With Foo Fighters deciding to take a sizeable break following the release cycle for ‘Echoes, Silence, Patience & Grace’ their record label was keen to see release of a ‘Greatest Hits’ record. When the band had signed a distribution deal with RCA Records in 1999 one of the clauses in that deal stated that the label would be able to distribute a compilation style release in a certain timeframe.
A Greatest Hits album had been tabled by the label in 2004 and again in 2006 but on both occasions the band had managed to put it off, instead releasing ‘In Your Honor’ and the live album ‘Skin And Bones’, keeping the label happy.
Now seemingly unavoidable with no new releases planned for a few years the compilation was penciled in for late 2009, whether Grohl really wanted it to or not. “It still seems premature because we're still a functioning, active band. Those things can look like an obituary,” Grohl said of his reluctance to put out the release. “They started asking about four years ago, and we said, 'Don't we need some hits?'“
To make the release more desirable to the long term, ‘hardcore’ fans Foo Fighters decided to do what had become all too common with similar anthology style releases – record brand new songs to go alongside the hits.
With over a dozen new songs in their arsenal the band earmarked two of them for this release, aiming to record them in the summer of 2009. Shortly before the planned session Dave Grohl bumped into old friend Butch Vig at a party in Los Angeles. Having not worked with the producer since recording seminal Nirvana album in 1991 Grohl asked Vig if he wanted to produce these two new songs, an offer he felt he couldn’t refuse.
The band rocked up to their private Studio 606 facility in June 2009 to record two songs, ‘Wheels’ and ‘Word Forward’. The latter was a song openly written about Jimmy Swanson, Grohl’s childhood friend who passed away in 2008. “Goodbye Jimmy, farewell youth” began the lyrics. The two had known each other for a long time, doing everything together right up to his passing. “He was my partner in crime from the time I was six or seven years old,” explained Grohl. “The first time I smoked weed, he lit the bowl. The first time I went on tour, he was my roadie.”
Whilst in interviews Grohl would claim the second song, ‘Wheels’, to be about “that feeling when the wheels touch the ground” after being on a flight it was in fact also about his friendship with Jimmy, albeit with more metaphorical lyrics.
Producer Vig greatly enjoyed working again with Grohl at the session, remarking that they “had so much fun doing it”. Whilst he had no concrete plans to get started now, Grohl asked if Vig if he would be interested in producing the bands next full-length album, when they were ready. As with his acceptance of working on this session, it didn’t take much convincing for the Garbage drummer to agree.
The two new songs were added to what the label decided were the bands thirteen “greatest hits”. A final song included on the album was an acoustic version of arguably their biggest hit, ‘Everlong’.
Despite having little desire to release the album the band did briefly return to the road to promote it, although Grohl would tell many media outlets the release was out of his hand and made it clear that these were the hits as selected by the label, not their best songs in his eyes. “I think there are better songs than some of those.”