In 1997 Foo Fighters were approached by the production company behind a re-imagining of the 'Godzilla' franchise, interesting in having the band record music to accompany a new movie about the fictional monster. The band agreed and were, according to Grohl, paid “an astronomical amount of money” to write and record a song to feature in the movie, set to be released the following year.
Time was booked at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, California to record the song, marking the first time Grohl had returned to the studio since recording ‘Nevermind’ with Nirvana in 1991. This recording session would also mark the first time that the new Foo Fighters line up had recorded together, including new drummer Taylor Hawkins and Franz Stahl, who’d replaced Pat Smear as guitarist in late 1997. Hawkins had previously recorded with Grohl and Mendel for a BBC Evening session in April 1997, but this would be the first time working in a studio with this incarnation of Foo Fighters.
The track they had chosen to record was titled ‘A320’. The song had been written specifically with the movie in mind and the band was aware it was quite different from their usual sound. “It seems like it's almost for a movie score,” said Grohl. Like many Foo Fighters songs, this one was written whilst the band were on tour and honed during sound checks. “We were writing the song at sound checks while we were on tour in Japan, ironically enough. And at every sound check, the song just got bigger and weirder. It's one of my favorite things we've ever recorded, just because it's so off-the-wall,” Grohl enthused.
‘A320’ had an unusual structure, with three distinct sections rather than a usual verse-chorus-verse format. The first third was described by Grohl as “really beautiful and kind of mellow.”
Three minutes in sees the song raise in tempo for the “big rock section” before exploding into the final section with a “crazy crescendo that you can almost see the credits rolling as you listen to,” according to Grohl.
The first section of the song also featured all of the lyrics of the song, with the rest being entirely instrumental. “There's really not that many words,” said Hawkins.
Owing to the unorthodox nature of the song and large departure from their regular sound Taylor Hawkins had reservations about how well the song would be received, surmising that people would either “love it or hate it”, the drummer even going so far to say he believed the song was “pretty prog rock”, a point Grohl agreed on.
As well as being the first studio recording for this incarnation of Foo Fighters it was also the first time the band had experimented with additional instrumentation by guest musicians. Benmont Tench, a founding member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers and prolific session musician was invited to the studio to record keys on the song. Specifically, he played a Hammond B3 Organ as well as the Chamberlain, an electric-mechanical keyboard capable of emulating various musical instruments and outputting special effects.
A second guest musician perhaps more familiar to Foo Fighters fans at the time was Petra Haden, violinist of the Los Angeles-based power pop band That Dog. Dave Grohl first met Haden whilst touring with Nirvana and asked That Dog to support Foo Fighters for a large portion of their 1995 and 1996 tour schedule. During those shows, Haden would occasionally join Foo Fighters during their set to sing lead vocals on the song ‘Floaty’, as well as playing violin occasionally. With ‘A320’ calling for strings, she was an obvious candidate for the job.
A third aspect of this recording session which makes it a key part of Foo Fighters history is that it was the first time the band worked with Nick Raskulinecz. A runner turned assistant engineer at Sound City, he helped during the recording of the song and hit it off with Grohl, bonding over their shared love of the band Rush among other things. Thanks to an opportune meeting in an LA car park three years later, he would go on to record and/or produce most Foo Fighters recording sessions between 2001 and 2005, including the albums ‘One By One’ and ‘In Your Honor’.
Whilst Grohl has spoken positively of ‘A320’ as a song he was less enthusiastic about the movie for which it was recorded. “We were very proud of it, we submitted it and they gave us a cheque.” The band was back on tour when the movie came out but found time to go and see the film, soon wishing they hadn’t bothered - “we suffered the two and a half hours to sit in front of Godzilla,” said Grohl.
Before a rare live performance of the song in November 1999, the frontman was even more scathing. “[A320] was on the soundtrack of the worst movie you've ever seen in your life,” he told the crowd, before adding “but the song's good!”. The song did not feature in the film itself but was included briefly in the closing credits, with the soundtrack CD releasing in May 1998.
Later in 1998 reports in the media claimed that the band had agreed to record a Depeche Mode cover song to feature on a tribute album to the band and that the song had been recorded at this session alongside ‘A320’. The reports were however soon quashed by a statement from A&M Records, the label in charge of the release. The statement clarified the reports by revealing that whilst the band had indeed initially agreed to contribute to the album, they were not able to find time to record a track at short notice.