In 1997, Dave Grohl went wandering through a nightmarish fantasy land, fending off mysterious Elvis-dressed foes with giant mutated hands. I was nine at the time, and remember catching it flicking between channels on TV, probably looking for cartoons: Foo Fighters’ video to ‘Everlong’, a reality-bending five-minute free-fall down a dimly-lit rabbit hole, to a place where all the confusion, noise and lurking menace of the world outside manifested itself in monster-sized ringing telephones and looney villains swinging massive axes. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. You didn’t get shit like this on ‘Recess’.
Whether you’re a fan or not of the returning MOR-rock monoliths, it’s hard to deny Grohl and co have a good track record when it comes to music videos. They’ve arguably been pretty instrumental in turning the band into the arena-dwelling best-sellers they are today, helping frame the narrative around Grohl on his tricky rise from the ashes of Nirvana. Case in point? ‘Big Me’, their 1995 breakout hit, was a “ridiculously candy-coated pop song” by Grohl’s own admission. It’d sparked murmurs among Nirvana die-hards: that the drummer had turned his back on his antagonistic, anti-commercial roots with the grunge band for lucrative radio pop. The Foos, however, turned those accusations into belly laughs with its hilarious, self-aware video: laughing at the track’s poppy guitar chimes, and how well they’d sit on a TV ad for something as trivial as a mint by mimicking the Mentos ads of the early ’90s. It made a pretty clear statement, way more so than their one previous music video for ‘I’ll Stick Around’, with its ‘Heart-Shaped Box’-ish warped, saturated colours: Grohl wasn’t trying to launch another Nirvana with the Foos, but forge his own, lighter, cheerfully ironic niche in modern rock.
Here are our five favourite Foos music videos. See if you agree.
5. ‘Learn To Fly’
Now here’s a good reminder of the Foos’ impressive staying power: their ’99 video for ‘Learn To Fly’ is a comic tale of a terror plot aboard a US passenger plane, foiled moments before catastrophe by the band. It seems a lifetime ago now that the 9/11 attacks made it impossible to play that kind of scenario for laughs. Anyways, the ‘Learn To Fly’ video buried the track’s borderline-cringe lyrics (“looking to the skies to save me”) in a hilarious, literal interpretation of the song’s chorus. After two mechanics, played by Tenacious D’s Jack Black and Kyle Gass, hide a sleeping drug in the plane’s coffee supply, causing the pilots to pass out, Grohl and the band have to steer the airliner safely to ground. No wonder the video bagged a Grammy.
4. ‘Monkey Wrench’
‘The Colour and the Shape’ lead single ‘Monkey Wrench’ unfolds in a 300mph fury of grinding riffs and combustive drums, so needed a high octane promo clip. It got one courtesy of Dave Grohl, who stepped into the director’s chair for this video, in which the frontman returns home from grocery shopping to find the door to his apartment locked and a band of imposters playing inside. The best bit though? The schmaltzy hotel lobby muzak version of ‘Big Me’ audible as Grohl waits in the lift. Nice touch, Dave.
3. ‘Long Road To Ruin’
Another Jesse Peretz gem, this 2007 video sees Grohl – here rock star-cum-soap star heart-throb ‘Davy Grolton’ – tussle comically with his emotions, as he struggles to contain real life affection for his co-star, played by The Office’s Rashida Jones. It’s filmed with all the over-the-top melodrama and silliness of a ’70s soap (it climaxes with Grohl suffering a fiery death after driving his car off a cliff top) but is threaded with genuine, detectable heartbreak.
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“It’s a pretty sultry song about two people who have more fun fucking than anything else,” Grohl said about ‘Low’, from 2002’s ‘One By One’. It turn, the single’s video is sleazy and seedy – but with a twist. Checking into a motel for a night of no-holds-barred debauchery, Grohl and Jack Black (rednecks ‘Lester’ and ‘Cole’) film themselves on low budget cameras as they drink, dance, fight and dress in drag. Depraved, wild and a cheeky wink from Grohl to his reputation as rock’s Mr. Nice Guy.
What else? Michel Gondry, who later had Hollywood smashes with Jim Carrey indie ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ and Jack Black’s ‘Bekind Rewind’, didn’t speak much English when he was invited to provide a treatment for this 1997 single, written at “what felt like the lowest point of my life” according to Grohl – the months following his split from first wife Jennifer Youngblood. Interpreting the track from what little he understood of the lyrics, Gondry created a strange, caricatured world that captures perfectly the way love warps perceptions, ballooning things cartoonishly out of proportion. Emotive, imaginative and funny, it’s not just the Foos’ best video – but perhaps one of the best of all time.