Recording for the fourth Foo Fighters album could best be described as troubling. Re-recordings and blazing rows had almost led to the end of the band but eventually they got themselves back on track, finishing up recording on the album in May 2002. Whilst the band had recorded enough material for a full-length album, they found themselves a little short on material to use as B-Sides on future singles, most of the outtakes from recording deemed not good enough. With that in mind, a few weeks after recording wrapped up they decided to get together once more to record a handful of cover songs, something Hawkins said the band usually enjoyed doing after recording an album anyway.
Rather than head to a professional studio or even Dave’s own Studio 606 the band instead headed once more to Hawkins’ house in Topanga Canyon, California. The home studio had seen a lot of recent use by Foo Fighters over the previous year whilst working towards the new record with early demos recorded there, Grohl using it as a place to work on recordings whilst Hawkins was in rehab following his overdose and then in April 2002 he and Taylor returned there to work on new songs after scrapping the first version of the record.
Working in the sweaty basement studio on a hot California summer day each member of the band chose a song they wanted the band to work on. Dave Grohl’s choice was ‘Darling Nikki’, a track from Prince’s critically acclaimed 1984 album ‘Purple Rain’. According to Hawkins, his band leader found the song “really funky” but they had only really recorded it “as sort of a joke”. The recording turned out well enough for the band to consider using it as a B-Side but Prince himself would, however, scupper that plan.
“We wanted to put it out here in the States, but Prince wouldn't let us,” Hawkins said, adding “I heard that he didn't like our version. Or maybe he just didn't like us doing it.” The drummer was seemingly unsure of the reason for the objection but the man himself cleared it up to some degree when asked if he liked the cover. “No!” was his blunt response, explaining that he didn’t like anyone covering his songs at all - “Write your own tunes!”
Despite Hawkins insinuation that Prince blocked the release of the song, this was not entirely accurate. Under US Copyright law a songwriter is obliged to give a license to anyone wishing to cover their song although it naturally comes with the cost to the new performer of royalties. Under normal circumstances the writer/rights holder of a song - in this case Prince - would negotiate the royalty fee with the artist performing the cover, keeping them to a low and reasonable figure. With Prince refusing to enter any negotiations if Foo Fighters were to release their cover of ‘Darling Nikki’, they would have to pay the standard, extremely high royalty fee. As a result of this setback, the cover saw a limited release, featuring on only the Australian and European editions of the ‘Have It All’ single. Despite not seeing release in the United States not long after it became available elsewhere the song began to get serious airplay across the country. The cover became extremely popular, with many retailers in the US importing copies of the CD.
For Chris Shiflett, his cover of choice was ‘Danny Says’, a love song ballad by the usually raucous punk pioneers The Ramones. As well as recording guitar on the track Shiflett also sang lead vocals, the first time he’d ever done so in a studio and becoming the third Foo Fighter to sing lead vocals on a track, with Taylor Hawkins having previously taken the mantle on Pink Floyd cover ‘Have A Cigar’.
Naturally apprehensive about his first vocal performance, Shiflett soon got into the swing of things - “Once I did it, it gave me a lot more confidence I was like, 'Wow, I can do this if I just double the fuckin' thing,” referring to the technique of recording the vocal track twice and dubbing the second recording onto the first. As well as being the first Foo Fighters track to feature Shiflett on lead vocals another anomaly was with the man sitting on the drum stool. Instead of being recorded by Hawkins or even Grohl, prolific session & touring musician Greg Bissonette dropped by the studio to perform on the track, although he would not be credited when the song was released as a B-Side in 2003. It wouldn’t be until the song was re-released on the 2011 compilation ‘Medium Rare’ the drummer would get his due credit.
Taylor’s choice was the Joe Walsh track ‘Life Of Illusion’ with vocal duties once again switched up, Hawkins taking the role whilst this time Grohl would take the sticks. The Psychedelic Furs track ‘Sister Europe’ was last to be recorded, although whether the track was actually the choice of Nate Mendel is something of a mystery. Rumors among fans at the time suggested the bassist wanted to cover a Talking Heads song but had been shot down by the rest of the band. Whether true or not, it was the Furs track they would record, this time with every band member reprising their usual role.
All four songs were released in some form and with that Foo Fighters work in the studio was over, for the time being, focus switching to touring in support of their fourth album.