Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in December 2013. It is being re-published today in celebration of the band’s 20th anniversary.
While we’re still a ways off from their highly anticipated follow-up to 2011’s Top Star-earning Wasting Light, we’re pretty sure 2014 will be a special year for 2011’s Band of the Year.
In celebration of Foo Fighters’ impending return, we rounded up their 10 best songs. Fair warning: You won’t find “My Hero” on this list since that song will forever be haunted by 1999’s Paul Walker-starring vehicle, Varsity Blues, and we just can’t even…
Eh, to be honest, there just wasn’t any room for it.
10. “White Limo”
Maybe it’s their Lemmy-starring, VHS-quality music video, but “White Limo” is Foo Fighters at their sleaziest, right? Indecipherable, screeching verses and a primal scream of a chorus make up the engine that revs and accelerates throughout its runtime. Hawkins’ percussion smashes through windshields while the triple-guitar attack of Grohl/Shiflett/Smear welcomingly swerves and crashes into Maiden territory. It was the first taste of Wasted Light, and despite being the shortest song on the band’s most recent effort, we think it’s the best that record has to offer now that we’re two years removed (and that’s saying something). –Justin Gerber
The double behemoth that was 2005’s In Your Honor proved that the Foos could take it slow and steady for an entire disc. And as much as we love ’em loud, we’d be remiss not to include at least one of the band’s unplugged tunes. That distinction goes to album closer “Razor”, a meditative number that builds in volume and tempo the same way as Foo Fighters’ heavier material, just with softer guitars. It could be about depression, a failing relationship, or both, but I like to think of it as a hibernation song. Honeycombed acoustic plucking guides us all to our hiding places for the winter, then wakes us up when spring comes. Now’s the time to throw it on. Now’s the time to sleep and not shiver. –Dan Caffrey
08. “The Pretender”
The first (and best) track off Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, “The Pretender” carries over both the aggression and violins from the Foo’s previous effort, merging what was separated on In Your Honor into one bracing single. Grohl’s rage-filled vocals question authority, bite back against conformity, and yet he never distances himself from the listener. Does the message end up an afterthought to said listeners? Absolutely, but that’s only because Grohl writes better hooks than most other “rock” stars of our era. He’s too busy engaging his audience both on record and on the road to be too concerned about boring ol’ messages, anyway. –Justin Gerber
07. “Stacked Actors”
I hate Los Angeles. The glossy people, the shit crowds, and the frustrating lack of suitable public transportation drive me nuts every time I’m there. It’s a great city to visit for a few days, but how anyone lives in that intoxicating hellhole is beyond me. That’s why I get “Stacked Actors” and understand Grohl’s frustration when he screams, “Line up all the bastards all I want is the truth.” Aside from being an essential crunchy opener, both onstage and for There Is Nothing Left to Lose, the whole thing sounds like a swampy grunge memoir of their time in the City of Angels, as if Nirvana actually aimed for the football stadiums. Of course, that idea is a nightmare in itself, but hey, the end product doesn’t sound too bad. And no, it’s not about Courtney. –Michael Roffman
06. “New Way Home”
Upon first listen, you’d think the last song on The Colour and the Shape would be “Walking After You”. It seems like the prototypical comedown track to close out a standard “alternative rock” album. However, as soon as the beauty of that song fades from your speakers, the drums and guitars of “New Way Home” come crashing through. So much to love in just under six minutes: the jangle pop first half, the abrupt stop, the whispering build, and the raucous climax. The Foos have rarely played it live in the past decade, but it represents everything we love about the band: an equal distribution of tempos. –Justin Gerber
05. “This Is a Call”
Although rawer than anything that came after it, the first widely heard Foo Fighters song established Dave Grohl’s preferred aesthetic: vague yet relatable lyrics and stadium-sized hooks. The words are nothing more than a series of positive non sequiturs to Grohl’s friends and former bandmates (“fingernails are pretty!” “Them balloons are pretty big!”), but that doesn’t matter. “This Is a Call” is about an energy, an optimism, a starting over. In other words, it was just what Grohl needed given that Kurt Cobain had shot himself only six months prior to the recording. And maybe we needed it, too. –Dan Caffrey
04. “Monkey Wrench”
Oh, to go back to the spring of 1997. There was a time when I could scream out the nervous breakdown of “Monkey Wrench” without taking a single breath and belt out the word “fast” as if the lives of me and my friends depended on it. I’m obsessed with nostalgia and worrying that looking back can be dangerous, but how can you not love this song? As the first single to The Colour and the Shape, it proved Grohl’s project had become a proper band, and one with enough passion and energy to blow the roof off arenas well over a decade later. –Justin Gerber
03. “Times Like These”
Many folks dig on the acoustic version of “Times Like These”. Maybe it’s because the sonics more closely match Grohl’s self-doubt at the time of writing One By One‘s best song. But we’ll always go for the electric. It’s simply more uplifting, thanks in no small part to Grohl and Shiflett’s dueling leads. Their guitar lines intertwine, then float away, as if the two musicians are having a conversation in the sky. Sure, the piano in the unplugged version is purdy, but when you’re feeling like shit—as the entire band was during the recording of One By One—what would you rather have? A ballad or an anthem? –Dan Caffrey
Fun fact: “Exhausted” is the band’s first single. Issued as a rare promotional 12″, the sludgy, psychedelic ballad cracked open the Foo mythology on January 8, 1995, via Eddie Vedder’s Self-Pollution Radio broadcast. Imagine the context, though. Everyone knew it was Grohl’s official follow-up to Nirvana, specifically In Utero, an aural wasteland of sticky hooks, sharp distortion, and macabre lyricism. Of course, I was too young to listen in to the callers — and also lived in a LeBron-less, Dan Marino-obsessed Miami — but I imagine few were disappointed. It’s lonely, it’s loud, and it’s unpredictable. When he surges back into the main riff at 4:23, somewhere Cobain’s howling. Why they never play this anymore is beyond me. This is Grohl at his most honest and sincere. –Michael Roffman
I could be wrong, but I swear I’ve heard David Letterman introduce several musical acts on his show as “my favorite band.” Regardless, he’s always seemed to mean it with the Foo Fighters. They were the first musicians he asked to be on the Late Show after his quintuple bypass surgery in 2000; they were brought in to play his favorite song. Of course, it was “Everlong”. What else would it have been? There will no doubt be a string of comments lamenting the deep cuts that should have made this list, but I’ll be genuinely surprised if anyone disagrees with number one. And that’s because it has stakes. Remember, Grohl wrote the song’s lyrics while his marriage crumbled around him and he fell in love with another woman. He had both nothing and everything to lose. Hawkins’ hissing ride on the hi-hit adds further urgency, and by the end, the risk could apply to anything: divorce, forming a band, heart surgery.
Like a lot of people, Letterman got through a difficult period thanks to “Everlong”, something he elaborated on when he invited Foo Fighters back to play it again in 2011. The sound was bigger—Nate Mendel’s bass bubbled, the guitars had multiplied to three, and the audience furiously clapped along. Yet despite the expansion, the song’s sentiment remained the same. “Everlong” will always be universal. It will always be about risk, about holding your breath and leaping into the unknown. Everyone loves it, and, for once, everyone is right. –Dan Caffrey