“Under the Bridge” is a song by American rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers. It is the eleventh track on the group’s fifth studio album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and was released as its second single on March 10, 1992. Vocalist Anthony Kiedis wrote the lyrics to express feelings of loneliness and despondency, and to reflect on narcotics and their impact on his life. Kiedis was driving home from rehearsals when “Blood Sugar Sex Magik” was in pre-production and said he sang the lyrics to himself. Kiedis initially did not feel that “Under the Bridge” would fit into the Chili Peppers’ repertoire, and was reluctant to show it to his bandmates until producer Rick Rubin implored him to do so. The rest of the band was receptive to the lyrics and wrote the music.
The song became a critical and commercial success, peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, behind “Jump” by Kris Kross and later receiving a platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America. The single’s success was widened with the release of its accompanying video, which was frequently played on music television channels. It won the “Viewer’s Choice Award” and “Breakthrough Video” at the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards.
“Under the Bridge” helped the Red Hot Chili Peppers enter the mainstream. David Fricke of Rolling Stone said that the song “unexpectedly drop-kicked the band into the Top 10”, while Philip Booth of The Tampa Tribune commented that it was a “pretty, undulating, [and] by-now omnipresent single.” Its success led in part to the departure of guitarist John Frusciante, who preferred the band to remain underground. The song has become an inspiration to other artists and remains a seminal component of the alternative rock movement of the early and mid-1990s.
During the production of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 1991 album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, producer Rick Rubin regularly visited singer Anthony Kiedis to review Kiedis’ new material. He found a poem titled “Under the Bridge” while flipping through Kiedis’ notebook and instantly took an interest in the poignant lyrics. Rubin suggested that Kiedis show it to the rest of the band: “I thought it was beautiful. I said ‘We’ve got to do this.'” Kiedis was reluctant, as he felt the poem was too emotional and did not fit the Chili Peppers’ style. After singing the poem to guitarist John Frusciante and drummer Chad Smith, Kiedis recalls that they “got up and walked over to their instruments and started finding the beat and guitar chords to match it”. Frusciante chose the chords he played in the introduction to balance out the depressing nature of the lyrics, saying “my brain interpreted it as being a really sad song so I thought if the lyrics are really sad like that I should write some chords that are happier”.
For several days Frusciante and Kiedis worked on the song, and it became one of the few tracks written and completed prior to the band moving into The Mansion where they recorded the album. After the song was recorded, Rubin felt the grand and epic outro would benefit from a large group of singers. Frusciante invited his mother, Gail, and her friends, all of whom sang in a choir, to perform.
Kiedis wrote much of the song’s lyrics during a period when he felt distraught and emotionally drained. He had maintained sobriety for roughly three years and felt that this had distanced him from his bandmates. While the group worked on Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Frusciante and Flea often smoked marijuana together, ignoring Kiedis, who felt that Frusciante was “no longer in [his] world.” Driving home after rehearsal in April 1991, Kiedis thought of his heroin and cocaine addiction during his relationship with former girlfriend Ione Skye: “the loneliness that I was feeling triggered memories of my time with Ione and how I’d had this beautiful angel of a girl who was willing to give me all of her love, and instead of embracing that, I was downtown with fucking gangsters shooting speedballs under a bridge.”
Kiedis’ feelings of alienation from his bandmates led him to feel that the city of Los Angeles was his only companion: “I felt an unspoken bond between me and my city. I’d spent so much time wandering through the streets of L.A. and hiking through the Hollywood Hills that I sensed there was a nonhuman entity, maybe the spirit of the hills and the city, who had me in her sights and was looking after me.” The lines “Sometimes I feel like / My only friend / Is the city I live in / The City of Angels / Lonely as I am / Together we cry” show a direct link to Kiedis’ isolation and sense of susceptibility. Despite these emotions, Kiedis believed that his life was better without drugs, telling Rolling Stone that “no matter how sad or lonely I got, things were a million percent better than they were two years earlier when I was using drugs all the time. There was no comparison.” The optimistic ideology gave birth to the chorus of the song: “I don’t ever want to feel / Like I did that day / Take me to the place I love”, “the place” meaning his bandmates, friends, and family.
The song’s widespread success has made it indispensable to the band’s live setlists and has been performed over 640 times since 1991 making it the band’s second most performed song behind “Give it Away”. Unlike several of the Chili Peppers’ other songs, “Under the Bridge” is not interpreted in a different manner than what is on the record—aside from being played acoustically, the track is performed the same as it appears on Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Kiedis is, however, notorious for being incapable of achieving several high notes in live performances; the vocalist has noted that he sometimes forgets or rearranges song lyrics in the verses. Therefore, the song has sometimes suffered from his limitations as a singer. After being released as a single in March 1992, the song would be included in virtually all concerts; Frusciante, however, began to resent the song’s popularity and would play convoluted intros, purposefully throwing Kiedis off. An example of this was during a televised performance on the highly rated program Saturday Night Live on February 22, 1992. Kiedis said that it “felt like I was getting stabbed in the back and hung out to dry in front of all of America while [Frusciante] was off in a corner in the shadow, playing some dissonant out-of-tune experiment.” The guitarist used a distortion pedal for the ending verse and screamed incomprehensibly into the microphone when providing backup vocals, neither of which were originally planned or typical of live performances. Nevertheless, sales of Blood Sugar Sex Magik skyrocketed following the show.