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In 1992 the single charted inside the top 75 of the US Hot 100 in the wake of the huge success of the record's second single "Under the Bridge". The phrase had been something the vocalist intended to incorporate into a song for the band's new record, but it was not until he heard the bassline that the lyrics fit.
"Give It Away" also became the band's first top ten hit in the United Kingdom, where it peaked at number nine on the UK Singles Chart; this didn't occur until February 1994, nearly 2 and a half years after it was first released in the US. During their tenure in the group, the guitarist and bassist created the main riff and accompanying bassline for "Give It Away". Kiedis said, "I was so struck by Flea's bass part, which covered the whole length of the instrument's neck, that I jumped up and marched over to the mic, my notebook in tow.
For "Give It Away", along with the rest of the album, Rubin sought to achieve a sense of atmosphere that was similar to 60s records that were made without commercialism or viability in mind and to downplay on "big" sounds: "What you hear is what you get—there's not a lot of trickery.
A lot of people want the biggest sound, with walls of guitar and huge drums.
According to Kiedis, "That was the beginning of the infusion of those songs into mass consciousness." Critical reception to the song, much like the album, was highly positive.
Jeff Vice of Deseret News noted "[this] dynamic first single that pays homage to Bob Marley, may start a new musical trend with its brilliant Rasta-funk." Patrick Mac Donald of The Seattle Times commented that "[Blood Sugar Sex Magik] includes one of the best songs the Peppers have done—'Give It Away', the first single.
And that was it." The song continues through several verses and choruses before reaching a bridge that introduces the outro, which consists of "a hard-rocking riff" that, according to Huey, strongly resembles the main riff from Black Sabbath's "Sweet Leaf" from their 1971 record Master of Reality.
Kiedis repeats "Give it away now" for several measures before the guitar, bass and drums drop out.
During the chorus, Kiedis sings "Give it away, give it away, give it away now" repeatedly over a more rapid guitar riff before Frusciante provides, according to Steve Huey of Allmusic, a "sudden contrast to Kiedis' hyperactivity in the form of a languid solo pre-recorded and dubbed backwards over the rhythm track." The solo was recorded in one take because Frusciante had developed a preference towards speedy execution and a raw feeling; according to Flea, "We did very little fix-up stuff.
Steve Huey of Allmusic noted that while the single "didn't achieve the massive pop success of its follow-up, 'Under the Bridge' [...] it did become one of the band's most instantly recognizable songs." Following the Chili Peppers' tour in support of Mother's Milk (1989), the duo spent time in a side project called H. The band then reconvened at a later time and chose the most appropriate inclusion.