The story behind Been Caught Stealing by Jane's Addiction

Jane's Addiction
(Image credit: Steve Speller / Alamy Stock Photo)

The voice that introduces the song that invented the 1990s wasn’t a human one. It belonged to Annie, a dog picked up from a rescue centre by Jane’s Addiction singer Perry Farrell. It was Annie’s rhythmic barking that ushered in Been Caught Stealing, the track that would give the alt.rock visionaries their biggest hit yet. 

“She was quite needy, so I brought her down to the studio that day rather than leave her at home,” Farrell told Classic Rock in 2000. “I’m singing in the booth with the headphones on, and Annie gets all excited and starts going: ‘Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!’ The fact that she ended up on the track was just pure coincidence.” 

Coincidence or not, it was the perfect opening hook for the song that sparked the alt.rock revolution. Been Caught Stealing and parent album Ritual De Lo Habitual brought the left-field into the mainstream, positioning Jane’s Addiction as pied pipers for a wave of bands that followed. 

Jane’s were formed in Los Angeles in 1985 by Farrell, guitarist Dave Navarro, bassist Eric Avery and drummer Stephen Perkins. Glam-metal was cresting, but the music they made was a world away from that scene’s hairspray-choked frothiness. Farrell and his bandmates didn’t just walk on the darker side of life, they also lived it. 

Amazingly, that wasn’t enough to put off major label Warner Bros, who signed them on the back of 1987’s self-titled live debut album, released through independent label Triple X. The follow-up, 1988’s electrifying Nothing’s Shocking, sounded like nothing else around, drawing on everything from 60s psychedelia to 70s hard rock to early-80s British post-punk. 

But with Ritual De Lo Habitual, Jane’s Addiction’s musical ambitions jumped up a level. The album was broadly divided into two halves. The first side of the original LP was filled with short, terse rock songs, albeit filtered through the band’s unique prism, while the more expansive second side they took their sound into places few other bands were going.

Been Caught Stealing, with its dog-bark introduction, closed side one of the record. Written by Farrell and Avery, it put a characteristically sideways spin on the funk-rock sound that the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Jane’s themselves had helped pioneer, while the song’s opening line – ‘I’ve been caught stealing, once, when I was five’ – was rooted in reality. 

“There was a candy store on the corner by my house in Queens, and I would go there all the time,” Farrell told Rolling Stone. “I thought I was pretty good at stealing, but a guy caught me stone-cold while I was taking a Pennsy Pinky [a kids’ sports ball made out of pink rubber].” 

The song’s lyrics found Farrell and his girlfriend embarking on a shoplifting spree, picking up skirts and razors and laughing as they added them to a pile of stolen goods. The singer batted away suggestions that he was encouraging such activities – or that he was preaching much of anything in any of his songs. 

“I didn’t get into this to make sermons or set up structures for others to live by,” he told BAM in 1990. “My intent has nothing to do with teaching. It’s to amuse myself on this completely boring planet.” 

While the song sounded breezy, sessions for the album were anything but. The band’s drug use – Farrell, Navarro and Avery were all enthusiastic heroin users – was part of their mythology. But by the time of Ritual, their chemical proclivities were beginning to drive them apart. 

“Eric, Perry and I were all dealing with the same demons at different times and not talking to each other about it, which was really weird,” Dave Navarro told Rolling Stone. “So in certain ways there was this level of secrecy and being at odds with each other, and in other ways there was this sense of understanding and unspoken knowledge. All of which really made for a bizarre dynamic.”

Somehow, that dynamic worked. Ritual De Lo Habitual was released in August 1990, and Been Caught Stealing followed in November. It was accompanied by a video in which an array of weird and wonderful characters acted out the song’s lyrics in a mini-market. The clip went into heavy rotation on MTV, helping propel the single to No.34 in the Billboard chart. 

Been Caught Stealing wasn’t just Jane’s Addiction’s biggest hit to that point, it was also a watershed moment for the burgeoning alternative rock movement. R.E.M. had risen from the college rock underground to become mainstream darlings, and Faith No More had bagged their own breakthrough hit with rap-metal anthem Epic earlier in 1990. But Jane’s Addiction were something different: a full-on unfurling of rock’s freak flag. 

Their status as cultural figureheads was rubber-stamped the following year when Farrell conceived ground-breaking festival-come-travelling circus Lollapalooza. Headlined by Jane’s Addiction and featuring Nine Inch Nails, Living Colour, the Rollins Band and more, it acted as a lightning rod for the alternative nation. It also proved to be Jane’s swan song. The cracks that appeared during the album sessions had become an unbridgeable chasm. On August 28, 1991, the inaugural Lollapalooza festival came to an end, and so did Jane’s Addiction. 

“There was something romantic about splitting up when we did,” Farrell told Q in 2018. “But we couldn’t have gone on anyway. We were killing each other.” 

It may have been over for Jane’s Addiction, at least until a reunion later in the decade, but their success had uncorked the bottle and the genie was out. In September 1991, less than a month after Jane’s played their final date, Nirvana released Nevermind and the steady drip of change became a torrent. The 1990s were truly under way.

Dave Everley

Dave Everley has been writing about and occasionally humming along to music since the early 90s. During that time, he has been Deputy Editor on Kerrang! and Classic Rock, Associate Editor on Q magazine and staff writer/tea boy on Raw, not necessarily in that order. He has written for Metal Hammer, Louder, Prog, the Observer, Select, Mojo, the Evening Standard and the totally legendary Ultrakill. He is still waiting for Billy Gibbons to send him a bottle of hot sauce he was promised several years ago.