Behind The Song: “Everlong” by Dave Grohl & Foo Fighters

Dave Grohl, photo by Paul Zollo

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

David Letterman declared it his favorite song by his favorite band, and said it helped save his life. Foo Fighters performed it five times on his show, including the finale of the final show

David Letterman with Dave Grohl & Foo Fighters

It’s a song which defined its time, the last act of the 90s. It seemed to be playing from every radio always then. Its muted electric rhythm guitar part, played right-handed by Dave Grohl, beautifully mirrors Kurt Cobain’s simmering signature groove. In his hands, though, it’s not sorrowful. Nor is it euphoric. But it is a hopeful sound, hopeful there can be a love that is true and also lasting:

If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again

Despite its title, the song “Everlong” didn’t take long to finish. About 45 minutes at the most, Dave Grohl remembered. It grew from a seed he discovered while recording “Monkey Wrench” for the previous album. That song is in drop-D tuning on guitar, and while jamming around in that key during a break, he stumbled on a new riff he thought of as a good “Sonic Youth rip-off.”

He filed that riff away in the back of his brain, and brought it back when writing “Everlong.” By this point, his life had shifted drastically both emotionally and physically. He had left his wife and moved out of their home after falling in love with Louise Post, who was in the band Veruca Salt. It was the start of Christmastime, 1996, and he was crashing at a friend’s home in Virginia in a sleeping bag on the floor. It’s there he started and finished “Everlong” on his acoustic guitar–based on that drop-D tuning and riff–in less than an hour.

“That song’s about a girl that I’d fallen in love with,” said Grohl, “and it was about being connected to someone so much that not only do you love them physically and spiritually, but when you sing along with them you harmonize perfectly.” 

He recorded a raw demo of it himself at a friend’s Washington, D.C. studio. Grohl, who famously played drums in Nirvana after Kurt Cobain heard him and insisted he join his band, played all the instruments on the demo- guitars, bass and drums, and vocals.

He recorded it with the Foos band for their second album The Colour and The Shape. The Foos’ who’s who, in addition to Grohl on guitar and lead vocals, included Pat Smear on guitar, Nate Mendel on bass and Taylor Hawkins on drums.

On “Everlong,” however, there are only three Foos; Grohl plays drums and rhythm guitar, Smear’s on lead guitar and Mendel on bass.

With Gil Norton producing, they cut it at Grandmaster Studios (formerly The Bijou) at the corner of Sunset & Cahuenga in Hollywood.*

The plan was to have Louise Post join them in Hollywood to sing on the track. But as she was in Chicago then, they recorded her vocals remotely–which back then in the 20th century was done over the telephone.

During the breakdown, Grohl inserted funny linguistics. Inspired by Lennon’s love of inserting samples he’d find at random into the mix (such as the Shakespearean radio voices woven into “I Am The Walrus”), Grohl read passages from a book he picked up in the studio for the record’s breakdown section, and told his engineer’s childhood story. The book passages were never used, but the story remained.)

The Colour and The Shape came out in the Summer of 1997.

“That song has always meant something incredibly personal and intimate to me and my family.” –David Letterman

Foo Fighters, “Everlong” on the final David Letterman show, 2015.

David Letterman called it “my favorite song by my favorite band.”

During his recovery from heart surgery in 2000, he said, this was the song that got him through. He loved it so much, and it had such meaning in his life, that he invited Foo Fighters to perform it on the show five different times, between 1997 and 2015, including two of the most momentous and poignant shows: In 2000, for Dave’s first show back after his heart surgery and recovery, and in 2015 for Letterman’s’s final show.

“That song has always meant something incredibly personal and intimate to me and my family,” Letterman said.

After the first Foo Fighter’s incendiary performance of the song on his show, Dave remarked, “That’s what’s causing global warming.” 

They performed it again on February 21, 2000, which was Letterman’s first night back after the night Dave returned after being gone from TV for several months recovering from heart surgery.

In all his years on television, rarely has Letterman ever seemed so completely giddy with excitement as he did following this performance. His unrestrained delight and gratitude is great to see, and so rare for him. You can see Drummer Taylor Hawkins’ amazed smile at Dave’s response.

“We just felt like we had to be there,” said Grohl. “Not only was it an honor to be asked, but it felt like something we had to do – because he had always meant so much to us. And that started this connection that we’ve had for years. It’s fucking cool, you know?”

Getting to that show, however, was not easy for the band. But given the occasion, they surmounted all obstacles to share that night with Letterman. Their determination to be there so moved Letterman, he spoke about it, and this song, in his very final words after 33 years on late-night TV:

Dave Grohl, songwriter of David Letterman’s favorite song.
Photo by Paul Zollo/American Songwriter

Fifteen years ago I had open heart surgery,” said Letterman, “and these people (Foo Fighters) saved my life.

“I’m out not doing the show for about 15 weeks, and I was talking to (producer) Sheila Rogers. She said, ‘On your first show back, is there anything you would like special musically?’

“And we got to talking and I said, `Well, how about Foo Fighters?’ They’d been on, I think, four or five times then. 

She said, `Well, I’ll ask them. But it could  be a problem.’ 

I said, `Well, just ask them. And also there’s a song of theirs I would like to hear. It’s special to me. It’s been meaningful through my heart recovery. It would be just great.’

Two days later she calls back and says, `Well…uh… they’re on tour in South America.’ I said, `Oh, darn.’

And she said, `That’s alright. They cancelled the tour. They’re coming to do the show, and they’re doing the song that you asked for.’

[The audience burst into applause at this point.]

And happily ever since then, we’ve been joined at the hip. God bless you, gentlemen.” 

“Okay, that’s pretty much all I got. The only thing I have left to do on a television program. Thank you and good night.”

Those were the last words of Dave’s late-night stand. The band played, during which a poignant series of memories from the show through the decades played. 

Foo Fighters with five performances of “Everlong” on Late Night with David Letter, 1997-2015.

By Dave Grohl

Hello I’ve waited here for you
Tonight I throw myself in two
Out of the red
Out of her head she sang

Come down and waste away with me
Down with me
Slow, how you wanted it to be
I’m over my head
Out of her head she sang

And I wonder
When I sing along with you
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again
The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when
She sang

Breathe out
So I can breathe you in
Hold you in
And now
I know you’ve always been
Out of your head
Out of my head I sang

And I wonder
When I sing along with you
If everything could ever feel this real forever
If anything could ever be this good again
The only thing I’ll ever ask of you
You’ve got to promise not to stop when I say when
She sang

*Grandmaster Studios, formerly the Bijou recording studio at 1520 Cahuenga in Hollywood, is where I also worked long from 1982-1983 as second engineer to the legendary Joe Borja. Joe moved over to A&M, where he worked for years. The studio building, originally a silent movie theater, was sold and is being reconstructed.

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