MTV has mostly left rock music in the past, but tonight they honored the Foo Fighters with their first Global Icon Award. After an hour and fifteen minutes of mostly lip-synched performances by artists who put as much thought (or more) into their outfits as their performances, it was refreshing to see a rock band in t-shirts and jeans tear the roof off of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.
However, the band only got a limited performance time, so they played a rushed medley of “Learn To Fly,” “Shame Shame” and “Everlong.” Taylor Hawkins’ bass drum said “RIP Charlie,” paying tribute to the Rolling Stones late drummer Charlie Watts.
After the performance, Dave Grohl said, “We’ve been a band for 26 years so it feels pretty good. We’d like to thank all of the people at MTV past and present, JJ Jackson (one of the original MTV VJs), (’90s era VJ) Steve Issacs, and (former 120 Minutes host) Matt Pinfield.”
Foo Fighters: Their 40 Best Songs
The song starts out as a solo Dave Grohl acoustic folk tune before erupting into a Queen-level production -- even as he sings, “I don’t want to be Queen” -- with one of the many great Foo Fighters guitar riffs. And then it goes back to folk. It does all of this in one minute and twenty-three seconds. It also has one of Grohl’s sage bits of advice: “There's one thing I have learned/If it gets much better/It's going to get worse.” In other words: try to make peace with where you are in life.
Rick Neilsen of Cheap Trick guesting on guitar (as if the three-guitar band need any more six-stringers), Rami Jaffe’s funk keyboards and the riff from Dio’s “Holy Diver” make this song the easy highlight of the uneven ‘Sonic Highways’ album.
It’s no surprise that a band named after flying saucers would have an affinity for ‘90s UFO/conspiracy theory-obsessed sci-fi drama ‘The X-Files.’ The Foo Fighters’ cover of the 1979 song by Tubeway Army (Gary Numan’s former band) may have been a surprising choice, but it worked incredibly well. It’s one of the best of the Foos many covers.
The song starts abrasively with a distorted guitar riff, and then another one, before the band kicks in and Grohl screams, “These are my famous last woooooords!!!” Happily, that wasn’t true -- Dave Grohl has written and sung many more tunes in the past decade. “Bridges Burning” kicked off one of the band’s best albums, one they haven’t topped since. But note that Grohl refers to himself in the song as the “King of Second Chances,” and it’s kind of true: who thought that Nirvana’s drummer would go on to be one of the biggest rock stars of the next three decades. So you’d be foolish to think that he doesn’t have more classic LPs in him.
Dave Grohl has always had an indie-punk ethic, but happily he grew out of the orthodoxy of that scene. “Statues” is a lovely piano ballad (with Grohl on piano) that would not sound out of place between songs by Cat Stevens and Carly Simon on a ‘70s hit station.
Only two people have sung lead vocals on Foo Fighters albums: Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins. The latter of takes the mic here for his best vocal performance. And only four people have sat behind the drum kit: Grohl, Hawkins, William Goldsmith and… Paul McCartney. That’s right: the band with two great drummers gets Paul freakin’ McCartney into the studio and they put him on the drum kit. It works though. Funny enough, “Sunday Rain” sounds like it could be a Wings outtake.
If Tom Petty asked Dave Grohl to write a song for the Heartbreakers, what would it have sounded like? Probably “Wheels.” And it would have been great to hear Tom sing this one.
The Foo Fighters have had a crazy amount of hit singles, but some of their greatest songs are hidden towards the end of their albums. “Summer’s End” is one of them, and it should have been a hit. LIsten to it once, and try to get it out of your head.
A solo acoustic song that Dave Grohl wrote when he was in Nirvana, possibly about Kurt Cobain. An earlier version of this song was included on a collection of Grohl tunes under the name “Late!” which was released on a small indie label as a limited-edition cassette-only release back in 1992. It’s been bootlegged often, but has never had a wide release; it also featured “Color Pictures Of A Marigold,” which Grohl re-recorded with Krist Novolselic as “Marigold,” and was released as the B-side to Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box.” More than a decade after Cobain’s death, “Friend Of A Friend” stands as a moving tribute.
Turn down the guitars a bit, and this is another jam that could have been a hit on AM radio in the ‘70s. Which seems to have inspired the song’s very ‘70s looking video.
One of Dave Grohl’s loveliest songs, this one gets an assist from his future Them Crooked Vultures bandmate, John Paul Jones, on piano.
In some ways, it’s the first Foo Fighters song: it’s probably the first one that many fans heard. It premiered on one of Pearl Jam’s pirate radio broadcasts. In the Foo Fighters’ early days, this often closed the band’s live sets.
Grohl said of the song, “It's an ode to North Carolina. I lived there from 1991 to 2002, on the coast where there were these beautiful sand dunes. It's [about] finding yourself by disappearing.”
A sugary sweet pop country-rock song, it kicked off the long tradition of hilarious Foo Fighters videos. Older fans might remember that the video led to fans throwing Mentos (or “Footos”) at the Foos when they played the song live, which led them to stop playing it. Happily, it returned to the set; the Mentos phase has thankfully passed.
The song features some of Dave Grohl’s most primal screaming and still manages to be catchy and melodic. The band surprise-dropped the song and video and seven weeks later, it topped the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart, showing that the Foo Fighters were still relevant, twenty-two years into their career.
It’s a favorite of the hardcore fans, and Dave Grohl likes it too. He told Rolling Stone: “It is definitely one of my favorite songs that we've ever come up with. It's a nostalgic look back at Seattle and the life I once had. That song actually questions the meaning of life.” He added, “It's probably the heaviest thing I've ever written."
One of Dave Grohl’s most power-poppy songs, “Gimme Stitches” features one of his catchiest choruses.
23. “Baker Street” - B-side of “My Hero” Dave Grohl has always had a jones for ‘70s soft rock... as seen here, on this cover of the Gerry Rafferty classic. The original version, a #2 pop hit in 1978, was driven by the iconic saxophone playing of Raphael Ravenscroft, which the Foos replaced with (of course) screaming guitars.
One of the Foo Fighters’ heaviest songs had a bit of an unlikely lyrical influence: the ‘Sesame Street’ song “One Of These Things Is Not Like The Others.” Grohl has always been great at mixing heavy guitars and drums with a pop sensibility, and he does it brilliantly here, adding in a Chuck Berry-ish guitar riff for good measure.
Dave Grohl’s progression from drummer to bandleader was a difficult one, and by ‘99, he’d parted ways with three former Foo Fighters; drummer William Goldsmith and guitarists Pat Smear and Franz Stahl. ‘There Is Nothing Left To Lose’ was recorded by the trio of Grohl, bassist Nate Mendel and drummer Taylor Hawkins, and on “Learn To Fly,” Grohl was coming to terms with being the man at the top. At one point, he expressed ambivalence about the song, but later revised his opinion. "Lyrically it was all about just settling in to the next phase of your life,” he told Kerrang! “That place where you can sit back and relax because there had been so much crazy s--- in the past three years.” And the video, featuring Jack Black and Kyle Gass of Tenacious D, is legendary.
The first single from one of the band’s best albums, ‘Wasting Light,’ this song and album reintroduced Pat Smear as a full-time Foo Fighter, giving the group a new three-guitar attack of Grohl, Smear and Chris Shiflett.
A rather R-rated jam about oral sex, it was an unusual choice for the first single and lead track from ‘One By One.’ Most artists from the ‘90s/’00s alt-rock era didn’t sing too much about sex, but Grohl stuffs a lot of rock star swagger in the punky tune, bragging, “Done! Done! On to the next one!”
The song’s title is named for Dave Grohl’s boyhood friend, Johnny Park, who he’d lost touch with, but that has nothing to do with the rest of the song. When he asks, “Am I selling you out?” Grohl sounds defensive: all these years later, the concept of “selling out” seems quaint. But the truth is, Grohl has become one of music’s biggest and most enduring stars, and he’s done it on his own terms.
This song starts with a soaring guitar riff, not unlike the one in “Baker Street,” and the riffs get heavier as the song progresses. Grohl has said that as a drummer and a guitar player, he loves to play and write riffs; he must have had a blast writing this song.
The acoustic half of ‘In Your Honor’ had some of Dave Grohl’s best songs, and he looked outside the band to expand their sound. “Another Round” features Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on mandolin, Rami Jaffe of the Wallflowers on keyboards (he’d later join the Foo Fighters) and famed rock photographer Danny Clinch plays harmonica.
By the late ‘90s, Dave Grohl seemed to get more and more comfortable with his inner soft-rocker, and was writing more mellow jams that worked side by side with his raging guitar rockers. This is a perfect example; you could almost imagine a mainstream country artist scoring a hit with this song.
The original version of this was on ‘The Colour And The Shape,’ but the band re-recorded it the following year for the ‘X-Files’ soundtrack. It’s a rare recording with guitarist Franz Stahl and is one of their first tracks with Taylor Hawkins. The re-recorded version is a bit shorter and has some sweet backing vocals. The video shows Grohl doing some serious acting too (it’s on YouTube).
Fun fact: this song was the Foo Fighters’ first music video, and it was directed by Gerald Casale of Devo. The song is an early example of Grohl merging his love for hardcore punk (the “I! Don’t! Owe! You! Anything!” chant) and melodic Beatlesque rock.
Named after the town in Virginia where Dave Grohl was living, on “Arlandria” he rages against celebrity status, two decades after he became a household name as Nirvana’s drummer and sixteen years after the Foo Fighters’ first album. “Close your eyes, turn around, help me burn this to the ground/Come now, take the blame, that's OK I'll play the game/I don't care it's all the same, watch it all go up in flames/Use me up, spit me out, let me be your hand-me-down/Fame, fame, go away, come again some other day.” The lyrics were a bit surprising, as Grohl seems to handle celebrity better than most, and it seems like he’s figured it out. Speaking of which, it’s crazy that ‘Saturday Night Live’ *still* hasn’t tapped him to host an episode!
Many of the Foo Fighters songs used Nirvana’s (and the Pixies’) quiet/loud dynamic, and “Let It Die” holds up to the songs in both of those bands’ catalogs. The lyrics are vague: “Why'd you have to go/And let it die/Do you ever think of me/You're so considerate,” and, as with many of Dave Grohl’s songs, are like lyrical Rorschachs: what they mean to you is as much a reflection of you as whatever inspired them. Ex- guitarist Pat Smear guested on the song; he’d soon rejoin the band.
Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic reunited, post-Nirvana, twice in 1995: they played together on Mike Watt’s first solo album, and on an album by a band called the Stinky Puffs. This was their first recorded collaboration in 16 years, and with all due respect to Nate Mendel, the Foo Fighters’ longest-running non-Grohl member, Novoseic’s bass playing was perfect for this song. He added some accordion as well. It’s probably not a coincidence that this album was produced by the same guy who produced ‘Nevermind,’ Butch Vig.
The first Foo Fighters album was a stunning collection: a nearly perfect group of songs written, sung and played by Dave Grohl. But would there be a sophomore slump? The first single from ‘The Colour And The Shape’ quickly squashed that question. The video, directed by Grohl, marked the first appearance of Taylor Hawkins as a Foo Fighter; original drummer William Goldsmith played on a few songs on the album, but Grohl used his own playing on most of the songs. Hawkins -- previously a member of Alanis Morissette’s band -- didn’t join until after the album was in the can.
Dave Grohl has always cited Husker Du’s Bob Mould as an influence (even name dropping Husker Du’s “New Day Rising” in “Times Like These”). But here, Mould joins the Foo Fighters, playing guitar and singing very distinct vocals on this song, which is one of the band’s greatest non-singles.
Featuring one of the Foo Fighters’ heaviest guitar riffs, many fans presumed that the song was about Courtney Love, but Dave Grohl has said that it was about his experience of living in Hollywood.
Originally written for the previous album, ‘Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace,’ Grohl decided that it made the perfect ending for ‘Wasting Light.’ It’s an uplifting anthem about second chances and starting over, something Grohl knows a bit about: “Learning to walk again I believe I've waited long enough/Where do I begin?”
Famed astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson doesn’t come up as a musical influence often, but Grohl said that his song was inspired by Tyson’s answer to the question: “What is the most astounding fact about the universe?” (You can find the video on YouTube.) Appropriately, he used wide-screen production: there’s a string section and backing vocals from powerhouse singer Alison Mosshart of the Kills and the Dead Weather.
Dave Grohl played bass guitar on “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam” from Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged, which may have surprised some who thought he was “just” a drummer (although if were you type who checked out the B-sides, you probably heard the Grohl-written and sung “Marigold,” the b-side to “Heart Shaped Box”). OK, but could he lead a band? The first single from the Foo Fighters’ self-titled debut, which was also the album’s lead track, announced that Grohl was way more talented than we’d realized. Indeed, the first Foo Fighters record is essentially a Dave Grohl solo album, as he sang, played bass, drums and all of the guitars (except for “X-Static,” which featured Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs). Fans and radio reacted quickly to the new Grohl: “This Is A Call” hit #2 on the alternative charts, and #6 on the mainstream rock charts.
Fans have interpreted this song to be about Kurt Cobain, but Dave Grohl has never verified that. In the Foo Fighters’ performance on ‘VH1 Storytellers,’ Grohl said that it was inspired by the seemingly normal characters in ‘80s films like ‘Valley Girl.’ Yet another rumor is that the song is about Pete Stahl, the singer of Scream, a DC-area hardcore band that Grohl played in prior to joining Nirvana (the band’s guitarist Franz Stahl was briefly a member of the Foo Fighters). But a recurring theme with Grohl’s best songs is that, regardless of what they were written about, they’re vague enough that you can apply them to your life, and it’s probably one of the many reasons why the band has been so popular for so long.
The ‘One By One’ sessions weren’t easy, and during a break in the action, Dave Grohl wrote this song. “It's times like these you learn to live again/It's times like these you give and give again” might have been about his relationship with the band, but the song is malleable enough to fit different situations. Case in point: a number of British pop stars recently recorded a socially-distinct version of the song for the BBC; Grohl and Taylor Hawkins contributed to the recording as well. It also showed the wide and enduring appeal of the band: most of those pop singers are probably not familiar with the Foos’ peers or their influences.
“When I sing along with you/ If everything could ever feel this real forever/If anything could ever be this good again/The only thing I'll ever ask of you/You've got to promise not to stop when I say when.” This song was released three years after Kurt Cobain’s death, and it certainly felt like it could have been about him. Dave Grohl allegedly wrote that about an ex-, but, as we’ve mentioned, universal lyrics transcend their original inspiration, and that’s certainly true here. It also clearly has a lot of meaning to David Letterman: in 2000, after the talk show host had quintuple bypass surgery, he said that listening to “Everlong” was crucial to his recovery. For his first show back after the surgery, Letterman asked the band to come on the show and play that song. The Foo Fighters often close their shows with this song, and -- of course -- the audience sings along with Dave. Many of them surely have their own stories too, and it’s always a powerful moment.