The video world welcomed the Foo Fighters with open arms, not least because of their ability to send themselves up. While it would have been easy to focus on Nirvana-style performance videos, albeit with bells and whistles, the Foos have brought a humorous dimension to their clips, not least with self-referential musical jokes and the participation of Jack Black and Kyle Gass, collectively known as Tenacious D. This dynamic duo have made their presence felt a number of times, and Dave repaid them with interest by playing the ‘shiny demon’ of the D’s debut single video, Tribute.
Another theme that’s recurred in the videos is a penchant for dressing up in women’s clothing. Dave traces this back to a TV show from Canada called Kids In The Hall. “They’re kinda like a Saturday Night Live show and were the inspiration for our cross-dressing videos,” he confirms. “It was five or six guys, no women in the cast at all, so they had to cross-dress to get female characters in their skits – fucking hilarious show!”
He felt the ‘habit’ had the by-product of discouraging any homophobes among the band’s fans. “It was important to Nirvana, it was important to us, it’s important to me. The people who are threatened by cross-dressing or think it’s strange or harbour a bit of that homophobic element… it takes a big man to wear a dress.”
It took a while for their video career to take off, largely because the Foo Fighters didn’t exist when the first album of that name was released. Though it got to Number 3 in Britain and 23 in the States, it was effectively a collection of glossy Dave Grohl demos. He had a choice: to form a band to play his music or climb back behind the kit with Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, who asked him to join on a full-time basis. “I couldn’t imagine the Foo Fighters becoming a band at that point because I hadn’t met any musicians I thought would make it work,” he later explained. But reason and ambition won out. “I thought, I’m young, I just did this thing in the studio and it would be nice to do something no-one could expect; 26 is too young to become a drummer for hire.”
The tour bus is where bands traditionally watch a lot of videos while travelling, and their taste often filters through into their promos. One of Dave’s perennial favourites is Waiting For Guffman, a musical mockumentary that he describes as “basically Spinal Tap but based around regional theatre. You have to watch it 15 times, it’s just so good.”
The Foos have used a variety of directors to ensure their videos have a unique flavour. These have included Dave Grohl himself. Jerry Casale, who directed their first clip, was bass player for late-70s/early 80s new-wave band Devo. Acclaimed as pioneers of the music video, their Whip It became an early staple of MTV, while many other video clips are landmarks in the development of the genre. Casele’s track record as director included work with Rush and Soundgarden.
“I liked working with the Foo Fighters,” said Casale, “because at that point they had never made a video before. They were kind of anti-video and it was really low budget, but it was fun because Dave decided OK, we’re gonna do a video – but we’re kind of going to do a fucked-up video.”
This was I’ll Stick Around, the first of many Foo classics…
I’ll Stick Around (1995)
The most controversial track from their self-titled album was, in director Jerry Casale’s opinion, “about Courtney Love – I know it was, though [Dave] will never admit it”. The $60,000 clip, shot in August 1995, was “an interesting non-video video” which saw the band confronted by massive spore.
Big Me (1996)
Shot in Sydney, Australia, the clip won an MTV award for Best Group Video that year, as well as picking up nominations for Video Of The Year, Best Alternative Video, Breakthrough Video and Best Direction. The promo is built around a spoof advertisement for Foo-branded Mentos sweets, ‘The Fresh Fighter’.
Monkey Wrench (1997)
Nominated for Best Rock and Best Alternative Video in the 1997 MTV Music Video Awards, this was Dave Grohl’s directorial debut. In the first of a recurring theme, a Muzak version of Big Me, recorded by the Moog Cookbook, was playing in the lift scene. The track, the first single from The Colour And The Shape, is a “relationship in which you realise you’re the source of all the problems going on.”
The second album’s second single celebrated the fact that “you’ve made your way around all those obstacles and you’re not scared any more”. Its video, with Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind) at the helm, picked up nominations for Best Rock, Best Director and Best Special Effects at the 1998 MTV Video Awards. Check out Dave’s big hairdo. That should’ve earned a prize on its own.
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My Hero (1998)
Dave took the director’s chair for the second time for a personal song. “Most of my heroes were ordinary people, friends of the family rather than Gene Simmons or a basketball player,” the frontman remembers. This is the only video in which temporary guitarist Franz Stahl appears.
Walking After You (1998)
Only Dave appears in this video, as the rest of the band preferred to be with their families – or in Nate’s case, go snowboarding. Even so, the video’s budget was on the wrong side of $300,000 and took two days to shoot. The song – “about someone leaving you” – originally heard on The Colour And The Shape, appears in The X-Files movie. Dave went for something fairly mysterious, appearing on the other side of a prison-style glass screen from his co-star. This was Arly Joven, who’d just finished filming Blade with Wesley Snipes and was made to look like she’d been beaten up. Fun fact: Dave briefly appeared in X-Files season three, walking in the FBI building with his then-wife Jennifer in an episode entitled ‘Pusher’.
Learn To Fly (1999)
Much loved by Foos fans, this had its world premiere on MTV on October 7, 1999 and appears on the album There Is Nothing Left To Lose. As well as picking up several award nominations, it also won a Grammy for Best Short Form Video. Tenacious D make a cameo as shifty airport workers who slip powder into the plane’s coffee pot and cause the staff and passengers to trip balls – the band, who chose not to have coffee, are called upon to land the aircraft safely.
Another outstanding track from There Is Nothing Left To Lose followed Learn To Fly into the UK Top 30. It stars Traylor Howard from the US sitcom Two Guys, A Girl and a Pizza Place. The musical joke continues as Generator is playing in the car as the clip begins. The song appeared in the Jim Carrey film Me, Myself & Irene and features a cameo from Dave’s mother.
Next Year (2000)
Shot over two days at Universal Studios in Los Angeles, the video for this almost country-style single was based on NASA’s Apollo space project that put the first man on the moon in 1969. Over 15 costume changes were apparently involved. The band did not travel into space.
Released as the lead track of an EP in some territories, the video for this track was a live clip shot in Melbourne in February 2000. It was only shown on TV in Australia, but has since appeared on a special reissue of There Is Nothing Left To Lose.
The One (2002)
Shot in Brooklyn, New York and featuring actress Amy Weaver, this was for a single which appeared on the soundtrack for the Jack Black and Colin Hanks film Orange County. Dave sports a nice line in headgear, while instruments, pierrot costumes and leotards were also involved.
All My Life (2002)
Shot inside Bakersfield’s Rabobank Arena with Dave in the director’s chair (the external scenes show The Forum in Inglewood), the big reveal is that they were playing to an empty venue all along. You’d think they’d have noticed.
Times Like These (2002)
Three versions of this video were made. One was located in a Californian desert, one was an acoustic version, while the kaleidoscopic one below was directed by Liam Lynch. It was mostly shown in the UK and looks a bit rubbish, to be honest, and may explain the alternative versions.
Walking A Line (2002)
A bonus track on special editions of One By One, this video was directed by Dave’s wife Jordyn and Chris Osterhus. The handheld footage offers fans behind the scenes footage of the band on tour. Why this song wasn’t included on the album in the first place, we’ll never know.
Featuring Jack Black, Low was banned by MTV. Grohl and Black are two rednecks on a drinking spree in a motel while dressed in women’s clothing. We wrote about it in more detail recently.
Best Of You (2005)
This video was shot in an abandoned Linda Vista Community Hospital in Los Angeles and was the first single taken from In Your Honour. It was directed by Mark Pellington, the man responsible for Pearl Jam’s chilling Jeremy video. Clips depicting aggression, anger and sadness punctuate the footage of the band’s performance.
This video, directed Michael Palmieri, features the band on a rotating train carriage. If you’ve ever wondered what Foo Fighters look like playing upside down, this is the video for you. No more handstands.
This video features a band performing in a desolate location while a plot involving a sushi restaurant, a Japanese Grohl doppelgänger and a mermaid unfolds. It’s the sort of daydream that happens when you’ve had too much delicious saké or prone to outlandish thoughts.
No Way Back (2006)
One of the band’s most simple videos, features a supercut of tour footage, live performances and the band playing ice hockey.
The Pretender (2007)
Directed by Sam Brown, The Pretender video was filmed inside an aircraft hangar and features riot police and a giant screen which showers everyone in thick red liquid. Shout out to the cleaning staff after that shoot.
Long Road To Ruin (2007)
We’re back in fun territory now, as the Foos frontman appears as the fictional TV pin-up Davy Grolton, who stars as Dr. Hansom Davidoff in a cliche-riddled, sepia-tinged hospital drama from the 1970s. His bandmates also appear in what could be the greatest thing since Days Of Our Lives. Actress Rashida Jones appears as the love interest.
Sam Brown directed this no-frills performance video, which features the band playing in a beautifully lit warehouse. It’s not on YouTube, but you can watch it on Vimeo (opens in new tab).
The first single from Wasting Light, Rope was directed by Grohl and was shot on VHS. The decision to shoot it inside a claustrophobic white cube was to symbolise the time the band spent holed up in their frontman’s garage during the recording of the album. But, as far as garages go, we’d be quite happy to live in it. There’s no discarded bags of cement, broken mountain bikes or muddy football boots at Chez Grohl.
White Limo (2011)
As you might expect, the video for _Wasting Light_’s second single features an unnecessarily long white car, which is driven by the late Lemmy. Grohl’s wife Jordyn also makes a cameo, while bassist Nate is seen sporting rollerblades and short shorts. It looks like it cost $10 to make, but it’s one of their most compelling clips. Could be the shorts.
This Sam Jones-directed video is a parody of Joel Schumacher’s 1993 film Falling Down. We see Grohl caught up in a traffic jam, abandon his car and go for a wander. Along the way, he gets served a rubbish burger, beats up a couple of thieves and causes merry hell on the golf course. At the end of the video, he gets tasered by the cops. The reason? Being a badass who wouldn’t take anyone’s shit.
Hot Buns (2011)
Not a music video as such, but a highly-charged promo for a North American tour and deserves a mention. The storyline? Some truckers wash off the grime of the day in a communal shower, while Queen’s Body Language pumps seductively in the background. Nothing wrong with showering with your pals. They could’ve taken their boots off, though.
These Days (2011)
The fourth UK single from Wasting Light features footage from the band’s Milton Keynes shows, and their trip to Australia and New Zealand. It was directed by Wayne Isham, who has worked with Mötley Crüe, Metallica and Whitney Houston.
Something From Nothing (2014)
Taken from their eighth studio album Sonic Highways, this video was filmed at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio in Chicago and features an appearance by Cheap Trick guitarist Rick Nielsen. You’re not imagining Grohl’s handwritten lyrics flying around the screen. They’re meant to be there.
The Feast And The Famine (2014)
The second single from the Sonic Highways album, this performance video was filmed at the legendary Inner Ear studios. RDGLDGRN, a Virginia trio who’ve previously worked with Grohl, show their faces at the end of the clip.
In The Clear (2014)
Filmed at New Orleans’ Preservation Hall, this four-minute video made its debut on November 24, 2014 and features the band decked out in suits in deference to the acts who’ve passed through the doors of the noted Louisiana jazz venue.
The band invited fans to submit videos to accompany the 11 tracks from their album Wasting Light. You can view the successful entries on Foo Fighters’ official YouTube channel.