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The Foo Fighters’ career has been a series of improbabilities. There is the first, and most obvious hurdle: The idea that any member, let alone the drummer, would rise from the ashes of Nirvana after Kurt Cobain’s suicide and, while not necessarily defining a whole other generation of music (in the way of, say, Joy Division and then New Order), would continue to thrive commercially and artistically. This isn’t meant to downplay the roles Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic played in Nirvana — the trio that recorded the band’s two classic albums was one of those lineups you can’t imagine any other way, one of the lineups that you read about coming together through circumstance and seeming forces of nature in a way that becomes simultaneously very discouraging and untouchably inspiring if you’ve ever tried to put together a functional band yourself. And, of course, Grohl was a monster behind the kit, one of the most identifiable and beloved drummers of his generation.

The issue is that the legacy he was stepping out from under, for better or for worse and partially media-created or not, was one of Cobain being a voice of the generation, of Nirvana being a watershed cultural moment in of itself (well, alongside the other Seattle bands). It all seems heavy enough from a professional or artistic standpoint, and that’s not even beginning to reckon with the personal trauma that must have characterized Grohl’s sudden loss of his friend. In another history, Grohl accepted Tom Petty’s offer to become the full-time drummer of the Heartbreakers in ’94, or he might’ve replaced Dave Abbruzzese in Pearl Jam, and maybe he still wound up contributing to Queens Of The Stone Age or something. He’d still be one of the most respected and beloved drummers of his generation, and nobody would fault him for anything.

Thing is, not only did Grohl decide he was going to start his own musical project, he also decided to go at it as a vocalist and guitarist, and then it turned out he emerged from Nirvana with a penchant for indelible hooks and riffs that propelled his next band through a long and fruitful career. This is sort of bizarre to think about, but the Foo Fighters turn twenty in two years (or next year if you count Grohl distributing cassettes to his friends in late ’94). In lesser hands, Foo Fighters would’ve inevitably been a footnote to Nirvana, but Grohl proved himself such a consistent songwriter and able (and perpetually affable) performer that Foo Fighters have weathered multiple changes of the guard, starting with the decline of the grunge era Grohl came out of. Probably most crucially, they distinguished themselves amongst the crop of post-grunge mainstream hop-ons, whether you’re talking about the watered down alt-rock of the Collective Souls of the world or all the histrionically guttural mall-rock Vedder impressions that became inescapable as the ’90s wore on. Grohl, for his part, still trafficked in the quiet verse/loud chorus formula he’d help pound into popularity alongside Cobain, but now even when he was angsty he favored power chords that were power-pop rather than post-grunge, endorphin rush rather than moody posturing.

While the elements Grohl preferred have ensured that the albums the Foo Fighters released in the latter half of the ’90s have aged a lot better than the output of many of their contemporaries, they’ve definitively dated them in more recent years. Now Foo Fighters live on as alt-rock journeymen, on the vanguard of a next generation of classic rock. Grohl & co. never really seemed interested in bids to stay current, never dabbled in the indie-rock trends that came to rule the ’00s. When they have strayed away from their formula, it’s been rather clumsy — like their performance with Deadmau5 at last year’s Grammys. That’s the thing about Foo Fighters: they’re best when they’re dependable, and that’s really what you want them to be. A band that might not have made the album that changed your life, but has made a lot of really strong ones, which maybe you associate with a few important memories. They’re the sort of artist you don’t really want to change, moments like the Deadmau5 collaboration becoming wince-inducing like the cool but aging uncle wandering from what he does best.

If that last bit seems an ambivalent note leading into a Counting Down feature, it isn’t. The idea that bands like Foo Fighters are no longer relevant is more or less a product of writers like me deciding that fact. Yes, their sound is and forever will be rooted in a certain bygone era (whether it’s the ’90s or their own youths), but each time they seem to be flagging they come roaring back with a new sense of purpose, Grohl’s pop hooks garnering late-era hits (occasionally) as strong as their classics. It feels as if the Foo Fighters might be under-appreciated now because they’re the sort of band that keeps plugging along and you wind up taking for granted as this enjoyable thing that’s happening over there. We don’t write about them because there doesn’t seem to be a cultural narrative to attach to them. And yet, they are still a force, playing to massive crowds and winning awards. In their way, those arguments for the band’s continued relevance might ironically underline the extent to which Foo Fighters are left over from another era: a big rock band from the last time big rock bands truly dominated the mainstream. Maybe that’s where the narrative of the Foo Fighters lies, a continuing story of a band that has thwarted any number of circumstances that should have made them fade away. Instead of trivia populating the Wikipedia entry of Grohl’s life post-Nirvana, Foo Fighters have became the sort of rock band whose name will live on itself, with an engaging body of work to accompany that legacy. Here are those albums, ranked from worst to best.

Start the Countdown here.

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Comments (43)
  1. Solid list. I personally like a lot of “Echoes” more than their last album, but that’s just my opinion.

    Foo Fighters are a great band, and it’s so nice to see one of the bigger bands out there be such cool guys. Dave Grohl is such a cool guy, and they have a ton of great songs (and some really good albums) under their belt. I’ve never been huge on Nirvana (I was born in ’95, so it was a bit before my time), but I’ve always liked Foo Fighters. Everlong was one of the first rock songs I really loved, and it’s still one of my favorites today.

  2. i’ve always loved the colour and the shape. it marries all of foo fighters’ strengths: great husker du-esque melodies, excellent singles, a handful of classic deep cuts, some hardcore elements. and nothing beats blasting everlong.

    and it’s true: one by one is completely forgettable.

  3. Very good list, agree with the order. Nice to see some appreciation for ‘Exhausted’, which is pretty much my fave Foo Fighters track!

  4. I’d totally dismiss One by One if ‘Times Like These’ and ‘All My Life’ weren’t completely killer tracks. Plus, remember Dave’s totally rad clear-bodied guitar and Neil Young-esque mutton chops in the ‘All My Life’ video?

    Otherwise great list, and a great excuse to go binge on some Foo Fighters.

    • Seeing the “All My Life” video on Fuse or whatever (or maybe it was still MuchMusic then?) when I was about 12 years old was what got me into this band originally. Also, I was about to start playing guitar and definitely envied Dave’s.

  5. “original guitarist Pat Smear (also Grohl’s former bandmate in Scream and the second guitarist in Nirvana’s latter days)”

    Well, two of these things are definitely true.

  6. I still need to read the blurbs on each album, but I just had to say this might be the first “Best of” list in which I’ve 100% agreed with the ordering.

    The last decade or so I’ve not been huge into the band. But Colour and the Shape is easily one of my favorite albums of all time. Front to back classic.

    I also had the pleasure of seeing them live last year for the first time, and Grohl is without a doubt one of the greatest “Rock Gods” living right now. He is one of the last of his kind, for sure. It was a phenomenal show, but on top of it I also got to see something a little rare these days: GROHL ON THE KIT. Opening band Cage the Elephant’s drummer got apendicitis or something and Grohl filled in with ease. I seriously got goosebumps watching him rock the drums thinking to myself “I just saw one of the greatest drummers of all time drum before my eyes…and now I get to see him rock the frontman as well.” When he started the Foo set, he said “I haven’t drummed in a arena for over a decade. You guys are lucky.”

    He is one of the most well rounded and talented individuals there has ever been in music, I think.

  7. Solid list. I held TCATS as the best Foo record for many years, but I don’t feel like it’s aged as well. I think I now may favor TNLTL.

    A couple of minor observations:

    1) A lot of One by One’s failure as an album has to do with the production. Grohl wanted it to echo his experience in recording Songs for the Deaf. And that’s the problem: it sounds like a QOTSA record, not a Foo Fighters record.

    2) “Foo Fighters also began performing ‘Marigold’, a Nirvana song Grohl had sung, but that had never been officially released until years after Cobain’s death.”

    Not exactly true – “Marigold” was officially released in 1993 on Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box” single. In fairness, that single wasn’t officially released in the US – but many record stores carried it at the time. (Best Buy even carried the Nirvana singles box set in later years.) The other semantic is that “Color Pictures of a Marigold” appeared on the Simple Machines cassette (Late! Pocketwatch) that was issued in 1992.

    Weirdly, “Marigold” got quite a bit of radio airplay in the late Spring of 1996 on alternative radio – once stations had burned through the obvious Foo singles.

  8. Great list. Almost twenty years in and still putting out solid albums. It’s so common to get diminished returns over time from “established” artists, but the Foo’s have been remarkably consistent over their career. “White Limo” still makes me want to punch the sky every time I hear it!

  9. I listen to music like the Foo Fighters less and less as I get older, but it’s always refreshing when I revisit their music. I absolutely agree with the sequence of the list, excepting Wasting Light, which I’ve never heard. Their music seems pretty uneven but the high points are always very high. Pretty much all of the singles are spectacular and there are some great deep cuts to be found. I’m gonna go dig up my copy of In Your Honor.

  10. I agree with the ranking, though Id probably put Nothing Left To Lose on the #2 spot and its cause “Ain’t it the Life” solidifies how much of a diversion it is from the previous albums. After One by One, the band has been fluctuating with hit or miss songs. Rather than full albums being enjoyable, you had to cherry pick from the more recent albums to get those songs that stand out. Most Foo Fighter songs are filler with nothing to offer by generic lyrics and melodies. The first albums are the trifecta of perfection. One By One and after are decent, but nothing that prompts me to revisit them. Still enjoy watching them live, but still waiting for an album that would fit on the same pedestal as the first 3.

  11. Very glad you’ve done this list, such an easy band to unfairly dismiss, when they have a wealth of great songs and a couple of great albums. Of those, The Colour & The Shape is so easily their best and an album I still hold as one of my all-time favourites, as it brings back a lot of great memories. Everything the Foo Fighters have ever done well, grade A examples can be found on TCATS: power-pop gems in New Way Home and Up In Arms; anthems in My Hero and Hey, Johnny Park!; scream-a-thons in Monkey Wrench and My Poor Brain; their best ballads in Doll, February Stars and Walking After You. And then of course, there’s Everlong, a song which has no equal or parallel amidst their catalog. For a band with such a supposedly established sound and formula, it’s an effortlessly diverse record. Beats me why its greatness continues to elude P4k reviewers (only 5.8 on its 10th anniversary edition and I seem to recall a sub-3 score first time around).

  12. Count Down The Fall.

  13. The Color and The Shape has to be number 1 of course. That record put them on the map and is classic imo. Their last album Wasting Light is really incredible too and my favorite album from 2011. Man does Grohl knows how to write him some songs, but the man was born to be behind the drum kit………. Their cover of Prince’s “Darling’ Nikki” is one of my favorite covers ever

  14. 1. Colour and Shape
    2. Wasting Light
    3. There’s Nothing Left To Lose
    4. In Your Honor
    5. One By One
    6. Self Titled
    7. Echoes, Silence, Patience Grace

    • 1. There Is Nothing Left To Lose

      2. Colour And The Shape

      3. Wasting Light

      4. Foo Fighters

      5. In Your Honor

      6. One by One

      7. Echoes, Silence, Patience, Grace

  15. the lead singer of the foo fighters looks a lot like that guy from nirvana.

  16. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

    • He hit the skins on Songs for the Deaf. What sort of legacy were you hoping for?

      • One where he quits his day job and just drums.

        • The Foo Fighters have put out a good deal of filler and substandard music, but there are degrees that exist between brilliant and “embarrassing”. It seems like most of the people here would argue that even the worst of their albums have a few strong songs on them. And Wasting Light seems to be very well received here on Stereogum. It is perfectly acceptable to carve out a career as an above-average songwriter. He’s hardly destroying his legacy by not making music as good as Nirvana or Songs for the Deaf. Not everyone has to be a genius.

          • I appreciate that others (strongly) disagree, but in my mind putting fronting a bland rock band instead of working hard on the skins is warped when you are one of the best drummers in the world.

            Also, I want to reiterate that the self titled record is really great, and I think Grohl seems like a nice dude.

          • Also, this is a cool Grohl song that never saw any proper release: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PDjJj6zn_sE

          • I don’t think anyone here would argue that Dave Grohl is a better singer-songwriter. I bet he doesn’t even think that himself. But here’s the thing with all of us in the music criticism/blog/forum world: we don’t care about what an artist might find fulfilling or exciting on a day to day basis. We want our favorite artists to be geniuses all of the time, when the truth is a lot of them are just doing what interests them and sometimes accidentally doing something great. Nirvana wan’t aiming for transcendence, and if they had they probably would have failed. They were just some guys doing what they loved. Just like the Foo Fighters are doing now. It’s one thing to say a lot of the Foo Fighters’ more recent stuff isn’t very good. I would agree with you there. But to say that Dave Grohl is destroying his legacy by playing guitar and singing instead of hiding behind a drum kit is preposterous. Why should he give a shit about his legacy? He is doing what he loves and connecting with a lot of people.

  17. Wasting Light was a great album, I’m excited to see what the Foo does in the future.

    Anyone seen Sound City? Grohl has poured so much time and money into preserving some pretty cool parts of rock n’ roll history.

  18. Alternate title: “Mediocre Albums From Mediocre To Mediocre”

  19. I pretty much agree with the top 3(One By One is definitely #4), although the first album probably isn’t as “slick” and it was surprisingly solid when it came out. Also I saw them live at the beginning and the end of that tour. They were impressive opening for Mike Watt before the album came out, but a year later they really brought an intensity that I haven’t seen many bands have. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Dave fired the drummer(William Goldsmith) and brought in Taylor(who is a great personality but not much of a drummer). I’m sure Grohl played drums on the second album even though he’ll probably credit Hawkins.

  20. To Ryan Leas:

    This is the 1st of these such lists I’m fully on board with. Only grievance I have is that no connection is directly drawn between the albums that followed There’s Nothing Left To Lose. Based on what Dave has to say, One By One’s original takes were an extension of There Is Nothing Left To Lose, and Grohl, having just recorded with Queens Of The Stoneage thought they were too “Candy Assed” as I think he put it in one interview.

    One By One, in it’s harder, off-tempo moments, definitely owes a lot to QOTSA, but in going harder, and more esoteric rhythmically, the songs lose traction and appeal. In Your Honor was an attempt to amend the overcompensation of One By One, by embracing the softer side without compromising the heaviness. A double album seems like an easier solution than trying to sequence tracks on opposite ends of the spectrum. It was an extreme way to compromise, but it also allowed Dave to pull in more material for solo gigs, which he played a ton of during the Kerry campaign.

    The Skin and Bones tour is a bridge from Dave Grohl establishing himself as a solo acoustic performer to the Foo Fighters being a band that can play in that style. It gave them the freedom to become Dave’s version of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers whenever they wanted to be, and that’s exactly what they did when they recorded Wheels, which was on the Greatest Hits album that followed Echoes, Silence, Patience, and Grace. He seemed to back away from that immediately, and guess what, after Wasting Light brought the band full circle to a grungier place coinciding with the anniversary of Nevermind, they toured and played the heck out of Tom Petty’s Breakdown http://youtu.be/sQoXmvVn4bM and basically The Sound City Players allowed him to fully embrace that in a band outside of the Foo Fighters, so maybe the stylistic split is a permanent thing after all, or not? Either way, the connection between those stylistic shifts is pretty direct when you include outside projects, and since he’s just come off working with QOTSA again for the 10th anniversary of Songs For the Deaf with their newest, the next Foo Fighters record, which RS just interview Chris Shiflett about, might be Two by Two?

  21. Or they could end up doing something completely out of left field, like this http://youtu.be/USV0RU_X3e4 for their one-off Trans type late career freakout.

  22. I was ready to get all agitated and in a twist about this list, but really, I can’t find anything terribly wrong with, or with any of what was said about each album. So, good job!

    Personally, I might have put Wasting Light even higher, because it REALLY reminded me of the joy I got from listening to their first three albums over and over for months after they were released. There was a point when I listened to Wasting Light everyday for a couple months straight. Even went so far as to make other people listen to it, too, because I wanted them to recognize that the Foo’s had created another truly great album (although, for some reason, Arlandria is one of my least favorites on that album and most people seem to love it). But in general, even if some people would move an album here or there, this list would work if you were giving it to someone who hadn’t been following them and become familiar with their material over the last eighteen years.

  23. “Albums From Worst To Best” may be the worst idea.

  24. Sure, but where would the VMA performance with david guetta, chris brown, and deadmouse fall?

  25. Wasting Light was a stale rehash. My taste in music has changed a lot since back when I really liked the band, but that album really felt like Grohl had run out of ideas. I’m surprised so many ^ rank it so high.

    And yeah, One by One isn’t their best. But “Lonely As You” is amazing. It’s a far better record than In Your Honor or Wasting Light, which to me are their two worst records by a pretty big margin.

  26. We do enjoy Skin & Bones….overall good list.

  27. I don’t get the hate for One by One. It’s better than anything he’s recorded since, and at least as good as the self-titled.

  28. Foo Fighters… well, I never thought there was a BEST. XD

  29. 1) The Colour and the Shape; 2) Foo Fighters; 3) There Is Nothing Left to Lose; 4) One by One… I pretty much stopped listening to them after that. :\

  30. Good list, but I don’t understand the hate for One By One. I’d place it at number three, tied with There Is Nothing Left To Lose. I Really like the overall heaviness and QOTSA-vibes of that album. Songs like “Tired of You”, “Halo” and “Burn Away” are just as great as the first four tracks. I also like the production, it has a killer guitar sound.

    My favourite Foo Fighters album is definitely the first one. Great fuzztone, great pop hooks and great borderline lo-fi production. They’ve never been close to matching the greatness of the first album, in my opinion. I first heard it around 1997, when I was 14. I’d just gotten into Nirvana, and my brother bought it for me and told me I had to listen to it. I was blown away, and I still am every time I listen to it. One of my all time favourites.

  31. this is a well put together list and i pretty much agree with it entirely…the top 3 are obvious and i can put those 3 in any order as the best, id probably go FF, colour and shape and then theres nothing left to lose, but i love all 3….and any album after those 3 ive really never liked , wasted Light is probably my 4th favorite FF album

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