This is probably the single biggest song I’ve covered on my One Random Single a Day challenge – or at the very least, it’s probably the most well-known amongst the main demographic of people who visit my site. In fact, I was waiting patiently to come across the first official song I loved in my childhood, but I had no idea it would be the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past 25 years, you at least have some semblance of an idea of who the Red Hot Chili Peppers are, as well as their most successful songs and albums. Although they had been around since 1983 (with a number of lineup changes, no less), “Give It Away” was the song that launched them into international fame. It became their first number-one on the Modern Rock charts (now called Alternative Songs), and the band would go on to achieve twelve more through their career. They pretty much rule these charts: not only are they the one artist with the most number-one singles, but they also have the most top ten songs (25), hold the most cumulative weeks at number-one (86), and are behind one of only three songs to debut at number-one (“Dani California”). Needless to say, they’re a pretty big deal.
But is the song good? I’ve come to realize that, while it’s relatively easy to form an opinion on a song you’re just listening to for the first time, it’s much harder to form one for that that you’ve heard a million times throughout the years. At the very least, I think I can safely say that there really was nothing else quite like it being on high rotation in the rock world. This was during the same year as Nevermind and “Losing My Religion” by R.E.M. would spend the most weeks at number-one on the Rock charts that year, while also being one of the biggest songs of the year period. Moods of angst, sadness, and other not-so-colorful topics were in, and weird, upbeat funk-rock songs about giving away your most prized possessions kind of stick out like a sore thumb.
And yes, in case you were wondering what the song is about (like the rest of the world, I imagine), I looked it up for ya. Vocalist Anthony Kiedis was going through performer Nina Hagen’s closet sometime in the early 80s and came upon a jacket he really liked. After commenting on how cool it was, Hagen responded by saying he could have it, her reasoning being that keeping one’s material possessions is selfish and unfulfilling, while giving them away passes the good energy onto others and makes the world a better place. This was one of the most profound pieces of advice he had received up to this point and he carried it along throughout his life, providing inspiration for his experience in rehab as well as his songwriting.
Maybe Kiedis’ rap-rock schtick in this song was awesome to me in a younger, much more innocent age, but nowadays, it’s easily my least favorite part about the whole recording. The rhymes are often terrible and while the general message of the song is put pretty straight-forwardly, it is eternally obscured by annoyingly cryptic lines that don’t seem to contribute anything to the track, besides their quirky face-value. Not that the inspiration of the song would offer anything much deeper than this simple philosophy that has somewhat been driven to incoherent territory with lines like, “My mom I love her ’cause she love me / Long gone are the times when she scrub me”. Moreover, while Rick Rubin’s production emphasizes John Frusciante’s guitar and Chad Smith’s drums in this one, I think Flea’s deep growling bass is more worth paying mind to, even though the mixing keeps it hidden away. Overall, though, this just feels so, so 90s.The grimy-yet polished production paired with those loud, nasally vocals spewing asinine lyrics about free love and Bob Marley. I could practically hear Beavis & Butthead offering their juvenile commentary over this recording.
So, yeah, it’s totally dated and not very fun to listen to these days in retrospect. In fact, I think I’d much rather take RHCP’s much more polished work from the 2000’s than something as ugly-sounding and convoluted as this. I guess some solace could come from the fact that this was a hit during the time when rock radio was at its absolute peak in churning out quality guitar-driven content, which is something that can’t really be said in this day and age. RHCP have become a bit of a novelty at this point, and while I can’t really say that “Give It Away” is a good song per se (I always skip it any time it creeps up on online nostalgic 90s radio), it could be appreciated as a relic of a time when a song with the line, “No time for the piggies or the hoosegow” could be accepted into the fold of popular music.