Songs You Didn’t Know Red Hot Chili Peppers Bassist Flea Played On

Flea has recorded a vault full of iconic bass lines. Outside of his day job with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he can be found moonlighting, sometimes under the radar, as a session musician. 

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His playing is instantly recognizable on some of the songs on this list. But the records where Flea blends in with the rest of the band are a fascinating view of how musically rich and diverse he is. Even when playing mind-blowing lines, he is a musician who ultimately serves the song.

Flea is someone who cannot contain the music inside his body. Thankfully, he’s spent most of his life recording what comes out. It’s worth building a playlist of songs you didn’t know Flea played on.

[AS OF THIS WRITING: Chili Peppers Tickets Are Available! – Get ‘Em Right Here] 

1. “Change” by Tracy Chapman from Where You Live (2005)

The mark of a great musician is restraint. Elite players have an instinct for when to lay out, understanding the power of space. Lesser musicians fill the space, too afraid of the silence, allowing insecurity to eclipse taste, feel, and groove. Flea plays a supporting role in Tracy Chapman’s folk song, “Change,” reminding listeners that the instrument’s name isn’t solely relegated to the name of a lower register. Bass and base are homophones, and in “Change,” Flea delivers both the low end and the foundation. Like many Chapman songs, the words are powerful, and Flea makes space for poignant lines like If you knew that you would find a truth that brings a pain that can’t be soothed / Would you change? 

2. “Judge Jury and Executioner” by Atoms for Peace from AMOK (2013)

Thom Yorke formed Atoms for Peace as a touring band to support his debut solo album, The Eraser. The band included Radiohead’s producer, Nigel Godrich; Beck’s drummer, Joey Waronker; Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco; and Flea. The group jammed in a Los Angeles studio, with sessions recorded by Godrich, who returned to England with Yorke to edit and arrange the pieces into a full-length album called AMOK. The live performances from this period are worth spending time with on YouTube. Watching Flea reinterpret Yorke’s electronic music into something human is impressive. Some of Yorke’s programmed parts would be impossible for anyone but Flea. 

[RELATED: Honoring the National Treasure That Is Flea by Celebrating His 5 Most Absurdly Stellar Bass Lines]

3. “Heart of Gold” by Johnny Cash from Unearthed (2003)

This cover of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” appeared on Cash’s American Recordings collection. Like the rest of this series, it was produced by Rick Rubin, and here, Rubin brings in Flea, John Frusciante, and Chad Smith from the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The track sounds like it could have been recorded during the Californication sessions—featuring Frusciante’s minimalist playing from his first return to the Chili Peppers. Flea is known for his virtuosity, but on “Heart of Gold,” he settles into a simple groove with Smith driving the song. Cash’s version retains the Nashville sound of Young’s Harvest album but with a dose of California. Rubin, merging Nashville and southern California, takes you north to Bakersfield and the ghost of Merle Haggard.  

4. “Out of Focus” by Mick Jagger from Wandering Spirit (1993)

Mick Jagger connected with Rick Rubin to release his only solo album of the ’90s. And when you’re around Rubin, there’s a good chance Flea is nearby. Flea plays gospel soul with Billy Preston and Benmont Tench on piano and organ. The missing presence on any Jagger solo album is Keith Richards, and though Wandering Spirit has an impressive group of musicians, it doesn’t have Keef. But Flea’s bass playing is so deep and moving; his groove goes a long way to turn an otherwise middle-of-the-road tune into a funky church revival. Flea helps Jagger reach for The Rolling Stones’ classic “Shine a Light.”

5. “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette from Jagged Little Pill (1995)

To the younger generation reading this, radio was a technology used for transmitting sound messages, and many times, these messages were delivered in a song. Alanis Morissette had such a message aimed at her ex with searing vitriol and ’90s angst. Morissette skewers the poor sap that wronged her in one of the decades’ most colossal songs. To help her bring the pain, she assembled an impressive band consisting of Dave Navarro on guitar and Benmont Tench on organ—and when breaking someone’s heart is the goal, adding a real-life Heartbreaker to your band is an excellent place to begin. And then there’s Flea, who is busy laying down a funky bass line because the only thing better than sweet revenge is when it happens over an infectious booty groove. 

Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for MTV/Paramount Global

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