12 Years Ago: Foo Fighters Release ‘In Your Honor’
These may be the glory days of Foo Fighters, but there was a time when things weren’t so cheery and everything that Dave Grohl touched didn’t automatically turn to gold. Coming off of the band’s One by One album, a disc that included the staples as “All My Life” and “Times Like These,” Grohl admitted to not being happy with the disc as a whole and feeling that they rushed through the album. But the drive for excellence that has put Grohl and the Foo Fighters on top kicked in with the release on June 14, 2005 with the ambitious In Your Honor double album.
Feeling a little fried after the One by One touring cycle, Grohl desired a little break. During a period in 2004, he spent time on the campaign trail stumping for presidential candidate John Kerry, and while Kerry didn’t get elected, the period did re-energize Grohl with ideas for new music. “We’d pull in to small towns, and thousands of people would come to be rescued by this man,” said Grohl to Rolling Stone. “It’s not a political record, but what I saw inspired me.”
Also during the period, the vocalist also started delving into some more intimate, acoustic style music that the band had experimented with in the past. “I started writing this acoustic stuff because I wanted to find a movie to score,” Grohl told Spin. “One of my favorite records is Ry Cooder’s soundtrack to Paris, Texas. But after demoing all this acoustic music and doing Probot, I thought, ‘Why can’t this be on Foo Fighters records?’ I didn’t want to do a solo record, and who’s to say what we should sound like? And I think the band finally trusted me to try it.”
After a chat with the group, the direction began to take shape. But rather than sticking solely to an acoustic-based collection, Grohl got the rock bug and eventually the idea to do a double album with the divergent styles split down the middle. “Yeah, the first is my Jack-and-Coke record,” joked Grohl with Q. “I’m 36 now and I realise I cannot live without that. The second is my Sapphire-and Martini-with-Kylie record.”
The group recorded at the newly built Studio 606 in Northridge, Calif. in early Jan 2005, and there was no holding back in terms of sound. On top of the four-man Grohl, Nate Mendel, Taylor Hawkins and Chris Shiflett, the band expanded their lineup. Producer Nick Raskulinecz lent double bass contributions to “On the Mend” and “Cold Day in the Sun,” Wallflowers keyboardist Rami Jaffee appeared on six songs, Petra Haden lent violin to “Miracle” and there were guest turns from Queens of the Stone Age‘s Josh Homme, Led Zeppelin‘s John Paul Jones and Grammy-winning singer Norah Jones on the disc. “It’s not like a Foo Fighters record,” laughed Hawkins while speaking with Spin. “It’s like the F—ing Dave Grohl Orchestra.”
By May of 2005, Foo Fighters were ready to start revealing new music and they hit a home run out of the gate with the single “Best of You.” But surprisingly, the mega-hit almost never came to be. Grohl recalled, “‘Best of You’ is funny because we demoed so many songs for In Your Honor, I’d kind of forgotten about it. Our manager came in and said, ‘What happened to that ‘Best of You’ song?’ So we pulled it out and worked on it a little more.” The personal song connected with many, including acclaimed video director Mark Pellington, who had just lost his wife. The director turned in one of the more memorable clips of his career, dialing in on how well Grohl addressed dealing with pain within the track. Fans also loved “Best of You,” which climbed to No. 1 on both the alternative and mainstream rock charts. And later, the band received a pretty cool nod from Prince who performed the track as part of his Super Bowl halftime show medley.
Next up came “DOA,” a song that delivered a more malcontent message. “As much as I’m a musician, I can be an actor and politician too. I’m very good at looking after everyone and being nice and making people comfortable,” Grohl stated of the lyrical content. “I love making people feel good. Doesn’t mean I’m the f—ing happiest person in the world.” The song would top out at No. 1 Alternative and No. 5 on the Mainstream Rock charts, but in the overall spectrum of the band’s history, it’s has not stood up as one of the more requested Foo Fighters tracks.
In fact, while filled with two albums worth of material, the In Your Honor album was not as big on singles as you might think. Both “Best of You” and “DOA” did well, but beyond that, the double A-sided single of “No Way Back” and “Cold Day in the Sun” did the best at radio. “No Way Back” was a high energy rocker, while “Cold Day in the Sun” offered a different look as drummer Taylor Hawkins took on lead vocals. The latter track has become a staple in Foo Fighters sets, with Hawkins giving Grohl a bit of a break in the band’s shows.
Though not major hits for the band, three other tracks got significant attention during the album cycle. Many journalists gravitated toward “Friend of a Friend,” a song that pre-dated Foo Fighters that Grohl wrote about his first recollections of Kurt Cobain. Up until this point, Grohl had been reticent to address anything concerning Nirvana or Cobain in his music. He told Q, “I am a bit concerned what people will make of that, but I also didn’t want to edit myself. I recorded it, people thought it was powerful song and so there it is.”
“Virginia Moon” got some love because of its addition of Norah Jones, who helped make the bossa nova-styled track something special. “She was playing dog-ear stuff, where you cock your head in disbelief,” said Grohl to Rolling Stone. “It was perfect on the first take.”
And finally there is “Miracle,” a track that has become special to Grohl for a couple of reasons. The first was that Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones played mandolin on the track. “I know I sound ridiculous but some bands are like a religion to me. Led Zeppelin are just… I ran around the room screaming, ‘Guess who I just f–ing got a call from?,'” recalled Grohl. “If I say it’s the greatest thing that happened to me in my life, my wife will get mad, so it’s the second greatest.”
Later the song would be special for Grohl as a sign of his growing friendship with talk show host David Letterman. During a 2014 appearance, Letterman shared a story of how the song helped him bond with his young son and remains one of his favorite all-time tracks. The clip, which was part of an Internet post-show concert, went viral.
In the end, In Your Honor is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of results for the band. The disc did reach No. 1 in five countries and No. 2 in the U.S., was nominated for five Grammy Awards and did generate the hugely successful single “Best of You.” But, for the first time in some time, the band was shut out at the Grammys and commercially the disc waned a bit in terms of single success.
But the true significance of what In Your Honor did was that it opened the door creatively for a wider variety of Foo Fighters songs in the future. The touring in support of the album also included the expansion of the group to include keyboardist Rami Jaffe (who still remains) and violinist Petra Haden. And the band has seen a more even balance of heavy and soft dynamics on their more recent discs that really started with the two-disc experiment on In Your Honor.
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