When we hear Dave Grohl’s name, most of us will probably think of the words “rock star”, “success”, “confidence” and “incredible songwriter”. The reality is, he has not always had the kind of confidence it takes to take the stage and be a working artist — one who pours his or her heart out under the spotlight every night. This was especially the case when he began his career as the drummer for Nirvana. He would join Kurt Cobain in his grunge haven for their second, seminal album, Nevermind, the album where everything changed for the band at the entire music industry. While it was mostly Cobain’s innate songwriting ability that would garner massive commercial success for Nirvana; it does beg the question: could Grohl have become a songwriter sooner?
“I didn’t like my voice. I didn’t think I was a songwriter, and I was in a band with one of the greatest songwriters. I didn’t want to rock the boat,” he told interviewer Anthony Mason about his time with Nirvana. According to Kerrang!, it wouldn’t be until after Kurt Cobain’s death in 1994 that he would start writing songs. In spite of the tragic time Grohl was referring to, he is still able to maintain a sense of humour: “What’s the last thing the drummer said before he got kicked out of the band? ‘Hey guys, I’ve got some songs I think we should play.’ So I just kind of kept it to myself.”
It turns out, although Grohl was of a mindset that lacked a certain self-confidence, it didn’t stop him from writing songs and keeping them to himself, something which he would start doing with more regularity towards the end of Nirvana’s run. “I didn’t think it was a record,” he admitted of his first ventures into songwriting. “I just wanted to get up and go out and play something, even if nobody ever heard it. Long before then, I had been recording songs of my own, and never letting anybody hear them because I didn’t really think they were that good.” Of course, the record the drummer is referring to is the Foo Fighters’ eponymous debut album.
David Grohl received some words of wisdom from his dad when he first started hitting it big, musically. He still carries his father’s words every time he makes a new Foo Fighters’ record: “You know, this isn’t going to last, right? Savour every cheque like it’s the last one you’re ever gonna make.” While slightly discouraging and demeaning in some aspects, this piece of advice does kick Grohl in the behind every so often and thus when he makes a new record, he does so as if it is the last record he will ever make.
Foo Fighters would release its eponymous debut album in 1995, in which Dave Grohl truly showcased his musical abilities; he recorded all the instruments featured on the record. The sound is a continuation of the grunge style that Nirvana was doing, however, Grohl would instil a kind of optimism and more positive energy into it, that fans have come to know and love Grohl for.
Dave Grohl’s Best 10 Songs
10. ‘Low’ – One by One
The third single off the Foo Fighters’ fourth album, One By One, Grohl described the song as “the kind of song that you pray would be a single. It’s the one that everybody likes, but there’s just no way ’cause it’s too weird.” The track was initially recorded as an instrumental demo by Grohl and Foo Fighters’ drummer, Taylor Hawkins.
Best known for the debauched music video featuring Jack Black acting opposite Dave Grohl as two American rednecks, they proceed to trash a motel room and also get into drag, later in the night. If you haven’t seen the video yet, it’s worth checking out.
9. ‘I’ll Stick Around’ – Foo Fighters
‘I’ll Stick Around’ was the second single off their eponymous debut album. “It’s just a very negative song about the feeling you were violated or deprived,” Grohl said in an interview with The Rolling Stone.
The song features Grohl’s ability to simply rock out while maintaining the catchiest of the pop hooks that even Kurt Cobain would be proud to have in Nirvana’s work. In particular, this one is very reminiscent of Nirvana’s ‘Aneurysm’ and thuds through the airwaves with a familiar smattering of riffs.
The video for the song was the first music video for the Foo Fighters, directed by Jerry Casale, who was a member of the art band, Devo.
8. ‘Have it All’ – One by One
The fourth single released from the Foo Fighters’ album One By One, the B-side to the single is a cover of Prince’s ‘Darling Nikki’. The song became successful on US Alternative Radio, peaking at number 15 and gathering a bunch of college radio fans as it filled dorm rooms across the country.
Grohl and FF would resurrect the song on subsequent tours after the album’s tour and it remains a fan favourite to this day. Specifically, they played it frequently on the In Your Honor and the Grace tours and the song always lands with a shuddering ripple of adulation from the audience.
7. ‘Breakout’ – There is Nothing Left to Lose
Next on the list is the simple but effective rocker, ‘Breakout’. The song’s music video was directed by The Malloys and appeared in the film Me, Myself, and Irene. The song’s subject ties nicely into what the movie is about: Jim Carrey’s character who suffers from a multiple personality disorder.
While in the studio, the song was played by Grohl’s power trio; Nate Mendel on Bass and Taylor Hawkins on drums, it’s a notable moment in the band’s career. Though they had always carried a certain solid-gold weight, now the band were infiltrating Hollywood too.
Grohl’s writing was at the centre of proceedings and his furious performance on this effort is always a welcome refrain from a busy day.
6. ‘Times Like These’ – One by One
The second single off their 2002 album, ‘Times Like These’ was written during a time when Dave Grohl was unsure about the future of the group as the practice sessions for One by One, was not going so well.
Grohl has stated that he was feeling “like I wasn’t entirely myself”. He pulled inspiration from one of his favourite groups, Husker Du; “I’m a new day rising” is a reference to that band. We all need music to help lift us out of the mire of melancholy from time to time and Grohl’s song has now become a universal anthem.
Recently used as part of a positivity-sharing viral clip, the song is quickly establishing itself as a much needed sweet moment in the band’s legacy.
5. ‘This is a Call’ – Foo Fighters
Foo Fighters’ first major single and the track that would kick their entire career off, this song, to me, contains all the good elements of a good rock/pop song. It’s got dynamics, its got a good melody, there’s a sense of humour to the track that confirms it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
The end of each refrain ends in a brilliant riff which rolls out of the speakers and into your ears like liquid rock ‘n’ roll candy.
This is one of the few songs off Foo Fighters’ debut album that Grohl did not write during his time with Nirvana and therefore acts as a crystalline version of his vision for the band and its future. It’s one of the songs on this list which may be a little more obscure and it lands as refreshingly as you might expect.
4. ‘Monkey Wrench’ – The Colour and The Shape
Undoubtedly one of their best and catchiest songs, ‘Monkey Wrench’ has become an integral moment on Dave Grohl’s journey to rock star icon.
The 1997 lead single off their second album, The Colour, and The Shape, chronicles the disintegration of Grohl’s four-year marriage to Jennifer Youngblood. The song was a huge hit, charting at number nine on the Billboards Rock Tracks Chart and number 12 on the UK Singles Chart.
Grohl has said that the song is “about realising that you are the source of all of the problems in a relationship and you love the other person so much, you want to free them of the problem, which is actually yourself.”
3. ‘All My Life’ – One by One
One of Foo Fighters’ best songs ever written, and maybe one of the best rock songs ever written, ‘All My Life’ won a grammy for Best Hard Rock Performance. It remained at number one on the Alternative Songs Chart and number three on the Hot Mainstream Rock Charts.
According to Dave Grohl, the song went through various different versions during the writing process. It “was originally an instrumental and it went through a few different versions. At first, it was really dissonant and noisy. The middle section sounded like ‘Wipe Out’ by the Surfaris. It was just nuts! We recorded the instrumental and I had no idea how I was gonna sing it. Again, that was another one that our manager said, ‘That’s the song!’ And we said, ‘Really? You think that’s the one people will like?’”
Grohl has said that the song is about him enjoying performing oral sex on women. Does it get more rock ‘n’ roll than that?
2. ‘Everlong’ – The Colour and The Shape
Perhaps one of the most widely-adored Foo Fighter’s tracks, ‘Everlong’ showcases Grohl’s fine ability to write an epic tune, with a lot of dynamics, musically speaking, that tie nicely into the lyrical story of the song. The song reached number three on the Billboard charts.
Grohl knocked the song around for a few months before he was able to finish it. Due to Grohl going through a divorce at the time, he had to crash on the floor of a friends place, around this time, he was finally able to finish the song.
The music video was nominated for Best Rock Video at the 1988 MTV Video Music Awards and is an equally vital moment in the band’s history. In fact, for some time, many people knew the band through this video more than anything else. Featuring Grohl doing his best Inception dream scaping, it’s a treat to behold.
1. ‘My Hero’ – The Colour and The Shape
Featuring another song from their The Colour and The Shape album, the song reached number six on the US Billboard Alternative Charts. According to Grohl who stated in a VH1 Storytellers in 2009 episode, ‘My Hero’ was written during a time when Grohl was watching a bunch of ‘80s movies like Valley Girl.
In regards to speculation whether the song was written about Kurt Cobain, Grohl stated, “There’s definitely an element of Kurt in that song,” however, he has made it clear, specifically on The Howard Stern show, that it is not. Paradoxically, Bradley Cook, the recording engineer for the song, stated that Grohl told him specifically that it was a track about Cobain.
We’ll likely never know the true origin of the song, like all great art it is likely an amalgamation of many different facets of Grohl’s life. What we do know is that it is one of the singer and multi-instrumentalist’s finest pop-rock songs.