The Foo Fighters are 25 years old. While that fact makes any Millennial or Gen X-er cringe as the band creeps closer to Classic Rock radio, it also prompts a look back at the band’s storied career. Built out of the ashes of Nirvana, the rockers have dropped more hits than any band of its era. As the group begins their 2020 Tour, here are the 10 most essential Foo Fighters songs:
Something From Nothing
This track is emblematic of two aspects of Foo Fighters songs. 1) It contains one of many interactions between the band and a meaningful figure in music. 2) There is a lot guitar.
The collaboration with Cheap Trick’s Rick Nielsen kicked off Sonic Highways, the album and HBO series that documented the music scene of eight American cities. The Foo Fighters have not limited their musical associations to big stars. They often choose worthy collaborations over hollow name drops. That being said, the pantheon of Classic Rockers who have worked with the band is extraordinary (Joe Walsh, Paul McCartney, and Brian May to name a few).
The full force of Nielsen’s efforts on “Something From Nothing” is felt during the music video. Nielsen pops in like a wrecking ball. The video shakes midway through, revealing a breathtaking line of guitars and the Cheap Trick artist. The aesthetic is vintage Foo Fighters.
This Is A Call
Moments before Dave Grohl sings “Visiting is pretty, Visiting is good.”, a little fuzz preempts the first song of the first Foo Fighters album. A little pause drags out the introduction of the song and builds anticipation for the record. The lapse before Grohl kicks into his guitar on the headbanger represents an interlude between two eras.
Foo Fighters is now a shell of what the band has grown into. The debut LP was recorded almost entirely by Grohl following the end of Nirvana. At the time it was one guy trying to sound like a garage band. Foo Fighters albums have since grown into anthemic arena rock, but this early work sounds like a garage band with a knack for gnarly guitars, a chorus, and catchy hooks. At its core, “This Is A Call” laid the foundation for the band’s style.
Times Like These
A track born out of the band’s near-breakup in 2002, “Times Like These” is one of the most engaging Foo Fighters songs. The aftermath of the vicious arguments between Dave Grohl and Taylor Hawkins allowed a period of reflection that inspired the chorus:
“It’s times like these you learn to live again
It’s times like these you give and give again
It’s times like these you learn to love again
It’s times like these time and time again”
The heartfelt nature of the lyrics also makes “Times Like These” one of the most versatile Foo Fighters songs. The track is as effective as an acoustic effort as the full band version. It has also been covered by a diverse range of artists: Florence + the Machine, Glen Campbell, and Shinedown.
Learn To Fly
One of the best pure pop Foo Fighters songs, “Learn to Fly” marks the band’s ascent of the FM radio pantheon. Foo Fighters was a garage record. The Colour and The Shape was the artistic breakout. Due in large part to this avian track, There’s Nothing Left To Lose proved that the band could cut a proper pop record and draw in a wider audience.
“Learn To Fly” is also the best-known music video of the band’s career. The MTV-conscience band rolled out their best humor in the piece. Jack Black and Kyle Glass of Tenacious D both guest star in the video.
According to Setlist.FM, “Monkey Wrench” is the second-most played Foo Fighters song in the 25 years of shows documented by the site. Entering the band’s 2020 tour, the track has been played 966 times across 1,443 gigs. Only “Everlong” has been played more.
“Monkey Wrench” is different than its The Colour and The Shape companion. “Everlong” is the set-closer that sends the audience home. “Monkey Wrench” revs the crowd up with bouncy guitars and unbridled rage.
I’ll Stick Around
A lot of Foo Fighters songs are rumored to be about Kurt Cobain. The Nirvana singer cast a shadow over the early part of the band’s career, but Grohl has distanced himself from directly correlating his lyrics to be about Cobain. “I’ll Stick Around” is not about Dave Grohl’s former bandmate, but someone very close to him.
In Paul Brannigan’s book This Is A Call, he references a conversation where Grohl admitted the lyrics are about Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love. “I don’t think it’s any secret that “I’ll Stick Around” is about Courtney. I’ve denied it for fifteen years, but I’m finally coming out and saying it. Just read the f-ing words.”
Best Of You
The highlight of Foo Fighters shows, “Best of You” brings the audience in as well as fellow singalong arena staples like “Born To Run” and “Free Fallin’.” The difference between those pieces and the In Your Honor single is that instead of belting the chorus, the audience joins in from the first words. By the end of “I’ve got another confession to make,” a stadium is shouting and pointing towards the stage.
Dave Grohl has written a lot of emotional songs, but the desperation of “Best Of You” resonates as well as any of them. By far the best track to emerge from In Your Honor, it is the one song from the double album that the band has to play at every gig. A concert without thousands of people screaming along with Grohl on this track would be unfulfilling.
The track begins with an ominous guitar intro before Grohl sings “Keep you in the dark, You know they all pretend. Keep you in the dark. And so it all began.” The rocker queues Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, a somewhat experimental album that saw the Foo Fighters blend arena rock with acoustic and piano music. Despite a solid across-the-board effort, “The Pretender” became the heavy radio favorite from the LP.
The song set the record for consecutive weeks as the number one on the U.S. Hot Modern Rocks Chart. “The Pretender” paced the chart for 18 straight weeks, the all-time record until Muse dropped “Madness” in 2012.
All My Life
The One By One single spent 35 weeks on Billboard’s Alternative Songs chart, including a stint as the number one single. As great as the song is on the record, the track takes on a greater energy live.
In the documentary Back & Forth, guitar player Chris Shiflett speaks on their evergreen performances of “All My Life,” “to this day it’s by far by favorite song to play live. Every night. Good or bad show it doesn’t matter, when you get to that part of the set it always goes bananas. If you’re having a bad show, that’s the turning point every night.”
The most important Foo Fighters song, “Everlong” is the epicenter of Dave Grohl’s growth as a songwriter. The track from 1997’s The Colour and The Shape cemented the band’s status as more than a Nirvana offshoot.
In an appearance on VH1 Storytellers, Grohl noted how “Everlong” “opened up so many doors for us… melodically, dynamically. It sort of gave us a reason to keep being a band for 12 or 13 more years.” He then recounted how Bob Dylan praised the track, which will forever be known for its classic lyrics:
“And I wonder
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”
“Everlong” also has a place in television history. The Foo Fighters played the track on the last episode of Late Show With David Letterman in 2015. 15 years earlier, they performed the track on the host’s return from heart surgery.