Some time ago, Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl sat down with the British music magazine Melody Maker for one of its final issues before being absorbed into the NME. Grohl was asked to name his ten favourite albums of all time, and his responses show a more eclectic side to the punk-inspired rocker.
Two decades on, it’s funny to see the everlasting effects of some of his picks. Throughout his memoir The Storyteller, Grohl gives a shoutout to the legendary Athens alternative rock band the B-52’s for introducing him to what he described both in the book and the interview as “weird music”. Grohl saw the band perform on Saturday Night Live as an eleven year old and had his mind blown by the wild sounds of ‘Rock Lobster’ and ‘Dance This Mess Around’.
Some of the classic foundational acts well known to the stories of Nirvana and Foo Fighters are here: Pixies, Melvins, Bad Brains. But Grohl also finds some remarkable expanses in his taste by naming what is perhaps the least acclaimed Led Zeppelin album and also by giving a shout out to legendary rap pioneers Public Enemy.
Check out Grohl’s full list, plus some of his commentary on his picks, own below.
Dave Grohl’s ten favourite albums:
1. The Beatles – The Beatles
Grohl starts right at the beginning with an album that predates his own existence: The Beatles, better known at The White Album. Everyone has their own personal favourite Beatles LP, but Grohl’s appreciation stems from the massive variety shown on the classic double album. As we’ll see, Grohl appreciates a solid amount of variety when it comes to music.
“What year did this come out? I think I was a glimpse of hope in my parents’ eyes but this has some of my favourite Beatles songs on it: ‘Blackbird’, ‘Revolution #9’, ‘Revolution’, ‘Helter Skelter’. It’s funny to imagine those four cute little Beatles years later on LSD. Where did they go wrong, writing something like ‘Helter Skelter’ and influencing Charles Manson? I’d call this timeless.”
2. The B-52’s – The B-52’s
The elastic queer new wave sensibilities of The B-52’s might not seem to have a direct connection to the walloping drums and buzzsaw guitars that Grohl favours in his own music, but it was the spirit of the album that spoke most to Grohl. The idea of being different and being able to make music that wasn’t just pop or rock was a revelation to a young Grohl.
“I remember seeing the B-52’s on Saturday Night Live and this introduced me to the world of weird music. I was young, my parents were asleep. Songs like ’52 Girls’, ‘Rock Lobster’, of course… they definitely opened up a whole new world to me.”
3. Coda – Led Zeppelin
Grohl’s love of Led Zeppelin, and specifically drummer John Bonham, is well known. The man has multiple tattoos depicting Bonham’s ‘Three Rings’ symbol from Led Zeppelin IV, and his own style of drumming largely takes after Bonham’s thunderous technique. So it shouldn’t be any surprise that Grohl favours the Led Zeppelin album that has Bonham’s biggest showcase on it.
“Led Zeppelin completely moulded the way I play the drums. No one can deny that band anything. All their albums are great. I prefer Houses Of The Holy and In Through The Out Door to their first two, but Coda was the best, ‘cos ‘Bonzo’s Montreux’ was on it – John Bonham’s one drum symphony. I stayed up many a night working on that one. I’ll play it for you right now if you want!”
4. Rock for Light – Bad Brains
To the more casual rock fan, the seismic influence of D.C. legends Bad Brains might come as a surprise. They’re not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, their songs never appear on compilations, and they mostly survive based on the testimonials of their admirers. But those admirers are legendary, and the fact remains that Bad Brains are indisputably one of the most pioneering and most important bands of all time, something that Grohl acknowledges.
“This might be my all-time favourite record. It was the first time I’d heard a hardcore band that had that supreme musicianship, but kept it kind of simple – four black guys from Washington DC who laid every other hardcore punk rock band to waste. They were amazing. They were Rastafarians, so they’d throw in a little bit of reggae just to mellow out the punks or something. And they were the most amazing live band in the world. They’re just great. Really, really, really, really great.”
5. Yo! Bum Rush the Show – Public Enemy
Who would have thought that Dave Grohl was into rap? For somebody that is so synonymous with rock and roll (so much so that he’s basically the global cultural ambassador for the genre and even made fun of himself for it at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony this year), Grohl makes a point to widen the scope of his musical tastes, including giving a shout out to New York’s finest, Public Enemy.
“A total revolution in hip-hop. And the duality of Flavor Flav and Chuck D is just amazing, man,” Grohl said. “It’s necessary, almost, that someone as heavy and right on as Chuck D should have some sort of relief. The sounds on this record, and their lyrics about their 98 Oldsmobile’s… they just seemed like this gang with their own scene. I went to see a Public Enemy show in Malcolm X Park one time and somebody heard a gunshot and everybody ran. DC was the murder capital back then. It got pretty spooky.”
6. Gluey Porch Treatments – Melvins
Like Bad Brains, Melvins remain more revered and admired than they are commercially successful. They were in the wave of rock, punk, and metal bands that immediately presaged grunge, giving them immense influence. But anyone expecting Nirvana levels of punk and pop will probably be off-put by the sludge that is the Melvins’ music. But even if you’re hesitant, Grohl makes a strong case for them.
“The Melvins started off as this fast, hardcore punk rock band, but then turned into this sludgy Black Sabbath metal militia that they knew everyone would hate. They started playing as slow as they could because everyone screamed for them to play faster – just to piss everyone off. They were the kings of that whole bratty nature of punk. It’s kind of a basement production job, but it sounds heavier than any fuckin’ Dio or Slayer record I ever heard.”
7. Surfer Rosa – Pixies
If there’s one band the is most commonly name-checked by critics and fans in relation to Nirvana, it would be Boston alt-rockers the Pixies. Kurt Cobain was never shy in declaring how blatantly the band were copying Pixies soft-loud dynamic and pop-punk mashup, and Grohl dutifully carries the torch as well to sing the praises of what just might be the band’s masterpiece, Surfer Rosa.
“It was so necessary at that time for someone to incorporate elements of quirky, weird punk into sweet pop,” Grohl commented. “It influenced a whole generation of bands, which then influenced a whole generation, so this album is probably one of the most influential albums of the last 15 years. It probably made Steve Albini most famous for his production too. Nirvana always made sure everyone knew we were just ripping off the Pixies.”
8. The Winding Sheet – Mark Lanegan
Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan is exactly one degree of separation from Grohl: Nirvana bandmates Kurt Cobain and Kris Novoselic contribute to The Winding Sheet, which became the template for how the band approached their own legendary MTV Unplugged concert. There’s even a version of Lead Belly’s ‘Where Did You Sleep Last Night’ that Cobain provides backing vocals for, laying the foundation for Nirvana’s own stirring version.
Grohl said: “Oh man, it’s the most beautiful record. It’s a Sunday morning, acoustic, soulful blues record. The guy has so much soul and the most beautiful voice. You imagine this is what your heart would sound like if it could sing, it’s so fuckin’ beautiful. This album came out just after I moved to Seattle, so to me it represents that whole time. Mark sang for the Screaming Trees, so he had his flipside, but there was also a lot of appreciation in Seattle at that time for the purity and truth of real music.”
9. Frank Black – Frank Black
Grohl already gave a shout out to Black’s original band, the Pixies, with one of his earlier picks. But his fandom extends far beyond the necessary shoutout to Surfer Rosa, and Grohl uses another pick to pay tribute to Black’s unique blend of pop, rock, punk, and anything else that might crop up in his alternative stew.
“I listened to this far too much,” Grohl explained. “I thought for a moment that he would be this huge pop star and finally get his due. There are some great songs on this, but his music is just quirky enough that it will never translate to a huge audience. A long time had passed since Surfer Rosa and this was probably his most cohesive pop album yet. There’s Bowie in there, all sorts of influences and sometimes it was more raw and fucked-up than ever. As a lyricist, he was truly great. So witty and weird.”
10. Blues for the Red Sun – Kyuss
This is a pick that wound up ageing well for Grohl, as his admiration of Kyuss guitarist Josh Homme also extended to his next project, Queens of the Stone Age. Eventually, when Homme was in need of a drummer, Grohl got the call to play on the 2002 album Songs for the Deaf, two years after proclaiming his fandom for Homme’s style of desert-scorched metal.
“Oh my God! This album changed my life. I was 24 and something about the grooves and the guitar sounds and the drums and the bass made this new noise that kinda sounded familiar, like you’d heard it in the early Seventies, but you’d never heard it that good. They reinvented this genre of music, Seventies hard rock.”