How a producer can ruin a song

In his 2004 autobiography Scar Tissue, Anthony Kiedis tells the story of his band the Red Hot Chili Peppers from their formation through to the present.  He won’t be winning a Pullitzer any time soon, but the account of his addiction to heroin is pretty fascinating regardless (most surprising was the admission that he was still using when Californication was released, going against a decade of press where he claimed to have been clean since ’91) and it’s required reading for fans of the Chilis.

He’s got a bizarre way of describing things, though, and his decades-long career as a lyricist intimately aware with the doors of perception and worldwide success leads him to romanticise certain things.  He’s at his most flowery when talking about his band, about the beauty of funk and the sweaty cosmic wavelength of passion that the Chilis are tuned into.  It’s pretty funny considering most people only hear juvenile sex jokes set to the technically brilliant but largely uninspiring backing of the three instrumentalists.  To paraphrase Emperor Joseph II in Amadeus, he argues passionately, but does not convince.

I think most would agree that their first album, released in 1984, was arguably their poorest, but in Scar Tissue, Kiedis argues that it wasn’t the band’s fault, but rather the work of the producer, Andy Gill, guitarist for the influential post-punk band Gang of Four.  Given Kiedis’s near-constant hyperbole regarding the Chilis, it’s hard to believe that the original demo they cut in a tiny recording studio had the driving energy he claimed was so glaringly absent from the final album, which he insists was scrubbed clean of all passion in Andy Gill’s quest for a slick, radio-friendly hit.

When I finally managed to get a hold of the original demo, which was included on the remastered edition of The Red Hot Chili Peppers in 2003, I was completely shocked.  Listen to the first twenty seconds or so of each, and you can clearly see the negative influence Andy Gill had on a band whose whole angle was frenetic energy.

Out in LA – album version

Out in LA – original demo

I should’ve given Anthony Kiedis more credit.  Makes you wonder how many songs were ruined by demanding producers.