylistic brand. Mother’s Milk ultimately approached the Billboard Top 50, and would become the band’s first record to achieve gold status.
Even as a rather “unenlightened” fella at the time, I “got” Mother’s Milk, straight out of the gate. Anthony Kiedis’ lead vocals sounded honest and urgent, and Flea’s WTF bass work was like something I hadn’t heard since my teenage George Clinton obsession in the ‘70s. And as a closet drum geek, I found the heart-stopping tracks laid down by newly-recruited drummer Chad Smith to be frustratingly inspirational.
The skin-tight recreation of the Stevie Wonder hit, “Higher Ground” and the demo-caliber version of the Jimi Hendrix classic, “Fire” both flat-out demanded your attention, while the current single at that moment, “Knock Me Down” was fun and infectious, with a distinctive edge. However, it was Flea’s bass tapping pinned to John Frusciante’s guitar squeal on the opening track, “Good Time Boys” that truly bitch-slapped me. Equally noteworthy, “Stone Cold Bush” provided me with a blistered backside, along with “Punk Rock Classic” — a concise chunk of uncontrolled chaos that offered a seemingly less than sincere tip of the hat to the Guns N’ Roses staple, “Sweet Child O’ Mine” — a sly wink that certainly wasn’t lost on this arena rock wannabe.
A promotional photo of Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1989:
As the ‘90s played out, Red Hot Chili Peppers would be launched further into rock’s stratosphere with the multi-platinum, Top 10 slabs, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, One Hot Minute and Californication. However, 30 years later, Mother’s Milk remains significant — not only for being the record that put the Peppers on the map, but also for having the balls to push the envelope, and for being an impressive collection of incredible songs.
Mother’s Milk Track Listing:
01. Good Time Boys - 5:02
02. Higher Ground - 3:23
03. Subway to Venus - 4:25
04. Magic Johnson - 2:57
05. Nobody Weird Like Me - 3:50
06. Knock Me Down - 3:45
07. Taste the Pain - 4:32
08. Stone Cold Bush - 3:06
09. Fire - 2:03
10. Pretty Little Ditty - 1:35
11. Punk Rock Classic - 1:47
12. Sexy Mexican Maid - 3:23
13. Johnny, Kick a Hole in the Sky - 5:12
Run Time: 45:02 Release Date: August 16, 1989 Record Label: EMI America
Listening to this song I am reminded that nothing is going to “Knock Me Down.”