The Cover and the Shape: Foo Fighters' best cover tunes
By Kelly Dearmore
Few bands hitting the sonic highways these days appreciate the legends who came before more than Foo Fighters. Even as a stadium-filling star, frontman Dave Grohl has long played the role of guitar kid in a classic rock candy store, giddily collaborating with, singing the praises of and covering songs by the icons of his youth. - Lemmy, Paul McCartney and John Paul Jones, to name a few.
During the marathon tour behind 2017’s Concrete and Gold, the Foos’ three-hour sets regularly featured renditions of Alice Cooper’s “Under My Wheels” and AC/DC’s “Let There Be Rock,” as well as a genius medley where Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Van Helen’s “Jump” cohesively united for both comic and cosmic effect.
Recorded covers have been a staple of the Foo Fighters experience for much longer. Spanning decades, genres and genders, the band’s cover cuts are primarily released as B-sides to singles or on the occasional EP.
Want to know which Foo homages are essential listening? We’ve got you covered.
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son”
Foo Fighters’ 2013 collaboration with one of American rock’s original guitar gods, John Fogerty, isn’t a cover song in the traditional sense. What this scorching performance of the 1969 anti-war anthem “Fortunate Son” is, however, is a masterful example of what the best Foo cover songs typically offer. Led by a thickly chugging rhythm guitar and Grohl’s uninhibited screaming, the band amps up this classic’s already-fully-charged riffs, arguably lending it an even greater degree of anger.
Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”
Scottish singer Gerry Rafferty’s 1978 hit, named after a London lane, boasts one of the great sax licks of the past half-century. Rather admirably, a searing, soaring guitar takes the saxophone’s place on the Foos’ cover, suggesting that an iconic riff will hold its form regardless of the vehicle in which its delivered. Having first appeared in 1998 as the B-side to the “My Hero” U.K. CD single, “Baker Street” can also be found on the 2011 Medium Rare Record Store Day release.
The Psychedelic Furs’ “Sister Europe”
“Pretty in Pink” would’ve been too obvious and it’s tough to imagine Grohl belting out a dancefloor-filler like “Heartbreak Beat,” so he and the Foos settled on tackling The Psychedelic Furs’ greatest composition. Not straying far from the haunting continental shift of the 1980 original, the Foo Fighters version of “Sister Europe” - released as a B-side to “All My Life” and included on the French edition of One by One - finds a hushed Grohl crooning over fantastically flanged-out guitars.
Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America”
One personality attribute that has endeared Grohl to the music-loving public is his inability to be a cooler-than-thou elitist. He’s a musical Everyman, and because of that, sugary pop ditties are fair game for his band. This addictive, synth-heavy 1981 hit from Kim Wilde - who was not a kid in America, but in England rather- was given a jagged, buzzsaw treatment by the Foos and unleashed on the 2015 Record Store Day demo collection Songs From the Laundry Room.
Prince’s “Darling Nikki”
During a recent televised tribute to Prince, Grohl introduced his band’s performance of this sexy 1984 Purple Rain track by recalling that the Purple One himself wasn’t a fan of their interpretation. For probably the only time ever, it’s reasonable to disagree with Prince. Released in 2003 as a mere B-side on the “Have it All” single, Foo Fighters’ version of “Darling Nikki” still managed to climb all the way to number 15 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. They also performed a royal version of the tune during the 2020 Grammy Awards' Prince tribute.
Jawbreaker’s “Kiss the Bottle”
Considering the punk roots of basically every Foo Fighters, it’s a bit surprising that more numbers from the Foos’ respective early contemporaries haven’t popped up as FF covers. Judging by their urgent take on Jawbreaker’s 1992 riotous “Kiss the Bottle,” recorded during the In Your Honor sessions, it’s clear the group has been taking a quality over quantity approach when it comes to punk covers. For a fun activity, do a side-by-side-by-side comparison of the original, the Foo Fighters cover and the twangy, grizzled rendition by Lucero. Maybe Grohl and co. could complete the circle and cover something by those Tennessee roots rockers next?
The Foo Fighters Bandbox includes your choice of any of their eight studio albums, plus a full-color, 16-page zine featuring entertaining and informative features, lists, reviews and more!
Kelly Dearmore is a music writer based in Dallas. He has written for The Dallas Morning News, Houston Press and Lone Star Music Magazine.
Photo: Brantley Gutierrez