Credit: Toby Holzinger

The thundering isolated drums of Dave Grohl on Nirvana track 'Lithium'

Dave Grohl’s position as one of the most prominent rock stars of all time is growing ever more difficult to dislodge. Not only is he the smiling frontman of Foo Fighters, delivering decades of brilliant music, but his time as part of one of the most beloved bands of the 20th century in Nirvana is about as good as it gets for any drummer. In truth, without Grohl, Nirvana would never have reached the heights they did.

In a 1991 interview, lead singer of the band Kurt Cobain explained Grohl’s impact on the group: “Krist [Novoselic] and I have been playing together for about four and a half years now with a few different drummers,” Cobain said. “Dave has been in the band for about a year. This is the first time we’ve felt like a very definite unit. The band is finally complete because all the other drummers we had pretty much sucked.”

When Dave Grohl eventually sat behind the kit he added power and precision to the groups’ output. No better is this seen than on their iconic song ‘Lithium’ and the isolated drum track. The song is one of Cobain’s finest efforts on the group’s seminal album Nevermind. About as perfect a description of manic depression as has ever been put into song, ‘Lithium’ is amongst the most rousing and affecting songs Nirvana have ever released.

Lyrically it is some of Cobain’s finest work: “I’m so lonely, that’s OK, I shaved my head and I’m not sad/ And just maybe, I’m to blame for all I’ve heard, but I’m not sure/ I’m so excited, I can’t wait to meet you there, and I don’t care/ I’m so horny, that’s OK my will is good.” At four minutes and 17 seconds, its epic scope and range of emotion make it feel twice the length and ten times the size.

Sad, angry, funny. All utterly convincingly. Again, utilising the Pixies quiet/loud dynamic seen in ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’, but to greater effect—this is a pop song of truly breathtaking quality. Due in large part to Butch Vig’s production, Nirvana sound every inch the ‘biggest band in the world’ here.

While Vig’s contribution to the production can’t be ignored and Cobain’s spirit ran through everything Nirvana did, there’s no denying the powerhouse percussion Grohl added to the song. He delivers the fills with a renewed potency and follows up every one of them with the same determined direction that would see him become a true great in his field. Never afraid to slam down the sticks, Grohl is certainly born out of the John Bonham school of drumming — blood, guts and thunder by the barrelful.

If you ever needed any proof of just why so many acts and artists these days are keen to get in Dave Grohl to play some patterns on the drums to bolster their songs or, indeed, challenge him to a drum-off, this is it.

Listen below to the isolated drum track of Dave Grohl on Nirvana’s song ‘Lithium’