“Run,” by Foo Fighters
Since no one asked, here’s my take: I don’t think rock and roll is dead, but I don’t think it’s particularly thriving. It’s useful to think of rock and roll as a concept as opposed to an instrument group; rock and roll, first and foremost, is rebellion. And in today’s modern pop landscape, filled with corporate advertisement synergies, sponsored tweets, and artist-as-brand run amok, the notion of rebellion as been effectively squeezed out of the paradigm. Rebellion is risky, perhaps too risky for our modern megastars; however, rebellion is not extinct. It may come in a different form that we’re used to.
Which is why we should appreciate Foo Fighters, their longevity, and their latest screamer of a song. Accompanied by a patently insane music video, “Run” is a great rock song from a legendary rock band filled with legendary rock musicians.
Listen to enough Foo Fighters and you’ll realize that Dave Grohl is not lying when he talks about how much he loves the Beatles. Perhaps they’re not similar bands on the surface, but dig a little into their chord choices and harmonic shifts, and you’ll notice where Dave quotes his idols. The Beatles are selectively chromatic; they strategically surround dissonance with harmony. Think about Paul’s verse in “Eleanor Rigby,” Paul’s chorus in “Oh! Darling,” or the interplay between vocals and instrumentation on “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” The Beatles are masters at balancing sweet with salty; Foo Fighters strive for the same.
Take, for example, the title phrase of “Run”. ‘We run,’ Grohl sings, and nearly every time he does so in the song, he sings it three times in a row, with the same rhythm, and the same cluster of notes. However, though the vocal line stays the same, the chords under it change. The notes he sings provide a different fit with each chord, and thus a different sound, and most importantly, a different feeling. It’s hopeful and dangerous, harmonic and dissonant, all within the span of a handful of notes and some simple chord shifts; it culminates in Dave Grohl shouting ‘Run!’ over an implied E minor chord, an unmistakably Grohl-ian shout that all Foo Fighters fans know and love.
We must point out the majesty that is the main riff. You know the one I’m talking about; when the song explodes into outright chaos.
It’s an ugly, primal riff; it’s two notes separated by a half step. But it’s also a devastating hook. It’s addictive and energizing, the musical version of chugging a Red Bull. It implies a scale called the phrygian mode, which is as weird and wonderful as it sounds, and is most frequently associated with Spanish guitar tradition. It’s another example of the Foos behaving like their idols; their use of dissonance is undeniably pleasing.
This is the Foo Fighters after all, so let’s talk about drummers for a moment. In the pop/rock world, drummers essentially break down into two categories. First, there are the ‘surgical craftsman’ drummers — think Carter Beauford from Dave Matthews Band. Listen to his playing here on “Rapunzel;” he is practically tickling the hi-hat during the opening pass. And then second, there are the ‘Animal from the Muppets’ drummers — think, well, Dave Grohl. His legendary fill in the opening bars of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is his resume in totality; he, like all great ‘Animal from the Muppets’ drummers, is perpetually trying to beat his instrument into submission.
Both styles of playing are successful. The best rock drummers are a blend of both styles. Taylor Hawkins, drummer for the Foos since 1999, is a blend of both styles. Taylor Hawkins is an incredible f’ing drummer.
The best way to understand Hawkins’ masterful playing in “Run” is to listen to the first notes he plays. The guitar phrase that opens “Run” is calm, ballad-like; ‘wake up, run for your life with me,’ sings Grohl, a wistful invocation floating over a gentle riff. But then, things change. Hawkins starts playing.
It’s a thumping bass drum, simple but incessant. And with it, the implied tempo changes; a gentle ballad is now a driving pulse. The energy of the song changes; Grohl’s invocation is now a demand, and the song has officially set the GPS for Rocktown. It’s a thrilling moment, a dastardly shift — and all it took was Taylor playing the kick drum in quarter notes, one of the simplest phrases a drummer can play. And this is not a mistake. This is masterful efficiency; a minimal addition making maximum impact. This is a highly skilled musician understanding exactly what the song needs, delivering it, and leaving out the rest. He’s not just playing; he’s composing.
In the aforementioned video for “Run,” a insurgent gaggle of geriatrics at a retirement home stage a violent, raunchy insurrection. Perhaps that’s the way the Foos see themselves; they may now be the older guys, but every so often, they still cause a ruckus. They still pick a fight with whoever is in front of them; they run, out the door, hijack a car, and speed off to Rocktown. They dance. They rebel, with a spirit that defies age, and era, and genre, and any other mollifying classification.
The Nerdy Stuff…
Key Signature: E Minor, with a heavy dose of phrygian mode; phrygian mode differs in the second note of the scale, shifting from F# to F.
Primary Chord Progression: VI— iv— i — VII, or C — Am— Em — D
Number of Implied Tempos: A lot (Thanks, Taylor Hawkins)