In the summer of 1991, one could argue that the Red Hot Chili Peppers had no idea they were just months away from catapulting into the mainstream. Their previous album, 1989’s Mother’s Milk, landed them their first gold record and their highest position on the US album charts, but they were still trying to break in new drummer Chad Smith and new guitarist John Frusciante. They had an entire 1980s of only moderate commercial and critical success, and there didn’t seem to be room for the Chili Peppers in either the pop-rap world of MC Hammer or the grungy alternative rock universe of the emerging Seattle scene.
When viewed just from their actions, however, it could be argued that the Chili Peppers knew they were going to be enormous. The band managed to get all-star producer Rick Rubin on board for their new album, and they even let director Gavin Bowden join them at The Mansion, the supposedly haunted Los Angeles home that served as the studio for Blood Sugar Sex Magik, to record the behind the scenes actions of their recording process.
The eventual documentary that came out of the process was Funky Monks, a fascinating, insightful, and occasionally gross glimpse into a band who were roughly ten seconds away from mega-stardom. Even though this was a band that was largely unknown outside of California, they had clearly already been through some major hurdles: Anthony Kiedis is trying to stay off drugs and clearly still rattled from the loss of former guitarist Hillel Slovak. Even though he wouldn’t have been recognised on the street, Frusciante is already evasive and seemingly hermit-like, focused mostly on just recording music.
Funky Monks is interesting to view as an inside look into the band dynamic, but it also remains invaluable as a way of watching some of the Chili Peppers’ best-loved material come to life in real-time. Footage of the band rehearsing, hashing through, and eventually recording classics like ‘Suck My Kiss’, ‘Give It Away’, and ‘Under the Bridge’ are all chronicled in the documentary, demystifying some of the band’s most legendary material.
One of the tracks that is given some notable on-screen time is ‘Breaking the Girl’, the psychedelic acoustic number that served as a departure from the group’s signature punk-funk aesthetic. Incorporating twelve-string guitars, Mellotrons, and even junkyard percussion, ‘Breaking the Girl’ is a major step outside of typical Chili Peppers arrangements, with Rubin clearly trying his best to think outside of the box when it came to their music.
During the song’s clattering breakdown, Smith, Flea, and Kiedis all bang on metal scraps, poles, garbage cans, and any other piece of junk they can find to provide that metallic sound that gives the song its edge. They make an unholy racket, but by the end, you can hear some of the recognisable percussion sounds that practically shoot out of the speakers during the bridge of ‘Breaking the Girl’. It’s one of the most atypical and weirdly mesmerising moments in the entire Chili Peppers’ recording career.
Check out the behind-the-scenes making of ‘Breaking the Girl’ down below.