Foo Fighters began with a tragedy and has become one of the most influential rock bands of the 21st century. After Nirvana disbanded because of Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994, frontman Dave Grohl started a new band, naming it after historical fighter pilots. These songs are the best of the best from three decades of music.
1. I’ll Stick Around
Foo Fighters formed in the mid-1990s in the wake of Kurt Cobain’s suicide and Nirvana’s disbandment. During the band’s early days, frontman Dave Grohl often felt depressed, angry, bitter, and betrayed. This was evident in songs such as I’ll Stick Around, a power pop track released in 1995. The song was an angry rant, filled with distortion, about feeling abandoned by someone who should have supported you.
But there was more drama behind the composition of the song, fueled by the tension between Grohl and Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love. For many years, rumors flew that the song was a dig at Love, which Grohl denied. However, he later openly admitted that he had written I’ll Stick Around with her in mind.
2. Learn To Fly
It is sometimes a rule of the music industry that a band member’s least favorite song is the one that becomes the most acclaimed. This was the case with Learn To Fly, which was released on the band’s 1999 album, There Is Nothing Left To Lose. Grohl said that he felt the song was one of the worst on the album, but that didn’t stop it from becoming one of their biggest songs up until that point—even winning a Grammy Award for its music video.
The song was composed when Foo Fighters was shifting its personnel. Most notably, it was the first time that drummer Taylor Hawkins would appear on one of their albums. Hawkins became a fixture in the band until his death from cardiac arrest in 2022.
3. This Is a Call
This Is a Call was the first official single released by Foo Fighters, and it has become known as the unofficial manifesto of their whole mission as a group. The song layers pop music on top of heavy percussion and grunge-fused guitar backup, laying a pattern for their future compositions.
Hardcore fans have also noted the seeming inspiration of Nirvana in the lyrics, with poetic lyrics that hearken back to old hits like Polly. Grohl wrote the song on his honeymoon in the summer of 1994, only months after Kurt Cobain’s death by suicide. Foo Fighters performed the song the following year in their first televised performance on The Dave Letterman Show, making it their first major hit and a staple of their discography.
4. Skin And Bones
Skin And Bones was released in 2006 on Foo Fighters’ album of the same name. The song remains an underappreciated gem in the group’s discography, having never broken onto the charts. It may have been overshadowed by other tracks on the album, most notably Everlong, which has been called one of Foo Fighters’ best songs. The live album featured acoustic songs influenced by folk rock, with a noticeably more mellow sound than the band’s previous work. Skin And Bones is a song about a person forcing themselves to carry on despite the fact that their energy is completely depleted.
5. The Pretender
Inspiration can come from some strange sources—in the case of 2007’s The Pretender, even from Sesame Street. Dave Grohl said that he was inspired by the show’s song, One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other. Whatever his inspiration, it seemed to work, as the song received a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance.
The Pretender is noted for its unique instrumental backing, which includes stringed instruments, keyboards, and lutes. Grohl also said that it was influenced musically by Chuck Berry and lyrically by the political discord of the late 2000s.
6. Times Like These
Grohl composed Times Like These in the early 2000s when the band was on hiatus and uncertain if they would reform. He said that the period made him feel lonely and without purpose, and this is evident in the melody and lyrics of the tune.
Nevertheless, the song can’t be called depressing—more than anything, it is resolute and focused, with the lyrics urging the listener to stay strong even while doubting themselves. Foo Fighters released two music videos for the track, each of which represented this uncertainty and change, as well as casting off material possessions.
Foo Fighters’ time has spanned more than three decades, and their signature sound has changed along the way. 2018’s Run signaled a new vibe for the band, with a Beatles-inspired melody and a hard punk rock rhythm. The song is all about waking from your stupor and seizing the opportunities before you, the lyrics making a vague nod to the political turmoil of the late 2010s.
Run won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song, but it may be best remembered for its unique music video. Set in a retirement home, it told the story of a group of senior citizens gradually wreaking havoc in a video that was both funny and a little bit inspiring.
8. Big Me
Big Me was undoubtedly one of Foo Fighters’ first major hits, marking a crossover into mainstream popularity from their previous niche grunge reputation. Dave Grohl is said to have composed the song while still in Nirvana, and it is easy to see Nirvana’s influence on the tune and lyrics. However, it took a step away from the dark, tortured feel of much of Cobain’s music and opted instead for an upbeat, lighthearted tune that made it irresistible.
Big Me is best remembered for its music video, which became one of the biggest hits of the 90s. It featured the band spoofing popular Mentos commercials of the time in a fun parody that showed they didn’t take themselves too seriously.
Everlong isn’t just one of the greatest songs of the 1990s—it might be one of Foo Fighters’ best songs of their time. Grohl composed the song in 1997, a reflection of his crumbling marriage. But the song didn’t make waves at first. Several months after its release, Grohl spontaneously played it during a performance on Howard Stern. The result was an explosion in popularity, turning the song into the band’s signature.
It has become a standard at their live performances and was notably one of the final songs that drummer Taylor Hawkins performed before his death in March 2022. After Hawkins’ death, the song returned to the Hot Hard Rock Songs chart.
10. Stacked Actors
It’s no secret that there was tension between Grohl and Courtney Love, the widow of Kurt Cobain. When Foo Fighters released Stacked Actors on their third album, Love was convinced that the song was about her. But Grohl said it is more broadly about the people of Hollywood, by whom he had become revolted.
Because Stacked Actors was only released as a limited edition single, it isn’t one of Foo Fighters’ better-known songs. However, it is widely considered one of the band’s underrated gems, particularly because of the heavy metal undertones that showed Grohl exploring new musical styles.
Generator isn’t widely known due to its limited release in Australia and Europe. However, hardcore fans of Foo Fighters will know the track, which was remarkable for Dave Grohl’s musical exploration of elements such as the talk box.
These musical aspects were largely inspired by Peter Frampton, who popularized the talk box during the 1970s—one of Grohl’s musical idols. The song is about a person powering a failing relationship; although his lover is showing signs of wanting to leave, he continues generating enough electricity to keep them together. It seems appropriate that the song was released as a limited single in Australia, as Grohl said that it was partially inspired by his arrest there.
12. Monkey Wrench
Foo Fighters’ second album, The Colour And The Shape, was released in 1997. The album is best remembered for the song Monkey Wrench, which would earn them a Grammy Award nomination for Best Hard Rock performance that same year. The song was about the breakdown of Dave Grohl’s first marriage, or more exactly, Grohl’s realization that he was the problem in his marriage and deciding that he wanted his wife to be free of him.
13. White Limo
White Limo was a single on Foo Fighters’ 2011 album, Wasting Light. The band is notorious for composing songs or significant parts of songs in extremely short periods; however, White Limo might be a record-breaker, with Dave Grohl saying that they wrote the lyrics in just two minutes. Nevertheless, it was the music, rather than the lyrics, that caught critics’ attention, earning praise for its metal-inspired music that seemed to reach back to Grohl’s early career on the punk scene. The song won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance.
14. Walking After You
Walking After You was released in 1997 on the album, The Colour and The Shape. It was a modest success on both sides of the Atlantic but became best known for being featured over the end credits of the 1998 movie, The X-Files. The soundtrack and album versions have slight differences, including certain instruments and the runtime. The song is also remembered for the music video, which features Dave Grohl interacting with a woman in an asylum.
15. My Hero
Released in 1998, My Hero has become one of Foo Fighters’ best-known songs. The song long generated rumors that it was about Grohl’s former bandmate Kurt Cobain, who died in 1994. But Grohl said that the meaning of the song isn’t as straightforward. Growing up, he idolized musicians but never considered them heroes. Instead, he thought of ordinary people as his heroes, including his mother.
The concept of what a hero meant was heavy on Grohl’s mind after Cobain’s suicide when he was elevated to an idol by fans worldwide. The song contrasts the idea of a hero with the kind of people who really fit that description.
Walk may just be one of Foo Fighters’ most successful songs of the 2010s. Released on the 2011 album, Wasting Light, it knocked their previous single, Rope, from its 20-week stint at No. 1 on the charts. It also earned them two Grammy Awards for Best Rock Song and Performance.
The upbeat, hopeful song was inspired in part by Grohl’s experiences with teaching his daughter how to walk and how it became a metaphor to him for pushing through the moments in life that feel unbeatable. One of these, Grohl has said, was the day he found out about Kurt Cobain’s suicide. Even the existence of the song seems to prove its message. However, the song has been called a response to Nirvana’s I Hate Myself And Want to Die.
The song, Breakout, was featured on Foo Fighters’ 2000 album, There Is Nothing Left To Lose. It describes a relationship that causes a person so much stress that they feel as though they are losing their mind. The chorus and title use wordplay to contrast the ideas of “breaking out” (as in developing acne) with breaking out of the relationship that has them trapped.
The music video for the song featured Grohl in a parody of the movie Me, Myself, & Irene; Grohl played a character with dissociative identity disorder going to the movies with a woman. The video featured several of the actors who appeared in the movie.
Home is remarkable for its departure from the band’s usual musical style. It features Dave Grohl on both piano and vocals, in sharp contrast to the usual upbeat rhythms and strong guitars and percussion. The song is about wanting to find your way home, whatever that might mean— and the lyrics make it clear that home is more a feeling than a place. Grohl wrote it to reflect his feelings about being on tour shortly after the birth of his oldest daughter.
Low, composed by then-newcomer Taylor Hawkins, is best remembered for its one-of-a-kind music video. Featuring—of all people—Jack Black, the video depicts Black and Grohl as country bumpkins checking into a motel, dressing in lingerie, and trashing the room. By modern standards this seems fairly tame, but back in 2002, it was enough for MTV to ban the video’s airing altogether. The song also hit No. 10 on the US singles sales.
Mention the name “Aurora” to anybody but the hardcore Foo Fighters fans, and they might not know what you’re talking about. The song, recorded in 1999, never materialized as a single, and as a result, it isn’t widely known. However, it remains one of the band members’ favorite songs. Dave Grohl, who composed it, said that he thinks that it is one of the best songs he has ever written.
Aurora never charted, but it gets regular play at the band’s concerts. Grohl was inspired to write the song after his grandmother passed away, but the main inspiration comes from his time living in Seattle. He described the song as a fond look back on those memories, which included his time playing with Nirvana.
21. These Days
Released on their 2011 album, Wasting Light, These Days struck a chord with audiences and critics alike. The popularity is one that Dave Grohl understands: the frontman has said that this song is his favorite of any he has written over his extensive career.
These Days was a hit worldwide, topping the charts in the US, Australia, Canada, and Belgium. The song is, in part, a discussion of mortality and accepting it as part of life. But it is also a mockery of people who offer platitudes during grief and struggle. It’s far from comforting to be told that bombs will drop on your home, but “it’s all right”—two contrasting images that Grohl expertly intertwines. He points out that offering these platitudes seems simple when you have never experienced grief or loss.
22. All My Life
Foo Fighters aren’t generally known for their sexually explicit lyrics, but 2002’s All My Life is an exception. Once you know that it is about sex—specifically oral sex, as Grohl has openly said—the lyrics might be enough to shock you. But as with everything the band releases, it is cloaked in poetic lyrics that might hide the meaning until you think about it.
The song was a major hit for the Foo Fighters, spending an astonishing 10 weeks at the top of the Alternative Songs chart. The next year, it won the band a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance; it is still considered one of the best and most essential songs of Foo Fighters discography.
Foo Fighters released Rope on their 2011 album, Wasting Light. It was a quick hit, topping charts worldwide and earning recognition as the year-end No. 1 rock song of 2011. The song was noted for its strange, attention-catching chord progression, which Grohl has said was inspired by Led Zeppelin.
Rope also broke records for being the second song to hit the rock charts at No. 1; it remained in that spot for 20 weeks in a row, only to be replaced by another Foo Fighters hit, Walk. The song is about a codependent relationship where the singer views his partner as the rope by which he clings to life.
Exhausted gets a nod as the first single the band ever released, coming out a mere six months after Kurt Cobain’s death and the dissolution of Nirvana. Though the song has been overlooked in the more complex, acclaimed music released in the decades since then, it was a standard of their concerts throughout the mid-1990s. These days it has a bit of a reputation as a forgotten gem of the band’s earliest days.
Foo Fighters skillfully shared not just a message but a mood; the song is called Exhausted, and the music sounds exactly that, dragging and distorted beneath Grohl’s heavy vocals. It just goes to show that even while the band was in its infancy, their music was already fueled by the kind of creative artistry that would make them great.
25. Best Of You
The 2005 song, Best Of You might be best remembered for its cover performance by Prince during his legendary Super Bowl halftime show. It was inspired by the Foo Fighters’ experience on the campaign trail the previous year with John Kerry, who made them feel as though their music had a greater purpose. The following year, they released their album In Your Honor, which featured Best Of You as its lead single.
The song was a major hit, charting around the world and earning a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rock Song.
26. The Sky Is a Neighborhood
Foo Fighters’ music has changed over the decades but has never compromised on its creativity or relevance. The Sky Is a Neighborhood was released in 2017. The song was inspired by Dave Grohl’s interest in astronomy and his perception of the sky as a neighborhood where all of humanity was represented. These ideas, in turn, had their roots in the political and social chaos surrounding the 2016 presidential election in the United States; the song contrasts unity and division in a metaphor of the stars.
27. The One
Foo Fighters released The One in 2002 for the soundtrack of the film, Orange County. Though it isn’t as widely remembered as many of their other songs of the same time period, it remains an excellent piece of their early discography. Because it was released only as a limited edition single in New Zealand and Australia, The One has become an important piece of Foo Fighters memorabilia.
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