This week, Billboard celebrates the 30th anniversary of our alternative song list. Here, we dive into the vast catalog of alternate songs and the astonishing consistency of Foo Fighters, the # 1 group in decades-long history of the charts.
When Billboard presented its Alternative Songs chart 30 years ago, Dave Grohl was a teenage drummer for the DC-area hardcore band Scream, lying about his age to secure a spot behind the kit. Although Scream was then, and has been since, too alternate for the alternate roster, Grohl was a fan of Siouxsie and the Banshees, the first number one on the charts; he Recount Mojo Last year that the Gothic act of the British New Wave was an interest he had in common with his older sister.
It only took Grohl three years to make the alternative first place himself. In 1990, he auditioned and was accepted as a member of the Seattle ur-grunge Nirvana trio. people have thought about alternative rock. With its high acceleration, fast and loud melodic and dynamic chaos, “Teen Spirit” is the quintessential alternative rock song.
But the flash grenade explosion that was Nirvana isn’t the quintessential alternative rock band: Grohl’s next band would be sound’s most enduring presence, for better or for worse. The Foo Fighters make it to the top of Billboard’s 100 Greatest Alternative Artists of All Time list (ranked according to the methodology of the Alternative Songs chart) because, more than any other alternative artist, they have stayed. Since their debut in 1995, the Foos have been an almost constant presence on the chart, and they’ve matched their longevity with consistency: A Foo Fighters chart entry can be seen as attractive, solidly constructed, and, more often than not, incredibly. popular.
There have been better bands than Foo Fighters in the last thirty years of sharp, radio-friendly guitar music. They aren’t as fiercely loved as Weezer, as inventive as Fall Out Boy, or as closely tied to the rock vibe of a particular moment as Korn or No Doubt or Mumford & Sons were. But since “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” only two calendar years have passed in which Grohl hasn’t had a new song peak on the alternate song chart – 2001 and 2010 – and the vast majority of those appearances were with. Foo Fighters. (Grohl also secured spots with supergroup Them Crooked Vultures and as a ringer on a few Queens of the Stone Age songs, including number one “No One Knows”.) Ruthless as the sun, the Foo Fighters are the constant. alternative rock. , and Foo Fighters are Dave Grohl.
This was literally the case on the group’s eponymous debut album. Grohl plays all of the instruments on the album, except for a brief guitar appearance by Greg Dulli of the Afghan Whigs on “X-Static”. Recorded in Seattle just months after the suicide death of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, the album retreated from the burnt intensity of Grohl’s former band and shifted its perspective to brighter, less crowded territory. and more vibrant. It turned out that rock music as a whole was ready to do the same.
Songs like “This is a Call” and “I’ll Stick Around” had the urgency of Nirvana, but matched it with verve; given the context in which they were recorded, it was not difficult to misunderstand the determined affirmation of life in them. Meanwhile, the melodic “Big Me” demonstrated Grohl’s desire to forge his own creative path, and his playful video was the first of many high profile, audience-engaging clips that emphasized wacky fun over serious punk.
Shortly after recording that debut solo, Grohl gave his band some real training, including, in a demonstration of his bona fide scene, two players from cult Seattle emo group Sunny Day Real Estate. And then, not much changed: Foo Fighters recorded albums, released them and toured. The radio played their songs because they were catchy, people liked them, Grohl had easy charisma and his band sounded great on stage. When they were done, they would do another album, one that wasn’t too different from the last one, and start all over again. In 2018, they still do; their most recent appearance in alternative songs was with “The Line”, which reached # 30 last June.
But pointing out the Foo Fighters’ unwavering competence doesn’t hurt them. This is, first of all, because just showing up is more difficult than it looks. One of Grohl’s Seattle contemporaries, Pearl Jam, sold 32 million albums in the United States, and their first Ten has been certified Diamond by the RIAA. At the height of Pearl Jam in the 1990s, they were a much more powerful and exciting band than Foo Fighters, pushing their arena-ready sound into stranger and more varied territory on albums like Vitalogy and No code. Over the past two decades, Pearl Jam has followed a similar path to Foo Fighters, reliably releasing competent but lackluster variations on a solid guitar, bass, and drums formula – but with much more modest results, especially on alternative radio, where they’ve only scored one shot in the top five this decade. Pearl Jam’s stoic approach to her career seems tumultuous alongside Foo’s consistency.
And second, the stability of the Foo Fighters is commendable because, even long after the group’s peak, they remain capable of a sudden, clarifying pleasure: songs that spring from loudspeakers with the vibrant, shrewd precision on which the group. made a name for himself. It’s a name built on songs, and radio hits in particular. Unlike bestselling Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day, the Foo Fighters never even had a certified multi-platinum album – but they had ten number one alternative songs in fifteen years, and eight more that reached the Top five. It’s no surprise, then, that they claimed seven spots on Billboard’s list of the 300 best alternative songs of all time. Listeners didn’t have to buy a single Foo Fighters record to hear the band over and over again, year after year.
The group secures their legacy with their first three albums. Grohl’s first unassisted LP was followed by Color and shape, their most balanced and confident album, which was anchored by the fan-favorite anthem “Everlong” and the beefy riffs of songs like “My Hero” and “Hey Johnny Park!” although he ventured into both harsher and softer territory on “Monkey Wrench” and “February Stars”. This has been replaced by There is nothing to lose, which refined the lens of its predecessor and turned its guitar crackle into shiny missiles of loaded melody: “Generator”, “Breakout”, and most importantly their first number one alternative songs “Learn to Fly” were also evident and direct that all that the group would come across through its 23 years.
No subsequent Foo Fighters album would reach the standard set by their first three, but the band is sure to be hit with hit singles after that early spike. Some of their most beloved songs have been produced in recent years, including 2005’s “Best of You,” a howling hurricane that sounds gargantuan in magnitude and too fragile to hold together. “The Pretender,” released two years later, has the same relentlessness, but Grohl controls his faculties, hanging on with unwavering determination. And two years later came “Wheels”, another career highlight, but which never appeared except on the band The biggest hits compilation, proof of their dedication to the profession of single radio. An upbeat, sentimental roll across Americana’s big screen, it sounded like Tom Petty, for whom Grohl briefly played the drums in 1994. Like Petty, it was traditional without being set in stone.
Straddling the old and the new is a hallmark of alternative rock, a form that takes the experimental ethic of more outrageous acts and anchors it in a legacy of American FM radio whose sounds have become so familiar and formalized. only rituals: Gibson guitars belong to those of Ford. McDonald’s automobiles and burgers as shared incidents in national memory. The Foo Fighters belong to the present, but, along with perhaps The White Stripes, they are also one of the last rock groups that could find a place in the more traditionalist classical rock canon. They are not the most exciting guitar group today, nor the best of yesterday, but they are better suited than any other to bridge that three-decade gap.
The greatest song of the Foo Fighters, the flawless classic that will survive them all, is “Everlong”, the second single from their second album. Poised but frantic, serious and romantic, it creeps in with guitar textures that sound like the cleansing of Sonic Youth. Grohl whispers and mumbles, and ultimately neither he nor his band can hold back: the drums are piling up, Grohl’s voice tightens because he feels like he doesn’t have the technical ability to. fully realize, and the chorus explodes. It is as if every sound is sparkling.
The songs of the Foo Fighters are always well done, and Grohl is able to spruce them up with remarkable intensity when he needs it, but “Everlong” is the only song from the band that sounds louder than the men who composed it. For four minutes, it exists in its own universe with corners unknown even to its creators, challenging the consummate artisans of alternative radio who gave birth to it. It’s understandable that the band would never do something so fleeting or so bright again.
“If everything could ever be so real forever,” Grohl sings, and it feels right. Even long after the guitars have died out, the Foo Fighters endure.