Diving into the world of an esteemed artist like Dave Grohl can be a shadowy experience. Not because Grohl, arguably the nicest man in rock and roll, is any sort of terrible human, but more because what can feel like existential and otherworldly moments are just points of happenstance. Retroactively fitting them into a narrative is all well and good, but the reality is that, just like the rest of us, Dave Grohl was a goofy kid who simply loved music.
Of course, much of that fan-led desire to add gravitas to every facet of Grohl’s life comes from the esteem he has accrued over his career. First barreling into the hardcore scene in the late 1980s before becoming the iconic drummer for grunge heroes Nirvana, Grohl would cement his spot as one of the all-time greats of rock and roll with his near three-decade-long stint at the front of the stage for his band Foo fighters. It’s a career that has seen him wildly celebrated over the years. But who were the bands that Grohl truly admired, the groups that shook his soul and stirred his creativity until he exploded with musical intent?
When, in 2016, Grohl spoke to Rolling Stone about the growing prestige of his career, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer became a little embarrassed by his accolades. The publication wondered whether a teenage Grohl could have predicted such a life: “When I was young, I don’t think I knew what a Grammy was, nor did I understand the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was beyond my wavelength.” Like most people, the idea that Grohl would reach an impassable level of fame and acclaim was beyond comprehension. However, he did also reveal the artists who had been his main inspirations when imagining his life as a rock star: “I just wanted to learn how to play my instrument and make records with my friends on funny little labels so that we could go play shows with our other friends. I had posters on my walls — Kiss, Sex Pistols, Rush, Zeppelin — but I never imagined that someday I would be a poster.”
Later, in a more recent conversation with the BBC, Grohl elucidated and included one more name to his list of childhood heroes: “As a child, I had posters on my walls of Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, AC/DC and these huge stadium rock bands. To me, that was like this incredible fantasy. They seemed almost not human.” But perhaps what is most interesting about these selections is that one can easily track their influence on Grohl.
Firstly, we have the two drumming gods, about which Grohl has endlessly effused. Led Zeppelin and Rush may well be triumphant bands in their own right, and their albums likely soundtracked the life of teenage Grohl, but the two drummers, john bonham and Neil Peart, respectively, are arguably two of Grohl’s biggest influences. “John Bonham is the greatest rock drummer of all time,” Grohl once wrote for a piece in Mojo. “Bonham played directly from the heart. His drumming was by no means perfect, but when he hit a groove, it was so deep it was like a heartbeat.
The drummer was equally enthusiastic about Peart and the impact his playing had on him as a performer and a musician: “I still vividly remember my first listen of [Rush song] ‘2112′ when I was young. It was the first time I really listened to a drummer. And since that day, music has never been the same. His power, precision, and composition was incomparable. He was called ‘The Professor’ for a reason: we all learned from him.”
Like all hard rockers, Grohl also has a place in his heart for AC/DC, the Aussie band that ruled the late 1970s and early ’80s with their reckless abandon. “When I was maybe — I don’t know — 10 years old, I went to see that movie Let There Be Rock, the [AC/DC] live concert film, in a movie theatre,” Grohl told Blabbermouth. “This is before I was punk rock. That was the first time I saw a performance and heard music that made me wanna fucking break something. And still, to this day, I use that as a reference for how I like to play a show. I wanna be like AC/DC Let There Be Rock. That’s a live band.”
Another band who perfected the live performance were Gene Simmons’ unique act KISS. The rock group were milestones in a young Grohl’s life, and he paid a special tribute to them last year as part of his Hannukah celebrations, posting a cover of their song ‘Rock and Roll All Nite’ with the caption: “Ladies and gentlemen….we made it. Night 8! And what better way to celebrate another year of Hanukkah Sessions than Chaim Witz and Stanley Eisen….two young lads from Queens that set the world (and thousands of stages) on FIRE as Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of KISS!!!”
However, soon enough, Grohl would turn into a punk rock kid, and like any punk rocker worth their salt, there was only one band that truly captured the imagination; the Sex Pistols. “I was only seven years old when the Pistols toured America,” Grohl told the BBC. “But I can vividly remember the photographs of the band during that era, these vicious-looking guys in ripped clothes, Sid Vicious covered in blood. If you wanted to be big in America at the time, you needed to be a perfect musician like Boston and Bad Company; these bands were trained professionals they sounded slick and polished. Can you imagine what it was like to hear the Pistols? A band who couldn’t play and, what’s more, couldn’t care less. What made them special? It was that guitar sound, the way Johnny Rotten said his Rs; it was a moment in time. I went around all day singing ‘Bodies’ what a disgusting subject for a song, abortion, and how fantastic it was we could sing about it.”
Of course, there is one band yet to be mentioned, the group that arguably launched a thousand careers, The Beatles. While often emphatically defending Ringo Starr as one of the greatest drummers ever, anointing him “the king of feel“, Grohl loved the entirety of the band. In fact, Grohl’s first memorable musical moment came from the Beatles and the Paul McCartney track ‘Hey Jude’. He told the BBC: “The first Beatles song I’d ever heard, and it might be the first record I ever listened to. I remember having a sleepover at a friend’s house when I was maybe four or five years old and listening to ‘Hey Jude.’ I don’t think I’d ever listened to a rock ‘n’ roll record, and this was my introduction, and it stuck with me ever since”.
Below, we’ve compiled an introductory playlist to all of these incredible bands. We’re not going to guarantee that by listening to these songs, you will gain a career like Dave Grohl’s, but you will have built the perfect foundation for a musical life like no other.