Following the death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, drummer Dave Grohl was at a creative crossroads in 1994. Faced with the prospect of joining yet another band as its drummer, he instead founded one of the most iconic rock bands of the last 30 years.
On the heels of the release of their latest album But Here We Are, the band is set to co-headline Harley-Davidson’s inaugural Homecoming Festival, a 4-day food, music, and moto-culture festival in the brand’s hometown of Milwaukee. Happening July 13-16, the festival marks the culmination of yearlong celebrations of the brand’s 120th anniversary. With a whole host of events at venues across the city including the Harley-Davidson Museum and Harley-Davidson Powertrain Operations, Foo Fighters take the stage at Veterans Park on July 15 alongside Cody Jinks, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, White Reaper, and Ghost Hounds.
After the slow burn of their first two albums, it was 1999’s There Is Nothing Left to Lose that would tip them into critical acclaim territory, followed by later hits like “The Pretender,” and “Best of You.” After their own tragic loss late last year, the band canceled their remaining 2022 tour dates and returned to the studio before dropping “Rescue” and “Under You” earlier this year.
With 11 albums worth of music to catch up on for the uninitiated, these essential tracks are a good starting point.
Despite racking up minor hits before that, the lead single from their 1999 breakthrough album There Is Nothing Left To Lose would launch the band into the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time, peaking at #19. It was a brand new level of success for the band, with its hilarious video doing some of the heavy lifting.
The mid-tempo number is an ode to the difficult creation process behind their fourth album One by One. Uncertain that the band would make it through the rough patch, Grohl’s fear is palpable through the song’s tense and pondering lyrics. “Do I stay or run away/ And leave it all behind,” he asks. “It’s times like these you learn to live again.”
No stranger to quick recording processes, with Grohl cutting the initial Foo Fighters demos in just a few weeks back in 1994, 2007’s Echoes, Silence, Patience and Gracecame together with producer Gil Norton in just four weeks.
Lead single “The Pretender” is a pulsing earworm with some unlikely source material: Sesame Street. Frontman Grohl was a new dad at the time it was recorded and has said in interviews over the years that the song “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other” was likely stuck in his head during the making of the album. Considering the intentionally catchy nature of kids’ songs, that can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it familiarity seems like the perfect secret weapon.
Despite now being one of the band’s biggest defining songs, it wasn’t a major radio hit at first—failing to even crack the Billboard Hot 100 the first time around. Months after its initial release, an impromptu acoustic performance on the Howard Stern Show led to a surge in popularity, with Stern regularly playing the live version on his internationally syndicated show.
Considering the band’s formation was in large part due to a tragic loss, it makes sense that Dave Grohl would work out his complex emotions around life, death, and growth through song. “I’m on my knees, I never wanna die/ I’m dancing on my grave, I’m running through the fire,” he sings in the chorus. Also taking inspiration from Grohl’s experience of teaching his young daughter how to walk, the song is ultimately a positive ode to pushing through and moving forward.
You can catch Foo Fighters co-headlining the Harley-Davidson Homecoming Festival alongside Green Day this July at Veterans Park. Tickets available here.