Initially conceived as a side project that would allow former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl to showcase his songwriting skills, Foo Fighters have evolved into a stadium-rock behemoth. Twenty-two years since their self-titled debut album, they’ve surpassed Nirvana in terms of recordings and chart-topping hits, if not in sales—yet. The Foos are still going strong with nine studio albums, an HBO docuseries, relentless touring, collaborations with a who’s-who of rock music. With the band’s most recent studio effort Concrete and Gold expected to become their second U.S. No. 1 after its release last week, we’re marking the occasion by ranking the 10 greatest Foo Fighters songs so far.
“Low” was perhaps inevitably overshadowed by its oh-so-wrong promo in which Grohl and Jack Black played heavily inebriated, cross-dressing, hotel room-trashing hillbillies who film a disturbing pre-cursor to Paris Hilton’s night vision sex tape. The track itself isn’t quite so out-there, but with its relentless wave of pummeling percussion and ferocious riffs, it stands out as the most monstrous-sounding the Foos have ever put their name to. The fact that it was actually released as the third single from 2002’s One by One remains one of the most WTF moments of the band’s career. For anyone who still believes Foo Fighters deal solely in sturdy stadium rock, prepare to have your mind blown.
Foo Fighters didn’t even film videos for two of their first three singles (“This Is A Call,” “For All the Cows”), but by the end of the century had become essentially a prototype OK Go. The fourth release from their self-titled 1995 debut was the first time they truly harnessed the power of MTV with a memorable promo parodying a Mentos commercial. It was the perfect fit for such a short, sharp and sweet tune (the whole thing clocks in at just two minutes and 13 seconds) which saw the band make an unexpected foray into Big Star-esque jangle pop
The lead single from 1999’s There Is Nothing Left to Lose also came accompanied by a goofy video, arguably the band’s most famous, in which each member plays various characters (with Grohl’s excitable fangirl being a particular highlight). Also starring regular partner-in-crime Jack Black and his Tenacious D bandmate Kyle Gass, the Airplane-inspired promo not only gave the band the first of their 10 Grammy awards, but it also helped the Foos break into the U.S. Top 20 for the first time. “Learn to Fly” doesn’t exactly break new territory, but it’s the sound of a band at the peak of their rousing chart-friendly powers.
Artists as eclectic as teen pop sensation JoJo, alt-metallers Shinedown and late country legend Glen Campbell have all interpreted this Foo Fighters song. George W. Bush even tried to use it during his 2004 Presidential re-election campaign, much to Grohl’s chagrin (he remarked that its themes of hope, love and compassion were completely at odds with Bush’s administration). But this isn’t a case of a band’s most wide-reaching song being a commercial sellout. Sure, the chorus seems designed to be belted out in unison at a major festival (it was, after all, the song Florence + the Machine chose to perform after replacing the injury-stricken Foos at Glastonbury 2015). But packed with explosive riffs, Grohl’s signature screams and even a reference to cult hardcore punks Hüsker Dü, “Times Like These” is an instant classic with an edge.
The unauthorized use of the aforementioned track actually set the wheels in motion for the Foos’ highest-charting single. Grohl had hit the campaign trail for John Kerry following the Bush incident and it was his experiences of marching in rallies that inspired him to write an explosive song of resistance. “Best of You” was the result, an almighty beast of an alt-rock anthem in which Grohl reaches fever pitch from the very first note. The lead single from fifth LP In Your Honor also got the cover treatment, and by none other than Prince at the 2007 Super Bowl halftime show—a surprise choice considering the Purple One had previously criticized the band for putting their own spin on his “Little Nikki.” “Best of You” isn’t subtle, but then again, you don’t turn to Foo Fighters for subtlety, anyway.
Grohl has described non-single “Aurora” as the heaviest thing he’s ever written. Not in terms of sound—in fact the There Is Nothing Left to Lose cut is one of the Foos’ most restrained—but due to its posing of the ultimate question, “What is the meaning of life?” Despite a fairly epic six-minute running time, “Aurora” doesn’t really provide an answer of any real weight, instead offering relatively vague platitudes that could have been plucked from a beginner’s guide to existentialism. Grohl is unlikely to ever challenge Stephen Hawking, but he does know his way around a wistful melody and a chiming riff, and here he showcases these strengths on a blissful, starry-eyed affair that refreshingly eschews the band’s signature bombast.
Grohl didn’t seem too concerned with distancing himself from his Nirvana past during Foo Fighters’ early days. Just like first single, “This Is A Call,” the utterly defiant grunge-rock of follow-up “I’ll Stick Around” could quite easily have slotted onto Nevermind without any trouble, and even its subject matter was directly related to Kurt Cobain. Indeed, despite denying it for many years, Grohl eventually admitted that its stinging lyrics (“How could it be / I’m the only one who sees your rehearsed insanity?”) were aimed towards on/off frenemy Courtney Love. But take out the celebrity guessing game and the standout from the Foos’ eponymous debut still packs a hefty punch. Although strangely the band don’t appear too fond of it themselves—it was left off their 2009 Greatest Hits.
The third single from The Colour and the Shape was also heavily rumored to be linked to Cobain (“Don’t the best of them bleed it out / while the rest of them peter out”). But the subject of Grohl’s admiration wasn’t his former bandmate, but as he once described, “the solid everyday people you can rely on.” Of course, Foo Fighters have often been accused of being a little too dependable themselves. But with its thunderous drums, exhilarating guitars and explosive chorus, “My Hero” is anything but workmanlike. In what appears to be a pattern, it was also used for political purposes without the band’s consent—with John McCain the guilty culprit this time around. But it’s perhaps best known for its use in the climactic scene of the late ‘90s ultimate clichéd football movie, Varsity Blues.
The lead single from 2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience, Grace was reportedly inspired by Sesame Street song “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other”—surprisingly you can hear a similar lyrical rhythm in the chorus. Big Bird’s chirpings aren’t the only unlikely reference point here. Its tender intro appears to borrow heavily from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” while the cathartic refrain of suggests Grohl had suddenly developed a keen interest in British soccer chants. It all adds up to a rather schizophrenic, but ultimately thrilling anthem that bears all the hallmarks of long-time Pixies producer Gil Norton.
Sure, it’s a predictable No. 1, but “Everlong” is a fan favorite for a reason. Penned by Grohl in the wake of his marriage collapse, the second single from 1997’s The Colour and the Shape addresses both his disillusionment with love and the excitement of a possible new romance (with none other than Veruca Salt frontwoman Louise Post). It’s this push-pull, alongside its slightly frantic drums, adrenaline-charged riffs and Grohl’s angsty vocals, that makes “Everlong” such a compelling listen. Despite failing to reach the U.S. Hot 100, it’s perhaps penetrated pop culture like no other Foos track— longtime fan David Letterman credits it for helping him to get through his heart surgery recovery in 2000, while an orchestral version was played at Monica and Chandler’s wedding in Friends.