"We realised the power and beauty of nudity": the naked truth about why Red Hot Chili Peppers used to wear socks, and absolutely nothing else, onstage

Red Hot Chili Peppers, 1986
(Image credit: Jim Steinfeldt/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Has any band in human history been more enthusiastic about removing their own clothing ahead of live performances than Red Hot Chili Peppers?

We think not.

The veteran Californian funk-rockers didn't invent nudity - they're not that old - but for years they were keen advocates of performing unencumbered by as few clothes as possible, with frontman Anthony Kiedis stating that he and his pals elected to bare their flesh on a regular basis after they "realised the power and beauty of nudity onstage".

Most famously, the LA quartet used to delight in taking the stage naked but for tube socks covering their genitalia, earning them a reputation as 'that socks on cocks band' which persisted for years longer than they anticipated.

In a 2006 interview with GQ magazine, Anthony Kiedis revealed that he was the architect of this concept, and explained the origin of the idea.

"I'd come up with the idea of using socks in our act because of a girl who developed a serious crush on me," the singer told writer Robert Sandall. "She was cute and her advances included sending me greeting cards with foldout rulers to measure the size of your dick. One day she showed up to the house and I decided to answer the door naked except for a sock wrapped round my dick and balls.

"Some time in the middle of July 1983 we played what would be a legendary Chili Pepper gig headlining the Kit Kat Club, which was a strip club that had been putting on rock shows," he continued. "Since we were playing at a strip club and the girls would be dancing on stage with us, we decided to come out naked, except for long athletic socks that we'd wear over our stuff. We had already been playing shirtless, and we realised the power and beauty of nudity onstage. Usually when you're playing your dick goes into protection mode, so you're not elongated, you're more compact. So to have this added appendage was a great feeling."

So enamoured were the band by this fashion accessory, that they chose to showcase the look on the cover of their 1988 Abbey Road EP. 

In the same 2006 GQ interview, bassist Flea stated that he had no regrets about the band's sartorial choices, while admitting "we had a hard time living down the sock thing."

"Do I regret it?" he mused. "No, it was fun as hell. We were always doing stuff like that. Our thing was to wake up, smoke a joint and say, 'Hey, let's put on the socks and go walk across Abbey Road like the Beatles'."

Abbey Road

(Image credit: EMI)

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.