1991: The Year of Sir Psycho Sexy

The year was 1991.  It was fall.  And the school day had just ended.  I was a senior at WCHS in Warsaw, In.  It was music release day and Red Hot Chili Pepper’s ‘BloodSugarSexMagik’ was officially out.  So, along with my girlfriend(who is now my wife) and my good friend Jason(who is now tattooed head to toe) hopped in my 1977 Chevy Nova and drove 30 miles north east to the Concord Mall and bought this amazing nugget of music history at Super Sounds record store.  I can’t remember why we actually drove clear to Dunlap to buy it.  We actually had a record store in Warsaw.  Come to think of it, we had two different places to buy music.  Butterfly Records downtown and Video World.  Ehh, this was back when gas was probably $1 a gallon and there was nothing better than a road trip.  So off we went.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  “RHCP??  Seriously?”  Well, to that I say, “Hell yes the RHCP!”  This was a tight, funky, filthy musical statement.  1991 was dominated by Pearl Jam’s ‘Ten’, Soundgarden’s ‘Badmotorfinger’, and Nirvana’s ‘Nevermind’, all of which I played obsessively.  RHCP’s ‘BloodSugarSexMagik’ is included in this group.   Of those four albums, BSSM is the only one I can still listen to.  Of all the musical statements made in those aforementioned albums, the Red Hot Chili Peppers statement was the clearest, and it was this:  “Tube socks are good genitalia warmers.”  Previous releases showed a bunch of horny southern California dudes that loved Parliament, the Minutemen and Gang of Four records.  They also loved their genitalia.  There music was fast, with a ton of slap bass and filled with sexual innuendos ‘rapped’ by some dude that looked like Iggy Pop’s bastard son.  It was novelty music, at least to my ears.  When ‘Mother’s Milk’ was released in 1989,  it sounded like those horny southern California dudes might actually be taking the art of songwriting a bit more seriously.  ‘Knock Me Down’ was damn good.  And their cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ was inspired.  Was I completely sold?  No.  But I was intrigued.  Intrigued enough to dub my brother’s copy of it.  So then in the fall of ’91 MTV debuted a new video from the Chili Peppers upcoming release.  The release was called ‘BloodSugarSexMagik’ and the song was called ‘Give It Away’. I hadn’t seen or heard anything like it.  It was funky as hell.  Catchy as all get out. And the video was completely messed up.  These dudes are out in the desert covered in silver paint,  with weird ass costumes, horns coming out their heads.  Even their instruments were silver.  And the thing was shot in black and white.  But what got me the most was the music.  It made this gawky white boy want to move.  It wasn’t about teen alienation.  It wasn’t about a kid blowing his brains out in the front of his class.  It wasn’t about a Jesus Christ pose.  It was about….what the hell was it about??  You know, that’s the beauty of it.  Who knows what it’s about, and who cares?  It made you feel good.  It made a gawky teen not feel so gawky.  There was no lesson trying to be taught here.  There was no plight of the working man being sung.  There was no declaration of true love.  No pleading to save the environment.  This wasn’t Dylan.  This wasn’t Springsteen.  Nor was it alternative.  This was just raw, loud, funky rock, executed beautifully by 4 guys that finally figured out playing with their instruments can be just as rewarding as playing with their tube sock-covered johnsons.

One of the reasons that made this record so different for me was that I think they let John Frusciante have a much bigger say in the music.  They slowed things down.  They added more melody.  There were even elements of psychedelia(Breaking The Girl).  ‘Under the Bridge’, although completely burnt out and overplayed, is a great example of the step forward these guys took.  The production values improved greatly.  I think that’s what makes this record still very palatable to the ears.  It doesn’t sound dated.  It’s like a classic record from the 70’s.  Recorded dry and raw, with alot of low end punch.  For all the shit Rick Rubin catches as of late, the guy knows how to make a record sound unprocessed and true to the artist(visit Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’ and any of the latter year Johnny Cash recordings for further proof of this).  No reverbed or gated drums.  No over-processed vocals.  No gimmicky guitar sounds.  Just very natural.  Like a band in a rehearsal space at their most sweatiest best.

The lyrics.  Well, what can you say?  This is one of those albums you would strategically turn down at certain points while driving in the car with your parents.  I didn’t really want to have to explain lines like “creamy beaver, hotter than a fever, i’m a givin’ cause she’s the receiver”.  This wasn’t singer/songwriter stuff.  This was just filthy words to go along with the nasty funk.  And it’s perfect.  But not perfect for a drive with the parents.  Kiedes was no poet laureate.  He was just high on heroin and coming up with lyrics in between fixes.  And it works.

Musically they were as tight as they’d ever been.  The rhythm section of Flea and Chad Smith had done their homework.  Emulating seventies funk rhythm section from bands like Parliament, Ohio Players and even ‘Jungle Boogie’ era Commodores, to punk and post punk bands like Gang of Four and the Minutemen.  They didn’t drop a beat, and they found that confounded bridge.  Every time.  John Frusciante gave them the soul they had lacked.  He brought a Hendrix psychedelic-fueled tenacity to the music that wasn’t there before.  That jangly, single coil buzz the permeated every song is what brought those tunes down from the skies to the ground.  Without it, it would have lost an element that made this recording vital.

I’m not kidding myself.  This is a goofy album.  It didn’t change anything in the musical landscape.  And if I’m being honest, it may have even helped to create that godawful genre we call rap-rock, which begat nu-metal, which begat the decline of western civilization as we know it.  But in my mind, this record exists in it’s own little sphere of beauty, lust and arrogance.  It defied the trends of the day.  It didn’t try to hide it’s blatant sexuality and pomposity with a ‘meaning’ or ‘lesson learned’ moment.  It was unadulterated music you felt on a gut level.  Music for the sake of music.

‘Sir Psycho Sexy’ still makes me cringe and blush, as if my parents were still in the front seat.

3 thoughts on “1991: The Year of Sir Psycho Sexy

  1. Nice read, but just to clarify, Anthony Kiedis had been clean for a few years during the writing/recording of Blood Sugar Sex Magik.


    1. Thanks Oscar. Kiedis’s sobriety was an on/off affair up until just a few years ago. But since I can neither confirm or deny if he was on smack at the time they made BSSM, I’ll take your word for it. Thanks for the clarification and thanks for reading. J


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