Dave Grohl is about as popular as chocolate; there are a measly few people out there that claim to loathe him, but much like the beloved confectionary, you wonder whether they’re just saying it for effect. But aside from his evergreen popularity, it is important to note that he is one of the finest songwriters of our time. For some reason, this is perhaps less recognised than it should be. To put it as simply as possible, there aren’t many musicians who have the eclectic depth to their back catalogue that he has while sustaining both a mainstream presence and artistic integrity. He straddles both camps, and he does this thanks to supreme musicianship, compositional understanding, and an endearing enthusiasm.
The music might not be to your taste, but anyone who can shred a drum solo, pen a folky ditty, a grunge classic and a stadium rock anthem while remaining singular and recognisable is a feat that you have to admire. Part of the reason his music is so eclectic is that his music taste is equally unbiased. In fact, the beauty of his songwriting is that it is upheld by structures that pervade all genres, and Grohl is quick to recognise that sensibility in any song that comes his way.
In fact, he even decreed that he thinks there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. “I remember when ‘Gangnam Style’ came out. I wasn’t ashamed to say that’s my favourite song of the year,” he told Planet Radio; ours was probably Tame Impala’s ‘Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’ but each to their own. Shamefully adding: “I know I’m supposed to be this hardened punk rock, heavy metal dude, but ‘Gangnam Style’ is one of my favourite songs. I should be able to say that right? What’s wrong with that?” he asked rhetorically, even though many of you are surely rattling off reasons, continuing, “So, I don’t believe in the idea that guilt should be associated with the amount of people that listen to your music.”
This trend began way back in his childhood, as he told Mark Maron on his WTF podcast. “The music that really got into my head first was AM radio in the car. So, this was the mid-1970s, so you’re talking Andrew Gold and Phoebe Snow and Helen Reddy and Carly Simon and 10cc—all that AM bullshit, man.” He might refer to it as bullshit, but it is a mark of his open ears that he welcomed it and admired it all the same.
Grohl continued: “There is something about that era of music, where you had all of these incredibly gifted songwriters who were really proficient in their playing. Someone like Andrew Gold […] I swear to god, he sang this song called ‘Never Let Her Slip Away’. Dude, this song is not a huge hit in America, but it’s the most beautiful piece of music ever written.”
It might not have been a big hit in America, reaching only 67 in the charts, but it reached number five in the UK, and it is the song that I grew up hearing my dad sing as he washed the dishes. That might seem like a wildly personal corroboration to put in a piece that has no place for me to appear in it, but that is the sense of nostalgia that the song somehow spiritually brings forth, just as Grohl no doubt recalls it blasting out of the speakers of AM radio on long summer drives as a kid. It has that rare quality of reminiscence lingering somewhere in the refrains that defies the musicology alone.
However, beyond the almost hauntingly nostalgic spirit of the song, the structure itself is something that Grohl also eagerly appraised. “The keyboard sound is a little maybe, you might call it cheesy, it’s not cool anymore, but melodically […] it is maybe one of the most melodically sophisticated songs I have ever heard in my entire life. You have to hear it. It will blow your fucking mind.”
In fact, the Foo Fighters frontman even announced plans to have a go at the 1978 song one day. As he forcefully asserted: “We’re going to cover it just so you know.” Well, let’s hope he does justice to the sunshine anthem and it retains all that rarefied atmosphere that the original crams into its pan-scrubbing joie de vivre.
After all, Grohl is a man happy to simply celebrate the joy of music as it is. As he explained when discussing the notion of letting uncynical celebration of art triumph over forced rock ‘n’ roll expectations: “Now you’re a top 40 band and you’ve sold millions of records, how do you deal with that? A lot of people feel this sense of guilt or shame.” And a lot of fans oddly confuse commerciality with being middle of the road, as though true art and success should never coincide unless it’s the 1960s.
As Grohl continues: “It’s like, ‘Oh no, I’m too popular’ or ‘Oh no, we’ve sold too many records’. I didn’t want the world to know about this little secret. You can either see it as a blessing or a celebration or you can see it as some sort of curse. There is this weird guilt and shame in that, and I think it’s really dangerous. When you were young on your bedroom floor there was no guilt then.”