Nirvana Vs. Foo Fighters: Who's Better?

Nirvana Vs. Foo Fighters: Who's Better?

To some people, this argument is sacrilegious.  How dare you ever, ever criticize Nirvana.  How dare you even think that the Foo Fighters and Dave Grohl were/are more talented and better overall than Nirvana.  It's not possible.  Nirvana changed the world.  Then, there are some who might allow themselves to feel, or quietly admit, that the Foo Fighters not only wrote and recorded some great songs, they just might have been  Let's see, once and for, which band is better.

Nirvana Vs. Foo Fighters: Who's Better?

The Intellectual Discussion

First, Nirvana deserves respect.  They almost single-handedly killed a hole genre of music (hair metal) on their own.  Yes, there were predecessors to Nirvana, i.e. Mother Love Bone, but it was Nirvana who made the biggest impact.  Led by the '90s version of Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain, Nirvana sheparded the Seattle "Grunge" Sound across America, and the world, with songs like "Smells Like Teen Spirit."  Their angst reflected an angst not seen since the Punk scene of the 1970s.  In one fell swoop, everything changed.

For a while.

The problem was that Kurt was a mess.  He was addicted to various drugs, including heroin.  He had ADHD and was bi-polar.  Nirvana's first album was released on June 15, 1989.  Cobain died on April 5, 1994, after two more studio albums and an influence on a generation.  Here's a question: Was Cobain more impactful because of his death?  Or do you think the world lost out on more greatness because of his death?

That's a great discussion that will never have an answer, other than whatever we all argue about.

Time Magazine writer once wrote a great line: "...this new album may force the mainstream to go Nirvana." 

Cobain probably loved that.  

Nevermind, the band's second - and breakthrough - album, has sold more than 10 million copies in the United States and 30 million copies worldwide.  The follow up, In Utero, was a #1 album and has sold almost 4 million units.  Overall, the band has sold over 80 million records worldwide.

Now, let's talk about the Foo Fighters.  In case you're joining us late, Dave Grohl was the drummer for Nirvana.  After Cobain's death and the end of Nirvana, Grohl formed the Foo Fighters.  Well, at first the Foo Fighters was just him.  He later inducted various other gentlemen into the band.  It's important to note that Grohl hasn't been the drummer for the Foo Fighters.  He's been a guitarist.  And lead vocalist.  And chief writer.  

Kind of like what Kurt Cobain was in Nirvana.

Overall, the Foo Fighters have released 7 albums and sold more than 10 million units in the United States.

The band has been lauded by critics and fans.  But Grohl did state a great line in 1995: "I love being in a rock band, but I don't know if I necessarily wanna be in an alternative rock band from the 1990s for the rest of my life."

Cobain would have loved that.

Nirvana dwarfs Foo Fighters in cultural impact.  There would be no Foo Fighters without Nirvana.  Dave Grohl would have never had the ability and confidence to create the Foo Fighters catalog had there never been a Nirvana.  Kurt Cobain was to the '90s what Michael Jackson was to the '80s.  Cobain was the Elvis of Generation X; Nirvana was the Sex Pistols of their time.  They changed music and influenced an entire nation into hearing other bands, like Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains, and Stone Temple Pilots (who were from San Diego, not Seattle).

The Music

What about the music?  Your brain may state that it's obvious Nirvana was better for all of the reasons listed above.  But what about the music?  Which band's music nails you emotionally?  Which band can you consistently listen to over and over again because the songs are just so incredibly good?

Going back to the brain for one more moment, Foo Fighters have a leg up here, if only because they've been a band longer than Nirvana.  Nirvana formed in 1987 and put out their first album in 1990.  Foo Fighters were whelped in 1994 and still exist today, almost 20 years later.  Nirvana's 4 albums (we're including their MTV Unplugged release) are doubled by the output of the Foos, who have released 8 albums (we're including their live album, Skin and Bones).  So, if you think about it statistically, Foo Fighters have had more chances to release amazing music just for the fact that the band's leader never killed himself.

Back to our hearts, our cores, our souls, our emotions.  Whose music was best?  Let's focus on a few tracks from each band.  Which ones make you wanna jump out of your shoes and sing and scream and jam with air guitars and drive fast and do all the things Rock 'n' Roll is supposed to make us want to do?


Here's possibly the most famous song of the 1990s, Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

From their 1994 MTV Unplugged album, here's Nirvana's "About A Girl."

Another track from Nevermind, here's "Lithium."  You know these songs, don't you?

A word about the next video, which is Nirvana's "In Bloom" (also off of Nevermind).  If you've seen Foo Fighters videos, what influence do you think this video had on the future?  There's so much humor in this video (I would be you a million dollars that Cobain was not clean in the bloodstream during the making of this clip).  Look at Grohl on drums.  See the wig?  See the faces?  He'll capture the mood a number of times later on.  Just you wait.  But for now, here they are, Nirvana!

Here's Nirvana's "Heart-Shaped Box," from 1993's In Utero.

Also from In Utero, here's "Rape Me."  Do you understand Cobain's point?

Finally, our last Nirvana entry, is "All Apologies," once again from the MTV Unplugged album.


Let's start with the first song on the first Foo Fighters record, just so you can peak into what Dave Grohl was thinking and feeling musically right out of the gate after the end of Nirvana.

It definitely has the raw energy of Nirvana, but it still sounds different.  The chords have a distinct Grohl/Foo Fighters Sound which you'll hear as we continue.

"Big Me" was a huge change from what people may have expected from a former Nirvana band member.  Not only was the song nearly devoid of distortion, the video was a hilarious parody of a series of Mentos commercials that were airing on television circa 1995.

From the second Foo Fighters record, The Colour and the Shape, in 1995, here's "My Hero."  

From the same record, here's "Everlong."  It's probably around this time that people realized Foo Fighters videos had to be watched.  Every single one of them featured visuals that you couldn't take your eyes off of.  Plus, the songs were pretty good too.

The first big hit song for Foo Fighters was off of 1999's There Is Nothing Left To Lose album, "Learn To Fly."  Again, the video is perfect (check out the presence of Tenacious D (Jack Black & Kyle Gass).

"Times Like These," from the 2002 album One By One, is still a cool video (and great song), but it's cool in a different way.  There's no story to tell, just a sort of retro-early MTV type of video, with bad special effects that just work.

"Best Of You," seen below, is off of the 2005 album In Your Honor.  The band's sound started to shift a bit.  It rocked a little harder.  Grohl's voice ached more.  It's interesting how you can see him mature from the early Nirvana videos of 11-13 years before to this one.

We're going to play two more Foo Fighters songs for you.  They're both from the 2007 album Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace.  Arguably, these are the band's two best songs.  First, here's "The Pretender."

Now listen to "Long Road To Ruin."

Ain't it funny how the band shifted back to story, wigs, mustaches and humor after the hard "rocker" image of "The Pretender"?

The Verdict

You've seen and listened to 7 Nirvana songs and 9 Foo Fighters songs.  One reaction to this article, stated before it was over, was the Foo Fighters have been writing the same song for 20 years.  Do you agree with this?  And suppose Kurt Cobain never died and was still with us.  Would he be criticized for the same thing?  REM's Michael Stipe has stated that Cobain was going to begin writing quieter songs.  Now, they weren't going to be Barry Manilow-quiet songs.  Maybe more of the Unplugged type of tunes.

That said, does every one of these Foo Fighters songs sound the same to you?  Yeah, there's a style that's there, mainly because the same guy had a hand in writing every song.  But is it just 9 versions of the same song?

Which brings us to the final question: Who's better, Nirvana or Foo Fighters?

And the answer is...

Dave Philp is Assistant Professor of Music Management at William Paterson University and Chief Organizer Guy of YouChoose Music, a live events music fundraising and social media company that has raised many, many thousands of dollars for non-profit causes. Join the good fight and help change your corner of the world by visiting YouChoose Music now: To sign up for our email newsletter, click HERE. Mmkay?


Meanwhile, the Foos are working on a new album as we speak, or lay, or read this: