Dave Grohl was born in Warren, Ohio, a city I spent so much time in during the first 22 years of my life. I grew up in the next town over, in Southington, which was as much a suburb of Warren as it was a different ecosystem entirely. Grohl didn’t grow up in Warren, either, instead coming of age in the DMV area, but so much of his legacy is preserved back in the Heartland. Dave Grohl Alley—a terminal of sculptures, murals and the World’s Largest Drumsticks next to a Burger King—is a notable attraction stuck in the heart of a city attempting to recover from an ongoing opioid epidemic and the closure of the nearby General Motors plant. When you’re a young kid growing up in such close proximity to an erasure of prosperity, you latch onto the history that makes that place great. For Warren, Ohio, it’s Harding Raiders football (which has produced 19 NFL players), Harriet Taylor Upton’s imprint on women’s suffrage, the Packard Museum and Nirvana’s sixth drummer.
Even though he spent some time in the hardcore band Scream in the ’80s, Grohl’s legacy didn’t start to catch fire until his tenure with Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic in Nirvana, across the Nevermind and In Utero records, for which he was honored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. But the genesis of his stardom finally came together when he formed the Foo Fighters in 1995 as a one-man band, and put out all-time hard rock records like The Colour and the Shape (1997) and There Is Nothing Left to Lose (1999) as an all-out, full-band machine.
The Foo Fighters have released 10 albums over the course of 23 years with a revolving door supporting cast—except for ex-Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear, Nate Mendel and drummer Taylor Hawkins, all of whom have both been with the band since the ’90s (though Smear did spend a stretch on the sidelines). They’re one of the last post-grunge-era acts still enduring, and have had no problem crossing over into the mainstream at any point in their career—whether it was by adapting to the resurrection of stadium rock on the early stuff, or inviting pop stars to do guest features on the new projects. The Foo Fighters bring a refreshing longevity into the present that few other bands could conjure, grandfathering in new generations of fans with each new LP.
Grohl’s existence and fame are timeless joys, too. He continues adapting to whatever era he finds himself in, whether that’s by being a regular guest on podcasts, bringing dudes from the crowd onstage to jam with him, writing a memoir or trolling Westboro Baptist picketers with Bee Gees tunes. And in a world where the magnitudes of McCartney, Springsteen and The Stones’ stardoms often leave little room for anyone else, Grohl has fashioned his own stratosphere unto himself. Everyone knows who Dave Grohl is, whether they love, hate or are indifferent to his music.
Not many folks can claim to have been crucial to the legacy of one great rock band, let alone two. And in late October, Grohl was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland again, this time for his work in the Foo Fighters. He and the band ripped through renditions of “Everlong” and “My Hero,” along with a kickass performance of The Beatles’ “Get Back” with McCartney, who MC’d their induction earlier in the night. So, to celebrate the career of Dave Grohl, rock and roll’s coolest dad, here are his 10 best songs, ranked.
10. “Color Pictures of a Marigold” / “Marigold”
Originally recorded as “Color Pictures of a Marigold” for the Late! record Pocketwatch, and then released as the B-side to Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” under the shortened name we associate it with now, “Marigold” was Grohl’s first major composition to meet the public’s eye. To this day, it’s the only song in the world that was released by both Nirvana (on the In Utero deluxe edition) and Foo Fighters (on the 2006 live acoustic record Skin and Bones). Grohl can kick his voice up pretty good when he needs to, but “Marigold,” like “Big Me” and “Aurora,” is an excellent display of his ability to play it cool and deliver much more timid, reserved and constrained vocals. The lyricism is simple—one verse and one chorus going back and forth three times each—but the instrumentals fit perfectly with the mythology and aesthetic of the In Utero sessions: slow, slogging guitar and a snare drum to match. It was undoubtedly a soft precursor to the quieter moments that would come on Foo Fighters two years later.
9. “Cut Me Some Slack”
The only “Nirvana” song released in the 21st century is also a Grammy winner (Best Rock Song). With a guest feature from McCartney in tow, Grohl, Novoselic and Smear set out to write a heavy, heavy, heavy rock number for Grohl’s Sound City documentary—and they delivered. It was a seminal reunion for the remaining members of Nirvana, which would rear its head again at their Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction performance in 2014. “Cut Me Some Slack” would fit well on side four of The Beatles (The White Album), but the landscape of the whole song is textbook Nirvana/Foo Fighters: gravelly vocals, heavy riffs from Smear, stone-tough drum fills, lyrics that don’t make a whole lot of sense. It’s a pure post-grunge, hard-rock creation thriving off the legacies of the people performing it—a collaboration we’d welcome back again and again.
8. “My Hero”
1997 was a big year for Grohl, in part because the Foo Fighters had become one of the biggest American bands in the world overnight after the breakout success of The Colour and the Shape. It’s hard to imagine Grohl “breaking out” after spending four years in Nirvana, but the Foo Fighters’ eponymous debut record failed to crack the top 20 on the Billboard 200-yet it was a personal success for Grohl, because it was a project resurrected from the pitfalls of his own grief after Cobain’s death in 1994. The Colour and the Shape was a loud, inevitable detour from the lovable songs released two years prior. Longtime Pixies producer Gil Norton stepped in and rerouted the band’s trajectory, ditching the soft stuff in favor of stadium rock stardom and feel-good hits. The Foo Fighters didn’t sell out on The Colour and the Shape; they came into their own power. “My Hero,” the LP’s final single, is a badass, inspirational tune made for primetime heroics and theatricals. (I still associate the song with its inclusion in the blocked punt scene near the end of Varsity Blues.) The sound is an early blueprint of what the Foo Fighters would be doing for the next 20 years.
7. “Monkey Wrench”
“Monkey Wrench” is arguably the most fun Foo Fighters song. The track has always been a fan-favorite, but its popularity reached soaring heights when Grohl introduced “KISS Guy” to the world in 2018. Grohl and Smear’s dueling machine gun guitars, which come screaming in from the jump, are still just as heavy as they were 21 years ago. The song spends nearly four minutes at an 11, but its legacy is sometimes diluted by both the tense recording sessions it came out of—during which OG Foo Fighters drummer William Goldsmith got canned for underperforming—and how the lyricism mirrors Grohl’s ongoing marital woes at the time. Grohl and then-wife Jennifer Youngblood got divorced right around the time “Monkey Wrench” dropped, and he re-recorded all of Goldsmith’s drum parts. “Now and then, I’ll try to bend / Under pressure, wind up snapping in the end,” Grohl sings about moving on from an unhealthy relationship, with audible callbacks to the instrumental ferocity and lyrical cynicism of the Nevermind era. The song lives on as a head-banging power-punk anthem.
6. “Big Me”
Categorically unlike any other song on this list except “Marigold,” because Grohl and company had not yet found their signature, arena-rock sound, “Big Me” is an easy-going alt-pop hit for the ages—and it was only the Foo Fighters’ fourth song ever released. Written before the end of Nirvana, the influence of Cobain’s intoxicating melodies is on display throughout “Big Me.” But where In Utero was cynical and uncertain, “Big Me” echoes simplicity, especially in how bubbly guitars and minimalistic lyrics can be just as powerful as staggering, depressive songwriting. The world into which “Big Me” was released was still coping with Cobain’s death, and so too was Grohl, who has said that Foo Fighters was mostly composed while he wrestled with his own grief. The repeating chorus line, “But it’s you I fell into,” isn’t just one of his sweetest line deliveries, but also one of his saddest, especially if you believe he’s talking about Cobain.
5. “Learn to Fly”
“Learn to Fly” is a portrait of Grohl getting comfortable at not just the top of the rock world, but as the showrunner of the Foo Fighters. The band had just parted ways with Goldsmith, as well as Smear and guitarist Franz Stahl, leaving only Grohl, bassist Nate Mendel and Hawkins. There Is Nothing Left to Lose was a make-or-break record for them. They’d found irreversible stardom with The Colour and the Shape and were now facing expectations to capitalize on it. Boldly, they chose to momentarily shed that arena-rock sound and adopt a more-vulnerable image. “Fly along with me / I can’t quite make it alone / Try to make this life my own,” Grohl sings in the fifth verse, hinting at an idea of needing a balance of confidence and dependency in order to flourish. Grohl had built the Foo Fighters up from scratch, and, in the midst of possibly losing every supporting member, he was finally figuring out how to be a part of his own band.
“Walk” is the newest song on this list, which doesn’t speak to any lacking quality in the Foo Fighters’ recent body of work. It’s a better testament to how good their early stuff was, and still is. Given the successes of The Colour and the Shape, There Is Nothing Left to Lose and One by One, everything Grohl and company release now is just another victory lap. But “Walk,” the third single off 2011’s Wasting Light, is the truest crowning achievement of the band’s later era and the definitive track off Wasting Light—which wound up nominated for Album of the Year at the 2012 Grammys and took home the Best Rock Album award on the same night. The album had the tough task of following two of the Foo Fighters’ most-lukewarm records, in which that early-aughts alt-rock sheen they’d long reveled in was starting to wear off in the face of folk and psych-rock revivals. That shift in music’s ecosystem is echoed in the chorus of “Walk,” where Grohl sings, “I’m learning to walk again / I believe I’ve waited long enough,” like a man without a long-cemented legacy. It’s an ethos that stands firm as a true testament to Grohl’s investment in being a rock star: He’s not afraid to rebuild himself in the name of his band, staying relevant in different eras and reaching new generations.
3. “Times Like These”
The Foo Fighters’ first record of the new millennium, 2002’s One By One, is standard alt-rock going through the motions. But with a chord progression reminiscent of Television’s “Marquee Moon,” One By One’s second single roars in under a post-punk guise. Most of the other tracks are forgettable, especially relative to the success and longevity of “Times Like These,” a crowd favorite and the band’s longtime concert opener. When the record first came out, it was delivered to a still-grieving country post-9/11. Grohl sings, “It’s times like these you learn to live again,” over and over in the chorus with an earnest palpability he’s rarely tapped into since. The song is his manifesto of hope and determination, profound in its commentary on loss and resurrection, but even more urgent in today’s climate—as folks are, literally, almost two years deep into rebuilding themselves and the world around them. Grohl has always been a servant of the people, unintentionally or not.
“Aurora” remains Grohl’s most vulnerable performance; he even told Rolling Stone it was the heaviest song he’s ever written, which is true. It wasn’t picked as a single ahead of the release of There Is Nothing Left to Lose, but has endured as a favorite among hardcore fans and Grohl himself for two decades. There’s no doubt that Grohl can kick his vocals up whenever he pleases, but it’s in moments of quiet like this song where the most splendid parts of his artistry shine through. “I just kinda died for you / You just kinda stared at me,” he peacefully sings at the beginning before ending on the kaleidoscopic “Take me now, you spin the sun around / And the stars will all come out.” The Foo Fighters have never been known for writing glowing love songs, but “Aurora” is a beating-heart homage to the people of Seattle and the life Grohl lived alongside them.
It was always going to be “Everlong” at #1. You can mix and match the previous nine songs, or outright eliminate some and replace them with others, but the second single off The Colour and the Shape has remained the best Foo Fighters song for 24 years. It’s hard to believe that Grohl wasn’t even the biggest rock star in the world or at the height of his cultural powers when he wrote the best song of his career—the leap in quality from Foo Fighters to The Colour and the Shape is exponential. Culturally, it’s stood the test of time, too: It’s one of David Letterman’s favorite songs, the band’s concert closer, and a loving ripoff of Sonic Youth’s “Schizophrenia,” only done better. Though the first Foo Fighters record was conceived in response to Cobain’s death, the ethos of The Colour and the Shape feels more tethered to Grohl’s friendship with his former bandmate. “Everlong” is supposedly about one of his former flames, but the lines “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” are widely understood by fans as an elegy for Cobain. Even so, those same fans love this song and have a story to share about it, or someone they hope someday comes along and wastes away with them.
Matt Mitchell is a writer living in Columbus, Ohio. His writing can be found now, or soon, in Pitchfork, Bandcamp, Paste, LitHub and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter @matt_mitchell48.