1991 was an incredible year for music: Nirvana’s Nevermind, U2’s Achtung Baby, A Tribe Called Quest’s Low End Theory and Pearl Jam’s 10. But there is no way to talk about the rock and roll explosion of the 90s and NOT mention Red Hot Chili Peppers landmark album Blood Sugar Sex Magik. It was their fifth album, the one which rocketed them to fame and arguably their best (come on, it is), though they have continued making hit albums; ten studio recordings including this year’s I’m With You. Produced by Rick Rubin, the album was recorded in an LA mansion that had once belonged to Harry Houdini. Anthony Kiedis, John Frusciante and Flea lived in the mansion for a month during recording, but drummer Chad Smith chose to sleep in his own apartment, feeling the mansion was haunted. Blood Sugar Sex Magic boasted four hit singles and peaked at number three on the Billboard charts, selling more than 15 million copies to date. The energy and creativity of the music was matched by the videos, each one memorable in its own way.
The first single off the album, many radio stations refused to play the track, feeling it lacked melody. But a few of the DJs at LA’s K-Rock radio loved the song and put it into heavy rotation. From there it went on to become an international hit, winning a Grammy in 1993 for Best Hard Rock Performance and was included in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs That Shaped Rock.” French fashion photographer and film maker Stéphane Sednaoui directed the video, which was unlike anything else running on MTV at the time. Watching endless hours of director’s promo reels sent over by Warner Bros., Kiedis found them boring and inauthentic until seeing Sednaoui’s. He found Sednaoui’s work to be cinematic and liked that the majority of it was shot in black and white. The multi-day viedo shoot took place in the desert outside LA and was a positive experience for both the band and the director. The resulting video is one of the most exuberant clips ever made and upon screening it for the first time Kiedis was ecstatic. Warner Bros. was afraid it was too odd and artsy for the general public, especially for the first single, and wanted to shoot a new video or heavily edit the existing. “Give It Away” managed to air without any further edits from the label and, of course, is credited with rise of the band’s popularity. Engaging, playful and sexual, it’s still a joy to watch.
“Under the Bridge” was released in March 1992 and, despite the success of previous single “Give It Away”, this was this one which pushed the Chili Peppers into the mainstream consciousness. Kiedis had been holding on to the lyrics for some time but was reluctant to share them with the band, feeling it didn’t fit in with their other material. It was producer Rick Rubin who pleaded with Kiedis to share the lyrics with the rest of the group, who then wrote the music around it. The song was an instant critical and commercial success, certified platinum later that year. The video was directed by Gus Van Sant, a friend of Flea’s from his small role in Van Sant’s My Own Private Idaho. The original video was mostly the band recording in the studio but Kiedis felt it lacked the depth to match the song’s lyrics. The LA street sequences and the superimposed imagery were added later, complimenting the song’s emotional story: Kiedis at his absolute lowest.
The third single from the album, “Suck My Kiss” was released in 1992 in Australia only – perhaps the lyrics were a bit much for American audiences. Gavin Bowdin, Flea’s brother-in-law, documented the album’s recording both with pictures and on film, the footage ultimately becoming the movie Funky Monks. Some of this footage was also used for this video, showing Kiedis recording his vocals in his bedroom as the rest of the band played in the living room, which is how the entire album was done. The parade imagery in red is the American army returning from the Gulf War.
The final clip from Blood Sugar Sex Magic the band again worked with director Stéphane Sednaoui. At this point Warner Bros. took a more hands off approach, letting the band and their director do as they pleased. This one is beautifully odd, making use of costume changes, over saturated color and surreal behavior. The clip features guitarist Arik Marshall who briefly replaced John Frusciante after the pressure of the band’s success became an issue and he quit in the middle of the Blood Sugar Sex Magik tour. Also, catch a glimpse of a young River Phoenix, who was friends with the band after working with Flea on My Own Private Idaho.