When Kurt Cobain's suicide brought a sudden end to Nirvana in April of 1994, few people imagined that the band's drummer would go on to become one of the most successful rock stars of the next two decades. Most people had never even heard him talk, let alone play guitar and sing. But in the months following Cobain's death Dave Grohl recorded a demo tape under the name Foo Fighters; later, he recruited Germs guitarist Pat Smear and the rhythm section from Sunny Deal Real Estate and began touring clubs. The project took off in a huge way, and now the Foo Fighters pack far larger venues than Nirvana ever played. With Grohl's new documentary, Sound City, now out, we asked our readers to vote on their 10 favorite Foo Fighters songs. Here are the results.
The lead song to the Foo Fighters' third album, There Is Nothing Left to Lose, is a furious screed against the phonies of Hollywood. Grohl had been living there for about a year and a half at that point, and he had grown disgusted by the place. "I'm impressed, what a beautiful chest," he sings. "And we cry when they all die blonde." Courtney Love felt that the line "you're just another aging drag queen" was about her, but Grohl says that's not the case. "Everyone thinks that," he said. "I think specifics are boring – it makes for a good line in a song. To me, it takes a stab at the majority of people who live in Hollywood."
Dave Grohl says that "Learn to Fly" is one of his least favorite songs from There Is Nothing Left to Lose, but the single brought the band to a whole new level of success. They had a lot of minor hits up to that point and were MTV favorites, but "Learn to Fly" was actually their first single to enter the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number 19. This was partially due to their hysterical video for the track, featuring Tenacious D as airplane janitors. This was the peak of MTV's Total Request Live, and they played it constantly alongside Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys videos. It's the second-biggest hit of the band's career, topped only by "Best of You."
"Aurora" was never released as a single and most casual fans don't know it, but the diehards feel it's one of the group's best. The band agrees. "It is definitely one of my favorite songs that we've ever come up with," Dave Grohl said. "Lyrically, it's just kind of a big question mark, but the words sound good and it's a nostalgic look back at Seattle and the life I once had. That song actually questions the meaning of life, probably. It's probably the heaviest thing I've ever written." The song has been a highlight of the group's concerts ever since it came out in 1999.
The recording of the Foo Fighters second album, The Colour and the Shape, was fraught with tension. It was his first time working with the touring band in the studio, and Grohl felt that drummer William Goldsmith wasn't quite cutting it. He wound up playing the drum parts himself, and Goldsmith left the band. Despite the tension, the group managed to record some of their most enduring songs. "Monkey Wrench" is a power punk song about freeing yourself from a messed-up relationship. Not coincidentally, Grohl divorced his first wife, photographer Jennifer Youngblood, right around this time.
When the Foo Fighters emerged from a three-year recording hiatus in 2002 with One by One, they decided it was time for a heavier sound. The group spent three months on the disc, only to scrap the entire thing when they felt it wasn't up to snuff. They then took a break while Dave Grohl toured with Queens of the Stone Age, and when he returned they banged out the record in his basement in just two weeks. The lead single, "All My Life," became a huge radio hit, justifying the unorthodox recording process. "We had already spent three months and a million dollars on something that we threw away," Grohl said. "The difference between 'All My Life' and 'All My Life' was that this one cost a million dollars and sounded like crap, [while] this one we did in my basement for half an hour and became the biggest fucking song the band ever had."
The lyrics to the second single from One by One were directly inspired by the album's difficult birth, and Grohl's brief fear that the band might not survive the turmoil. "I am a little divided," he sang. "Do I stay or run away/ And leave it all behind?" The song became the second hit from the disc. "This is sort of a mid-tempo number with a really weird chording that's kinda reminiscent of Mission of Burma or Television, or kind of a jangly, post-punk, New York new wave-theme guitar line," Grohl said. "I think actually that this is the best song I've ever written – it's very emotive and passionate and universal."
The Foo Fighters' 1998 hit "My Hero" is forever linked to two classic teen movies: 1983's Valley Girl and 1999's Varsity Blues. Grohl says he wrote the song while watching teen movies like Valley Girl, and it was later used on the soundtrack to the James Van Der Beek high school football movie. The song, however, is about neither valley girls nor high school football in Texas. It's simply Grohl explaining that his real heroes as a child were regular people that he trusted, and not rock stars or athletes. Despite that, it's hard to hear it these days and not visualize Dawson battling Jon Voight on a football field.
The Foo Fighters took to the road in 2004 to campaign alongside John Kerry. The experience didn't put Kerry in the White House, but it did provide the band with the experience of working toward something greater themselves. They channeled that feeling into the songs on their 2005 LP In Your Honor. "Best of You" was the lead single, even though they'd shelved it early in the process and only returned to it when their manager insisted. It became a worldwide hit, and was even covered by Prince during his 2007 performance at the Super Bowl.
By 2007 the Foo Fighters had learned they work best when they work very quickly. Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace was cut with Pixies producer Gil Norton in just a month, even though they augmented their lineup with a keyboardist, string section and even a lute player. The lead single, "The Pretender," is simpler than many songs on the disc, though clearly one of the best. Grohl later admitted the song was subconsciously inspired by the Sesame Street song "One of These Things is Not Like the Other." That's what happens when you start having kids.
This was not even a close contest – "Everlong" got 500 more votes than anything else on the list. It might even be the biggest blow-out we've ever seen. Grohl wrote the song in early 1997 when he realized his marriage was falling apart. He was falling in love with another woman, and he poured all of his feelings into these lyrics. Though the song became a decent-sized radio hit in America, it failed to crack the Hot 100. Months after it came out, Grohl was a guest on Howard Stern's show, and he played the track on acoustic guitar. It wasn't even a planned performance, but Howard loved it, and he played it countless times on his widely syndicated show. It gave the song a whole new life, and to this day Grohl credits Howard Stern with the song's incredible popularity. The Foo Fighters have a lot of big songs, but this is their "Born to Run" or "Where the Streets Have No Name." When they break it out toward the end of their show, the place always goes crazy.