“By The Way” is about taking in the sights, sounds, and joys of unpretentious fun. The lyrics focus on describing some of the cheap thrills the narrator is involved in using clever wordplay. In addition, they throw a bit of shade at the establishment in favor of places and activities with a raw character.
While each member of Red Hot Chili Peppers is credited as a songwriter for the track, Anthony Kiedis appears to have been the main lyricist (for this track and the album). This track and its album of the same name connect to the different kinds of love. Originally, “By The Way” wasn’t considered much of a prospect by band members. To their surprise, RHCP’s management selected it as the first single anyway.
In this article, we’ll perform an analysis of these eccentric lyrics to discover their hidden meaning. We’ll also take a look at the story behind the song and its broader themes that make it accessible to anyone. Without further ado, let’s get started!
The lyrics begin with a chorus, which serves as a backdrop for the rest of the song. Kiedis sets the scene by describing “standing in line” to see a show. It’s at a stripped-down venue that uses a marquee with a “light on.” Kiedis is waiting for “Dani the girl,” who is a character that appears in multiple RHCP tracks. Beneath the marquee, she carries on “singing songs” to Kiedis while they wait.
It’s a simple scene, but Kiedis describes it with appreciation. The idea is that you don’t need a lot of spectacle or pretensions to have a real experience. Kiedis has loosely confirmed this interpretation, calling this song an “uber-bombastic assault of non-commercialism.”
The verse takes this theme and makes it extreme. It’s written to cause sensory overload. We see the “steak knife, card shark, con job, bootcut” world Kiedis is celebrating. It may be a bit seedy at times, but for Kiedis, it has character. The lines “skin that flick” and “turn that trick” are references to sexual films and prostitution, respectively.
These people aren’t anti-establishment just to be cool. They can “beat that nik,” but they aren’t beatniks. They’re simply living in the moment. It isn’t about anything other than that.
Verse two gets into this gritty world even further. Kiedis describes the games of “blackjack” and the “pawn shops” that surround him. Going even further, he talks about some more sexual things, telling his listener to “kiss that dyke” and things like that. This is done on purpose because it increases the verse’s shock value.
Even in all of this, the behaviors aren’t meant to make a statement. Kiedis is “not on strike,” but he is “about to bowl one.” Incidentally, “bowl one” is also a bit of slang that can refer to marijuana use. Simply put, there is no higher goal to the revelry other than enjoying it, shady side and all.
After verse two, repeated choruses make up the majority of the lyrics. The song’s bridge simply repeats the phrase, “guess you never meant it,” but the target for this accusation isn’t clear. It could be directed at more “high-class” people, calling them shallow. Another theory is that the bridge is directed at Dani, indicating trouble between her and Kiedis.
In summary, “By The Way” is about getting back to basics when it comes to having a good time. It immerses us in a world full of cheap thrills and raw experiences. The chorus is the key because it shows us that even in a “low-class” environment at a small venue, there is beauty to be found. This popular appeal makes up the track’s message.
Red Hot Chili Peppers is a group that is constantly evolving. In order to stay creatively fresh, they frequently reinvent themselves. This shows up in the genres they explore, the changes in their sound from album to album, and even which band members take the lead in the songwriting process.
“By The Way,” the band’s eighth studio album, was no exception. Apparently, John Frusciante took a pronounced lead during the songwriting stages. This caused a bit of a departure from the original RHCP style, which led to some tension within the band.
Nonetheless, RHCP was able to cooperate enough to make some magic. “By The Way” reportedly came organically out of jam sessions. Originally, this track was not considered a very big deal by the members of RHCP, but their management disagreed and made the track the first single.
The result of this decision (and RHCP’s work, of course) can only be called good by all metrics. “By The Way” reached a #1 position on the Modern Rock and Mainstream Rock charts. It also received critical acclaim and massive sales, which boosted sales of the album. Commercially and critically, it’s hard to deny that this one was a smash hit.
The next time you play this tune, let these pieces of music history make it even more special!