Friday, 2 May 2014
Don’t get me wrong. I do actually really like the Foo Fighters. My claim to fame is I saw them at the likes of The Astoria and the Shepherds Bush Empire when they were less popular than they are now, and those were simply the sort of venues they played all the time. It’s just I do find it strange to think they have now become stadium rock headliners, whereas Nirvana only managed this when playing at the top of the festival bills. But whereas Nirvana seemed, on record, to be gloomy, troubled, and angst ridden so much of the time, the Foos have a comic streak within them that, if you are in the right mood, can be preferable. Don’t really fancy “In Utero” tonight? Well Dave Grohl and his chums might have some post-grunge to entertain you with instead.
Following the break up of Nirvana, drummer Grohl found himself recording a tape full of demos in the fall of 1994. Aside from some backing vocals from a friend and a guitar contribution on one song by Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli, Grohl played and sang everything on the tape. This was not the first time Grohl had ventured into the singer songwriter world, as he had during the Nirvana days, recorded a mail order album under the moniker of “Late!” issued on Cassette only by the specialist tape label Simple Machines in 1992. One of the songs, “Color Pictures Of A Marigold”, was re-recorded by Nirvana as “Marigold”, with Grohl on vocals, for the b-side of “Heart Shaped Box”, whilst another song, “Winnebago”, was recorded again for the 1994 tape.
The plan initially, was to release the session as a limited vinyl run as a sort of follow up to the “Late!” project, and a small number of cassette copies were made and passed out to friends. Word soon got out, and labels began to queue up to release the record properly. Grohl agreed to a more wide scale release, and signed a distribution deal with Capitol - the record would be released on Grohl’s own Roswell imprint, named after the town where a suspected UFO crash had occurred in 1947 - Grohl was fascinated by UFOs.
Again, Grohl adopted a name for the project, this time choosing another UFO linked name, “Foo Fighters”. The term had been used in World War 2 by US aircraft pilots to describe unexplained aerial objects, and later more widely used as a term to describe any UFO sighting by any aircraft pilot. Although the album was mostly a solo project, Grohl obviously needed a band to play live to help promote the album, and put together a four piece consisting of Nate Mendel on bass, ex-Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear and drummer William Goldsmith. Grohl was to be the singer and lead guitarist.
The album was preceded by the storming “This Is A Call” single in the summer of 95, which featured a series of UFO and aircraft images on the front cover. It captured perfectly both the ferocious power and melodic pull that had become latter period Nirvana’s trademark, and helped by MTV and radio interest, gave the band a hit record more or less straight away.
The self titled debut LP remains one of the best. Whilst later albums veered dangerously near to the heavy metal that Grohl secretly admitted to loving, this one was far more pop on one hand, and far more aggressive on the other. Some of the record is gloriously catchy (the power-punk of “I’ll Stick Around”), near psychedelic grunge in parts (“Alone + Easy Target”, “Floaty“), and by turns, hyper fast hardcore (“Wattershed”) or epic alt. rock (the closing “Exhausted”).
Whilst it was a fair bet that a post-Nirvana band formed from it’s ashes was going to do quite well, Foo Fighters became far bigger than Novoselic’s Sweet 75 ever did. The band’s show at the Reading Festival in 1995 went down in history as being oversubscribed - the band were billed to play in one of the tents, and by the time the band took to the stage, so many people had turned up to see them, that hundreds were left standing outside, unable to get into the actual tent itself, let alone anywhere near the stage. When the band toured the UK in November 1995, the schedule included not one but two shows at the 4000-ish capacity Brixton Academy in London, the very same venue Nirvana were lined up to play in early 1994 as part of the “In Utero” tour.
And so with the ghost of Nirvana more or less put behind them, the Foos returned to the studio in late 1996 to begin work on their second album, and of course, the first one recorded by the “actual” band. But soon into proceedings, Grohl became dissatisfied with the early results, including Goldsmith’s drumming, and when the band reconvened in early 97, Grohl made the decision to re-record large chunks of what had been taped, including many of the drum parts. Goldsmith was offered the chance to remain in the band as their touring drummer, but he was unhappy at this suggestion and quit the band. Whilst the band were able to complete the record as a three piece, they needed a drummer for future shows, and Grohl contacted Taylor Hawkins, who had been part of Alanis Morissette’s touring band, to see if he could suggest anybody. Hawkins actually offered his own services, and was installed into the band in time to appear in the promo video for lead single “Monkey Wrench”. One of the b-sides, a cover of Tubeway Army’s “Down In The Park”, had originally surfaced in 96 on the “Songs In The Key Of X” Various Artists set.
“The Colour And The Shape” was issued in May 1997, and continued the elements found on it’s predecessor, be it prog-grunge on “New Way Home”, power-pop on “Hey! Johnny Park”, or metal-punk on “Enough Space”. The band toured the UK within days of it’s release, and a show in Manchester, taped by the BBC, was later used as a source for B-side material.
Whilst in England, the band went into the Beeb to tape a session for Radio 1’s ’Evening Session’ show, but rather than use the session to plug the new LP, they chose to play entirely unreleased material - covers of “Requiem”, “Drive Me Wild” and “Baker Street”, and a tune from the “Late!” tape, “Friend Of A Friend”. Whilst the three covers would later surface as B-sides (and on the expanded edition of the album some years later), the BBC version of “Friend” would only find a home on a 1998 Melody Maker freebie cassette, “Steve Lamacq’s Bootleg Session”. The band’s 2006 live acoustic LP, “Skin And Bones”, featured a re-recording of the song, as did 2005’s “In Your Honor”.
The band made an appearance at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards, where in a quite unique situation, Pat Smear announced on air he was leaving the band (on good terms), only for the group to reveal his new replacement, Franz Stahl, immediately after. The band played “Monkey Wrench” with Smear, and then album standout “Everlong” with Stahl. The band returned to the UK for another tour in late 97, still squeezing into those club sized venues, with another of the “Monkey Wrench” b-sides, the one that had been named after the album, now slotted into the setlist. Thereafter, the band returned to the studio with Stahl to record “A320” for the “Godzilla” soundtrack, and to re-record “Colour And The Shape” album track “Walking After You” for the “X Files” movie soundtrack, which was then released as a single by Elektra Records.
Stahl’s time with the band was relatively brief - by the summer of 1999, Grohl had asked him to leave the band due to creative difficulties, and it was a trio of Grohl, Mendel and Hawkins that recorded 1999’s superb “There Is Nothing Left To Lose”. Again, the album struck a perfect balance between glorious power-pop (“Learn To Fly”, “Generator“), psychedelic post-grunge prog (“Aurora”) and full blown left field punk rock (“Breakout”). “Learn To Fly” was issued as the lead single, coming complete with a magnificent comedy video - The Foos were by now starting to make consistently clever promo clips, aided and abetted in this one by Tenacious D - with each format of the single, when released, coming backed with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Have A Cigar”, sung by Hawkins - a sign that the band were now starting to outgrow their “Grohl solo project“ beginnings.
For the subsequent tour, Grohl decided a second guitarist would be needed again and recruited Chris Shiflett, the beginning of the most stable part of the band’s career lineup wise (which has only changed once since, when Smear rejoined as a third guitarist a few years ago). “Generator” was issued as a numbered limited edition maxi single in the UK in March 2000, with the decision taken to add all the new B-sides onto one CD edition, as opposed to spreading them across multiple formats. Promo for the record carried on for the rest of the year, with “Next Year” surfacing as a late 2000 single (to tie in with the title, of course), with a free 2001 calendar given away in sections with the different CD single editions. As per previous lineups, Shiflett by now was featuring in the band’s promo clips, despite not having played on the actual singles.
Following some internal struggles, during which time Grohl joined Queens Of The Stone Age as part of a sort of Foos sabbatical, the band eventually reconvened to finish off work on album number four, “One By One”. Trailed by the rock monster that was “All My Life” (backed with, on some formats, “The One“, previously issued as a stand alone 45 in selected countries having been taped for a movie), it seemed to be the record that helped elevate the band to proper rock star status. But compared to the Queens album that Grohl worked on (2002’s flawless “Songs For The Deaf”), “One By One” didn’t quite have the same impact. Even the band later began to state that, singles aside, the record was a weak effort.
The album was issued in a baffling number of editions worldwide. The standard album featured a black heart against a white background, with initial UK copies coming with a free DVD. The Norwegian edition featured a white heart on black, with a free 4-track live EP. Some of the “black heart” copies came housed in red tinted casing in some countries.
There was no denying the power pop genius of next single “Times Like These”, nor the propulsive throb of “Low” (complete with another, cross dressing, genius video), but it did seem, strangely, that despite issuing what many thought was their weakest album, it catapulted the band into the mainstream, with the accompanying tour seeing the band hit the arenas. It had taken more line up changes than they had released albums, but the Foo Fighters were now big business.
2005's “In Your Honor” started life as a potential Grohl solo project, with him writing a number of acoustic based numbers. He decided against issuing them as a non-Foos release, but figured an acoustic Foo Fighters album might not make too much sense. The decision was taken to release a double album, half acoustic and half electric, and thus “In Your Honor” was born. Twenty one songs were to be spread across the two discs, with the ten acoustic ones on disc 2. Initial copies of the album were to include a free DVD as well, but at the expense of the final song on disc 1, “The Sign”.
Another rock and roll beast of a lead single, “Best Of You”, was issued as a trailer for the album, but this album seemed, on first listen, to be more varied and less “metal” than “One By One”, maybe just because half of it was acoustic. Four singles in total were released in the UK, the last of which was a double A release of the Grohl sung, electric “No Way Back” and the Hawkins sung, acoustic “Cold Day In The Sun”. Despite some feeling the double album approach resulted in a sprawling listen, it simply elevated the band to an even higher level of fan worship. By the summer of 2006, the band were headlining stadium gigs at the likes of Hyde Park.
2007’s “Echoes Silence Patience And Grace” followed a similar path. It was previewed by another gargantuan rock and roll lead 45, “The Pretender”, but elsewhere, the band didn’t fall into following Grohl’s love of metal too often. There was more genius power pop (and another classic comedy video) in the form of the faultless “Long Road To Ruin”, whilst the title of “Cheer Up Boys Your Make Up Is Running” seemed like a sly dig at the emo bands who were citing the likes of Nirvana as an influence, whilst making music that was woefully inferior.
Starting with 2009’s “Greatest Hits” release, the Foos began to step away from releasing physical singles in the UK. The new songs on this album were only available by buying the album, and although 2011’s ‘Return to Grunge’ record “Wasting Light” was promoted with a 12” only edition of “Rope”, that has been it ever since singles-wise. The Foos are still big business, it seems they have managed to become so huge, that it would be churlish for the likes of Radio 1 or BBC Three to disown them for being too old, even though this year is the 20th anniversary of the recording of that debut LP. Whether or not they could genuinely ever be seen as being better than Grohl’s former band is unlikely, although if you watch the DVD of promo clips on the “Greatest Hits” release, you can’t help but enjoy Grohl’s happy go lucky attitude, and the band’s routine knack of pulling enough melodic punches to outweigh the sometimes near-metal tendencies. And go back and listen to some of the album tracks on those first three albums, and you will unearth treasure after treasure when you do so.
The usual notes. With one sorta exception (noted later on), no Foos albums have ever been re-released as tour editions in the UK, although a number were issued as limited editions on day one of their release. Listed below are the catalogue numbers of those day one releases, be it the limited edition or the normal edition where no such release exists.
As for the singles - well, back in 1996, you could pick up coloured vinyl 7” singles for less than a pound, so I used to buy them. So I have listed all Foos vinyl issued in either unique sleeves or on coloured vinyl. There are then the usual “essential” formats for each single - one or two later Foos singles have been issued as slightly pointless releases, but some came in unique artwork, so they make the list as well. It should all make sense.
Foo Fighters (CD, Capitol CDEST 2266)
The Colour And The Shape (CD, Capitol CDEST 2295)
There Is Nothing Left To Lose (CD, RCA 74321 71699 2)
One By One (CD + DVD, RCA 74321 96269 2, black sleeve with white heart, DVD includes “All My Life” promo and ‘performance footage’)
In Your Honor (2xCD + DVD, RCA 82876 70195 2, DVD includes making of the album doc)
Skin And Bones (CD, RCA 82876 88857 2)
Echoes Silence Patience & Grace (CD, RCA 88697 15500 2)
Greatest Hits (CD + DVD, RCA 88697 59483 2)
Wasting Light (CD, RCA 88697 84493 2)
Note: “The Colour And The Shape” was given a tenth anniversary release in, well, 2007. It appeared on the band’s second label, RCA, rather than Capitol (88697 09183 2). Quite why this one was picked up, and no others, I am really not sure, although you will hear some people championing this as the band’s finest hour. It comes with six bonuses - the three aforementioned “BBC” covers, “Down In The Park”, and the two “proper” flipsides from the period, “Dear Lover” and “The Colour And The Shape”. Despite being a sort of “deluxe” reissue, it’s still on one disc only, and was marketed cheaply so copies were originally issued with a “Nice Price” sticker on the front.
Oh, and you have no chance of finding the hyper rare covers album “Medium Rare” so I won’t mention it.
This Is A Call/Winnebago/Podunk (Luminous Vinyl 12”, Roswell 12CL 753)
This Is A Call/Winnebago/Podunk (CD, Roswell CDCL 753)
I’ll Stick Around/How I Miss You (Red Vinyl 7”, Roswell CL 757)
I’ll Stick Around/How I Miss You/Ozone (12“, Roswell 12CL 757)
I’ll Stick Around/How I Miss You/Ozone (CD, Roswell CDCL 757)
For All The Cows (LP Version)/Wattershed (Live, Reading 95) (Blue Vinyl 7”, Roswell CL 762)
For All The Cows (LP Version)/(Live, Reading 95)/Wattershed (Live, Reading 95) (CD, Roswell CDCL 762)
Big Me/Floaty (BBC Session Version)/Gas Chamber (BBC Session Version) (White Vinyl 7“, Roswell CL 768)
Big Me/Floaty (BBC Session Version)/Gas Chamber (BBC Session Version)/Alone + Easy Target (BBC Session Version) (CD, Roswell CDCL 768)
Monkey Wrench/Up In Arms (Slow Version)/The Colour And The Shape (CD1, Roswell CDCLS 788)
Monkey Wrench/Down In The Park/See You (Acoustic) (CD2, Roswell CDCL 788, different p/s)
Everlong/Drive Me Wild (Blue Vinyl 7”, Roswell CL 792)
Everlong/Drive Me Wild/See You (Live @ Manchester Apollo 25.5.1997) (CD1, Roswell CDCLS 792)
Everlong/Requiem/I’ll Stick Around (Live @ Manchester Apollo 25.5.1997) (CD2, Roswell CDCL 792, different p/s)
My Hero/Dear Lover (Red Vinyl 7” in stickered PVC bag with insert, Roswell CL 796)
My Hero/Baker Street/Dear Lover/Various (Videos) (CD, Roswell CDCL 796)
Walking After You (New Recording)/Beacon Light (by Ween) (7”, Elektra E 4100)
Walking After You (New Recording)/Beacon Light (by Ween) (CD, Elektra E 4100CD)
Learn To Fly/Iron And Stone/Have A Cigar (CD1, RCA 74321 70662 2)
Learn To Fly/Make A Bet/Have A Cigar (CD2, RCA 74321 71310 2, “hubcap“ p/s)
Generator/Ain’t It The Life (2Meter Session Version)/Floaty (2Meter Session Version)/Fraternity/Breakout (Live @ Glasgow Barrowlands 23.11.1999) (Numbered CD, RCA 74321 749582)
Breakout/Iron And Stone/Learn To Fly (Live @ Sydney The Metro 24.1.2000) (CD1, RCA 74321 79010 2)
Breakout/Monkey Wrench (Live In Australia)/Stacked Actors (Live @ Sydney The Metro 24.1.2000) (CD2, RCA 74321 79011 2, black sleeve)
Next Year/Big Me (2Meter Session Version)/Next Year (2Meter Session Version) (CD1, RCA 74321 80926 2, black p/s + calendar)
Next Year/Baker Street/Next Year (Video) (CD2, RCA 74321 80927 2, grey p/s + calendar)
All My Life/Danny Says/The One (CD1, RCA 74321 97314 2)
All My Life/Sister Europe/Win Or Lose/All My Life (Video) (CD2, RCA 74321 97315 2, different p/s)
Times Like These/Life Of Illusion/Planet Claire (Live in NYC 31.10.2002) (CD1, RCA 74321 98955 2)
Times Like These/Normal/Learn To Fly (Live in LA 22.10.2002) (CD2, RCA 74321 98956 2, different p/s)
Low/Never Talking To You Again (Live in Hamburg 1.12.2002)/Low (Video) (CD1, RCA 82876 52256 2)
Low/Enough Space (Live in Copenhagen 5.12.2002)/Low (Video) (CD2, RCA 82876 52257 2, different p/s)
Have It All/Disenchanted Lullaby (BBC Radio 1 Version) (7”, RCA 82876 56370 7)
Have It All/Darling Nikki/Disenchanted Lullaby (BBC Radio 1 Version) (CD, RCA 82876 56370 2, different p/s)
Best Of You/Spill (7”, RCA 82876 70121 7)
Best Of You/I’m In Love With A German Filmstar (CD1, RCA 82876 70121 2)
Best Of You/FFL/Kiss The Bottle (CD2, RCA 82876 70101 2, red p/s)
DOA/Razor (Live Toronto Edge 102.1 FM) (Yellow Vinyl 7”, RCA 82876 72279 7)
DOA/I Feel Free (CD1, RCA 82876 72031 2)
DOA/Skin And Bones/I Feel Free/Best Of You (Video) (CD2, RCA 82876 72032 2, different p/s)
Resolve/DOA (Demo) (CD1, RCA 82876 73891 2)
Resolve/World (Demo)/Born On The Bayou/Resolve (Video #2) (CD2, RCA 82876 73690 2, different p/s)
No Way Back/Cold Day In The Sun/Best Of You (Live) (CD, RCA 82876 80473 2)
The Pretender/Bangin’ (Clear Vinyl 7”, RCA 88697 13999 7)
The Pretender/Come Alive (Demo)/If Ever/Monkey Wrench (Live in Hyde Park - Video) (Enhanced CD, RCA 88697 16070 2)
Long Road To Ruin/Holiday In Cambodia (2007 MTV Awards) (7”, RCA 88697 19036 7)
Long Road To Ruin/Seda (CD1, RCA 88697 19036 2)
Long Road To Ruin/Keep The Car Running (Live, Brighton 2007)/Big Me (Walmart Soundcheck)/Long Road To Ruin (Video) (CD2, RCA 88697 19038 2)
Rope (Deadmaus Mix)/(Album Version) (12”, RCA 88697 90391 1)