Foo Fighters’ 20 greatest guitar moments, ranked

Over a quarter of a century old and probably the biggest guitar band in the world, Foo Fighters’ riff-heavy catalogue contains plenty of gems.

Foo Fighters

Image: Nigel Crane / Rederns

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It is now 26 years since Dave Grohl put out the first Foo Fighters album and stepped into the unknown as band leader and frontman, having made his name as Nirvana’s drummer during the grunge explosion. Nine further studio albums have followed, including this year’s Medicine At Midnight, guitarists Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett have been added to the line-up and Grohl’s ability to mix heavy rock, punk and pop remains undiminished.

We’ve cast an eye over that extensive back catalogue and attempted to identify not only our standout moments but also the songs where everything has come together to deliver some of the band’s best and biggest anthems. And yes, Brian May’s contribution to Tired Of You is amazing, but he’s not actually in the Foo Fighters. In the same regard, let’s acknowledge Petra Haden’s extraordinary violin solo on the live version of Marigold on Skin And Bones – the best ever guitar solo not played on guitar?

But what of the best of Grohl, Smear and Shiflett? On with the show…

20. All My Life (One By One, 2002)

Chugging into life with a repeated G power chord motif that fuels the whole song, All My Life follows a tried and tested formula for Foo Fighters, exploding into a catchy chorus built around a D♯, D, C and A chord progression. Dave Grohl has described it as one of the most aggressive songs in the band’s catalogue, and it certainly has a dissonance that is atypical of the Foos, but it is the conviction of the playing here, rather than what is being played, that leaves its mark.

Did you know?

Grohl has claimed in the past that the song is about certain carnal pleasures, though we wouldn’t wish to comment: “It’s a little dirty, just use your imagination.”

19. Low (One By One, 2002)

The making of the Foos’ fourth album, One By One, was beset with difficulties. The band recorded and then shelved an entire album’s worth of material before seeing Dave Grohl head off to play drums with desert rockers Queens Of The Stone Age. Chris Shiflett admitted to Guitar.com that he thought his ride with the band was over before it had really begun. When they did regroup, however, they produced one of the heaviest albums of their career. Inspired by Grohl’s stint with QOTSA, Low is, guitar-wise, about as heavy as Foo Fighters get and the duelling riffs here don’t let up for the whole song.

Did you know?

Dave Grohl said of Low: “It sounds like a machine roaring… some of it reminds me of older Soundgarden, and some of it reminds me of weird Black Flag. It was unlike anything we’d ever done.”

18. X-Static (Foo Fighters, 1995)

Notable as the only song on Foo Fighters’ debut album to feature a musician other than Dave Grohl, X-Static opens with 45 seconds of squalling guitars before the drums kick in and then the vocals begin. That guitar squall continues throughout the song, augmented by a restrained vocal performance, giving the song an almost shoegazey feel quite unlike the band’s later work. A second guitar part is then layered on top to provide melody, and the extra guitar on this track was played by Greg Dulli of Afghan Whigs, one of the few people to hang out with Grohl in Barrett Jones’ Seattle studio while recording was taking place. “I was just watching him record, and he asked me if I wanted to play,” Dulli told Rolling Stone in 1995. “I didn’t even get out of my chair. He just handed me a guitar.”

Did you know?

The only other person, apart from Grohl and Dulli, to appear on the first Foo Fighters album is producer Barrett Jones, who provided occasional backing vocals.

17. Aurora (There Is Nothing Left To Lose, 1999)

Clean chords echo with delay to open the song, then the bass looms into view, and then Dave Grohl brings the vocals while the second guitar weaves around that opening refrain. The whole song, and particularly the catchy-as-hell as hell chorus, features a run of chiming, delayed chords from the second guitar, supplementing the more direct, driving riff. A laid-back number recalling Grohl’s life in Seattle, the Foos frontman has said of the song: “Aurora is definitely one of my favourite songs that we’ve ever come up with. Lyrically, it’s just kind of a big question mark, it actually questions the meaning of life, probably. It’s probably the heaviest thing I’ve ever written.”

Did you know?

Aurora was one of the first songs Chris Shiflett was given to learn when auditioning to join the Foos.

16. This Is A Call (Foo Fighters, 1995)

The first major Foo Fighters release, and the opening track to the self-titled debut album, This Is A Call features more of the grungy guitar sounds and quiet/loud dynamics that Grohl’s former band had excelled at, but this time married to the sort of radio-friendly, power-pop melody that would eventually elevate the group to ‘world’s biggest band’ status. Relatively traditional in its structure, it even features a Dave Grohl solo of sorts, as he riffs around the song’s main melody at the track’s conclusion.

Did You Know?

Of This Is A Call Grohl says: “It’s just a little wave to all the people I ever played music with, people I’ve been friends with, all my relationships, my family. It’s a hello, and in a way a thank you.”

15. Razor (In Your Honour, 2005)

Following the heaviness of One By One, Foo Fighters took one of the first major creative leaps of their career by releasing In Your Honour as a double album with a second disc entirely made up of acoustically focused music. The subsequent acoustic tour would bring Pat Smear back into the fold, and this finger-picked closer to the acoustic album in 12/8 time brought another guitarist into play… “Before I recorded it I played at a tsunami benefit in LA,” recalled Dave Grohl. “I sat up all night trying to write this song, and it didn’t work. I woke up early and started writing lyrics and got it right as the car was coming to pick me up. I was up in the dressing room practising it and Josh Homme and I were sharing a room. I said, ‘There’s a second guitar harmony in this song, try it out.’ We played it and I said, ‘When I record it, you should come down and do it with me.’”

Did you know?

Recalling the recording to Guitar World, Grohl said: “I had a microphone set up behind me and pointed at my neck, another one in front of my face, a third pointed at the bridge of the guitar and then three or four mics scattered around to capture the sound of the room.”

14. The Pretender (Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, 2007)

As the opening track to the Foos sixth album, The Pretender lulls the listener in with a series of arpeggiated chords beneath what is as close to a whispered vocal as Dave Grohl has ever come, before exploding into another huge Foo Fighters riff-fest. This is a great example of how Grohl’s work as a drummer continues to inform his guitar work, helping him to avoid making his songs formulaic by exploring different beats and rhythms. “I’m not a flashy guitar guy, and I’m not a ripper,” he told Guitar World Acoustic after the recording of In Your Honour. “I can’t do that sort of thing. But I do enjoy finding chords that have no name, and I do enjoy writing riffs that are rhythmically a little complicated.”

Did you know?

Grohl said of this one: “We threw this together in an hour. It’s the sort of song that this band is all about. It’s not Bohemian Rhapsody; it’s a basic four-part rock song with a Chuck Berry breakdown in the middle. I love it.”

13. Monkey Wrench (The Colour And The Shape, 1997)

An early example from the Foos’ second album that Grohl was developing into his generation’s riffmeister general, Monkey Wrench kicks like a mule straight out of the blocks in 4/4 time at 174bpm to blow mellow opening track Doll straight out of the water. Opening with a descending guitar line over the main riff, then using a palm-muted version of the riff before exploding into each chorus, the song never lets up throughout its near-four minutes. Perhaps most famous for the one-breath howl of angst vocal performance that begins at 2.30 and lasts for a good 40 seconds, the song is actually a guitar tour de force and a blueprint for the Foos continuing success.

Did you know?

Having toured with the band, The Colour And The Shape was Pat Smear’s first record (as it was everyone’s apart from Grohl’s!) and his muscular rhythm playing adds considerably to the heaviness of this and other tracks on the album.

12. Exhausted (Foo Fighters, 1995)

A grungy, sludgy guitar workout that deploys enough fuzz to make Mudhoney jealous, Exhausted closes the first Foo Fighters album and feels like a natural link to Grohl’s then-recent past in Nirvana. Starting slow but heavy, Grohl’s guitar builds towards a hard-hitting instrumental section that acts as a chorus of sorts before dissolving into feedback, almost disappearing, and then firing back into life to bring things to a close. This is Foo Fighters at their most raw and uncompromising.

Did you know?

Along with Alone + Easy Target, Exhausted was one of the Dave Grohl compositions that Kurt Cobain had expressed an interest in Nirvana recording before his untimely death.

11. Long Road To Ruin (Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace, 2007)

A poppy number from Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace this track has a warmth and openness to the guitar tone that can be lacking when Foo Fighters crank everything up to 10. It also features a great solo from Chris Shiflett around the 2:40 mark that feels as though it ought to sound at odds with the song’s main chords but actually fits perfectly and cements Long Road To Ruin’s place in this list.

Did you know?

The song was written by Grohl during the band’s 2006 acoustic tour, and he attributes its simple melody to the influence of The Beatles and Beach Boys.

10. Walk (Wasting Light, 2011)

An upbeat ending to Foo Fighters’ seventh album, Walk makes full use of having three guitarists in the studio for the first time on a Foos record. Opening with just a delayed guitar playing an arpeggiated version of the song’s A, E, Bm, Dm riff and vocals for the first 40 seconds, by the two-minute mark we’ve got a robust riff based on those aforementioned chords augmented by an ascending power chord motif moving from root note D♯ to A on the A string, and these are then joined by a Neil Young-esque ‘solo’ repeating the same notes around the three-minute mark. It all makes for a wonderful noise and a rousing end to one of the Foos’ best records.

Did you know?

Grohl summed up his songwriting approach at the time of Wasting Light to Guitar World as: “I approach every song trying to write the biggest chorus I possibly can. But then what I’ll do is use that as the prechorus and go ahead and write an even bigger fucking chorus.”

9. Congregation (Sonic Highways, 2014)

Recorded in, and inspired by, Nashville the Foos hooked in Zac Brown as a collaborator but avoided going explicitly country, instead lacing their trademark sound with a thread of warm seventies rock on this driving anthem. All three guitarists lay down the main riff, with Pat Smear playing baritone to fill out the lower registers, while Brown provides a little trademark twang. The real highlight, however, is a deliciously Nashville smooth solo from Chris Shiflett on his twin-humbucker Tele Deluxe that has just enough sense of place to conjure up visions of Music City in the listener’s mind, while remaining firmly within the context of a Foo Fighters song.

Did you know?

Perhaps Foo Fighters most interesting project to date, Sonic Highways took Dave and the band to eight major music locations across the US to explore how those locations had influenced American popular music and how recording there would influence their own: Chicago, Nashville, Austin, New York, Joshua Tree, New Orleans, Seattle and Arlington, Virginia,

8. Medicine At Midnight (Medicine At Midnight, 2021)

Built around a funky riff quite untypical of Foo Fighters, the title track of the new album features a lot of slap-back delay to create a warm tone that guitarist Chris Shiflett likened to the sounds of “a lot of the music I listened to growing up in the late seventies and early eighties”. The guitar highlight is undoubtedly Shiflett’s extended bluesy solo, an “homage to Stevie Ray Vaughan” that brings another musical element to the Foos trademark, riff-heavy brew. It’s always a thrill when Shiflett is given some rope on a Foos song; he is such a smooth, effortless lead player and his licks can really add depth to the band’s music.

Did you know?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given his contribution to it, Chris Shiflett has said the title track is his favourite on the new album.

7. I’ll Stick Around (Foo Fighters, 1995)

Another grunge blast from Grohl’s self-propelled debut, I’ll Stick Around was a reaction to Kurt Cobain’s suicide and is driven by a perfect marriage of drums and guitar, and fuelled by a righteous anger (which Grohl eventually admitted was aimed at Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love) and a determination for the end of Nirvana not to be the end of everything. Driven by a simple, hooky riff, Grohl has said that on hearing this song he felt things were really starting to click. In the book This Is a Call he is quoted as saying: “I actually had an anxiety attack because I finally realised that this was good, whereas everything else I recorded over the previous six years I thought was crap.”

Did you know?

On the first album Grohl was usually to be found playing a Gibson Les Paul through a Marshall JCM900, with some of the most distorted tones coming from a battery-powered Marshall mini amp.

6. Best Of You (One By One, 2002)

Another classic blast of Foo Fighters, and a consistent live favourite, Best Of You kicks off with a series of jangly chords behind the opening, dialled back, vocal coda before things get beefed up moving into the actual first verse, with an ascending chord progression driving the song through its typically anthemic Foo Fighters chorus. The song’s breakdown then leads to a final therapeutic blast of that chorus, with Grohl convincing on vocals as he questions the giving of everything to someone who throws it away over the sort of guitars that should always back such sentiments.

Did you know?

“We demoed so many songs for In Your Honor, I’d kind of forgotten about Best Of You,” Grohl said at the time. “I thought we could do better. So it was shelved and it was our manager who came in and said, ‘What happened to that Best Of You song?’. So we pulled it out and worked on it a little more.”

5. Rope (Wasting Light, 2011)

It might be in straightforward 4/4 time but there’s a lot going on here, and it is definitely one of Foo Fighters’ most interesting songs from a guitar perspective. Opening with some echoing chords and a staccato rhythm, there is a building sense that the pent up energy will need to be released somewhere along the way. As so often with the Foos, that release explodes in the shape of a gloriously raucous chorus. Further interest comes by way of one of the band’s more interesting solos, Chris Shiflett emerging from between Dave Grohl and Pat Smear’s power chord thrashing with a wah-drenched, dreamlike passage that flits away too soon like a butterfly but stays burned in your memory.

Did you know?

Recorded to tape by Butch Vig at Dave Grohl’s house, the producer, Chris Shiflett and Pat Smear have all recently told Guitar.com that the album is one of their favourites because it gets so close to recreating Foo Fighters’ live sound.

4. Podunk (00959525, 2020)

Before Foo Fighters were a globe-straddling rock and roll behemoth, they were Dave Grohl during downtime from drumming in Nirvana making music for himself. Scuzzy, fuzzed up guitars as distorted as Grohl’s vocals drive this stop/start three-minute punk blast that was one of the very first official Foos releases, appearing as a b-side on the 12-inch version of the band’s This Is A Call single. To anyone used to the radio-friendly sheen of the band’s more recent work, the authenticity this squally, noisy, barely under control punk thrasher will come as something of an eye-opener.

Did you know?

Podunk feels like the inspiration for 2011’s furious screamer White Limo from Wasting Light. Only by then both Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett were on hand to add extra beef to proceedings!

3. FFL (Fat Fucking Lie) (01050525, 2019)

The sound of an established band still having the time of their lives, this track was originally the b-side to In Your Honour’s Best Of You released in 2005 but harks back not just to a time before Foo Fighters but a time before Nirvana when Grohl was the drummer in DC hardcore band Scream. All fast and furious power chords and raw, distorted, sweary vocals FFL is the ultimate expression of a punk-rock heart that still beats within of the band: Shiflett, Smear and Grohl come from punk backgrounds, however accomplished their playing now, and having that filter has helped keep the band (for the most part) from straying down the road of mainstream rock’s worst historical excesses.

Did you know?

Scream guitarist Franz Stahl was recruited by Grohl into the Foo Fighters after Pat Smear left in 1997 (later to return!). He recorded two songs with the band: A320, which appeared on Godzilla: The Album, and a re-recorded Walking After You for The X-Files soundtrack.

2. Times Like These (One By One, 2002)

Another example of Grohl’s drumming background coming to influence his writing on guitar, this Foos anthem is played in 7/4 time, features some unusual chords and has the loudest guitar parts in the prechorus, with a more open sound accompanying the traditionally catchy chorus. There are elements of post-punk and new wave at work here, think Television or Magazine, but very firmly within the framework of a Foo Fighters song. “We will always sound like us,” Chris Shiflett told us recently. “It’s a blessing and a curse!”

Did you know?

At the time of its release, Dave Grohl reckoned Times Like These was the best song he’d ever written: “It’s very emotive and passionate and universal.”

1. Everlong (The Colour And The Shape, 1997)

Now, probably no one is going to dispute that Everlong is Foo Fighters’ finest four-minutes, but does it really deserve to be top of a guitar-specific list? Yes. To match the songs heart-rending lyrics (‘breath out/so I can breathe you in’) and vocal delivery with such a powerful guitar track and huge chorus surely took serious courage. You can imagine a roomful of industry people suggesting that the song would make a fine ballad… but it isn’t a ballad, it’s fuelled by a passion that Grohl and Smear’s drop-D power chords purvey more beautifully than Chris Martin strumming an acoustic ever could. That chorus needs to be shouted back at any band singing it, and it needs to be shouted over loud guitars.

Of course, it does cross over to being played acoustic, because anything this good would. It was certainly wonderful on Skin And Bones, where Grohl started out alone and acoustic before the rest of the enlarged band joined in to lift the whole thing to the upper levels of the atmosphere where the song deservedly resides. But the punk-edged original takes some beating…

Did you know?

The whispered section mid-song apparently consists of an amalgamation Dave Grohl reading a love letter, a technical manual, and a story about one of the studio engineers’ fathers.

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