I was looking through the songs I’ve analyzed over the last couple years and realized I’d never done a song by Foo Fighters. Their huge presence at the Grammy Awards in 2012 and win for Best Rock Album meant that I am long overdue. I’ve been a fan for a long time so it’s about time!
Recorded by Foo Fighters
Writer: David Grohl
Lyrics are available on the Internet.
Shortcut numbers refer to my books “Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting” (“Hit”) and “Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV” (“Film/TV”).
The genre is Mainstream Rock. There’s a lot of melody and an intimate, thoughtful approach in the verses but the solid, rockin’ chorus landed this song at the top of the Rock charts.
The song structure is:
VERSE / VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
VERSE / PRE-CHORUS / CHORUS
DOUBLE PRE-CHORUS / HALF VERSE / CHORUS
The song opens with a double verse. The verses each consist of two long lyric lines broken up into short phrases. A pre-chorus (“But it’s all right…”) provides some release and begins the build up to the huge vocal leap at the top of the chorus (“Easy for you to say…”).
The overall structure is typical for a hit song up until the bridge. Grohl uses a double pre-chorus as the bridge before going into a final verse and chorus. Notice that he doesn’t return to the pre-chorus again, using just a half verse before roaring into the final chorus of the song.
This an impassioned lyric. I don’t know whether it was inspired by a specific incident or general frustration over the thoughtless, shallow responses to real tragedies we hear everyday on the news, but it’s a powerful message and one that suits the aggressive Rock style of the song.
The lyric is focused and unrelenting throughout. He knows what he wants to say right from first line – “One of these days the ground will drop out from beneath your feet.” It’s a vivid image that immediately draws listeners into the emotion of the song.
The verse lyrics almost sound like a curse but, underneath, it’s an observation about life: Until you’ve felt real pain and heartbreak, you can’t know how it feels to someone else. “Don’t say it’s alright, don’t say it’s alright” he sings over and over as he reaches the peak of the song.
Rock lyrics often take an aggressive stance in which the singer is angry at someone or something. If you’re writing a lyric like this, be sure you justify the singer’s anger, otherwise it just sounds like whining. Make it something big and serious. Don’t get lost in a personal story; instead, find a way to sum up the emotional reason for the anger. Muse’s “Uprising,” Foo Fighters’ “The Pretender,” and “Shinedown’s ‘Sound of Madness” and “Bully” are all great examples of this type of lyric. (See ‘Film/TV’ Shortcuts #51 to #53 to learn more about communicating an emotional message to listeners.)
The verse has a simple two-chord back-and-forth progression and melody lines that travel up and down in a narrow range. Pretty tame stuff. BUT… the interest is really in the phrasing of the melody – where the phrases start and how they’re broken up. Each long line begins on Beat 1 but once it gets started, it’s broken into shorter phrases that start on Beat 3 and Beat 4.
In the pre-chorus, the phrases begin on Beat 3. Then in the chorus, many of the lines begin on the upbeat (the “and”) after Beat 1 and the lines have a regular rhythmic pattern rather than the broken patterns of the verses. It adds lots of contrast between sections!
Phrasing is a great way to give a simple melody more interest. (See ‘Hit’ Shortcuts #90 and #91 for more on this idea.) If you’d like to use this technique, try embedding it by learning to play and sing this song. The chords are basic. (I LOVE the change to the E minor in the chorus.) See the “Do It Now” section below for links to chords, lyrics, and ‘how to’ videos.
“These Days” comes from the band’s 2011 Wasting Light album, recorded in Grohl’s garage. All of the equipment is older, analog gear. Granted it’s good quality, but if you’ve got a band that’s well rehearsed and there’s a local studio with analog tape machines, a couple good outboard compressors, and a decent mic cabinet, you can recreate this sound.
BTW, this song is so good it would work just fine in an ‘unplugged’ version. If you’re recording a Rock song, be sure to do an unplugged version you can pitch to film & TV. Each one will work for an entirely different type of scene. It will give you double the pitches.
DO IT NOW!
Learn to play and sing this song. Afterwards, try using some of these melody phrasing techniques in a song of your own. It doesn’t have to be in the Rock genre. We use the same concepts in Singer-songwriter, Pop, Country, and Urban songs. (Use them sparingly in Country unless you’re writing Country/Pop Crossover.)
Learn it here: This YouTube video will show you (in three separate videos) how to play this song on guitar! Start here.
You’ll find lyrics along with piano chords and guitar tabs for this song here.
by Robin Frederick
Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Reprints by permission.
This post is based on my books Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. In each book you’ll find over one hundred useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to craft songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.