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Dave Grohl's 50 greatest songs of all time


Dave Grohl just can’t sit still. It’s a bad habit that Grohl admits in his memoir The Storyteller that likely carries over from being a hyperactive child. For most, it’s a trait that needs to be tapered down once you’re an adult, but luckily Grohl found a job where it actually helps to be a little frenzied.

Over the course of his now-four decade career, Grohl has played on hundreds of songs. He’s also worked with some of the greatest figures in music: David Bowie, John Paul Jones, Stevie Nicks, and Paul McCartney, just to name a few. He had the opportunity to join Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers after Nirvana’s dissolution but opted to strike out on his own with the Foo Fighters instead.

Oh yeah, he was also in a small band called Nirvana. And Scream. And Queens of the Stone Age. Grohl helped bring to life songs by a wide variety of artists, including Nine Inch Nails, Tenacious D, Killing Joke, and Halsey. He’s the man that everyone wants to jam with, and more importantly, he’s the man that everyone just wants to hang out with. Grohl’s reputation has exceeded his monster musical abilities by virtue of just seeming like a really cool guy.

That would all be fine if he was simply a wandering soul picking up session gigs in between cashing checks from Nevermind. Instead, Grohl decided that he had something to say and formed Foo Fighters in 1994. Originally a true-blue solo project, the band grew into rock’s preeminent stadium act, releasing multi-platinum albums and touring around the world at a level few could match. Grohl might seem relatively easygoing, but make no mistake, Foo Fighters is still a benevolent dictatorship, with Grohl at the helm.

That’s probably for the best, as Grohl has cranked out some of the most memorable tracks of the past 30 years. Evolving from the quasi-improvisational style of writing occasionally used by Kurt Cobain, Grohl has come into his own as a songwriter, establishing a signature style and a noted depth in lyrical subject matter. When he’s not plumbing the depths of his emotions, he’s spitting venom on some of the heaviest tracks this side of punk rock. Here, we’re looking across his long and storied career to collect Grohl’s 50 greatest songs.

Some basic measures had to be put in place just to keep the ranking from getting too unwieldy. Extra emphasis is placed on the songs that Grohl has a songwriting credit on, and it takes an all-time performance to boost something that Grohl didn’t write himself. Covers have been completely excised, so apologies to ‘Molly’s Lips’, a good chunk of MTV Unplugged in New York, and The Dee Gee’s Hail Satin

But more importantly, Grohl had to make a significant impact on the final product. There are loads of great Nirvana songs that, frankly, Grohl didn’t have much of a say in. Whether it’s the bombshell boom of his drumwork, harried screams of his vocals, or light touch of his lyric writing, emphasis was placed on Grohl’s unique contributions rather than simply the best songs to feature Grohl somewhere on them.

Here are the 50 greatest songs by Dave Grohl.

Dave Grohl’s 50 greatest songs:

50. ‘Chasing Birds’

The Foo Fighters are in a comfortable place now. They’re unmatched as the world’s biggest rock band, and they have so much solid material in their back catalogue that they don’t really need any more great songs. They can play for four hours of all hits every night, so why keep trying to add to the list?

It all goes back to that restless spirit within Grohl: the best Foo Fighters song may very well not have been written yet. It’s also fascinating to hear Grohl when he goes softer, like on Medicine at Midnight‘s standout track ‘Chasing Birds’. The Foos actually have quite a bit of acoustic material in their repertoire now, but ‘Chasing Birds’ is a fantastically mellow addition to their varied setlists.

49. ‘Beezleboss (The Final Showdown)’ (Tenacious D)

Never underestimate Grohl’s ability to go for the laugh. Through various cameos, guest appearances, and now even his own horror-comedy film, Grohl has an untapped career path as a professional jokester. So it’s only natural that he found a fit with Jack Black and Kyle Gass in their mock-rock outfit Tenacious D.

Grohl has been providing drums for the band’s albums since the beginning, but it’s his appearance as Lucifer himself at the end of The Pick of Destiny that represents one of the heights of his comedic career. Getting in some solid riffs and high octane drum fills, Grohl fights for the right to make Gass his personal sex slave in the bonkers finale to Tenacious D’s quest for immortality (and weed).

48. ‘White Limo’

Grohl has showed off quite a diverse set of skills within his music. There’s more conventional pop, like on his collaboration with Halsey. There’s electronic industrial rock, like with NIN (more on that in a second). There’s even the lighter acoustic side that the Foos have dipped into. But let’s be real: Grohl is at his best when he’s screaming his face off.

Who knows where Grohl still finds that volcanic rage, but he’s still able to breathe fire with a surprising amount of potency. Just listen to 42-year-old Grohl go ballistic on Wasting Light’s ‘White Limo’. It’s a callback to earlier tracks like ‘Wattershed’, where nothing was better than Grohl leaning back and screaming himself raw for a few minutes.

47. ‘Rape Me’ (Nirvana)

The Nirvana representation on this list was one of the toughest aspects to work through. That is especially true for a song like ‘Rape Me’. On one hand, it’s one of Nirvana’s greatest and most important songs. On the other, Grohl doesn’t actually get to do all that much, with his contributions limited to drums and, when played live, backing vocals.

But his drum part is one of the most ferocious that he ever played with the band, and it doesn’t seem complete to have a list like this without it. Ultimately, ‘Rape Me’ would be a completely different song without Grohl behind the skins, and his powerful drive is what makes Nirvana’s signature “quiet-loud” dynamic so impactful.

46. ‘Skin & Bones’

Grohl isn’t the most technically gifted guitar player in the world. He can’t read music, doesn’t really know much about theory, and could probably give a damn whether a progression is going I-iv-V-IV or A-B-C-D. But every once in a while, Grohl stumbles onto something truly unique that most writers beholden to traditional ways of thinking about music would never do.

‘Skin and Bones’ is a chromatic song with plenty of odd chord choices and strange progressions. Even still, it has Grohl’s unmatched ear for melody, just in a more moody setting. As someone who values simplicity over technical proficiency, Grohl can break all the wrong rules in all the right ways.

45. ‘Long Road to Ruin’

The Foo Fighters have released upwards of 50 singles throughout their 30 years as a band, so it only stands to reason that some of those tracks tend to get lost to history. If it wasn’t for its goofy music video (a Foo Fighters staple), ‘Long Road to Ruin’ would be in danger of getting lost in the mix.

That’s unfortunate, seeing as how it’s one of the band’s best songs from what is now ostensibly their “middle period”. Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace is a hit-or-miss kind of record, but ‘Long Road to Ruin’ proves that Grohl’s ability to find big rock hooks never wavers.

44. ‘Shake Your Blood’ (Probot)

If ever there was a superhero for Dave Grohl to base himself off of, it was Lemmy Kilmister. The hard rocking, hard partying, surly son of a bitch was actually quite a mellow and friendly character when he wasn’t belting sonic holes in the ozone with Motörhead. If you liked a drink, or a smoke, or a good joke, you had a friend in Lemmy, and Grohl was able to forge a close bond with the legendary bass player that lasted years.

In terms of actual collaboration, Grohl and Lemmy only ever recorded two songs together: a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Run Rudolph Run’ with Billy Gibbons on guitar, and ‘Shake Your Blood’ from Grohl’s heavy metal side project Probot. Even though it’s a one off, ‘Shake Your Blood’ makes for one hell of a tribute to two legends, one living and one now sadly passed on.

43. ‘Run’

We all tend to mellow with age. The fire burns out, the thrill goes, and it’s increasingly difficult to find the energy and strength to really rally against something once you transition into a quieter stage of life. Dave Grohl, somehow, is immune to this natural occurrence.

Even though the Foos are a lot more experimental and low-key these days than they were on their first two albums, Grohl can still fire it up when he needs to, like on the back and forth headbanging riff that’s central to ‘Run’. In his third decade of rock and roll, Grohl is just as ready to shake the walls as he was as a teenage dirtbag playing punk rock. Lucky for him, he’s got a band behind him who are just as eager to match his fury.

42. ‘Wheels’

Ah, the dreaded greatest hits compilation. I don’t know if it’s still the case in the streaming age, but a greatest hits album was the most surefire way for a band to sell a billion copies of an album without ever having to do much work back when people still regularly bought physical albums. Just to show that they weren’t completely phoning it in, artists would often include a new song or two that completely went against the concept of a “greatest hits” compilation. It was strange, but damn near everyone did it.

The Foos were one of the rare bands who actually put a great new song on their greatest hits album. ‘Wheels’ isn’t anything complicated: just a few chords, some solid guitar rock power, and an easy melody. But it remains one of the Foo Fighters greatest uncut gems, hidden in plain sight where it truly belongs: on a collection of the band’s best songs.

41. ‘Every Day Is Exactly The Same’ (Nine Inch Nails)

It’s a somewhat unlikely meeting of the ’90s best musical minds. In one corner, there’s the rock-focused Dave Grohl, who turns his nose up at keyboards and machinery in favour of loud guitars and acoustic drums. In the other, there’s industrial god Trent Reznor, who will manipulate any sound or signal to make his warped worldview come to life.

As it turns out, though, these two forces can actually work in harmony, as they do on Nine Inch Nail’s ‘Every Day Is The Exact Same’. Grohl is unmistakable on the drums, pounding away like a mob enforcer collecting debts. But over the top is Reznor’s electronic buzz, fleshing out the landscape with a modern sheen. It shouldn’t be good, at least not on paper. But ‘Every Day Is The Exact Same’ is a track that fires on all cylinders, bringing out the best in its two collaborators.

40. ‘Outside’

Let’s all be honest with ourselves for a second: Dave Grohl’s need to continuously find new angles with which to churn out Foo Fighters albums is admirable, if not always successful. While the band’s more recent LPs can have a smattering of good-to-great songs bumping up against forgotten filler tracks, for my money the last great Foos album was probably 2011’s Wasting Light.

Sonic Highways is basically a homework assignment stretched out to full album length, and it’s especially apparent in the clunky shoehorned lyrics made up of references his interview subjects make But when it works, it’s surprisingly potent. ‘Outside’, with its spacious solo from Joe Walsh, is easily one of the album’s high points, letting the band hang loose and rock out away from the forced material that is captured on the rest of the album.

39. ‘Sean’

Once again pairing it back to the “wouldn’t it be great if we just screamed our faces off for a little bit” style, ‘Sean’ is the goofiest, loosest, most nonsensically awesome song that the Foos have put out in the last ten-plus years.

Collecting the stories that follow one of the band’s guitar techs, ‘Sean’ is an unstoppable gallop of a track that doesn’t let you stop to breathe for a single second. That and it also has some of the raddest cowbell that Taylor Hawkins ever laid down with the band. Cowbells, statistically and objectively, make everything better. That’s just math.

38. ‘This Is a Call’

Let’s step into Dave Grohl’s shoes for a second, circa summer 1995. Nirvana has been over for a year, and there are rumblings that you’re going to put out new music where you sing and play guitar. The rest of the world is slightly suspicious, and certainly not expecting much. There’s probably a reason why you didn’t have a ton of songwriting credits before, right? What are you gonna do, pull a Phil Collins and sing some ballads?

Well, in order to silence all the sceptics, what do you pick as your debut single and first track for your first album? How about an uptempo rock song that gives a high energy wave to all the people who had brought you to the place you are today. ‘This Is a Call’ is remarkable in that, more than 25 years since that theoretical scenario, the song still sounds just as fresh as it did when it announced a new Dave Grohl to the world.

37. ‘Territorial Pissings’ (Nirvana)

Nirvana were in danger of getting a little too arena rock-adjacent on Nevermind. The solution? Play as fast and loud as humanly possible. Make the icing on top of the cake an out-of-tune reading of the chorus to The Youngblood’s ‘Get Together’ to make a track straight out of snot-rock heaven.

So that’s exactly what they did. ‘Territorial Pissings’ is pure machine gun fire from Grohl on the drums, giving direction to the mess of distortion and riffage that Kurt Cobain and Krist Novoselic get themselves entangled in. When it comes to pure shits-and-giggles ferociousness in the Nirvana canon, you’d be hard pressed to find a song more fun or frantic than ‘Territorial Pissings’.

36. ‘Cut Me Some Slack’ (Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, Pat Smear)

Nirvana was dead, and it was going to take an unholy resurrection to get them to record together again. Who could possibly step into the massive shoes left behind by Kurt Cobain? Only a truly titanic figure, one who was as important to Cobain’s musical development as any punk rocker. That figure turned out to be none other than Paul McCartney.

Although it’s a fairly generic rocker, the sheer weight behind ‘Cut Me Some Slack’ makes it one of the rarest and most enjoyable tracks that Grohl has ever made. It’s Nirvana, fronted by a Beatle. Music doesn’t get any more mythical than that. With any luck, had he known about who was taking his place, Cobain would hopefully have let out a little smile and mentioned how he preferred John Lennon.

35. ‘The Sky is a Neighborhood’

Think you’ve heard it all from Foo Fighters? How about a vocal choir intro complete with guitars that don’t even pretend to rock in the song’s first 30 seconds? It’s always a delicate balance for Grohl when it comes to established formula and new horizons to explore with his band, but fascinating decisions still get stumbled upon from time to time.

‘The Sky is a Neighborhood’ is sparse in its verse, angular with its riffs, and far more progressive than the Foos had ever allowed themselves to be in the past. It would be nothing without a giant hook at its centre, which is something that Grohl can always be counted on to provide. If nothing else, ‘The Sky is a Neighborhood’ proved that Grohl was still full of surprises.

34. ‘Marigold’ (Nirvana/Foo Fighters)

The only song to be played by both of Grohl’s biggest bands actually had its roots in a different project. Grohl wanted to record some of his own songs but was too reticent to introduce them to Nirvana. Instead, he put them on a tape entitled Pocketwatch, produced it under the pseudonym Late!, and sent it off into the ether without any indication that Grohl was the man behind the music.

One of the tracks on that tape was ‘Color Pictures of a Marigold’, which Grohl re-recorded with Novoselic during the In Utero sessions. ‘Marigold’ wound up as one of the B-sides to ‘Heart-Shaped Box’, with fans at early Foo Fighters gigs shouting out the song as a request, seeing as it was the only Dave Grohl lead vocal they had ever heard. Eventually, the Foos revived the song for their Skin and Bones acoustic live album, bringing ‘Marigold’ full circle and landing it a rare place in music history.

33. ‘February Stars’

Grohl was in a strange place in his life after the release of the first Foo Fighters album. The acceptance of the band as more than just a vanity project was growing, but Grohl’s personal life was falling apart at the same time. His divorce from his first wife Jennifer Youngblood inspired the material on the band’s follow up, The Colour and the Shape, but Grohl’s need for stability and control also pushed out drummer William Goldsmith when Grohl decided to re-record most of the album’s drum part himself.

One of Grohl’s first forays into more gentle and melodic material, ‘February Stars’ represented a massive leap forward for Grohl in his songwriting ability. Now unafraid of slowing down and letting his emotions imbue his songs with regret and personal truth, Grohl evolved into a true artist. Even though it sounds different from the rest of their material, ‘February Stars’ is a crucial building block in the signature sound of the Foo Fighters.

32. ‘Breakout’

“You make me dizzy, running circles in my head / One of these days I’ll chase your motherfucking ass down.” That’s how Grohl kicks off the Foo Fighters’ performance of ‘Breakout’ during their legendary stand at Wembley Stadium. Let’s dispense with the pretentiousness for a second: people like the Foo Fighters because they’re a big, loud, awesome rock and roll band.

‘Breakout’, by the transitive property, is one of the best Foo Fighters songs because it’s one of the band’s biggest, loudest, most awesome rock and roll songs. I’m no math guy, but that seems like sound mathematics to me. If you don’t love ‘Breakout’, you don’t love the Foo Fighters, and if you love the Foo Fighters, you love ‘Breakout’. It’s as simple as that.

31. ‘All Apologies’ (Nirvana)

‘All Apologies’ isn’t Grohl’s biggest or baddest drum performance with Nirvana. In fact, barring the possible exceptions of ‘Polly’ and ‘Something in the Way’, it might very well be his most restrained. But that’s important too: Grohl made his name as a loud basher, rarely bringing things down below a forte dynamic.

‘All Apologies’ proved that Grohl had plenty of light touch and good taste in his drumming. He’s got a simple task: don’t get in the way. He gets time to bash away, but never at the insane levels that he’s used to. There’s a very delicate melody at the centre of the song, and Grohl does everything he can to help it along without trampling all over it. It’s a critically important lesson he learned – sometimes softer really is better.

30. ‘I Am A River’

Evidently, my opinion that ‘I Am A River’ is a graceful and wonderfully stirring finale to Sonic Highways is not an opinion shared by all. I will admit that, if you’re not bought into the grandeur of the song or the central metaphor, then the last five minutes of the song can be a bit of an overlong slog. But if you’re on board, it’s as symphonic and cinematic as the Foos ever got.

That’s thanks to Tony Visconti’s monster score, the pairing of eerie guitars lines and power chords, and of course Grohl’s signature scream. Some will say it’s too long, or that it doesn’t make sense, or that it’s just not very good. I say it’s borderline profound, and the most successful experiment on Sonic Highways. ‘I Am A River’ is a song that could be eye-rolling in the wrong state of mind, but completely earth-shattering when you’re locked in with it.

29. ‘Aneurysm’ (Nirvana)

Grunge’s ‘Stairway to Heaven’. No, that’s not a joke or an exaggeration. What ‘Aneurysm’ does is solidify Nirvana as a band with ambitions beyond two-chord punk, beyond catchy pop, and beyond their Seattle peers. It’s progressive, it’s aggressive, and it’s uncompromising. When it comes to pure variety and musicianship, it just might be the finest song Nirvana ever wrote.

More importantly, it was the first song that Grohl had a hand in writing, mainly helping to guide the song through its two distinct sections. The speed demon drum fills are one thing, but the ability to turn tempos on a dime is another. ‘Aneurism’ solidified Grohl’s place in Nirvana, not just as a drummer but as an equal contributor to their sound.

28. ‘Gods Look Down’ (Scream)

Grohl’s time in Scream is often seen as being akin to a great baseball player’s time in the minor leagues: pay your dues, get your legs under you, and eventually, you’ll be promoted. That wasn’t true, as Grohl was completely committed to the D.C. hardcore band that he idolised as a young teenager. When Scream suddenly broke up in 1990, Grohl was completely at a loss, believing that his dreams of being a professional musician were over.

Grohl’s powerful thump is easily heard on the tracks that he contributed to the band, but it was on ‘Gods Look Down’ that Grohl took his first steps towards his future. Grohl sang lead on the track, and although his voice is noticeably emo-adjacent and slightly off-key, the seeds of his signature shout are still there. It would have been fascinating to hear what Scream would have evolved into had they kept going, and whether Grohl would have gotten additional opportunities to step up to the mic.

27. ‘These Days’

Something remarkable about Grohl’s songwriting is that he’s able to take on weighty themes without ever seeming pretentious or overwrought. When it comes to growing up, the Foos did it in style on Wasting Light. Pairing their signature punch with meditations on fatherhood, regret, and death, the band were able to tap into feelings that aged and evolved along with their audience. Sure, they’re “dad rock”, but there are a lot of dads with a lot of emotions out there.

When faced with the great divide, there’s only one way that Grohl is going to go out: screaming. Lines like, “One of these days the clocks will stop / And time won’t mean a thing” show that Grohl can be downright poetic when he wants to be, and ‘These Days’ is one of a fair number of songs that force you to take Grohl seriously as one of the most talented songwriters of his generation, even on par with one of his former bandmates.

26. ‘Weenie Beenie’

How do I successfully undercut everything serious and thoughtful that I just said? By placing what is undoubtably the Foo Fighters’ most frivolous and ridiculous song right below a really “important” Foo Fighters song. But that’s the beauty of the band: when things get a little too heavy, it’s time to stop making sense and just rock out with your sock out.

Named after a fast food restaurant native to Grohl’s home state of Virginia, ‘Weenie Beenie’ is the first and best of the Foo Fighters’ “shut up and scream” songs. There’s a lineage here – ‘White Limo’, ‘Sean’ and ‘Wattershed’ all are indebted to this slice of punk-metal. Sludgy, ferocious, and completely incomprehensible, ‘Weenie Beenie’ is the loudest, heaviest, and most inane Foo Fighters song ever written. And it’s fucking awesome.

25. ‘Bridge Burning’

Dave Grohl can do it all. In fact, he did do it all on the Foo Fighters’ first album. He’s stepped in to re-record any and all parts that don’t live up to his lofty standards, and no one is exempt from his heavy hand. But in the past decade or so, the Foo Fighters have solidified into a great band of heavy hitters that bring Grohl’s loud and fast rock music to life.

‘Bridge Burning’ is a song that doesn’t exist if Grohl had always kept the band to a solo project. Taylor Hawkins’ massive drums and killer backing harmonies, the dual descending guitar lines between Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett, the rumbling bass line provided by Nate Mendel and the spacey keyboards from Rami Jaffe are all essential to the song’s mighty thump. Grohl is at the centre of it all, but songs like ‘Bridge Burning’ prove just how much of a band Foo Fighters really are.

24. ‘Dumb’ (Nirvana)

The loveliest and most Beatles-esque song that Kurt Cobain ever wrote, ‘Dumb’ is easy proof as to why a band as heavy and punk-focused as Nirvana was actually perfect for the MTV Unplugged sessions. Faced with his biggest challenge yet, Grohl couldn’t pound away or blast anything in his signature Animal-from-The Muppets style.

So he gets creative. Knocking on the rims of his drums while leaning hard into the ride cymbal, Grohl conjures up one of his most idiosyncratic drum patterns for one of Nirvana’s most idiosyncratic songs. Despite wanting to get more abrasive on In Utero, it was clear that Grohl, Cobain, and Novoselic were actually just as ready to get into a lighter state of mind.

23. ‘Alone + Easy Target’

There’s a story that follows ‘Alone + Easy Target’: Grohl records a demo of the song with future Foo Fighters producer Barrett Jones and plays it for Cobain while he’s sitting in a bathtub. Cobain proceeds to kiss Grohl and express relief that he no longer has to be the sole songwriter in Nirvana.

The irony to the story is that ‘Alone + Easy Target’ is actually about Cobain’s criticisms of Grohl and Grohl’s lack of ability to stand up for himself or contribute to the band beyond simply keeping time: “Metronome / I want out.” A lack of input and royalty disputes actually sowed quite a bit of discord between Grohl and Cobain during the final two years of the band, but it only ever reached the extent of inspiring one of Grohl’s best songs from the Foo Fighters’ debut.

22. ‘New Fang’ (Them Crooked Vultures)

There was no need for Them Crooked Vultures to be anything but a loose and fun supergroup for Dave Grohl and Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme to geek out over the fact that they got to be in a group with John Paul Jones. But then the thunderous opening drums to ‘New Fang’ kick in and it suddenly becomes clear that this isn’t just some mindless rock and roll fantasy camp. This is going to be heavy.

Seeing as how Grohl is the modern day John Bonham, it should be no surprise that he and Jones lock in like they’ve been playing in the same band for 40 years. Homme throws in one of his most memorable melodies just to keep up, and the trio play with time signatures in a way that is easy to miss, but remain captivating when caught. Hard rock heavyweights don’t show off any better than Them Crooked Vultures do on ‘New Fang’.

21. ‘Lithium’ (Nirvana)

Dave Grohl is human after all. In the wonderful documentary Sound City, which was directed by Grohl himself, Nevermind producer Butch Vig shares a story about Nirvana coming in to the eponymous California studio intent on recording ‘Lithium’, but failing to properly get a hold of the track. The process was so frustrating that Cobain launched into ‘Endless, Nameless’ at the end of a particularly bad take and wound up breaking the studio’s only left handed guitar, putting a pause on that day’s recording.

In order to make the song work, Vig convinced Grohl to do something he had never done before: play to a click track. “I felt like someone had stabbed me in the fuckin’ brain. As a drummer, you don’t want anyone to ask you to play to a click track.” But Grohl relented, and the result is one of the greatest mixes of heavy rock and pop melodies that Nirvana ever produced.

20. ‘Stacked Actors’

Who is the unconfirmed early villain of the Foo Fighters story? The shadow of Kurt Cobain? The creeping onset of grunge imitators like Creed? Grohl himself, whose control saw everyone from the original incarnation quit at least once? All solid possibilities, but the juiciest and most gossipy options is undoubtably Cobain’s widow, Hole lead singer Courtney Love.

Of all the (alleged) songs written about Love, ‘Stacked Actors’ has to be the most vicious. Calling an unnamed blonde an “ageing drag queen” is about as straight up mean as Grohl has ever been, and even though he denies that Love served as the inspiration, the association has easily made it one of the Foo’s most fascinating tracks. Come for the drama, stay for the major riffage.

19. ‘Ain’t It the Life’

There were certain security blankets that the Foo Fighters liked to hold tight: distortion, screaming, giant drums. These were comfy and familiar, and the band did them well. But gentle singing? Arpeggiated jangly guitars? Soft dynamics? How’s are they going to pull that off? This is the same band who named their heaviest song after a fast food stop. Surely they can’t be gentle and genuine at the same time.

For anyone who hasn’t heard all of There Is Nothing Left to Lose, the Foo Fighters pull a genius magic trick by front loading the album with heavy rock tracks and ending with some of the most heartfelt and optimistic songs that Grohl ever put to tape. The peak is ‘Ain’t It the Life’, a song completely unlike any other in the Foo’s catalogue. Grohl hits his marks on lyrics, vocal melodies, and even soft guitars without ever coming off as saccharine or mushy. The real surprise about the Foo Fighters was how multi-dimensional they could be.

18. ‘Scentless Apprentice’ (Nirvana)

Grohl only ever wrote one guitar riff for Nirvana. When you’ve Kurt Cobain in your band, why bother? But as the band transitioned to a heavier sound with In Utero, Grohl’s jackhammer riff suddenly fit with what the band were going for, and Cobain eventually came around to the song enough to pen some lyrics.

‘Scentless Apprentice’ actually shows what Grohl’s life could have been post-Nirvana had he not started the Foo Fighters – a drummer for hire, contributing elements to other people’s songs. Thankfully he decided to try to be a frontman himself, but ‘Scentless Apprentice’ very well may be Grohl’s most significant contribution to Nirvana in terms of composition and arrangement.

17. ‘I’ll Stick Around’

Hey, Courtney Love, weren’t we just talking about you? If ‘Stacked Actors’ is a thinly veiled reference to the Hole singer, ‘I’ll Stick Around’ constitutes a full-on direct attack. “How am I the only one who sees / Your rehearsed insanity” is the most commonly cited line, but I’ve always been a fan of: “I’ve been around all the pawns you’ve gagged and bound / They’ll come back and knock you down and I’ll be free” in terms of pure impact.

Once again Grohl’s secret weapon is his love of melody and catchy hooks, which the shouted outro most certainly is. Wrapped in some of the most potent energy that ever came out of Grohl, ‘I’ll Stick Around’ doubles nicely as a kickback at anyone who might have been discounting Grohl simply because of his association with Nirvana. Whether it’s to Love or the fans who resented him because of his continuation, Grohl’s message is clear: “I don’t owe you anything.”

16. ‘Aurora’

Grohl needed a break. After Foo Fighters rose to the top of the post-grunge landscape, internal fractures meant that original drummer William Goldsmith and guitarist Pat Smear left the band during the promotional cycle for The Colour and the Shape. Attempts to gel with Grohl’s former Scream bandmate Franz Stahl proved fruitless, and Grohl grew tired of the relentless heaviness of Los Angeles.

So for the band’s third album, he absconded to his home state of Virginia, bringing a far more relaxed atmosphere to the recordings. The return to his roots led Grohl to think about the places of his past, and a familiar Seattle street, Aurora Avenue, popped into his head. The lyrics that followed were some of Grohl’s most grand, reflecting on lost time and a past that can’t be returned to. Grohl tends to shy away from getting too “profound”, but ‘Aurora’ makes the best case for Dave Grohl: The Poet.

15. ‘No One Knows’ (Queens of the Stone Age)

2001: all is not well in the world of the Foo Fighters. Attempts to record a follow up to There Is Nothing Left to Lose are hitting difficulties, and a rift is starting to form between Grohl and Taylor Hawkins. Rather than power through and make up, Grohl decides to put Foo Fighters on hold while he joins another band, Queens of the Stone Age. It’s as close as the Foos ever came to truly breaking up.

Grohl seems to channel all his pent up rage into his drum performances on Songs for the Deaf, most prominently on the earth-shaking fills of ‘No One Knows’. Dave Grohl’s best drum performance on record is a contentious title, but undoubtably his best appearance outside his two most notable bands comes on his amazing performance from ‘No One Knows’.

14. ‘Big Me’

“As much as we loved noise and crazy-ass punk rock shit, we wanted to be a good band. We loved The Beatles.” That’s how Grohl described Nirvana while making Nevermind, and when it came to his own material, Grohl wasn’t afraid to key into pop sensibilities either. Most of Foo Fighters’ debut LP is “crazy-ass punk rock shit”, to use his words, but ‘Big Me’ is pure Beatles-inspired pop.

For someone so willing to obscure his songs behind nonsense words, vocal effects, and walls of distortion, Grohl is remarkably comfortable with sunny melodies and catchy hooks on ‘Big Me’, the best song from Foo Fighters. There’s always plenty of time for big rock and roll music, but Grohl proved that he could excel at earworms at the same time.

13. ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ (Nirvana)

The contrast between beauty and ugliness on In Utero is what makes it so fascinating nearly 30 years after its release. Harried vocals and a noticeable lack of studio polish might have made the band’s handlers panic, but the melodic foundations of songs like ‘Heart-Shaped Box’ proved that Cobain wasn’t being willfully obscure. Instead, he was angling the band towards a future that balanced the pop with the punk.

‘Heart-Shaped Box’ is simply the prettiest, most poetic, and most successful song from In Utero. That’s down to its ability to serve both masters without sacrificing either: gentle heartfelt emotions and aggressive, combative noise. As for Grohl, he brings yet another deceptively simple but powerful drum performance to the track, making even the heaviest beats sound effortless.

12. ‘Breed’ (Nirvana)

As far as high energy, high velocity, ultra-powerful drum tracks go, nothing in the Nirvana canon could compare to the three minute onslaught that Grohl unleashes on ‘Breed’. Armed with the heft of someone twice his size, the wiry Grohl is on the constant verge of completely demolishing his drum kit from the second that his walloping snare fills kicks off the performance.

What ‘Breed’ does better than any other Nirvana song is lead credence to the notion that the band was incomplete without Grohl. Who else could possibly pound out a drum pattern that memorable and that unrelenting? Nuance be damned: this is full-throttle from the first whack. ‘Breed’ is primal fury directed onto a single poor, unsuspecting drum kit.

11. ‘All My Life’

I’ve never seen a bad Foo Fighters show. I think my current number hovers somewhere around four or five, and each time I’ve seen the band live, they always bring the goods. But according to the band, there’s a quick antidote if they feel like they’re having an off day: play ‘All My Life’.

With its ferocious power chords, focus on pure energy, and scream-along chorus, it’s no surprise that ‘All My Life’ is the instant tide-turner to a potentially bad Foo Fighters show. The song especially comes to life in the live setting, when Grohl sacrifices his throat in order to scream the final chorus like he’s exorcising evil spirits within him. Even when you’re a couple hundred feet away, you can still feel the velocity of Grohl’s vocals hit you right in the chest.

10. ‘Learn to Fly’

There’s nothing complicated about the Foo Fighters. Even if you want to dissect the chromatic guitar lines, offbeat lyrics, or time signature changes that the band occasionally throw into their songs, the truth is that immediate impact was always the name of the game. Trim the fat, get to the point, and connect with the audience. If we’re talking crowd-pleasers, few songs can match the uplifting joy of ‘Learn to Fly’.

Grohl is a naturally amicable and goofy guy, which is something that you could easily pick up on if you’ve seen the band’s videos or ever heard the man speak a single sentence. There’s a radiant optimism about him, even when he’s at his angriest. He doesn’t always lean into it, but when he does, Grohl can be downright inspirational in his assessment that everything is going to be alright.

9. ‘The Pretender’

Real question: should Sesame Street have been given songwriting credits on ‘The Pretender’? Just how close is the chorus melody to ‘One of These Things Is Not Like the Other’? Grohl had a one year old daughter at the time of the song’s recording, so it seems logical that some of that kiddie fare found its way onto the song. The main point here is that no rock star is cool enough to steal from Sesame Street and get away with it. No one except Grohl.

‘The Pretender’ is wonderfully dramatic and symphonic for a Foo Fighters track, and Grohl is equally game to deconstruct the unrelenting power of the band in order to sequence the song in a way that primes it for maximum impact. Catchy hooks and huge screams? Sign me up for that episode of Sesame Street.

8. ‘Monkey Wrench’

How does everyone at a Foo Fighters concert know how to play ‘Monkey Wrench’? It’s a tradition now for Grohl to pull someone out of the front row to sit in on the guitar during the song, but that belies just how difficult the song is. How do they keep finding literal children and guys in Kiss makeup to hit all those notes perfectly?

If I had to chalk it up to something, it’s probably that when you learn how to play drop D guitar, there are two songs you have to learn first: ‘Everlong’ and ‘Monkey Wrench’. The latter is a relentless rocker that completely obliterates everything in its path and forces you to drop what your doing and just listen to it. Once Grohl goes into the climactic scream, it’s enough to give you goosebumps every time.

7. ‘In Bloom’ (Nirvana)

One conundrum about Nevermind is that most of the songs were written prior to Dave Grohl’s arrival in Nirvana. On demos made with Bleach drummer Chad Channing, the drum parts that would later be credited to Grohl are more or less already in place. The legendary hits on ‘In Bloom’ were thought up by Channing, and Grohl simply recreated them.

But there’s something unique that Grohl brings to the parts. Whether it’s power or accuracy or attitude, Grohl takes a good drum part and just elevates it to another level. This is also Grohl’s first appearance as a backing vocalist, meaning that this is one of the earliest appearances we get of Grohl proving he has what it takes to make it on his own.

6. ‘Best of You’

The most chilling moment I’ve ever experienced listening to a Foo Fighters song came when I was watching the band’s Wembley Stadium performance in 2008. The rain is absolutely torrential, and the band are at the end of their setlist, completely drained of energy. But Grohl gives every last bit of himself over to the song and the crowd, almost completely losing his voice as the thousands of fans pick him up and sing along. By the end, he’s in tears at the sheer magnitude of the reception.

‘Best of You’ just has that effect on people. All you could ever want from a Foo Fighters song is to shout along to Grohl when it comes to those massive vocal parts. ‘Best of You’ is also technically the Foo’s biggest song commercially, landing them their highest chart position in America. But I don’t care about that: I always go back to the Wembley performance. It’s absolute magic, and it’s one of the few live performances that I would do anything to travel back in time to experience.

5. ‘My Hero’

There was an elephant in the room that faced the Foo Fighters during their first tour. The band’s debut wasn’t even supposed to be a debut: it was just a way for Grohl to occupy himself while considering options for his future. When Foo Fighters became a full-fledged band, no one was sure whether Grohl could keep cranking out tunes, or whether the band would even survive the dingy clubs that were holding them.

‘My Hero’ represents the point of no return: Dave Grohl would keep writing great songs, the band would be able to survive, and there was a future. Even better, small clubs couldn’t contain their music anymore. ‘My Hero’ is made for a stadium sing along, and that’s what it swiftly became once the Foos ascended to become one of the biggest rock bands in the world. With a song as anthemic as ‘My Hero’, it was impossible to look back.

4. ‘Walk’

There’s always been a noticeable darkness that surrounded the music that Dave Grohl made. Nobody could channel that much rage out of nowhere, and although he doesn’t wallow in self-pity or self-flagellate himself on record, the demons are never far. Nirvana had a song called ‘I Hate Myself and Want To Die’ for chrissakes, and no amount of tongue-in-cheek acknowledgement is ever going to wipe away what eventually happened after that song was recorded.

Perhaps it’s in that shadow that Grohl adjusted his focus on survival. Some of his best songs, including ‘Learn to Fly’, ‘I’ll Stick Around’, and the next song down are about resilience. That’s what makes ‘Walk’ so affecting: it’s the simplest, most straight-forward gut punch in the Foo Fighters canon. As Grohl screams “I never wanna die”, you can feel him transcending in real time, only to return for one more ass-kicking chorus. ‘Walk’ is catharsis personified in four minutes of amazing rock and roll.

3. ‘Times Like These’

Dave Grohl isn’t a spokesman. He’s not going to bore you with speeches, or radicalize you with politics, or infuriate you with strong opinions of any kind. He’s a humanist – he writes songs for people, with all the compassion and understanding of messed up things that make up people’s lives. That’s why Grohl’s best songs, at their core, are about redemption. What could be more human than triumph over adversity?

There’s something so universal about ‘Times Like These’: in a time of celebration, it’s a victorious rallying cry. In a time of defeat, it’s a solemn promise to pick yourself up. And in mourning, it’s an assurance that things will be alright. It’s damn near impossible to be something for everyone, but Grohl gets as close as he ever did before or after in the lines of ‘Times Like These’.

2. ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (Nirvana)

The drum fill heard around the world. It doesn’t matter how many times you’ve been primed for it – there’s still something about the opening blast from ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ that raises the hairs on your arms every single time. It’s not the most technically complex, or the loudest, or the fastest drum performance from Grohl, but it is absolutely the most perfect.

Luckily for us all, the rest of the song is pretty damn good too. An anthem if there ever was one, ‘Smells Like Teens Spirit’ finds Cobain toeing the line between the oblique and the direct in ways that fit perfectly together. Nobody really knows what “Load up on guns, Bring your friends / It’s fun to lose, and to pretend” means, but everyone knows what “Here we are now, entertain us” does. When combined, it makes for a song that never loses its mystique or luster, and it’s capable of the same life-altering impact as when it first came out in 1991.

1. ‘Everlong’

We’ve officially made it to the one song that will forever be associated with one David Eric Grohl. The song Grohl will be playing at every single concert until the day he dies. The song that made the Foo Fighters. The song that made Grohl the respected music legend he is today. The pinnacle of his career, and perhaps maybe even the single greatest rock song of the past 30 years.

‘Everlong’ is everything great about the Foo Fighters in one track: loud-soft dynamics, a drum part for the ages, monster hooks, screams. It’s Grohl hopping on the drums, then running to grab a guitar, and then running to the vocal booth to record legendary performance after legendary performance. It’s heartfelt and impactful, it’s perfect to sing along to in a giant arena setting, and it can be played in almost any style and still have the same kind of effect on the listener.

Dave Grohl will likely never eclipse ‘Everlong’, but that’s because most of rock and roll has yet to eclipse ‘Everlong’. When people talk about the stars aligning, this is what they mean: one pretty close to perfect love song about being so connected with someone, you naturally harmonise with them. For four decades of amazing work, that image might just be the most poignant and moving thing Grohl ever brought to life in song.