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Music

Why Red Hot Chili Peppers have never had a number one song

@TylerGolsen

When you think of artists destined for chart-topping success, you probably don’t think of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. You especially don’t think about them in that context now, when they’re solidly a legacy act on their third run with legendary guitarist John Frusciante. But no one probably thought of them that way in the 1980s, when they were a ridiculous punk-funk band, or even in the 1990s, when they rode a wave of alternative rock that was notoriously unkind to rock bands on the singles charts.

But it’s impossible to argue that the Chili Peppers weren’t one of the biggest rock bands in the world. They still are, to some degree. But at the absolute peak of their powers, the band of California party animals just missed out on grabbing a number one hit by stalling at number two. In fact, it happened three times: once in the US and twice in the UK.

In the United States, Chili-mania hit its peak with 1991’s Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Produced by Rick Rubin, it was the first time that the band actively incorporated melodic elements and softer songs into their repertoire. Among those softer songs was ‘Under the Bridge’, an honest to god ballad that found the Chili’s playing down their raucous roots for something more solemn and introspective.

But it wasn’t schlocky like most power ballads were. It was still dark and dangerous, like a lot of the Chili Peppers signature material. The big difference now was that legions of fans could sing along, and that pushed ‘Under the Bridge’ all the way to number two in early June 1991. But there was a strange phenomenon keeping them out of the top spot: Kris Kross and the adolescent-rap track ‘Jump’. ‘Jump’ was a little harder and much catchier than most kiddie fare, and it ruled at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for seven weeks in the summer of 1991. That deprived the Chili Peppers of their only real chance at grabbing a stateside number one single.

Over in the UK, the boys had two different opportunities, both coming after their American chart run. The Chili Peppers had their first top ten hit in Britain with ‘Give It Away’, but their first real chance at a number one came a decade later when the title track of their 2002 LP, By The Way, began ascending. What kept it from grabbing the top spot? A remix of Elvis Presley’s ‘A Little Less Conversation’ by DJ Junkie XL and its backing by a particularly popular marketing campaign by Nike. I’m not sure if that remix has had the same cultural staying power as ‘By The Way’, but the Chili Peppers had another chance at chart-topping success ‘Dani California’ was making a run in May of 2007.

This time it was a more memorable track that kept them from number one: Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’. Do you want to know how popular ‘Crazy’ was? It became the first song to top the UK Singles Chart on digital sales alone and was the first song to stay at number one for more than eight weeks in over a decade. It was actually too popular, as Gnarls Barkley decided to pull the track from music stores and downloading sites because it was quickly casting them as a one-hit-wonder.

Poor old ‘Dani California’ languished at number two for a week before climbing back down the charts throughout the year. It also happened to be the last top ten hit for the group, with their follow up singles consistently hitting lower and lower peaks on the UK Singles Chart. Perhaps they were never meant for the whirlwind that comes with having a number one, but on three different occasions, the Red Hot Chili Peppers got tantalisingly close.